I’ve always loved stories and legends. Hearing them, relaying them to other people. Unfortunately, the other kids my age weren’t as fond of it. They would tease me if I ever tried to tell them one of my favourite stories. And since Riverton was a small town, my options for playmates were slim.
There was a cliff not too far from the village, which people would sometimes climb, or jump off of as a test of courage. The river below was fairly deep, but if you didn’t jump just right you could easily fall onto the rocks below. One day, I was playing with some of the other kids in the village, and one boy was bragging about how his big brother had jumped off the cliff and dove into the river. He and another girl in the group threw a ball back and forth arguing about who was the most scared to jump from the cliff.
Their banter went on for a short while until another boy jumped between them and caught the ball. “We all know the real scaredy puss is Gwendolyn!” He pointed at me. “She’s too scared to go near the edge.” The kids laughed.
Insisting that I was brave, I ran off towards the cliff. I could hear the other kids laughing, shouting that I’d never be able to do it, that I’d come back crying. By the time I reached the top of the hill, my small legs were aching and sweat was pouring down my face. I clenched my teeth and took a deep breath, gathering all the courage I could fit in my small, nine year old body.
I took a step forward. And another. And another. When I reached the edge, I looked back at the village, squinting my eyes and tried to shield my face from the sun with an arm, but the other kids were long gone. They had probably returned home laughing about how I would chicken out from jumping.
And, honestly, I wanted to chicken out. The kids were gone; they would never know that I hadn’t actually jumped. I could easily walk into a shallow part of the river to get my clothes and hair wet. But then, I heard pebbles falling to the rocks below.
Everything happened all at once. The world seemed to move in slow motion. Part of the cliff’s edge crumbled, and my foot slipped. I felt my body start to fall towards the rocks below. My arms flailed about, and I managed to grab hold of a root dangling from the cliff side.
I didn’t want to look at the rocks below me. I didn’t want to think about my sweat-drenched hand slipping from the old, dry tree root. I could only look up at the sky, turning deep orange and red as the sun sank lower in the sky. My eyes were blurry and stinging with tears. I wanted to cry, to scream for help, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good.
Suddenly, I heard the flapping of large wings, and my stomach doubled the knots it was in. My breath caught in my chest, and my eyes widened. Light glinted off of something golden in the sky above me.
The wings were larger than the body by quite a bit, and light passed through them ever so slightly. The long tail twisted as the shape flew above me, steering it in a circle.
The tail, the wings, there was no doubt about it. This was a small, golden dragon circling in the sky above me. It was perhaps twice the size of the dogs that shepherds would use to tend their sheep. Tears streamed down my face. If I didn’t fall to my death on the rocks, the dragon would probably kill me, instead. I wondered which death would be faster, more painless.
My hand, covered in sweat, slipped, and I lost my grip on the root. The dragon dove down towards me. At least, I thought sadly, I got to see a real dragon. Just knowing that dragons existed outside of legends was a small comfort in the face of my death. I closed my eyes and felt the dragon’s mouth close gently around one of my feet. His teeth weren’t particularly sharp, so it didn’t hurt, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to throw me against the cliff or drown me or some other awful death.
I kept my eyes closed tight, waiting for the dragon to kill me. I could hear the beat of his wings. I could feel the dragon’s breath, heavy and warm on my ankle. After a moment, I was lifted up. I opened my eyes as I felt my body make contact with the earth again, and looked at the dragon.
He looked back at me with large, innocent eyes that seemed to ask if I was okay. I leaned forward and threw my arms around his neck, sobbing into his golden scales.
“You saved me,” I sobbed. “You saved me, you saved me, thank you…”
I stayed there, crying until my eyes ached, holding the kindhearted dragon that saved my life. The sun sank below the horizon, and the sky turned a deep violet, and I pulled my head away from the dragon’s warm chest and looked in his eyes again. I could hardly believe that I was sitting next to a dragon. I had heard legends about the creatures, but never thought that they ever actually existed.
“You’re a real live dragon,” I said hoarsely. I reached my hand up weakly and touched the dragon’s snout. He closed his eyes and purred happily. I wondered what I could possibly say to this majestic creature, or if he could even understand me. “I’m Gwendolyn.” I paused, waiting for some sort of a response. The dragon just continued to look at me. “Do you have a name?”
Warm brown eyes fluttered open and looked at me quizzically.
“Can I give you a name?”
He purred again, as if to say yes.
“How about Ayaan?”
The dragon gently touched its face to my cheek. I wrapped my arms around his neck again, and suddenly I realized just how tired I was. He pulled away from my embrace, and lay flat on the ground, allowing me to climb carefully on his back. He looked back at me, then looked towards the village, and began walking down the hill.
Ayaan carried me from the hill to my house. When we arrived at the door, he scratched at it gently with a paw. My mother opened it, and when she saw me there, riding on the back of a dragon, she stared in shock. After a moment, she stepped aside to allow Ayaan to carry me inside.
“Gwen, what on earth happened to you?” she asked, sitting me in a chair. “Some kids came into town saying you went up the hill to jump. I didn’t want to believe them, but you’d been gone for hours.” She placed her hands on the sides of my face. “Are you alright?”
I explained what happened, that I was going to turn around and come home, but that the edge of the cliff crumbled. How I managed to catch an old root hanging from the side of the cliff, but lost my grip. And finally, about how this small dragon, Ayaan, saved me.
“I don’t know why he saved me,” I concluded. “But he did.” Ayaan shuffled over and placed his large, round head on my knees. I patted his snout. “Mother, did you know that dragons are real?”
Mother was quiet for a while. “Stay here,” she finally said.
She left the room for a moment, and returned with a book and a small leather bag. She opened up the book and placed it on my lap. The pages held a story, about a person who found an injured dragon. Next to the story was a drawing of a dragon that looked almost exactly like Ayaan. I looked up at my mother, and asked her what it meant.
She opened up the leather pouch and took out an ocarina. “When I was younger, I was a bard. I played music for people, and told them stories. One day, I found a beautiful golden dragon. She was injured. I cleaned her wound and gave her some food, and she remained my friend for years.” Mother hesitantly touched Ayaan’s head. “Long ago, dragons were hunted to near extinction because humans feared them. But most dragons are gentle, loyal creatures.”
Mother handed me her ocarina. “Gwen, I think you should become a bard, just like I had been. You’d be able to travel the world and see things that nobody else has ever even imagined seeing. Creatures that most people think to be nothing but fairy tale.”
I stared at her, eyes wide with excitement. The idea of being able to travel the world doing what I loved was more than tempting. I looked at the twelve hole ocarina in my hands, and I could practically see my whole future reflecting in it.
For months afterward, I spent most of my time listening to travelers at the inn talking. Mother taught me how to play her ocarina, and I began sharing the stories I heard. Ayaan remained by my side, almost certainly the child of the dragon that Mother had befriended.
At first, I shared the story of how I met Ayaan, but the more I played at the inn and shared my own story, the more other people would share their stories with me. I wrote down every story I heard as best as I could remember in a small book. When I was old enough, I gathered up all of my essential belongings, and my book of stories and ocarina. I left my hometown to travel and discover some more stories, even living some of my own.
Now, Ayaan and I have been travelling together for a few years. He’s grown a lot since he first saved me. He can still fit inside of a room, but he’s a bit larger than two horses put together. I’ve met countless creatures of legend, like were-beasts and griffons. Sometimes I share the stories of my adventures at an inn, sometimes around a campfire at a rest stop with other travelers. But always, always, I am sharing stories, with my golden angel by my side.