To Set Dragons Free by Katherine J Parker

Emile is torn between his desire to fit in with the townsfolk and his love for the dreams of an old hermit who insists that dragons exist; by Katherine J Parker.

Once, a long time ago, there were tales of the great beasts that protected the world from evil and corruption across the world. Great mages, and their young acolytes, immortalized these stories in great tomes, passing them down from generation to generation. Their dedication and faith made the dragons strong, and extended their lives for centuries, but all things must end. Times began to change, and fewer believed in magic and the beasts that protected them from its darker side.

Forsaken, the dragons went into hiding. The greed and lust and hunger they protected the world from grew untamed, tainting the mortal souls they had protected. Many hundreds of years passed, and as hope faded from the hearts of mankind, the dragons and their mages, too, faded from existence. Even the great tomes were lost.

Emile pressed his back against a gnarled tree, his eyes closed as he breathed in the forest around him. His lungs filled with the smell of the fresh greenery that grew at his feet, his dark hair was ruffled by the soft breeze that danced between the trees. This is one of the few sacred places left, he reminded himself, his fingers running over the smooth bark of a root that arched beside him. There's no taint, or darkness here. Even the water runs cool and fresh.

As if to reassure him of this, a salmon leapt from the stream a few feet away, splashing back into the gentle current it followed. Emile let the life of the small oasis guide his thoughts, and temper his sour mood. He had been in poor spirits since he had visited the old hermit, Relicrue, early in the morning. Emile's mouth drew down into a frown as he remembered how they had parted ways. He plucked at the knotted fabric of his trousers, ashamed at the words he had spoken.

"Dragons don't exist anymore, hermit! They disappeared with your sense, over five hundred years ago!" He picked at a worn hole, shifting uncomfortably. It had been wrong to yell at him, and worse to attack his faith in something that most thought long gone. What good did hurting an old man's pride do? What ill had Relicrue ever done to him? All he had ever done was tell him stories. Stories of dragons and satyrs, faeries and minotaurs. Even elves graced the hours of firelight tales. Emile had hardly been taller than knee high when his mother had brought him, wide-eyed and afraid, to the old man's hut. She had cleaned and cooked for him, and he had told Emile his very first story.

Emile hadn't known, then, that no one else would listen to him. He had never wondered why he lived all alone, an hour past the furthest edge of town. He'd never understood that others would have scoffed when the old man pulled down the clay bowl filled with colored stones, and called them dragon eggs. He'd never cared until he had grown taller and smarter, and the other young men had began to peck at him for his habit of disappearing into the woods without so much as a bow and arrow. He'd never wondered why no one else told fantastical tales of winged beasts who breathed fire and dried up whole lakes with their thirst.

Now he was older, though, and he felt the pressure to belong, to fit in somewhere. He was awkward around the townsfolk. He felt as though he wasn't quite made out of the same fabric. They were content to live their mundane lives, to hunt and cook and trade. To never dream of something greater. He wanted to travel, to see great wonders, to tell the stories old man Relicrue had given to him.

That only made his words worse. They stung, because her truly loved the stories. They cut deep because he, too, believed in dragons. Why, then, had he been so cruel to the very man who had gifted him with the words that brought awe to each new day?

Sighing, Emile pushed himself from the ground, aiming a regretful glance toward the old man's home. He could not go back now, not until he had found a way to ask forgiveness for words he had not meant. It would have to wait. He would have to wait.

Emile slumped at the smooth wooden table that threatened to take over his mother's kitchen space. He had been practicing his letters, scrawling one after another on the worn paper he had begged from the traders who came through town periodically. His penmanship was still poor, but the soft, curving lines that he bore onto the parchment soothed him.

Old man Relicrue had been the first to teach him to write. It had been a cold day only a few years ago when Emile had slipped away from his mother, that the hermit had showed the boy how to form his first letters. They had begun in sand on the old man's table. Parchment had been too expensive, and too rare, to spare for the child. It had been slow work at first, and it was months before the old man had given him his first quill.

Emile had never stopped practicing after that. He spent hours each night studying by candlelight, drawing letters in his dirt floor while his quill rested safely beneath his pillow. When he could ferret away a scrap of paper, he would run to old Relicrue for ink, and he would scrawl as many tiny letters as he could fit onto the parchment, wasting not a single space. Once or twice, he had even tried to draw small dragons into the awkward spaces between lines, but they'd never seemed quite right.

Today, though, he felt as though the letters were hollow. He drew no satisfaction from their presence on the paper. He had long since begun to write words, learning to spell from anyone who would teach him - this drew great scorn as well. He was no rich boy, to learn his letters and words. Who was he to deserve an education? And yet he had pushed and pulled and begged until he had learned every word the town could give him, and then he had drawn more out of old Relicrue.

His favorites were dragone and minotore. He had full pages of beste-ridre. The words themselves called to be written, then seemed so alone on the page. With a frown he set his quill to the paper. In frustration, he began to write his alphabet, but when the quill began to move something else began to spell itself out upon the paper.

A dragone once liv'd upon the sea, its teers the sorowe of men.

The boy blinked at the page, reading his words slowly, his mouth silently forming each one in turn. He bit his lip in contemplation, his quill once more poised to strike, and yet hesitant.

Its wayward hart bete despratly, calling their soles to sea.

Once more, he stopped. With each sentence he felt a weight lifted, a stirring from within. He licked his lips and began again. This time the words came more quickly.

The dragone, it taut the men to fish, to swim, to sail and more.

