Saturday, April 10, 2010

2-17: Guardian of the Horde

An array of rings was spread out before Blackout on the floor of Dragon's cavern. He'd begun with a pile Dragon had dumped in front of him, narrowing his choices until he was left with twelve rings.

"You should probably get rid of this one too," Dragon suggested, pointing at a band with a sheen of silver unlike any Blackout had ever seen before.

He picked it up and held it between thumb and forefinger. "Why? I thought that one might end up being a keeper."

"Too big for her fingers, and made of mythril," Dragon said. "We'd have a tough time getting it sized properly."

"Mithril?" Blackout blurted the word out. "Like the nearly indestructible true steel of Middle-earth?"

Dragon stared at Blackout blankly. "You do know that's just a book, don't you?"

Blackout worked his jaw a moment, trying to find the words for a response. "So the Star Wars galaxy is real, but Middle-earth isn't? Seems a bit odd, given that I've never seen any Jedi, but here you are, looking all Smaug-like."

"Tolkien wasn't the first human to write about Dragons," Dragon said sulkily. "And I'm a little hurt at that Smaug comment. I've never torched an entire village over a petty theft."

Blackout gestured to the piles of treasure heaped about the cavern. "But you do have a horde," he said. "I mean, I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I do feel a bit uncomfortable giving Lara a ring that was likely..."

Dragon raised a red-scaled eyebrow expectantly. "Likely what?"

"Well," Blackout said hesitantly. "Where did you get all this treasure?"

Dragon threw her foreclaws up in exasperation. "This is so typical!" She gave Blackout a wounded glare. "I know humans in the West of your world have a a problem with dragons, but I would have expected better from you."

Blackout gaped at Dragon. Dragon folded her foreclaws and angled his head up and away from Blackout.

"Oh come on," Blackout pleaded. "You can't be mad at me for assuming you killed someone to get all this." He gestured to the sparkling gems and metal strewn about.

Dragon gasped. "You thought I killed someone to get all this?"

"Hey, like you said, Dragons aren't exactly noble creatures in Western literature," Blackout said. He blew out a frustrated sigh. "Well then, if all this treasure wasn't stolen, then where did it come from?"

"Didn't you ever read Beowulf?" Dragon asked. "The Dragon's lair was a king's burial chamber, filled with treasure. Now it's fair to say that particular beast was a prime bitch about the theft of the cup..."

"Like Smaug."

Dragon nodded. "But it is her story our parents tell is when we're young, to instruct us in the way we should go. When she first finds the hoard, it is an ancient barrow, a King's grave. The treasure was already there, hidden in the earth, until she came along to claim it as her bed. At that point, the poet only calls her 'the keeper of the hoard,' the 'guardian of the mound,' and the 'hoard-watcher.' That is the way of my kind. We guard hoards. If we find a large, unmanaged treasure trove, we believe it ha been placed there for us to keep watch over. In this way, we keep it from falling into the wrong hands. The dragon in Beowulf does not earn the title of 'vile sky-winger' until after she engaged in her campaign of destruction."

Dragon stopped for a moment, gathering her thoughts.

"So you're just supposed to let people steal from your hoard? How are you a guardian if you do that?"

Dragon shook her head. "Her reaction was just. It was the severity of her reaction we believe to have been wrong. Hers is a cautionary tale for dragons."

"But you're giving a ring to me..." Blackout said hesitantly.

Dragon smiled. "After both the king and the dragon perished in the tale of Beowulf, there was a covenant established between us and the humans. And so the hoard watchers learned the art of being ring-givers."
Dragon picked out a ring of woven bands of yellow and white gold. Hung on the tip of her claw, she extended it to Blackout. "This is the one," she said.

Blackout took it from her claw and nodded. "It certainly is," he said laughing a little.

After all, it was the one he'd seen on Dragon's hand when she'd appeared as Lara.

"You spoke of the dragon in Beowulf as though you knew her," Blackout said as they exited the cave, to stand once again on the top of a majestic fjord. The smell of sea salt permeated the air.

"I never knew her personally," Dragon said. "But I inherited her hoard from my mother, down through the generations. I am the great, great granddaughter of that 'vile sky winger'."