Face to Face
Peter stood in frozen silence from the whispering voice he heard. Was it just an echo of my own voice? He thought. Or was it someone else…
Titan looked around the forest near the surface of the lake for any sign of an approaching creature. His skin quivered from fear as well. A black crow was still circling above them with his ever present “caw!” descending down through the trees. That black bird made Titan nervous. He whinnied and shook his long dark mane as if to shake off the fear he felt. He pulled on his reigns to signal to Peter for them to get moving. They had a Dragon to search for and no time to waste.
“Yes, alright,” Peter agreed as he walked Titan around the lake. The mist followed them. Every once in awhile the surface of the water danced in the breeze and moved in every direction. Peter, anxious that something would arise out of the water, was troubled that his imagination was getting the best of him. So, together the two adventurers continued to walk the area of the lake. The black from the forest peered at them from all sides and their old friend, the crow, continued his song above.
“Blasted crow,” Peter whispered to Titan. “It makes me nervous.” He kept his eyes on the circling bird above while he walked slowly around the lake. The tops of the trees were framing the crow as if it were a painting. The sort of paining no one wants. The moon was their guide as it illuminated the whole area for the time being. Clouds hovered near the moon waiting to blanket the glowing orb and make it near impossible for Peter and Titan to continue their search. But for now, the moon stayed out in the open.
The crunch of the leaves underfoot was the only sound heard above the gentle breeze swaying the trees. Peter and his faithful horse stopped to figure out their direction. Then, certain stillness came to the forest.
Suddenly, they heard the branches shaking violently in front of them ending the calm. Several small birds quickly departed the darkness and flew up into the open air flittering by Peter and Titan. Peter waved his arms in front of his face as the birds quickly flew past. And yet the trees still shook. Peter and Titan froze as they waited for something to happen. And it did.
There, from between the branches of the trees moved a set of glowing yellow eyes, each one about the size of Peter’s head. They stared right at Peter and his horse, unblinking in the moonlight. Peter’s mouth was open and he turned to see if Titan was experiencing the sight as well. Titan’s eyes were large and his nostrils flared as his ears were pointed back. Together they stood, staring at the yellow eyes glaring back at them. The dark pupils were vertical slits that reached from the bottom to the top of each glowing eye.
Then they heard it.
A low ominous growl penetrated from behind the trees as the eyes rose from a few feet above the wet earth to just near the tops of the trees. They blinked as they rose. The growl grew louder still. Then a hot mist from between the trees shot out towards the Prince, who was near tears in his fright. His body shook. The short blast of mist warmed Peter’s skin and made him and Titan take a few steps back.
“Do not move,” A low voice hissed. It seemed to come from the glowing eyes which were nothing but slits now peering from the tops of the trees. “It is important that you are here.”
Peter’s knees were shaking and he looked at his faithful horse. Titan neighed nervously as his whole body was still quivering. With his ears still pointed back, he shook his grey mane and whinnied. His hooves clawed at the mud beneath him as he huffed air out from his nostrils in defiance. “Steady, boy,” Peter said as he tightly held the reigns.
Titan’s bravery gave Peter his courage back as well. From his belt, he quickly pulled his wooden sword from its sheath and lunged toward those ever present eyes.
“Who goes there?” he yelled.
The yellow eyes moved rapidly up the trees and high into the night sky with the moon highlighting the tough scaly skin of the giant creature’s head and body. The hot misty breath spewed forth from its nostrils, exhaled in frustration, toward the young boy and his steed. Larger than any other dragon known to terrorize the kingdom, the Dragon of the forest had four long limbs and a set of wings attached to its back. Gazing down at them both from its lofty perch above the trees of grand forest green, it could see the fire glow from the torches of Lord Caragon’s army as it approached from the west. The Dragon of the forest knew the time had come.
