Love of a Dragon's Heart

Cassandra Tibbs

CHAPTER ONE

"Come on now, Jael! You can't be serious!" I only looked at my friend, Bowen, with complete silence and utter bluntness. "Okay, maybe you are…but you're not going." I turned my back to Bowen, took my horse's reins in my hand, began walking toward the entrance of the stable, and said, "I am going to the mountain bluffs, and you can't stop me." And without another word from either of us, I departed on my journey.

I had plenty of food in my saddlebag and water in my canteen. And just in case I needed to hunt for meat or defend myself, my sword was in the sheath and my bow and arrows were on my saddle. I didn't really think I'd need the bow and arrows for hunting, because I rarely eat meat. But you can never be too careful when it comes to defending yourself, so I decided to play it safe; with my luck, I'd have forgotten it in my bedchamber in the church, left, and needed it that first night on my own. But I made SURE to bring it, no matter how much I doubted I'd need to use it.

Bowen had been my first and closest friend I'd ever had in my entire life. Actually, he'd been more like a father to me than a friend. He'd found me one day, wandering through the deepest part of the woods, alone, orphaned, and covered in cuts, bruises, and blood. He took me in his arms, set me upon his horse, and took me to the village church. There, Brother Gilbert had bathed me, clothed me, fed me, and began teaching me the word of God. I was 2 years old at the time, so I didn't really understand much of what he was saying.

There had been a village not too far from where Bowen had found me, so he wanted to go see why I had been all alone. When he reached the village, he found an ash-covered, raided, and completely destroyed piece of rubble that was once called "home" by so many.

All around him, lay scorched, battered, and beaten bodies, some of which could have been the family of the child he found in the woods. He felt pain and sorrow for the child, and then made the decision to take full responsibility for her, showing her the ways of the knight, so that she may live a long, honest life. And he would have Brother Gilbert teach her the word and ways of God, so that she may have a sturdy religious foundation in her life as well.

When Bowen returned from the destroyed village, he went to speak with Brother Gilbert at the church. After he had dismounted his horse, led it into the stable, and headed for the church entrance, the heavy wooden doors slowly but surely opened, a tiny body squeezed through the small gap, and ran towards him with open arms.

"Knight! Knight! Knight!" the tiny, musical voice chided over and over again. I jumped at Bowen with all my might, the top of my head barely reaching his stomach, and gave him a greeting hug. He was dumbfounded at first, but openly returned the hug.

He looked up as Brother Gilbert ran through the wooden doors of the church, with his friar's cap hanging halfway off his head, hair going every direction, and he was extremely out of breath. The look on his face went from irritated and exhausted to happy and extremely relieved when he caught sight of Bowen.

"Thank the good Lord up above! The hero has returned at last!" he said with a wide smile spread across his face.

Bowen looked at him confusedly, and asked, "Hero? What do you mean 'hero?'"

Brother Gilbert only smiled wider and answered, "I mean YOU! YOU have returned!"

Bowen gave a half-hearted chuckle and said, "Brother Gilbert, I am no hero."

"You are in MY mind, Bowen!"

"How so?" he asked curiously. Brother Gilbert only looked at me, eyes tired, and full of irritation. I hid my face behind Bowen's hand, hoping they wouldn't see me. Bowen only smiled.

"Why are you so CHEERY Knight!" Gilbert yelled in frustration. "This little HEATHEN has been torturing me for hours on end, while you're off riding through the woods! I asked her if she wanted to do anything to occupy herself until you returned, and she said she wanted to play a game! So I asked her what game she wanted to play! And can you guess what she told me!" he asked sarcastically, now out of breath again.

Bowen looked down at me, and merely asked, "What? What game did you want to play?"

He waited a few moments, wanting me to tell him. I finally looked up at him and said, sheepishly, "Knight. Knight dragon." and hid my face behind his hand once again.

"What?" Bowen asked, confused.

