Weightless elation, the soothing cold breeze catching in my hair under a flawless blue sphere, the sky, the world being so small, so distant! Flying, soaring, higher and higher without constraints! Direction losing its meaning, no up, no down anymore in my serene solitude on the edge of eternity where the universe ends, to meet the stars, and keep going towards...
A sudden grasp, gasping, falling, I kick out wild, pain, excruciating pain!
Blast it, cramp! Again! I hastily gather loose fragments of my mind lost in the dream, concentrate, stretch. My calf is shooting, the bed sheets are nowhere to be seen. So vivid, so real... and waking up again.
Tikira, this modest port town of the Mera, a trading hub, is a bare, probably outright boring place to be where nothing seems to ever happen. Our events are the tales of merchants, gossips telling about a world far far away, desperately out of our commonfolk reach. A prospect of eternal plodding on the fields, some small guilds serving the locals, the port, and about that's all. Rumors fly, tales keep teasing, traveling, trading, places called universities of impressive knowledge, sky-high palaces of the extravagant nobility, balls, tournaments, unfathomable riches, knights and... Dragons.
Here everything is utilitarian. Even our nobility is straight utilitarian, calculating, carefully planning the purpose for every penny. There is not a single ornament in the rich quarters. You could walk down the main street and feel a slight uneasiness, almost foreboding even under daylight which only gets worse with time. Most don't even live here, just have a parlor, a trading post established in town. The only somewhat welcoming district is the center, the City Hall and the establishments of the council and bureaucracy. There, on the town square, lies the market and the post office.
That's the place of our dreams. There is hardly any boy and even girl in the entire city who wouldn't ever dream of becoming a Messenger. That's the place where the dragons land.
I still remember the first time my mother brought me there, to dictate a telegraph, that uncommon expensive type of mail when one writes a response at the office to be delivered by nightfall. Those were hard times, that was when she finally divorced my father who left her. Her confused sorrow seeped in me. I didn't understand that then as a young kid, only the mood, that something was not all right since long.
We were walking in silence through the gloomy streets towards the Center district. To step out from the alleys, into the open square lined with the Hall and other communal buildings, with the bustling market in the farther end was always relieving, like ascending from a moldy cellar into the sunlight. But that time, that day there was something more there. It was huge. It was alive, a glimmering brass monument, a giant which was laying there. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. It wasn't scary, no, it was mesmerizing, magic, a fairy tale which seemed to descend from the sky, an unnatural wonder to blossom from the grounds of dusty reality!
The place was bustling with people, something new. There were horses there, packages passed forth and back, officers working, scribes scribing, everyone busy doing something, and I was lost in that swirl, gazing. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. Slowly, I stumbled forward, step by step, lumbering, barely standing until suddenly I felt a harsh grip on my shoulder. "Loony brat, stand back!". Then a crass jolt abruptly ended my hazed experience.
I wanted to see it again, the live giant. I kept persuading Mother to talk about them, the "brass wyvern" as I could learn, the Messengers, who deliver mail and packages between cities many weeks of land travel apart in a mere day. I clung on her, making her promise to always let me to tag along when she had to send a "telegraph". In retrospect that was a rude thing from my young boy self. I couldn't understand it back then, I hardly had any memory of Father. Maybe I wouldn't even be able to imagine what is it like to have one. He was torturing Mother with that telegraphing. She cried, she wept sometimes even when leaving the Center square, which I failed to notice mesmerized by the dragon. I was terrible.
When we were there, I always wanted to get closer, to shut off the swirl of people around, to see him, but I couldn't. Most times, Mother held my hand, worrying about me, knowing how my mind was hazed by the giant's presence. When I could slip out, I was still always blocked, sometimes grabbed by rude hands, once even kicked in the butt which I swear felt for days, but I didn't care. My want to be there overrode every rule of sanity.
