Flying with Lonetta
The first time I carried a human
Fren-Eirol, a Draig Morglas, is a much-respected dragon who was a close friend and confident of Johnson Farthing. She was brought up some centuries before his birth in the south of what was known as The Prelates. This story from her youth was first told in a letter to someone curious about when dragons learned to fly.
I have decided to recount this story of my very early years when I first learned to fly. I was only twenty-one years of age, which is young for even a Sea Dragon, and we fly earlier than some like the Draig Mynyth Coh. Before then I, like all other young Draig Morglas, had trotted everywhere, with the occasional hop and a glide.
“I saw you leap off the cliff this morning, girl.” Lonetta was my best friend. She was nineteen, bright, very silly and would never, ever fly of her own accord. Lonetta was human.
“I love it up there, Lonnee! When that warm wind pushes up over the cliff, it is like someone has kicked me right up the tail! It is so much easier than flapping like mad to take off.”
“So are you going to fly to visit from now on?”
“Not if your dad has any say in the matter; he has still not recovered from Mab-Hone landing on his barn.” Lonetta’s father was one of only five farmers in the village; the rest of the families being involved with the fishing. To be fair, there were only thirty families in Me-Lin Hoe and only ten Sea Dragon families in our own little village less than a fifth of a league up the coast, sat near the dunes before the cliffs rise from the ocean.
“He was being miserable, as usual, and I thought it was funny.”
“So did Hone, which was half of the problem. The fact that he near flattened one end of the barn was bad enough, but he scared the hell out of your dad’s two milkers and they more-or-less fell dry overnight.”
“No, it was fine and Hone did come and repair it.”
“Yeah, he had a fit of the guilts; especially once his mother had finished with him. Big girl is Fren-Daylin.”
“You say that?” Lonetta laughed and started walking along the beach towards the fishing huts.
“Alright, Lonnee; biggish.” Mostly, male Sea Dragons are bigger than females; not by a whole lot, but just a little. They are no stronger and nor do they have a noticeably different shape, not like you humans, but they are a little larger and have smaller crests. Our family, on the other hand, seemed to produce bigguns in the female line, as a friend of mine many centuries later on Taken would say, and even at twenty, I was just about the biggest in the village. By the time I was thirty there was no question about it; I was going to need a much larger house.
Cartenor is one of the warmest countries in The Prelates; it is about as far south as you can go, is dry and has a small population. Our village was on a particularly quiet part of the coast about twelve leagues southwest as the dragon flies from Bornest, the capital of our small Prelatehood, which sat on the mouth of the River Born. Like many small villages, Me-Lin Hoe was certainly not a rich place and indeed it was a very poor place in coin, though rich in humour. The humans traded barrel-packed, salted fish inland with other small villages and they and us tanned rathen and cattle hides for saddles. The dragons created printed linen and we and the villagers cooperated on rug making. At the time I did not realise how different we in our little corner of the world were from the rest of the Prelates. In most places, dragons and humans had long since stopped working together, the Draig Mynyth Coh especially, and even the Sea Dragons were loosening ties with human neighbours. Of course this had been happening for thousands of years, little by little, and our dragon elders were well versed in our history, but in our small, out of the way, shared community on the coast, it was all very distant and unimportant to most of us. We liked each other, allowing for the odd broken barn, and the young grew up together.
“I smell fish.” I said pointedly.
“Better than smelling of fish, I suppose. You hungry?”
“Well, wouldn’t want to make a big thing of it.”
“Yes you would. Aren’t you fishing for yourself yet?” I could hear the teasing in my friend’s voice.
“Haven’t worked out how to take off from the water properly and my one attempt left me trying to paddle back in.”
“Must have looked, erm, interesting.” My precious friend was almost stuffing her hand between her teeth to stop herself laughing.
“You heard, didn’t you.” I am good at flat voices.
“Oh yes!” Lonetta roared with laughter and sat down on one of the small fishing boats pulled up and upturned on the long sands. “Bren-Olenan has been telling everyone.”
“Oh, entire village kind of everyone,” she said with a regrettable note of glee.
“I will kill him.” Bren-Olenan was the elder of our village. He was, at the very least, seven hundred years old and although the title of elder did not give him any special status, it did perhaps earn him some latitude and bragging rights.
“You alright?” My small human friend looked up at me.
“Yeah, suppose.” I sat down on the sand and sniffed the air. “I have managed to get the hang of flying very quickly and I have been so pleased with myself that I just did not think it could be that difficult. Mab-Hone swears to me that I am easily strong enough, but taking flight from the sea feels impossible.”
It isn’t of course. Like everything else, including walking, it is just a question of timing and habit and a month later I had it perfected and I was up and flying with the Scimrafugol. Well, almost. I hadn’t really worked out those birds yet, but that is for another tale.