"This little heathen has been chasing me all day long, beating me, stabbing me, poking and prodding me with anything she can find, and yelling, 'Die Dagon, DIE!'"

After a moment with nothing but Brother Gilbert's heavy breathing to break the silence, Bowen broke out into laughter. Gilbert stood there, staring at him, dumbfounded.

"She wanted to play Knights and DRAGONS!" Bowen managed between bursts of laughter. "She was the knight, and you were the dragon!" he continued.

"Then explain to me WHY exactly she locked me in the monastery for 3 hours!"

"She…she locked you in the dungeon!" Bowen said, still laughing. "The knight locks the dragon in the dungeon until the dragon dies." he continued, his laughter dying down now.

Brother Gilbert gave a sigh of relief that his torture had finally ended, and decided to change the subject now that Bowen had completely ceased from laughing. "Did you find the child's family, Bowen?" he asked, worried.

"I did." the knight solemnly replied.

"And?" Gilbert pressed on.

"And…the entire village was destroyed. Burnt to the ground. Nothing was left but ashes and dead bodies of the people who once lived and flourished there." Bowen said quietly.

"God have mercy on their souls…" Brother Gilbert whispered in a quiet prayer. "What are you going to do with the child? Her family, home, and village are gone." he continued.

"The only thing I CAN do…I'm taking her in as my own." Gilbert's eyes grew wide with shock at hearing this news. "And better yet," Bowen continued, "I want you to teach her the word of God, from now on, until the very day you die." he said with a smile on his face.

Brother Gilbert's eyes grew wider, then went back to normal. "Well, in that case, that day may come sooner than you think, Bowen."

Bowen only laughed cheerfully and said, "It's agreed then! I shall take her in as my own, and you shall teach her the word of God for the rest of your life!" he chimed as he threw his arm around Brother Gilbert's shoulder.

"And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way now." Gilbert said dully, shrugging out from under Bowen's arm.

"Where are you off to now, Gilbert?" he asked, questioningly.

"If you must know," Gilbert said, turning around to face Bowen, "I'm going to finalize my will. After all, you can't just leave the dear girl alone while you're off fighting dragons. Someone's got to watch her while you're gone."

And with that, Brother Gilbert turned and walked away, looking exactly as he had when he burst through the doors when Bowen first arrived.

Bowen looked down, only to see me staring up at him, tears forming in my eyes. "Don't worry, I'm not mad at you." he said, smiling. Hearing that, my face lit up and a smile spread wide across my face, all traces of tears…gone.

He smiled at me again, bent down on one knee, and stroked my cheek, saying, "You have the smile of an angel. And it's as if I was lead by an angel to find you. You're never angry with anything or anyone. Always cheerful and happy. You are my own little angel."

I smiled as wide as I possibly could, laughed the most adorable laugh anyone had ever heard, and clapped my hands excitedly. He smiled again. "That's it!" he exclaimed happily. "From here on out, your name is Jael! Short for Angel!"

I squealed in delight at my new name, and soon lived up to it.

CHAPTER TWO

-meanwhile-

Just a little closer…just a little farther. I can't miss. I won't miss.

My thoughts repeated inside my head as I inched silently closer to my prey. As the 23-point buck stood in the middle of the luscious, green field, grazing, I drew an arrow from my archery bag, mounted the arrow to my bow, aimed, and released. The point-tipped arrow cut threw the air like an axe through a peach. There was a quiet thud as the arrow stuck the deer's side. It pierced strait through the muscles and into the heart. Death was instantaneous. The animal felt no pain at all. I made sure of that. When the dead body fell to the ground, I quickly fetched my horse from the nearby trees, led it to where the deer lay, lifted the corpse atop my black stallion, and headed off to the nearest town.

I hurried toward the butcher shop, tied my horse to a nearby fencepost, ran to the door of the butchery, and quickly walked inside.

"Well, well, well, who do we have here? Hey boys, the angel's back to preach about her latest catch!" the butcher yelled to everyone in the grey stone-walled room.

