She swallowed hard, her eyes set on the great black figure that lay helpless on the dark beach. Its ivory-black scales glinted in the moonlight with the soft rise and fall of the beast’s breathing. She couldn’t see its head, only its back and wings that lay limp in fatigue.
“Andreas,” she murmured, and then in the soft Irish accent she had inherited from her mother, “Andreas, come here…”
A young boy hurried from the shelter of the dark forest and to his sister’s side, “Julian… What is it?” he whispered, his eyes wide in fear and wonder.
“It’s a dragon,” Julian whispered and took her little brother’s hand.
“But mum said they weren’t real, she said–”
“But what do you see?” Julian looked down at Andreas, “mum never saw a dragon…”
“What do we do?” the little boy whispered.
Julian looked about the open beach, trying to fathom what she was to do. She couldnt go back home, mum would kill her for being outside–and even more so for being by the water. With a glance up at the full moon and a crystal clear sky of stars, she gave a light smile. They were alone; no one could keep them from the beast that lay on the beach where the water glided over the sand. This was her chance to do something. Seeing a dragon wasn’t enough for her; she wanted to touch it. She had been kept away from this outside world too long, but now that she and Andreas had run away, she was free to roam it. Mum was wrong, this land wasn’t cursed, it was beautiful. The walls around the city were far away now, she was liberated from all of that, she was free at last.
By now she had slipped out onto the open beach, no longer lingering by the dark forest’s edge. The moon shone softly on her jet-black hair, cut short so that it could stay out of her face when she was working. It was customary for a Agmarian girl like Julian to work in the kitchens, age fourteen was when they were hired to do such, any younger and the child would still be in school.
“Julian!” Andreas hissed, his young voice urgent as he struggled to figure what he should do; stay in the safty of the forest edge, or follow his big sister to the fallen dragon.
He was young, and he didn’t understand what could happen. In the deep chambers of his heart, he felt fear, but this kind of fear was not something that the walls of Agmaria had not allowed him to feel. He didn’t recognize it, and so he followed Julian out onto the open beach, his little legs carrying him as fast as he could go.
“What are you doing?” Andreas whispered, watching his big sister’s trembling hand held out to touch the sleek scales of the beast.
She didn’t answer him, only set her hand softly on the cool scales that shielded the body of the dragon. Lightly, she ran her hand along its shoulder for a moment, feeling the glassy texture of the scales beneath her skin. It took her breath away, the awe of such a magnificent beast right there before her. She rested her fingertips on the sheet of scales, letting the dragon’s breathing move her hand.
“He’s beautiful,” she murmured, a kind of wonderment sparkled in her dark blue eyes.
“Can we go?” Andreas urged, glancing at the limp wings that lay not too far away from him that seemed almost ready to lift and bat him to the ground.
Julian shook her head, “No,” she whispered, “why don’t we stay here for the night… The men from home would never find us here…” her voice faded into a soft breeze that drifted through the salty air. She smiled as she felt it run through her short, dark hair; no, she wasn’t leaving this place anytime soon. She had to stay with this fallen beast; she had to.
“Julian,” Andreas persisted, unable to tear his eyes of the sleek wings that began to slight slowly along the sand, “Julian, what if he wakes up?”
Julian ignored him, fixing her gaze on the head of the beast that lay lifeless in the sand. The ivory-black scales armored its sleek jaw and angled face, the dark elegance of a flare sharpened above its closed eyes. Its nostrils flared with every breath it took to stay alive, and in the silence, its great body began to shift.
Andreas stood in fear, watching the body turn in the sand, and he stepped back. His young mouth formed over lost words as he fell to the ground looking up at the rising body of the beast. Julian stumbled back, shielding her face from the sand that the dragon wisped into the air as it fought to reclaim the skies.
Its wings beat at the night, its body blocking out the moon and scattered stars. The low moan of a call escaped from its throat as it threw the children against the ground with gusts of ocean air. And then a screech that split the sky, ripping the night in two, in agony of the effort to conquer flight once again.
Julian stared, stared at the beast that took to the skies in a rush of fury, fighting the forces of gravity until it was free. She watched it fly, the low rumble of great wings that faded into the dark with the dragon’s majestic figure… and it was gone; the moment of fear had passed and they were watching oblivion.
“Where did it go?” Julian breathed, studying the scar-dusted sky as if it would answer her in its own voice.
“Julian,” Andreas scrambled to his feet amidst the thick of the sand, “he went over the ocean, why did he go over the ocean?”
Julian ignored him once again; she had more important things to think about right now, as her gaze had dropped to the prints and ditches in the sand that the beast had left behind. Quickly she got to her feet and ran to the rip in the beach where great claws had struck the ground. There she fell on her knees, and brushed the sand away to reveal the glint of silver.
“What is it?” Andreas came and stood beside her, leaning over with his hands on his knees and studying the light, metal chain.
“I don’t know,” she murmured. With a delicate touch she lifted it from the sand and studied its luster. Her gaze followed the chain, slow and curious, until she met the small metal tag that hung loosely a single link.
Andreas frowned, trying to make sense of the letters that he had not yet learned to read, “What does it say?” he asked in a whisper.
His older sister let her eyes wander over the letters, reading the beast’s name over and over. She had heard it before, in the fairytales they told the children. They were fairytales of war, victory, death, curses, men, and beast… but they were only fairytales… weren’t they? Closing her eyes she strived to remember those tales she had been told back inside the walls of the city. They wouldn’t return to her, though, not now.
The girl looked back down at the tag and read in a low whisper, “Gogmar.”