So that the men could liv gud lives, and let the dragone sore.

With a rush, Emile drew his quill back, his eyes alight as he read the lines together. Softly, he whispered the words, before snatching up the paper. In his rush, he spilled his well of ink, staining the bottom corner of the parchment. Throwing a cloth over the ink on the table, he tripped over the leg of his chair, rushing for the door.

Old man Relicrue sat in his worn wood-woven chair, his eyes closed and his hands folded in his lap when the door to his small hut flew open. He started, but it amounted to little more than a widening of the eyes and a twitch of his shoulders. He should have heard the boy coming, he scolded himself. If the way he burst through the door was any indication he had to have come crashing through the woods like an angry boar.

Emile panted in the doorway, half bent over as the old man shifted, taking him in. His face was flushed, and his hair windblown. He had run the whole way, never once slowing down or letting go of the paper in his hand.

"Look!" he exclaimed, short of breath as he thrust the parchment to the old man, "Look what I did!" He beamed, crooked teeth showing as he took a few extra steps inside. Sunlight poured in behind him, blinding Relicrue.

"Shut the door, boy, and we'll both look." The old man moved as though he might rise, and then settled again. He would not admit that his worn old joints protested the cooling weather that came with winter's approach.

Emile flushed, turning to carefully secure the door before spinning back. Once more he offered the parchment, and this time the lanky old hermit reached out to retrieve it. He settled the paper before him, carefully held by the edges. The boy waited with baited breath, watching him read. For a very long time, the old man did not speak, and Emile began to lose confidence. He wondered if he had done something wrong, or perhaps if his words did not make sense.

"What is it? What did I do?" He moved forward hesitantly, his excitement dwindling. Was old Relicrue still angry about his words earlier? He shuffled yet closer, and still the old man did move.

"Read this to me." Emile blinked when Relicrue finally spoke. He knew the hermit could read, he'd seen him do it. He did not take the paper when it was offered, the words indelibly etched into his mind.

"A dragon once lived upon the sea, it's tears the sorrow of men. It's wayward heart beat desperately, calling their souls to sea. The dragon, it taught the men to fish, to swim, to sail and more. So that the men could live good lives, and let the dragon soar."

His voice was strong and steady, but soft inside the room. It carried to every corner, though it was hardly more than a whisper in volume. Relicrue's eyes lifted to the boy, lost beneath heavy eyebrows. The boy saw something in them that made his heart skip a beat.

"You wrote this?" The old man did not sound skeptical, but he had to be certain. Emile nodded quickly, confused.

"O-of course. I, I didn't mean to, it just -" His voice wavered with uncertainty. "Well, it sort of happened." He bit his lip as Relicrue stood, laying the paper on his table. He ran a finger over the edge, drawing it down to the ink stain. It looked uncannily like a dragon in flight now that it had dried.

"What is thi-" His words were interrupted by a clatter, and both the boy and old man jumped. Relicrue's head snapped to the side, where the lid to a clay bowl lay shattered on the floor. A soft chirping filled the room as Emile knelt to pick up the pieces, startled.

"Leave them." The old man moved forward, his robes brushing the boy's arm. He reached out, gingerly drawing the bowl from the shelf, and setting it on the table. Within lay the scraps of stones, suddenly broken. Shards of black and blue and red lay everywhere within the bottom of the bowl. On top of them writhed curling little bodies. Black and blue, gold and red, silver and orange.

"Dragons!" The boy yelped, jumping back, and then bouncing forward, "You - you have dragons!" His wide eyes took in the weak beasts, small enough to sit in the palm of his hand.

"No," the old man whispered as he watched the shining blue fledgling topple over the edge of the bowl, clumsily landing on the parchment. "You have dragons." He reached out, plucking the tiny creature from the table, and setting it within the boy's cupped hands, "You brought them to life."

"Me?" The boy nearly screeched in disbelief. The little blue thing lifted its head and squawked at him, its scrawny neck too young to hold its heavy head steady as wide gold eyes took Emile in.

"Yes you. It was your words, like the words of the mages in my stories, that brought them into being." Relicrue reached in, and pulled the silver dragonling free, setting it upon the table, each of its brothers and sisters following. "Like those mages, you have the power to bring life to myth."

The boy stared at the man in awe, "But - all I did was write. How can I..." His face flushed with confusion and disbelief as the hermit set a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head.

"You have an ancient gift, one I thought would die with me." He pulled his hand away to catch a fledgling as it toppled off of the table, setting it back inside the bowl. "I will teach you, and you will be the first of the new age, but..." He looked at the boy once more, his eyes deep, his words heavy. "Only you can choose this path. I cannot make you write. No one can force you to accept this gift."

Emile stared at the tiny dragon in his hands, and remembered what it had felt like to write the words he had written. For a moment, he felt the stirring within once more, he felt the surge of excitement that had accompanied his quill moving across the paper. It was not really him choosing, he knew, fate had already chosen for him.

"Yes. Yes, teach me." He looked up at the last of the mages, full of life and dreams, and he nodded. "Show me how to set them free."


  1. this Story drew me in easily from the first sentence.
    passing the secrets from Generation to Generation?
    really good.

    Michael McCarthy

  2. The power of the storyteller! Bringing the words to life, or, in this case, bringing life from the words.
    And the story lives on...
    Nicely done.

  3. Awesome job! I enjoyed it very much

  4. For any storyteller, this is what dreams are made of! It's a really cool concept executed wonderfully. Will we see more from Emile and Relicrue?