"Woo-hoo! Yeah! Alright! Whoop!" they all shouted in response.

I smiled shyly as he playfully joked and bragged on me. "By the way, where IS your latest catch, Jael?" he whispered, leaning in closer, so that only I could hear his words. My smile became bold and magnificent, and right away he knew.

"Oh dear LORD! The girl couldn't even carry the beast in! C'mon boys! Let's go see what she brought us!" he announced again. They all pushed and shoved and prodded each other, hurrying to get out the door all at once.

"I don't even want to ask how many points it's got. I don't want to have a heart attack before I even get to see it!" he said, laughing. And with that, he ran out the door with everyone else. I followed slowly behind.

"Wow, Jael! I've never SEEN a buck THIS big in my entire life! I don't know how you could kill this thing with a single shot of an arrow, let alone lift it onto your horse! How'd you do it!" one man asked, astonished.

"150...200 pounds at LEAST!" another man shouted, estimating the weight of the buck.

"23 point!" another shouted in amazement.

As the butcher looked the buck over, he said persuasively, "I'll give you…700 copper, 200 silver, 50 gold…for the weight. Also, 30 arrows for the shot-accuracy. And as many fruits and vegetables as you want for 3 months because of your age. OH! And, I'll brandish your sword 7 times, for free, because you're a young lady. Not to mention, I'll give your horse shelter and food for 3 weeks, you may stay at my home with me, my wife, and lovely daughter, AND…I will tell you what you have missed while you have been gone."

He turned to look at me, to see if I would accept his offer. "Deal?" he asked. I walked up to him, held my hand out to his, and accepted the generous offer. "Alright then." he said, smiling.

"Wow Jael, Daren's NEVER given ANYONE THAT kind of payment before! You must be a VERY skilled hunter!"

"And why wouldn't she be?" another man chimed in, "She only learned from the best! And even HE couldn't bag a buck this good!"

"That's right," Daren added, "I taught her everything she knows…" he finished boldly. A quick moment of silence, then everyone burst out laughing.

"You taught her everything she knows about trading, Daren, but I taught her everything she knows about hunting." a voice called out from behind the large group of men.

"Bowen!" Daren shouted in friendliness. "What happened to your trip to the village just off the river bank?" he asked. Bowen dismounted his horse and walked over to the crowd.

"Just got back. Got 20 gold for slaying the dragon that's been terrorizing the towns and farmers." he said boldly, many men in the group began snickering and laughing. Some just smiled. "What?" Bowen asked curiously, looking around at everyone.

"Oh, nothing, Bowen. It's just…I gave Jael 50 gold, 200 silver, 700 copper, limitless fruits and vegetables, shelter for her and her horse, 30 bows, 7 sword brandishings, AND I tell her what she's missed while she's been gone these past 9 months…all that for this magnificent buck. And all you got for killing a dragon was 20 gold? Wow, Bowen. You got cheated." Daren said, smiling. That little explanation caused everyone except for Bowen and I to laugh.

As the men had their fun, I untied the 23-point buck from the saddle of my horse, lifted it down, walked around to the back of the shop, laid it down on the table, walked inside the shop, gathered all the fruits I could carry, got the 30 arrows I was promised, walked out to my horse, put the fruits in my saddlebag, put the arrows in my archery bag, mounted my horse, and began to leave.

"Where are you going, Jael?" Daren called after me. I turned my head to look at him, and called back,

"On an adventure. I heard that there have been funny things happening up around the falls. I'm going to go check it out." And with that, I departed.

I'd heard stories about farmers spotting a dragon taking their sheep and cattle, and lighting their crops on fire. All this and more, happening around the waterfall up near the mountains. I journeyed through the fields and trees heading toward the waterfall. I'd gone there since I was a young child. It had been my special hiding place; the place where I went to have an adventure, camp, hunt, or just be alone for a while. I knew every shortcut to get there. I also knew that the inside of the falls was hollow. Though, not many people knew because the falling water covered the entrance.