Peter and Titan, in awesome wonder and amazement, stared at the giant creature as it stood many feet above the tops of the trees. Their eyes moved downward in order to see its giant feet now protruding from the trunks of those same black trees. The shiny claws glistened in the moonlight as they dug into the mud. Its colossal head had rough scales all over the surface, some bent grotesquely over the eyes and down the slope of its long snout leading to the protruding nostrils. Blue mist eased out of those same nostrils. The larger hardened scales made their way down its long giraffe-like neck and onto its humpback where the wings folded over its sides. Small horns made their way out of its skull behind the eyes, but they were short and dull, perhaps from battle. The loud rustling noise throughout the forest came from its long tail as it moved back and forth. The end of the tail provided the final resting place for the larger more prominent scales to form sharp spikes. The larger hind legs were bent underneath its enormous body, yet it still stood high into the night sky. Peter did not want to imagine the creature’s full height. He froze in his dread. Titan whinnied and shook the reigns from Peter’s hands as he backed up in astonishment and fear. This woke Peter from his trance and he quickly grabbed Titan’s reigns once again. Just then, together, they remained frozen as the realization before them came to complete fruition: The Dragon of the Forest lives.
“We’ve not much time.” It spoke. More steam came from the nostrils.
Peter looked at Titan. Astonishing, He thought. Could it be that it spoke to us? Are we dreaming?
The Dragon lifted one foot and with sudden and complete force slammed it into the ground. The earth shook beneath them. A shot of fire eased out of its nostrils and lit up its roughened face made of scales and snake-like skin. The glow from its fire breath reflected in its shiny scales. They appeared to be made up of many different colors. For a slight moment, Peter even thought it looked far more beautiful that he had previously imagined.
The Dragon lowered its mammoth head toward the two before him and his tongue slithered between its enormous teeth housed inside the giant mouth. The hot misty breath felt earlier still shocked Peter into complete attention to anything it might say if it meant it would not eat them both in one swallow.
“Listen now,” It stated rather calmly. “I know why you are here.”
“Yes.” Peter nodded through his fear.
The Dragon studied him.
Peter swallowed hard as the yellow eyes narrowed.
“I need your assistance,” it said, raising its head slightly upward. At that same moment, Peter could see its entire face in the moonlight. Its eyes were gentler than he had first thought. Although its hot breath and large teeth seemed frightening, somehow he was reassured they were not meant for him.
“My help?” Peter asked.
“Yes.” The Dragon hissed. Just then, it spread its wings open wide as though stretching only to reveal the translucent skin between tough tendons and claws. They were immense in size and caused a breeze that ran across Peter and Titan’s faces as they moved over the Dragon’s body. This giant beast could have squashed them both with one gesture of its claws, yet it was somewhat tolerant of how they had trespassed into its forest.
Gazing up over the tops of the trees, the Dragon saw something in the valleys to the South. Peter waited for further instruction.
“War has come to the Kingdom. Caragon’s army is coming,” it said, swallowing hard. Peter watched the lump in the throat slide down toward the large belly. From head to belly must have been the size of the castle courtyard, Peter assessed.
“War?” Peter faintly asked. Suddenly he felt guilty that he was missing from the castle. He sorrowfully looked down at his feet. He felt foolish.
“It is good that you are here,” the Dragon said, sensing Peter’s sadness. “You have come at the right time.”
Its giant foot dragged the claws into the mud. Large piles of mud surrounded each long claw like the termites’ hills Peter had seen in the desert one summer. He remembered each hill as being taller than his father and these mud hills were no smaller. The sound of the claws sliding in the mud echoed deep into the forest. Peter stared at the yellow eyes and wondered what the Dragon could have meant.
“What can I possibly do to help? I’m afraid I have ruined things for my father by running away. He is looking for me instead of attacking Caragon’s army,” Peter sighed.
“Why did you come here?” the Dragon asked. Blue mist eased from its nostrils.
“To…” Peter hesitated. “Find you, to be exact.” He looked at the sword in his hands. The handle was tightly gripped by his fingers entwined around it. He thought about what he was doing. He suddenly felt sick. A wooden sword against a giant beast? he thought. He looked down at his feet and felt cold. He felt….ten years old again.
“And so you have succeeded,” the Dragon said as his tongue slithered out between its teeth once again.
“Yes, but I wanted to find you in order to…” Peter stated. “take your scales.” He winced and waited for the fire to consume him.
But the Dragon moved its giant body and lifted its feet toward the two little creatures in front of him. Titan took three steps back as the beast made its way through the trees and into the clearing. A puff of fire came from its mouth and the firelight blew across the surface of the water as it illuminated the entire lake. The hissing sound echoed off the surface of the lake. Titan reared up onto his hind legs in fear and confusion.
