Reading the Light of the Ghost Dragons
The lights that were the spirits of the Great Dragons flowed across the northern sky, reds and yellows, greens and deep purples. They curled around each other in an intricate dance, tangling and untangling, tossed high and diving low, flashing wide arcs in blurs of bright color. They curled around each other, weaving patterns that seemed almost like words written on top of each other.
Sammit watched her daughter’s face. The girl’s lips moved, trying to decipher the message scrawled across the sky. Her deep brown eyes narrowed, pupils scanning back and forth, up and down. The index finger of her right hand moved in small whirls and stuttering loops. No other part of her moved. She might as well have been a statue, carved of granite and clothed in the rough fabrics of the frontier village.
She’s close, Sammit thought. Too close. Where have the years gone?
She put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. The girl twitched and blinked, her concentration broken.
“Mom! I almost had it! They were saying something to me!” She stomped her small foot and glared up at her mother in frustration.
“Nancit,” her mother said in a clear, scolding tone. The girl’s face softened. She looked down.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “Just…I almost read the words!” She looked up and her eyes were bright with excitement. “I did what you told me! I thought like a big Dragon! All bright and golden and I almost did!”
Her mother smiled and drew Nancit in for a big hug. “I’m proud of you! You’ve worked very hard but what did I say about too much?”
Nancit took a half step back and stood in her serious, formal recital pose. “A Sage must never be too much of the Dragon or she will forget to be human. But…”
“But nothing, bright girl,” she said in a stern voice, even as she used the nickname they both loved most, for different reasons. “Who is the Mother Sage and who is the daughter?”
Nancit ducked her head again. “I’m sorry, Mother Sage. Can I try again tomorrow?”
“We shall see. Now run home. It is late and your bed is calling.” She gave her daughter a quick hug and a gentle shove down the trail from the clearing back to the village. She had no concern for any wild animals this time of year. The hunters would be out and they’d hear Nancit’s light steps. They would look out. Everyone looked out. She stood up slowly, put her hands in the small of her back and stretched. The lights still capered and swirled in the deep, dark sky, covering and uncovering the moon, playing pee-pie with it.
They’re trying to get my attention, she thought. Or someone’s.
Closing her eyes, Sammit slowed her breathing and turned her focus inwards. The chirps of crickets and night frogs faded and the growl and fire of the dragon’s ghost grew louder in her mind. A single light from the sky, bright gold like the glitters in a fortune-seeker’s pan, swung out of the dance of the others, spun slow, lazy circles closer to her. Sammit held out a hand and the light stopped in the sky above her, expanded, grew more diffuse, then faded out. She opened her eyes and there were gold flecks in the dark brown. She considered the other lights and they considered her back. They danced above and around her, diving and dodging separately now, as if each light were trying to gain her exclusive attention. Her eyes scanned the sky as her daughter’s had, but with the focus and direction of a Mother Sage.
The ghosts were writing words, but in a language that died with them over a thousand years before. It was the language of the Great Dragons of the North, the ones long gone, the ones who had terrified then enthralled the world then terrified it once again. They were agitated, even the greatest of them, the gold dragon that had flowed into her and spoke with her, spirit to mind. It translated the ghost-writing for her and, as it did, tongues of small golden flame flashed from her eyes. She listened to all of it, and there was much to hear. The dragons were agitated as she had never before seen, even the great gold.
She struggled to keep up. Once in a while she shook her head, and said a word or two of the old language out loud, sharply in admonishment. No one in the village would have understood what she said or even what was happening to her except her daughter. The dragons swirled in tighter patterns, almost frantic to scrawl out more words. The gold in her head chattered so quickly that she almost couldn’t tell one dragon’s words from the other. Then, a thought from outside the chatter came to her — the cold discernment of a Mother Sage.
The dragon-ghosts were frightened.
She held out her hands and cried, “HIE!”. At once the lights held their positions, quivering in the air. Stop, she thought to the gold. It settled. Waited.
Sammit crouched, let her weight settle comfortable on her heels. She took in two long breaths, then a third. The lights above her did not move. The gold left her slowly, like water from a drain, and joined the others above her. Sammit watched them, wearily. The focus had taken much of what energy she had left after a busy day in the village and with Nancit, but there was more.
The words they had written were not good words. She had seen blood in them, flight, a great horror her people knew only from the artifacts they had found when her people had settled her a score of generations ago. The truth she had seen among the fear and history had come down to a single word, the most terrifying word of all.
Something was coming. Something that frightened even the centuries-dead ghosts of mighty dragons.
Sammit flexed her shoulders and turned her head from side to side, loosening the stress-tight muscles. She stood slowly and looked up into the lights. They lit her face, red and yellow, gold, purple, and green. She could sense the worry in them — worry not only for themselves but for her and her people.
“Do not worry, Great Ones,” she said. “We have lore as well. We will find a way. I will come back and we will talk more. Is it well, then?” The dragons each bounded up and down as if nodding. She nodded back and they zipped upwards and away into the dark night.
Sammit watched the sky for a moment after they had gone and the crickets and night frogs came back to fill the late autumn night with their music. The dragons were not the only ones who would worry. She thought of Nancit, eager to be like her mother. She thought of the whole village, who relied on the Mother Sage and the words she brought back from the Great Dragons of the North. They would not like the words she brought tonight, but they’d need to hear it.
She spun on her heels and began to jog to the trail and home.
Above her, a single gold light winked into visibility, and watched her run.
When I saw the art my friend Cedar made earlier in the week, the first part of today’s story jumped into my head like the scene from a movie. I couldn’t help but write it down, then see what else might have happened afterwards. It’s likely there’s a larger story here, but given the other stories and poems I have in the air right now, I won’t have time to go farther into Sammit’s world. Not just yet.
I might do that later on, though. If there’s time and interest. You never know!