I also knew that the inside was large enough to hold many families, animals, or even…a dragon.

CHAPTER THREE

I was a good 2 miles from the falls, and already I could hear the sound of the rushing water echoing off the rocks and trees around me. My hands were trembling with excitement as I remembered so many stories of dragons that Bowen had told me at night when I couldn't sleep, when we would play games together, or just because we were bored. He would often say that they were ferocious, deathly creatures that should be destroyed, but I could only imagine them as beautiful, majestic beasts that should be able to live and thrive just like every other creature in the world. And if the stories and rumors I'd been hearing lately were true, I'd get to see a dragon with my own eyes once I reached the falls.

Ever since the first time Bowen had told me a story of how he defeated a dragon, I'd wanted to see one for myself, see if the rumors of how ruthless and dangerous they are, were true. But Bowen had never allowed me to go on trips with him. He always said that I was either too young or that it was a job for a knight, not a girl, and that he would not have me going with him.

He always said, "Perhaps, when you are older, maybe then you will go with me. We will destroy the beast together. But until that day comes, you will remain here, and wait for my return."

I would sneak out the window of my bedchamber at night, go to the stables, mount my horse, and ride off into the night, pretending that I was a knight also, and that I fought dragons for a living…just as Bowen did. Sometimes, I would fall asleep on the back of my horse, and wake up in some town or forrest. I even ran into Bowen every once in a while. He would lecture me about how dangerous it was to do things like that, and take me home again.

But now, there would be no need for lectures, no need for Bowen to take me back home. I was of age now. I was able to leave home by myself now. I was old enough to find and fight dragons on my own. I would be known throughout history as the first girl to become a dragon slayer. And I would be remembered forever.

I had been riding for hours. My face, neck, arms, and back were severely sunburned. I cursed my skin for being so sensitive to the sun, but I knew that after the burn passed, it would darken to a slight tan, and in that I found slight happiness.

The excruciating heat from the sun was making me dizzy, nauseous, and tired. I knew that I would need to stop at the next stream or river to bathe in, otherwise, I would suffer heatstroke. And then, carried by the wind, the aroma of cool, crisp water and fragrent flowers filled my nose.I gently nudged my horse's sides, urging him to go faster. He did so, and the next thing I knew, we were sprinting towards the source of the smell as if we had wings and were flying.

When we finally reached the source, I saw hills covered in honeysuckle and wildflowers. The waterfall seemed more beautiful than I remembered. Tiny trinklets of water splashed on my face as it fell and hit the rest of the water and the rocks below. I jumped down from the saddle and ran to the shallow end of the pool of water. I ran and splashed in the freezing water, covering as much of my legs as possible. I then walked slowly into to the deeper area of the water, letting my body adjust to the cold temperature.

As I eased deeper into the water, my horse walked up behind me.

His ears perked up, and he stared at the falling water. After a few moments, he reared up frantically, bucking, kicking, and whinnying at the air. I reached for the reigns to try to calm him, but he turned and kicked me in the head, knocking me off my feet. He continued to kick and trample me, breaking many of my bones, and causing my skin to bleed severely in many spots. I tried to shield my face with my hands, but it was no use.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the water covering the hollow entrance of the falls, part. The gap between the falling water grew larger, and larger, and then, I heard a blood-churning ROAR! My horse was so startled, that he jumped over my limp body, and ran back into the woods. I turned my head just enough, so that I could see what had scared him away. I saw a large, lumpy shape, but then, it was only a shadow, and then, everything went black.

I awoke to the warmth of a fire, the loud sound of rushing water, and the coolness of rocks. I opened my eyes, but saw nothing, everything was black. I sat up slowly, my entire body aching. I didn't go far though, there was something very heavy weighing my body down.

"Where…where am I?" I asked myself quietly. "Why can't I see?"

I couldn't stand seeing nothing but darkness. I didn't mind it, but it really scared me. The last place I remembered being was in the water in front of the falls…so how did I end up near a fire, and on cold rocks?