“No, Titan!” Peter yelled. “He won’t hurt us!” He ran and grabbed the reigns to his horse’s harness. He pulled the gentle horse to him. With their heads together, Peter gently stroked the muzzle of his friend. “Trust me. All is well now.”
Suddenly Peter felt alright. A calm had gone through his body settling his spirits. He no longer was afraid of the Dragon. A peace went through his soul and he now knew things would be okay with the Dragon here in the forest. The legend was true after all. Perhaps his father had been taken care of by the giant Dragon when he was a boy just like he told him. Perhaps that is why his father never wanted Caragon or Peregrine to enter into this realm.
The Dragon hissed as it moved to the other side of the clearing. Peter and Titan stirred swiftly in order to get out of the way of its body and tail. The Dragon’s sinewy muscles underneath the tough outer skin twitched and pulled the massive body along. The Dragon’s claws dug deep into the mud as it moved. The earth trembled with each step. The beautiful scales twinkled in the moonlight. Shiny black clawed feet and long wings made a breeze on Peter’s face as they went by him. He noticed the eyes of the beast were lined with tiny rows of scales.The rims of its eyes were reddened as though they were tired or old.
“How old are you?” Peter asked.
The beast continued to move its way over to the lake. “Very old,” it hissed.
Peter thought about his grandfather and great-grandfather and how they knew of the Dragon. “You knew my grandfather and great-grandfather?” he asked.
“Yes,” the Dragon answered. “I am two thousand of your man years.”
Peter gasped at the thought of the antiquated Dragon still present in the forest guarding the land for so many moons.
He placed his wooden sword in its sheath and quickly mounted Titan and galloped alongside the Dragon to keep up. Not wanting to miss anything now, he rode with the beast.
The three made their way around the lake and toward the entrance of the forest. The Dragon looked down at the horse and rider it had befriended. It stopped and motioned to Peter. Needing Peter to see exactly what was happening, it lowered his head and motioned Peter to hop on top. Peter dismounted Titan, carefully and cautiously walked over to the Dragon’s large head, and climbed on top. Titan whinnied and moved back a few paces. Peter grabbed the small horns behind the Dragon’s eyes and lifted himself to the neck of the beast. He discovered the scales were smooth and cool in the night air.
The Dragon slowly raised its head to prevent Peter from falling. Higher and higher it went into the air. Peter held on tight to the Dragon’s scales as he watched Titan grow smaller and smaller. Suddenly, he saw the entire forest in the moonlight. The crystal clear lake and the trees seemed to go on forever. Then he turned his head south toward the Castle. His heart sank deep into his chest at the sight.
He saw the Cardion valley engulfed in flames. He could see Caragon’s army moving toward the palace and his father’s soldiers fighting them. The sight of flaming arrows and homes burning amidst the shouts of men in battle made Peter gasp. Peter could not believe his eyes. He thought of the families he had seen. He thought of their plight. Now he knew why the Dragon wanted him to see the view from up high.
“As your father returns to the Castle, the siege begins,” the Dragon said.
“No.” Peter shook his head. He covered his mouth with his hands. They were cold from the night air. “What can I do?” He asked as he lowered his hands.
“Lord Peregrine’s men will enter the forest from the north in order to destroy me and take my scales.” The Dragon said as it slowly turned its head toward the north.
Peter could see the torches and riders swiftly approaching. He wondered if they could see the massive Dragon high above the trees.
“Quickly! You must bend down or they will see you,” Peter shouted.
The Dragon stood motionless. “They will be upon us soon.”
Us? Peter thought. What will we do to stop them?
The Dragon slowly turned and began to lower its head. It took a few steps into the clearing.
“They must not see me, but they must find you safe,” it said as it lowered Peter to the ground.
“I want to stay here with you and help,” Peter said.
“Patience, I need you… in the forest to help me… with this battle.” The Dragon slowly answered.
Peter hopped off the large head of the Dragon and staggered a few feet back. He was a little dizzy now. His sword still dangled in its sheath.
“Remove your sword,” the Dragon ordered.
Peter hesitated a moment and then obeyed. Not sure what the Dragon saw in the little wooden sword, Peter wondered if it mattered. He slowly pulled the sword out and, with embarrassment, held it in his hand. His fist clenched around the handle.
“Hold it up high.” The Dragon said as it lowered his head toward Peter. Its mouth stood a few feet away from Peter. “Hold it tightly.”