Sometime later I had to start school. Mother insisted, to be someone, I must learn. Today, I appreciate, however that day, I dreaded it. It meant spending weekdays there, being all pedant, and the weekends out in the fields, helping in tending the crops, and even when there was neither to do, it was homework. It wasn't something to joke about. Those teachers were mean, flogging was the penalty for not having everything done. Among other severe things, it pretty much felt like it was over for watching dragons on the town square.
A few months in school however got me some friends, of whom the most important was Jacob for he was also obsessed with Messengers. He knew their schedule, revealing that there are three cities, Drino, Jala and Ursus with which we had regular weekly air mail connection, each on a different day. Mother was dictating telegraphs to Jala, the wyvern from this city and Ursus came with their riders who didn't let people near them. That from Drino however flew without anyone on his back, and so, nobody was there to zealously cut off every attempt of interaction! This information was exhilarating!
The only problem was that it was Wednesday, school. Jacob however had that also planned out.
So on a nice Wednesday we ended up on the town square near noon obviously with our school stuff as we should have been there. People were already gathering, some horses tied to the posts, bags of mail from nearby towns were passed from officer to officer in preparation for delivery to Drino. Soon, Jacob noticed the wyvern's form on the sky, pointed me towards that to let me see him flying the first time!
I was awestruck, couldn't stop watching until with sweeping flaps swirling up a huge cloud of dust he landed. He had a large bag of mail harnessed in front of his chest which was shortly detached, and really nothing else. He came alone. It didn't look unusual to me then since I couldn't recognize the Messengers even before, but it was reassuring to know, at least as Jacob insisted, that nobody would kick my sorry butt then.
It was different from before. The magnificent giant helped himself with some water from a barrel, then padded a bit away from the officers who got busy working, and after a gargantuan stretch, laid down on his chest watching people, and as I noticed, even some other kids gathering. First was a man with a boy - oh, wish I had a father! - the man gave a package to his child who shredded it with glee, it was meat, some real meat, my mouth watered! The boy however held it up high with a smile, the gigantic glimmering head coming down over him, barely opening the jaws, taking the gift with utmost care. The father patted the cheeks, before with a delighted motion the giant sprung his neck back to let the tiny offer slide away with a few ceremonial tongue flicks.
The ritual continued, many brought similar small pieces of food, and he took every one of those showing his appreciation in various manners, not so grand like the first was, but still very much pleased, letting people to touch, to pat him. My mind gone numb to all this impression. All that food, and all this huge dragon, just out of reach! I grabbed my friend's hand, and demanded whether we could get nearer, whether he would let us without a gift!
To my abashment, Jacob pulled out a package from his school bag. He could get meat somehow! It was amazing. I was shivering to the thought what this meant, that we now could... That we now could walk over there, towards, under that towering brass head, and he would accept! I could barely place my feet, to force myself walk, shaken. I still vividly remember how Jacob held out his offer there, to the giant, coming down over us, those yellow slit-eyes of the size of mugs, the jaw wider than our chest which barely opened to clench on the meat which could have been a meal for me, but a morsel for him! Then the tips of the forked tongue jutted out, and it vanished like if never were. Then, as he tasted and swallowed with eyelids narrowed, pleased, he licked me!
It was maybe accidental, but there it was too much for my weak, shaken overimpulsed mind. The last thing I remember his arm-thick slimy warm tongue pressing tight to my face before everything went dark. Jacob told me later that I passed out flat, and he had some trouble explaining what happened while the poor wyvern was carefully nudging me in confusion. So, I didn't manage to touch a dragon then. Rather, I was touched by one, for real.
Of course, reprehension had to came, manifesting itself in excruciatingly throbbing red streaks lining my hopelessly stiffened back, which even if I could have any hope that my instructors wouldn't report, would give me away anywhere for I could barely even walk.