Then I heard it. It sounded like, a snore? Right beside my head. I lay there for a moment, listening to the sound, noticing something else. It was a loud ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom. Kind of like a heartbeat. The sound was relaxing to me, so I lay there, trying to match it to my own heartbeat, but this one was off somehow. It wasn't a normal beat…but it relaxed me just as well as a normal one would have.

Suddenly, the snoring ceased, and the thing which was holding me down, slightly moved. It pulled me until my right arm was pressed up against something very, very warm. It also felt hard, and almost scaley…like a snake.

"Are you feeling better?" someone said, they had a Scottish accent. It was a man's voice. He sounded as if he was probably in his thirties.

"Who…who are you?" I asked, scared.

"You may call me whatever you like, Princess." the voice replied. I was shocked. No one had called me "Princess" since I was a child! As I began having memories of when Bowen and Brother Gilbert called me by that name, I reached for my neck, grabbing for the golden pendant that I always wore.

On the front side, there was a sapphire stone in the very middle. The stone was as large as my eye. It was an extraordinary shade of blue. My favorite. And so one of my childhood nicknames was Sapphire, or Saphira.

On the back side of the pendant, was an engraved image of a dragon head wearing a crown. It stood for "Strength of a Royal Beast". Thus the title "Princess". To my knowledge and Bowen's alike, I was not descended from royal blood, so some people thought this name strange. But it was so because when I was a young girl, Bowen and I would play a game called, "Ruler of the Dragons". The rules of the game were very simple: whoever defeated the most dragons, wins, and becomes ruler over all the dragons of the land.

Of course, Bowen would always let me win. And every time, I would become, Princess of the Dragons, or, Dragon Princess. Bowen on the other hand, was Lord of the Dragons, or, Dragon Lord. We both enjoyed playing that game. We would build "dragons" out of common items that we came across. Gunniesacks, hay, straw, rope, and a pole or stick to help it to stand up.

Bowen would mount his stallion, I would mount my Shetland, and we would charge at the "dragon" with our "swords" (poles or long sticks that we'd found lying around, because they were safer).

I was pulled out of my memories by the sound of heavy movement.

"I knew your mother, Princess." said the voice. "She was a very lovely woman, such as yourself."

"You knew my mother?" I asked, hopefull.

"Yes, she was very kind, and had a pure heart. She loved you very much; you were everything to her."

"What did she look like?" I asked excitedly. My heart raced as I awaited his answer.

"She was the second most beautiful person in all the land. Her hair was long and flowing, the color of the midnight sky. Her eyes were large and full of kindness; they were blue as the ocean. Her skin was light as cream, and her smile was as bright and shining as the sun." he said, sounding as though he were in deep thought.

"If she was the second most beautiful person, who was the first?" I asked curiously. He chuckled merrily.

"You were…and still are! You are much like her in many ways, but you are also very different."

I frowned disappointedly. He chuckled again, saying, "Don't worry. The differences make you all the more beautiful. Your skills are flawless and graceful like a swan."

"Skills?" I asked confusedly.

"Yes, your archery, hunting, survival, and horseback riding skills are magnificent! Your physical strength is admirable as well! Not to mention, your interest in dragons is rare. Not many people are like you, Princess." He sounded very pleased as he said this, and I wondered how he knew so much about me.

"How do you know of my interest in dragons?" I asked suspiciously.

"Oh, Bowen has told me much about you, Princess."

"You know Bowen?"

"Yes. We are good friends. We help each other out very often. He thinks very highly of you, Princess. He speaks of you often."

A small smile spread across my face as he said this, but it didn't reach my mind.

"Why do you keep calling me 'Princess'" I asked. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for what he said next.

"Your mother was the queen of Himohuma, therefore, that makes you a Princess by blood."

My eyes widened and my breath caught in my throat.