Titan trotted next to Peter and quietly observed the Dragon. Peter held onto the sword with both hands now eagerly anticipating what the Dragon would do.
Suddenly, the Dragon inhaled the night air deep into his massive lungs. As the chest cavity expanded more and more, the sound resembled that of a wind storm and Peter’s hair blew in toward the giant mouth. The Dragon leaned its head back as it inhaled the air. A hissing sound could be heard. Peter closed his eyes, not knowing what to expect. Titan turned his head away.
Then, the Dragon’s mouth opened and spewed out a thin blue flame of fire from between its teeth as it exhaled on the sword.
The flash of fire hit only the blade of Peter’s sword and nothing else. The weight of the force from the blue flame almost knocked Peter off his feet, but he held fast and strong leaning into the flame. The blue fire enveloped the small blade only and Peter opened one eye to see what happened.
He felt on his face that the flame was not hot. Indeed, it was ice cold! The blue flame was penetrating the wooden sword and changing it somehow. It grew heavier and heavier as the Dragon breathed upon it. Peter could feel the handle becoming colder and colder in his hands as he watched his sword transform before his eyes. What is it doing? he thought.
As quickly as it started, it ended. The Dragon hissed and inhaled air once again, only this time it raised its head away from Peter. Titan turned slowly to inspect the damage to his master only to find him in one piece still clutching the sword in both hands.
Peter opened his eyes wider now in amazement as he looked upon his sword. He could not believe what he saw. The blade was no longer made of wood. Now made of the shiniest metal he had ever seen, the blade was double-edged as well. He held it up into the night sky and turned it in his hands back and forth as the metal blade glistened in the moonlight. It was so shiny, Peter could see his reflection in the blade. He had a real sword now!
He raised his hand to touch the blade.
“Careful,” said the Dragon. “The blade is very sharp,” it warned Peter. Clearly pleased with itself, it bent down to inspect the work.
“But how?” Peter asked in utter amazement. But the Dragon was silent.
Just then the three heard some movement through the trees. The Dragon quickly jerked its head and turned to look into the black forest. The glow from Peregrine’s torches could be seen.
“I must go now. Do not fear, for I am with you,” the Dragon said as it gently removed something from its shoulder with its mouth. It slowly moved its head toward Peter, and in its front teeth was a shiny scale from the Dragon’s shoulder. It motioned for Peter to take it, but Peter was scared. He slowly walked toward the creature’s mouth, which was full of large teeth stained with age, and saw the scale up close. It was thick as a shield and hard as metal. He used both hands to remove it from between the Dragon’s teeth for it felt heavy. Then he held it in his hands as he walked a few paces back. The Dragon’s mist coming from its mouth was still cold as before. Peter inspected the scale and saw that it indeed looked like a shield or buckler. It appeared large enough to cover most of his body, and yet it wasn’t heavy. He turned it over and saw that his arm could fit inside the back slope and hold onto the short tendon as a handle. He held the shield in front of himself as protection. Then he realized that this must be what the Dragon wanted. He completely understood why Peregrine wanted the scales for his army. They seemed to be unlike any armor Peter had ever seen. The scale was beautiful, solid, and strong.
Then Peter saw where the scale had been and in its place was a dark hole in the Dragon’s shoulder. Peter gasped when he understood what this meant. The Dragon could be pierced in that very spot. He was unprotected!
“No! Wait! You mustn’t. The hole will leave you vulnerable to Peregrine’s lance! You must take the scale back.” He insisted as he ran to the Dragon holding the scale up. But it was too late.
The Dragon quietly turned, hissed, and made its way into the trees. Its phantom like movements enthralled them. Peter heard Peregrine’s horses approaching.
Peter and Titan just stood there watching as the giant Dragon entered into the forest and disappeared from sight. He could not believe that the massive creature he saw before them could just walk into the night and blend into the darkness perfectly. Only the yellow glowing eyes of the Dragon could be seen between the trees unblinking in the moonlight just as before.
“Be brave,” the Dragon whispered. Clouds of the familiar blue mist returned to the forest and began to cover the ground around their feet in waves.
Peter mounted his horse and together they stood firmly waiting for Peregrine to find them. What would happen next remained a mystery to them both, but with one hand tightly clenched around his new sword and the other behind the scale shield, Peter felt ready for this adventure to begin.