So the life of a young dragon can sometimes be similar to that of a human, but it isn’t really. Dragons mature to adulthood mentally around thirteen or fourteen years of age; something that not all humans manage till years later, I have noticed. From that age we are very active in our community, but we are flightless and still only half grown. Humans, on the other hand, are just a few years short of physical maturity and can do everything they are ever going to be able to do. Their brains are just lagging behind. As I mentioned, I learned to fly young, but many dragons do not learn until their late twenties or early thirties. Red Dragon males, like my Bren, who can grow to a huge size, have a particular problem as their body grows faster than their wings at an early age. In consequence, we dragons almost have two adult lives. In the first, as youngsters, we take on responsibilities that do not require flight; farming is very common with some or, in my case, I worked with the dyers and even helped with the fishing nets. To be honest, anything that finds me closer to fish is probably going to get my attention.
Most young dragons also learn to read and write, both our own language and Adelan, the common language of all. Lonetta, on the other hand, could neither read nor write and nor could most in her village. It appeared to be unimportant to her, but then as now, I found that most puzzling. We Draig pass our history down through oral traditions. We are lovers of the tale and some, the large Reds in particular, sing and more than a few have fine voices. Yet, we do write, both for practicality and personal pleasure and it is a very important part of our culture. Now, many years later, there is so much I and my closest friend have learned because we both read, and much we will pass on because we both write. Lonetta, so many centuries dead now, is only alive in my memory. She never learned to read and write and left nothing of herself behind.
“If you don’t kill me, Eirol, my father is going to. Definitely!”
“You will be fine, girl,” Mab-Hone standing behind me said with a chuckle. “You just hang on to those cloths and stay flat on her back.”
“You sure about this Hone?” I asked. I was perched on the cliff top, with Lonetta laying on my back shaking like a stranded haddock. “I have only been flying three months.”
“Oh, stop fussing, Eirol. You are already bigger and faster than me.”
“Yeah, but not carrying anything and not when Bren-Olenan said I shouldn’t.”
“Oh, he is just being fussy with all the things that have been going on up at the Neuath on Taken. Silly old men.”
“Look, if you don’t think you should,” Lonetta said from behind my head. “We can do it another time.”
“Don’t you back out now, Lonnee!” Mab-Hone snapped. “This was your idea in the first place. You were the one who was jealous that you can’t fly. Well, problem solved. You are about to fly!” And with that, the idiot dragon put two hands on my rear and shoved me off the cliff.
I love flying. I did from the moment I first caught a current and felt it lift me. Even in later life when desperate circumstances pushed me far beyond my limits, I still loved it. I cannot explain it properly. Perhaps if you were carried up by a kite you may have some idea, but it still would fall short of what I experience. As I slipped off the cliff, I pushed my wings out instinctively. It is not like putting your hands out to stop your fall, it is as if part of your mind just takes over from more rational thought and knows exactly what to do. It is what we are taught when we are young. “You already know how to fly; your wings know what to do. You just have to trust yourself.”
I don’t remember Lonetta screaming, but apparently she did, quite spectacularly. All I remember was pushing my head out on my long neck and snapping out my wings and catching the air like you catch water with your hands. Long before we were smashed against the rocks at the bottom of the cliff, the air carried us out and away over the waves, the wind whistling and roaring around my head and over my body.
“Are we dead?” Lonetta was nothing if she was not over dramatic at times and I do miss her.
“Oh, anything but, darling Lonnee. Are your eyes open?” I hadn’t yet learned how to turn my head while flying, so I shouted, hoping my words would be carried back in the wind.
“Sort of. Not really.” I could feel her gripping the long cloths that we had tied round my body so she had something to hang on to. It wasn’t completely necessary as I have some small fins on my neck which can be used, gently, but I think for the two novices that were Lonetta and me, it was a good suggestion from Mab-Hone. “Oh, all the gods and their creatures!”
Her voice only just made it through the wind, but it didn’t matter. I felt her small, cool hands on my neck and I just knew she was enraptured. “I need to start flapping!” I warned her. “I am running out of glide. We will go higher. Hold on tight, girl.”
I didn’t wait for an answer but just powered my way higher and higher till we must have been three or four thousand feet above the sea. The higher I fly, the easier it becomes. I can flap for a while, then glide for a while and higher still, where the winds are more constant and powerful, I hardly need to flap at all if I am going in the right direction. Of course, as I was still a young Draig Morglas, I hadn’t quite worked out all this detail yet and I was probably flapping far harder than necessary, and yet the flight had become more peaceful, the roar of the wind had abated and the two of us relaxed and enjoyed the moment.
“Do you have to land?” Lonetta asked after a while.
“I mean; can we just stay up here? Stay forever?”
Lonetta wasn’t the last human to say such a thing to me or any other dragon, but it has never meant as much as it did in that moment. For the first time I had an inkling of how close humans and dragons could be, how close they should be, and years later when we no longer would carry a human, we sowed the seeds of decline in both our societies. This flight said it all. Up here, we dragons are in our own world, and that we will share it with friends who cannot fly and soak up their love for us and the experience it gives them, is what true friendship is all about. We throw that away at our peril.
We spoke not a word more for the next hour and as I settled on the clifftop by the dragon village under the darkened gaze of Bren-Olenan, Fren-Daylin and my mother Fren-Eira, I cared not that I might be grounded for the rest of my life. It was not my first flight and it would not be my last by many hundreds of years, but to this day, it is one of my most precious.