It wasn't the worst of all. The worst came at home. I realized how terribly I wronged Mother with this little adventure of mine. I couldn't know then what the harshness of life meant, growing up being some hazy distant prospect still shrouded with dreams of traveling, exploring unknown worlds meeting knights and dragons, but then, I could feel something terrible, something very wrong forming a lump in my throat.
My uneasiness was only stirred further when I came to realize that Jacob didn't get the same enlightening treatment like me, while he was just there the same way. It wasn't right, not like I wished him to suffer that, but my sense of justice yelled out its protests somewhere deep down. I came to realize the world is maybe not that simple I thought until then.
I resolved to be right, to study hard, and kept that resolution despite how the memory of the Drino Messenger kept returning, despite how my friend kept teasing me in hopes for another such adventure. I didn't sway. It was hard. We used every holiday which happened to fall on Wednesday to visit the wyvern, Jacob always having a treat to offer.
A few years later school got a bit less stringent, giving a few allowances in every semester which we could use as long as we could demonstrate later that we learned the missed lessons. Of course with us, those all happened to be taken out at Wednesday noons.
It always went in the same way. Usually when we arrived, he already rested, the initial rush over, only some people watching him in silence, a few grooming him, and children playing by his huge wings. Jacob approached first with his gift which he always took with the same pleasant delight ceremonially expressing it with a few tongue flicks licking his chops, then we stayed, just enjoying his magnificence, dreaming of a future flying.
As time passed, however, our friendship seemed to erode. Jacob came to have a slightly haughty attitude which I got to feel even among us. Then, one day, about time for an allowance, he told me he wants to go alone. He refused to explain why, but promised he would give me a treat for my time, which he kept.
So the first time came when I was alone, the packaged meat in my bag, it even crossed my mind whether I should take it home, whether it would be the right thing to do instead of pursuing my dream. I dismissed that, I simply felt I couldn't bear canceling the opportunity.
The giant's head so descended upon me then, my hands, carefully pulling away the offer. I was astounded to feel no yanking, not even the slightest force, just a very gentle pull as I let it slide away. He meticulously tasted with nearly closed eyes, the tongue jutting out for a few licks. I watched him in revered silence, slowly letting my arms descend, an undulating of his dewlap telling he swallowed. Then, all of sudden, I felt the warm slimy tongue pressing against my face! It was over in strange short moment leaving me bewildered, his muzzle now hovering very close. Unsure, I carefully raised my hands, placing a palm between his nostrils, gently stroking him.
It was something unusual. Before it was like he appreciated my grooming just like everyone else's who approached him, but now he turned his attention specifically to me! I felt my very essence melting, a dragon acknowledging my very presence, for a moment lifting me from the crowd!
I felt the smooth surface, the softness under his jaws, the texture of the scales while he slowly allowed his head to descend, straightening the arch of his neck, raising the three rows of ornamental spikes over the spine. I found myself standing just behind his jaws, my hands just sliding in the recess where they ended. He however twisted to turn the top of his head towards me, shaking a bit. I understood he wishes me to find a spot. I reached for his ridge, pushing my hands in, under the three spikes wider than my palm each adorning his head, trying to feel, thinking he probably can't even reach there by himself.
My thought was right, as I started massaging him there, content, he laid flat on the ground, eyes shut in pleasure. It felt so rewarding, warmth engulfing my being to realize I can make this connection, how he likes it! I was barely aware of where I was, the bustling town square with all the people.
A pat on my shoulder shook me up. It came from a slender, tall man I didn't recognize, startling me, and also the Messenger. With a gesture, he reached out for the wyvern's muzzle, gently resting his palm on the side, slowly stroking down to the dewlap, working his fingers behind the jaws, until the delighted giant finally came to rest between us.
He started to talk, in a silent, maybe even a bit hazed voice. "There is... something I hadn't seen since... You will... Let me tell you some...". He grabbed my hand, carefully leading it back under a spike, while he meticulously gave brief massages one by one for each. "This is the most important for she can't access here. Feel, cure if necessary and she will be grateful". With a sudden move, he rolled himself across the thick neck to my side, to my surprise, not even causing the dragon twitch. One hand still under the ridge, he slid the other down to stroke gently, but firmly pressing in the flesh, the underside. "Most like it, and it helps if you need to give her something uneasy". I could notice the motions of a swallow. "Start at the dewlap, helping it slide down, careful".