"That pendant you wear upon your breast is no piece of costume jewelery; it speaks the truth. Your mother was a good friend to a dragon…they grew up together. She was the only human who would stand up against the persecution of dragons, and she paid the price for it…the entire village did."

He sounded so sad, I felt pity for him. It was as if he had been there himself.

"Were there any survivors?" I asked hesitantly. There was a short pause, but he finally answered.

"Only one."

"…Who?"

"You, dear Princess. You are the only one who made it out alive. Bowen found you in the woods a few miles away from where your villiage had been, but there was nothing left but ashes and corpses. Your mother had brought you to visit me many times, and you had soon memorized the way from your villaige to my home. The day of the raid, she sent you to my home for refuge…but Bowen found you before I did. I'd known something was wrong; I could see the smoke from here, and I knew your mother would never let you perish, so I went out in search for the both of you. By the time I got to the villiage, it was too late. I'd feared the worst had happened to you, and I hated myself for years."

"Then what happened?" I asked sadly.

"I met Bowen, we fought, and soon became friends…or rather allies. He told me of a young child he found wandering alone in the woods. He described to me what the child looked like, and I instantly knew that you were safe."

Tears threatened to stream from my eyes, but I forced them away. "Did you ever tell Bowen?" I asked.

"No. I didn't have the heart. He seemed so joyful, and you did as well…I didn't want to take that away from you, Princess."

"What do you mean?" I was confused by so much of this, and I only wanted to hear it put simply for now.

"I only want you to be happy and safe, Princess. I've always wanted that for you. Thanks to Bowen's detailed discriptions of you over the years, I found it a little easier to watch over you."

My eyes widened immensely.

"WHAT?" I yelled, an echo surrounding me on all sides.

"No! I only meant that it was easier for me to find you and make sure you were safe! Is that so much to ask?"

"Why would you do such a thing?"

"Because I love you, that's why!" he yelled, slightly agitated.

CHAPTER FOUR

The warm, summer breeze washed over my body, and the heat from the sun was wonderful. I wanted to lay there forever. I wanted to go back to the amazing dream I'd had the previous night.

I'd successfully taken down a 23-point buck, earned plenty of food and money to last for months…maybe years, and I'd learned about my mother and my past. I wanted to go back to that; to see where it would take me next, but the sweet aroma of fresh berries and fruits forced me to open my eyes.

I looked around. Everything was a shady, deformed blotch of color. At first, I thought it was just the afteraffects of sleep, but when I tried to sit up, the snapping of a rib forced me to fall back down screaming in pain.

As tears began to stream down my cheeks, I heard a heavy flapping sound, and when it stopped, there were loud, deep thuds against the ground…like something BIG was running.

"What's wrong? What happened?" asked a deep, rumbling voice. Whoever it was, they sounded worried. I continued to cry and scream, which only made the pain worse.

"Tell me what happened!" they yelled, frantically.

"My rib!" I gasped. "It…it's broken!" I gave one final, agonized cry, and suddenly, I felt something large, heavy, and warm press against my side. It hurt so badly, I couldn't even scream. The only comfort I had, was the soothing voice of the person who was with me then; they were singing a sweet lullaby, and it was beautiful.

It sounded like an olden Celtic song. And it sounded so…familiar. It was so soothing, it seemed to make all the pain just fade away. Soon, I began to feel a strong urge to fade into a deep, exhausted sleep, but something was stopping me…a fear; but, of what?

Just as my eyes succomed to the overwhelming weight of sleep, I realized where I'd heard the familiar song before…but it was too late to voice my thoughts.

I awoke to a sudden jerk of my leg; the ground beneath me was cold and hard. I slowly sat up, easing my way to a sitting position. I didn't want to rush the action because my side was incredibly sore. I forced my eyes open, trying to see my surrounding area.

Once my vision cleared and my eyes adjusted to the immense darkness of the are, I realized that I was in a cave behind the waterfall I had been at before. I wondered how I got in here, and my silent question was soon answered.