In the early afternoon the crowd thickened. People flowed in the direction of the stage, which had been erected on the banks of the river. “What’s going on over there?” I asked Timbra.
“Oh. Yes, you’ll want to see that,” she nodded soberly.
“What? What is it?”
“A play. A reenactment, really. Each year, the Steward Massacre is reenacted to honor our fallen and to remind us of what’s at stake…and what’s still out there.”
We made our way to the grassy seating area just in time. As the production began, Gnomes and winged Fae—they didn’t want to be called fairies, but Fae, Timbra had admonished—worked farmland together in worn tunics and breeches. Heartier built Dwarfs loaded crops onto the backs of wagons drawn by miniature beasts of burden that resembled water buffalo. The creatures worked dutifully, if happily, joining together in songs that illustrated the simple pleasures of working the soil.
When the workday concluded the creatures returned to their families, life peaceful and contented at hearth and home. A new day brought about more good work.
A woman’s ear twitched. She had heard something and looked to her mate across the field who confirmed her concern. With no further warning, a monstrous dragon dove overhead, releasing a deafening roar and scorching the crops in the field. The Gnomes, Fae, and Dwarfs let out cries of terror and ran for their lives, diving under wagons and running into the forest. More dragons ravaged the sky, seeking out the hiding creatures after they had destroyed the crops and farmland. One by one the dragons ferreted out the small beings—their children, too—and set them ablaze, their excruciated shrieks filling the air before stopping altogether.
The crowd that had gathered for the reenactment sat stunned, silent, moved. I dragged in a ragged breath, on the verge of tears at the gruesome sight that I knew had actually occurred, yet on a much larger scale. Timbra discreetly wiped her eyes and gazed into her lap in silent despair.
“There, there, my beast. No sense regretting what cannot be changed. You serve me now.”
For the first time, I noticed a thick metal band around the dragon’s neck. The man ran a hand along the wide metal band as he continued, “You will continue to do my bidding. It will be so for as long as I desire. And you will live in this mountain in solitude until you can be trusted. A dragon with a conscience,” he scoffed as he left the cavernous lair.
“Years passed,” intoned a narrator. “How long, no one knows for certain. The dragon lay in wait for the sorcerer to return, relegated to the mountainous prison, and doomed to do his bidding by the immovable magic torque around her neck. She was consumed with self loathing, unable to leave the lair, unable to return to her original form, unable to end her miserable life.”
“People here are descended of dragons?” I whispered fiercely to Timbra.
“Were,” she whispered in return. “No one has seen a dragon in nearly a hundred years. She was the last.”
“The people of Thayer rose up in retribution,” the narrator continued, as did the play.
“As Edina was trapped in her mountain prison, one by one we hunted and destroyed the remaining dragons who had attacked the stewards of our land. Edina’s confinement was also her salvation, for she escaped the revenge.
“Many years later a Thayerian hunting in his wolf form followed a strange scent and discovered Edina. She was listless and ignored him. Drawn to her, and cognizant that she might be the last dragon alive, he visited for months. He slowly trusted that she meant him no harm. She told him of her enslavement, her regret, her despair. He came to care for her, and sought a way to release her from the torque. It took many more months, but the wolf found magic strong enough to remove the sorcerer’s powerful claim. When Edina was released, her dragon was replaced by a woman. The wolf took her to his home where he hid her, protected her, and loved her for many, many years.
“The sorcerer never stopped searching for his dragon, and one day discovered the two. Neither Edina nor the wolf were ever seen again. Some say they escaped and started life anew; some say the sorcerer destroyed them both. No one knows for sure.”
“We have stories like this where I come from, too,” I stage whispered. “They’re called ‘fairy tales.’”
Timbra’s smooth forehead suddenly creased with disapproval. “Everybody knows that fairy tales evolved from real stories, Stella. Even this one has a modest basis in actual occurrences.”
“Yeah, but wolf/dragon love? Come on.”
“After being in Thayer this long I’d think you could acknowledge that magic exists—that ‘unbelievable’ is often just due to a prosaic bent in the mind of the beholder.”
“Oh! Did you just insult me?”
“You got that?” Timbra smirked.
“Careful, girl. I love you, but that don’t mean I won’t cut a bitch,” I said with mock fury.
The scene of the reenactment changed again, this time to plentiful fields and wagons full of bountiful harvests.
The narrator resumed his soulful delivery once more, “It took a very long time for the surviving Gnome, Fae, and Dwarf people to repopulate and reclaim their role as stewards of our land. But with time, the pain of loss receded and the numbers within families increased.
“Today we celebrate those noble people whose knowledge and labor provides for us all.
“Today we remember the tragic loss they suffered, that we suffered.”
“Today we are reminded that we must always be vigilant, always be mindful that although it has been centuries since that tragic day, the threat remains. Brandubh lives.”