Then, he turned towards the shoulders raising almost higher than his chest, feeling the enormous muscles. "You can only scratch the surface, do it with strength, but with care to soothe". He continued to the upper arm under the cover of the wing. "Massage, relieve her after a hard flight which she will appreciate". He kept working down the lower arm, reaching the hand, where he grabbed the black striped needle to expand the front web. "She likes to rest on her back, sprawled out, then be careful to never step on her wings". He drew his finger over a dark vein slightly bulging out from the surface. "Much stronger than a sail, yet they are sensitive. Treat them with a soft brush, but don't forget ticks".
He led me back by the wings folding to the sides of the body, keeping a hand sliding on the wyvern's features. "When turned over, she likes long belly rubs, but be careful... going too much down may be embarrassing... dangerous. Check those areas with caution only as necessary". We passed the hind legs, his hand still stroking, now over the tail's spine until hitting the limp fin's first spike. "She is very mild, but usually, be cautious here. Let her be aware of your presence or you may be hurt badly". He grabbed the spike near its top, pulling it to form a wall of almost a man's height. "Clean with the same soft brush in need, all three. Don't do it more than necessary unless she shows appreciation". With that, he gently lowered it, finishing with a few firm pats above the base.
I indulged his words and motions in awe, how he knew all that! We returned to the front, the Messenger already occupied with two young kids patting and stroking his snout, so we politely rather sat a bit away, just watching. The man's face was pale, featureless, gazing in the distance, out of this world. I couldn't read his feelings. It occurred me how he referred the Messenger as a "she", yet we knew he was male, another mystery of this bizarre outlandish man.
Soon, the Drino mail was assembled, the wyvern, knowing his duty, cautiously to not hurt anyone around him, raised, and with slow, careful motions returned to his bag with a brief stop at the water barrel. It was always amazing to see him, a giant dragon, cooperating this way, like if it was all natural.
The harness secured, he aimed for the take-off run, a peculiar sight as all the people fled away from his line, pulling away and grabbing little children for their safety. The Messenger always waited patiently showing his intention until every motion ceased, his path was clear. Then, with a few massive strides kicking dusty clouds in the air, he leaped for it, spreading his expansive wings for a powerful sweeping flap to leave us. He flew, we stood there in awe, dreaming...
Tears were running down the man's cheeks.
I had never seen him anymore.
A month later Jacob agreed to take his allowance with me, so we visited the Messenger together. I didn't mention the bizarre man to him, still feeling betrayed by his act, even though that all likely wouldn't have happened if he didn't insist on parting.
It went all like before, Jacob offered the treat which the wyvern accepted with delightful tasting, then we both stroked his muzzle, and continued as usual with grooming for a few minutes. Then, however, likely remembering me, he twisted his head to push his ridge against my chest. Understanding, I gladly tucked my palms under the bases of the adornments to give him a good massage.
I only realized Jacob's presence a few seconds later who was on the other side, and called for him, so I could show, explaining how we should ease him on these spots he can't treat for himself.
He stayed silent about it, but that was the last time we went there together. Next, he simply requested me to stay back a week, again promising a treat. I couldn't get to know why, but when my time came, he demanded me to pay for it. It was rude. He acknowledged that he did, but reasoned he didn't say that it was for free. Obviously I didn't have the money, so finally I had to bargain it in exchange for some homeworks.
I was betrayed, it felt like he trampled my dignity with this despicable act, persuading me to do this! Homeworks, even! But I needed it!
He managed to ruin it for me, filling my mind with all this. He could at least have told about it a day before, but no, he had to shove it in my face on that very Wednesday just before my leave!
