Once upon a time there was a great dragon, largest and most fierce of all of her kind. She was green from the tip of her nose to the barbed end of her armored tail. Don’t think that she was all one color, though. Her overlapping scales shone with every color of green from the palest hint of green of new leaves in Spring to the rich blue-green of the clearest ocean waves. The only part of her that was not green were her eyes, which gleamed purple behind half-closed lids as she perched on the mountain top overlooking the human village far below. It had been many centuries since this dragon had seen the senseless activity of the weak and hapless humans and it had been even longer before she had let herself be seen. She would prefer to extend those days into centuries, but the need was great, and she had a quest to complete before she could return to the peace of her splendid isolation.
She folded and refolded her wings as the restless winds tugged at them, enticing her to spring into the air and take flight, but she fought the urge and dug her jeweled claws into the raw granite of the mountain peak. Even from this great distance she could easily observe the village and its inhabitants while they remained ignorant of her presence. She wondered if they still told tales of her kind. Surely the tales of the dragonkind and their exploits were told throughout the land, but she supposed a race as short-lived and untutored at humans were incapable of the memory of her own kind. Nevertheless, they would be reminded soon enough.
Far below, a ribbon of road led from the peasant village to the castle on the other end of the valley, the dragon’s inhuman eyesight making every pennant snapping from the spires as clear as if she were soaring just overhead. She could count the number of guards pacing the battlements as well as the apples in the king’s orchard. The distance kept her from hearing the clang of swords but she could see the knights drilling in the courtyard, keeping their skills as sharp as their weapons. If her errand were not so urgent, she would enjoy skimming just out of reach, ignoring the arrows that could never pierce her natural armor, tumbling and scattering the knights like a flock of birds. She sighed at the memory of doing such things in her younger days, but today she had a task that could not wait.
She returned her attention to the village below. Her instinct screamed at her that the one she sought was not among the knights, guards, and servants of the castle. She especially had no interest in the royals or their court, the one she sought was here, among the peasants. She could feel him below and she began to thrum, calling to him with throat, mind, and heart.
The sun was thin here in the mountain air, but she felt no cold or discomfort. She was a creature of earth and sky and there was nowhere that she was not meant to be. She could wait as long as it took to find the one she sought. Still, she had been waiting longer than she had thought possible. It had been many years since she had grown to her full size and strength and she was beyond ready for this to be over. Although, it really wouldn’t end with this meeting, it would only have begun.
The thrum turned into a wordless song as she thought over the decades of waiting and preparing. She had only this one chance, there would be no other. If the one she sought refused the call, she would take no other. This was the way of her kind. The one she sought would answer or not, it was not her choice to make. The response must be freely given.
She arched her neck and turned her head, studying the buildings below. The people came and went, their actions mostly incomprehensible to her. There was the shepherd on distant hills, dozing while her dog watched over the sheep. In her far-away youth she had tasted mutton from a flock much like this one. If her errand was successful, she might be back one day to bring her young to teach the shepherd to take better care of the sheep. The sound of the hammer striking the anvil rose from the blacksmith’s forge, the scent of his fire drifting to her on an updraft. Food, fire, shelter, these things she understood but much of the village’s activity meant less than nothing to her. Only one mattered to her and she increased the intensity of her song, willing that one to come out to her.
Finally, after a timeless interval of song and desire, she felt it and her gaze sharpened. The one she called could resist her call no longer, she knew it in her very marrow. She rose to a crouch, her wings curving over her back. The wait was almost over and soon she would know if she would have eggs to tend and young to teach. A door opened, so far away but as close as a blink to her sight.
A young man emerged, his face turning unerringly towards her remote mountain peak and she almost purred at the sight. This was the one. She lifted her face to the sky and warbled a greeting and a challenge. She launched herself from the peak and snapped her wings into the wind, delighting in the moment. She had been waiting for longer than any human in that valley had lived, longer than their parents and perhaps their grandparents had been children. The time of renewal was not counted in the lives of humans, but the span of dragonkind. She had been patient, but the time for action was upon her. She had this one chance and no other.
Only her choice heard her call, she was sure of it. The rest of the village’s inhabitants continued life as usual as she arrowed down toward the valley, her armored scales slipping through the air like a fish through water. Some instinct or stray gaze warned them, though, and they scattered at her approach. A woman grabbed the arm of her choice, pulling desperately at him. When he resisted her attempts to draw him inside, she pleaded and sobbed and the dragon knew that the villagers had not forgotten, could never forget. Once every few generations, one of their kind would be taken, and the dragon had made her choice.
She circled over the house, her huge wings driving dust into the woman’s eyes until she gasped and covered her eyes and fled into the home. Dimly, the dragon noted her desolate sobs but had little attention for anything other than the one who waited a few feet away from the home and the woman he was leaving. Perhaps she was a mother, sister, or lover, it didn’t matter. He had accepted the call and there would be no going back. He was as one who was dead to her now and she would grieve or not, move on or not, the dragon neither knew nor cared. He was all she desired, and he had chosen her in return.
She landed and lowered her head, laying it at his feet as he raised a trembling hand to stroke the delicate-looking scales of her cheek.
“You called me,” was all he said.
:I did: she thought to him. She nudged him with her nose, as careful as if he were a robin’s egg. :Come and fly with me:
“I come,” he said and climbed to her shoulders with the help of her forearm. He settled between her shoulders and she waited for him to hook his feet under the ridge that seemed placed there for that very purpose, locking himself into place. She turned to ensure he was secure and then threw back her head and bugled her joy for all to hear. She launched herself into the air, her wings throwing up clouds of dust as she drove her great bulk from the earth once more. She rose to the heights like a dolphin surfacing for breath and heard the man gasp with either fear or delight behind her, she sent him thoughts of comfort and strength and felt his grip relax a little on her shoulders.
She reached the heights of the mountain peak within a short time and could feel her passenger fighting for breath in the thin air.
:It is time: she sent, drifting in lazy circles among the clouds.
She felt him resist and then surrender to her demands.
“As you will,” he said and released his grip, rising shakily to his feet.
She kept her flight level, fighting the air currents to give him time to make this choice. To give himself so that she and her kind could continue. This sacrifice must be freely given or it would avail her nothing. She waited, barely breathing as he steadied himself. They almost seemed to float for a long moment, poised high above the rocky cliffs far below. The man stood between her outstretched wings and gazed down at the certain death waiting him below. She turned her head to meet his gaze and they stared into each other’s eye, reaching across the divide of age and nature and all that made them alien and yet linked. He closed his eyes, finally, breaking the contact and lowered his head, agreeing to her unspoken call.
He turned and simply stepped from her back, plummeting instantly towards the jagged death waiting below. She followed his fall with her head, twisting her neck to watch as the winds caught him and almost seemed to throw him back towards her before driving him towards his fate. The clouds drifted between her and the sight of his fall, but she could feel him, in her mind and heart and waited with the patience of many lifetimes.
A glint of blue was the first sign that the sacrifice had not been in vain. The clouds broke apart, letting the sun through to catch the glow of blues far below. She watched, holding her breath now, caught by the glory of her choice as he transformed, powered by the ancient magics of her kind and his. Her choice freely made, his sacrifice freely given, he returned to her in this form. His scales glistened in the sunlight, throwing the blues of a mountain stream covered by ice in winter through the deep blue of a midnight sky. This was her choice, her mate. His life among humans was over, his life among her kind had just begun.