Friday, July 8, 2016

The Age of Dragons

From his seat at the edge of the bazaar, an old man beckons you over, waving his long pipe. Expecting another beggar grasping for coins, you step towards him. The warm brick walls and the rug-seller's wares deaden the noise; in this tiny corner, the market is almost quiet.

"The stories're wrong, y'know," he chortles, smoke puffing from his mouth with each word. "The first age weren't th' age of th' elves, bless 'em. Oh, sure, they were th' first ones to write it all down, but who knows what happened before then, eh?" He wheezes an approximation of a laugh. "I'll tell ye - me!"

He raises his bushy eyebrows in an exaggerated immigration of your own, and speaks in a mocking voice: "Ooo, 'e's got a stooory, 'as 'e? Oooo, potty old man, give 'im a copper and 'e'll leave ye aloooone!"

He winks, flashing a snaggle-toothed grin, then leans towards you conspiratorially. "But it ain't no street-teller's tale! It's written down! See?"

First looking left and right, the old man pulls a tattered scroll from his cloak. It's covered in runes; intrigued, you lean closer. Is that... draconic? He pulls the scroll away, settling back on his cushions and giving you an appraising look. "Five gold pieces."

Five...? The old man is a rascal, for certain! Most beggars would have thought five copper pieces was bald-faced theft, and here he was asking for gold! Still, the scroll looked quite old; there is always a chance it could be a spell, and worth a hundred times that. And regardless, your last adventure filled your purse to bursting. Five gold pieces was hardly a dent worth mentioning. You shrug. "Why not. Here, old man; five gold pieces, for your scroll."

The old man laughs, wheezing and coughing at a joke you seem to have missed. "Oh ho! No, no, friend, th' gold's not for th' scroll. Why, I wouldn't sell this for all th' gold in th' world. No, th' gold is so's I read it to ye!"

You blink. Read it? He was charging five gold pieces to read an old scroll? You must have misread him; the old man's dues didn't go to the beggar's guild, but to the thieves' guild! You have to admire his gall, though; most adventurers would have beaten him handily and walked away with the scroll for free. Shrugging, you hand over the money. The man gingerly accepts it, stuffing it into a tiny bag in his shirt, then unrolls part of the scroll. His demeanor changes, somehow; he sits straighter, and his voice looses its scratchy edge. You wonder if there is more to this old man than meets the eye...

He reads:

Long ago, when Mor-Thir was new, elves and men and dwarves banded together to defeat the evil wyrm; they cast him into a pit, and rained down stones on him, burying him until the end of time. But elves and men and dwarves were not the only creatures that walked the earth; many magical creatures began their lives with the animals or the humanoids, created by Alehim. But chief among them were the dragons.

As the men built their villages in the east, and the elves built their citadels in the west, the dragons flew over all of Mor-Thir, and settled in the forests and jungles, plains and hills, mountains and seas. They built villages of their own, and fought wars, and practiced magic, for they were wild and beholden to no one. Before the elves first cast a spell, the dragons had healed themselves with a word. Before men first raised a sword, the dragons had conquered the beasts of the wilderness.

For a thousand years, the dragons were lords of Mor-Thir. They ruled the deserts and the tundra, the forests and the plains, from mountain top to ocean depths. The men elves built their cities and their roads, and the dragons graciously allowed it. Content with their lives, the dragons cared not for the machinations of men and elves. But dwarves... of all men, and elves, and dwarves, the first to begin to dig in the earth were the dwarves, and in their digging, they uncovered... gold. As this strange metal was brought out of the earth, the dragons took note. For the first time in their long lives, the dragons felt... envy. Greed. Desire. At first, the dragons bargained with the dwarves, lavishing them with the carcasses of animals, even moving great stones for them, all in trade for a few gold trinkets. Jewels, too; as this dragon or that began to amass treasure, the other dragons grew jealous. Then, men began mines of their own; if a miner found even the tiniest jewel, he could trade it for all the food he could want.

The pendulum reached its apex; miners grew rich, often with many dragons working their mines for them, bringing food and trade goods to them. It was not long before a dragon decided to take, rather than bargain; the ease at which he grew wealthy amazed the other dragons, and they too abandoned their toiling to steal, even kill. As the mighty dragons fell to bickering and fighting among themselves for trinkets, the once-rich miners were left to tend their own mines, and find their own food. Discouraged, many miners elected to reforge their tools into weapons, and began to hunt the dragons, recovering the vast wealth of the great beasts. The pendulum had swung the other way; the hunters had become hunted. In the coming years, the Age of Dragons was brought to an end, as the fearsome beasts were hunted and killed. Their lands were built upon by farmers, and their homes were invaded by soldiers, and they were driven out.

But though their age had ended, like Men, the dragons remained. Not as many, and not as bold, but certainly wiser. Of course, there are many dragons in the wild lands, living in remote aeries or crumbling castles, sleeping on their piles of gold and jewels.

And yet, there were a few dragons who were not seduced by treasure, or at least not obsessed with it. Some say entire tribes of dragons live in the wilderness, far away from the prying eyes of men and beasts. Some dragons have even learned how to change their shape, to become man or beast. They may even live among the men, undetected, always learning. And dragons do not age like men; they grow old, but not weak. Slumbering in their caves, ancient dragons wait for the day that men and elves and dwarves no longer walk the earth, and they will rise once again and rule the world. In the ancient mountains, under the timeless seas, wrapped in cool darkness, the dragons wait. Their age will come again. Will you be there to see it?

The old man finishes, and begins re-rolling the scroll, watching you intently. As you stand, he leans towards you and whispers, "It's coming, y'know. Th' Age of Dragons. An' I would know."

He winks.

The next day, you return with your companions, but the old man is not in his place by the rug-seller's stall, and no one you ask has even heard of him. As much as you try to shrug it off, the old man's words keep coming back to you... "...Age of Dragons... Will you be there to see it?"