I felt crippled, mauled when I got there, standing before the Messenger with that tainted offer! He took it from my hands with the same care, but shown nothing, just looking down on me, slowly swallowing without any gleeful tongue flick. He descended close, barely, gently stroking my face with his cheek, sympathy I felt, raising a bit my sullen mood. Laying flat, he raised his ridge in anticipation. It was good, reaching under the spikes, feeling the warmth of his body as my fingers pushed in his flesh, it could let my thoughts drift away, to soothe the pain. I was relieved.
Begrudgingly I did the excess homework, late into weekend nights for I was also needed for cropping, consuming a lot of candle wax, worrying Mother whether I did anything wrong in school. I really didn't want to tell, but I was also felt much revulsion about bending the truth, especially for her, especially about this loathsome situation. I settled for admitting I needed practicing maths, which probably wasn't even untrue.
Next occasion I asked Jacob in advance. With that homework affair, he managed to achieve that now even I didn't want to get my allowance with him. He insisted that the same deal may still stand, good enough for me, at least the school work was something I could do and so could bargain with.
He however betrayed me again. Again on Wednesday, over the package, he turned haughty, demanding money in addition to the previous term. It was enough. I threw the desk over him so he can screw it all. So went my allowance, revoked for the fight I caused. My sense of justice was in revolt.
A month passed in foul silence as two severe things dawned on me. For one, it was pretty clear everything was over with that supercilious bastard. Honestly, it didn't touch me all that much. The other was the worse, the realization that he had access to meat while now I was hopeless. No treat. No dragon. I felt my world, my dreams shattering.
The very first Wednesday when I could finally use an allowance however still found me on the town square despite my empty bag. The landing, the swirl of the officers tending the mail, the welcome of the Messenger felt so distant. I was there, but I felt like a thick wall hopelessly separating me from that world. A lump formed in my throat to the sight of those people, all having something to offer, while I could only stand there watching hopeless.
After a quarter hour the bustling abated, just a few people lingering around the pleased resting giant now out of my reach. I so wished to approach, but there was nothing I could offer. It crushed my mind, so it was really over. I thought to return school before my despair just got even worse.
However, suddenly I noticed the Messenger looking right at me! He shook his head slightly, emphasizing, as I felt, calling me! I suddenly got scared, first time in the presence of a wyvern, realizing that then I definitely couldn't leave, but neither had anything fitting for him as a gift! Nothing I could do but approach, head low, slow, my palms open. I wished to humble myself before him, the majestic dragon, to show how sorry I am for my incapability, but even then I couldn't imagine normal etiquette being of any use there.
He looked down on me, tongue slightly jutting out for my empty hands, then a bit sideways, he spotted my school bag, poking his muzzle towards it. What else I could do, I politely removed it, and shook its contents out. My ruler, a few quills, a bottle of ink, two folders of exercise sheets plopped in the dirt along with a pitiful piece of bread and a few thin streaks of dried bacon wrapped in a cloth, my would-be lunch.
The large head descended, observant, tongue flicking over my stuff until he seemingly found that lousy package. Worried, I crouched down to lift and unwrap it. His interest raised as he lashed at it, but didn't attempt to take. I discarded the cloth, squeezing together the loaf and the morsels of meat, to hold it up. Only then he opened his jaws to a narrow slit to advance.
He was very gentle, he didn't even pull or bite, just waited for me to push my miserable little gift in the silt, only pulling back and closing it when my hands were away. Then, with a huge spring, he threw his head back to let it slide down in such a ceremony of delightful licks of his chops and swallowing like it was an entire modest gazelle! My spirit raised, I felt so touched by his display of affection, how he purposefully found a way to accept me! It elated me, a gust of freedom engulfing my mind, I lingered in a hazy mist of happiness as I gave his entire ridge a good throughout massage. I so felt seeing not just a magnificent dragon, but a true friend in him on that day!