December 29, 2004
Two big lugs dressed in chainmail and leather stumbled in the door of the rickety cabin carrying armloads of firewood. Outside the winds of a powerful winter blizzard howled and searched for every crook and cranny to slip into.
"Drop the wood by the fireplace boys, and settle down and get comfortable," came a hoarse female voice from a rocking chair near the hearth.
The two young warriors were suspicious, carrying their hand near the hilt of their blades, but the inviting fire already burning brightly encouraged them to calm. Each sat on stools a few feet from the recliner. The woman, turned her head slightly and her face was lit by the hearth.
Long hair, once coal black and now silver streaked, was piled in a high bun on the back of her head and held in place by a small silver dagger. Her piercing eyes were blackish brown in the dim light of the hearth, but sparkled with mischief and knowledge. She wore no weapon other than her bun pin. Her jerkin and breeches were of old worn deerskin. Around her neck a talisman reflected the light of the fire eerily.
"Lucky you boys stumbled upon my cabin. Not another place within three days walking distance. You'd been froze in your tracks making your way through these woods on this night." Her raspy voice did little to ease their suspicions. But she made no hostile moves.
"There's rabbit stew in that pot on the fireplace, if you'd like to have yourselves a bite. I've done had my fill for the evening." She sat back in the chair and rocked back and forth slowly, the chair creaking on the old wooden floor. The two warriors only hesitated a moment. Witches brew or not, they thought ... a meal's a meal. They grabbed a towel lying on the table and scooped the pot from the stove.
"Where ya be heading to, lads?" she asked quietly.
"We got family in Trellor, we're headin' there for the holidays," one warrior answered between mouthfuls of stew.
"You got a long journey ahead of you, and you'll not be travelling til this blizzard lets up. You be welcome to stay here for a bit, if you'll chop up more wood for the hearth afore you go." The old woman rose from her chair and hobbled to a shelf where she pulled down an old wine bottle covered with dust, "Best ya have something to drink with that stew." She set the bottle down on the table between the two warriors, "Ya say you're going home for the holidays? I remember days when I traveled like that."
She looked toward the shuttered window as if she could see past its wood and out into the distant horizon, "Strange things happen in Medievia during this season, lads. Strange things." She sat down on a stool at the table and poured herself a tin cup full of the old wine.
The old woman gestured to a blade hanging over the fire place. Its metal shone as if only recently polished. No dust settled on its keen edge, and the jewels on its hilt glittered in the firelight and the strange metal of the blade had an oddly colorful sheen, "I reckon though there be one holiday season which stand out quite well in this old memory." The two warriors looked at each other and shrugged. If chopping some wood and listening to the old crone tell a story was all the cost of food and board for the night, they wouldn't complain.
"I was tramping through ankle deep snow, cursing the precipitation and our Lord Vryce for sending it on the very day I should arrive at my family's estate. My feet were cold, my nose must have been as bright as a lighthouse beacon. But my mouth watered at the very thought of my mother's roast pig and my grandmother's apple tarts." She paused a moment and sipped again from the tin cup.
"I didn't realize though that while my mind was on the end of my journey I neglected to pay close attention to the journey itself. The snow continued to fly about me, until it was knee deep. Cursing, I knew I was only going to get leftovers on the morrow, for I'd not arrive this eve' to my family's home." The old woman pauses again as if saying so many words were tiring.
"The matter of the night's shelter settled on me hard. I'd have to build a quick leanto from the branches of the trees around me and hope I could find enough dry wood for a fire, or I'd fall asleep in the cold and not wake up at all on the morrow. So I set about searching and building. It was a trying effort. I had to use my trusty blade as an ax and cursed every stroke for the damage I thought it might be doing to my ancient heirloom."
"But lucky as I was...perhaps with the grace of Soleil, whom I had long ago claimed as my patron, I managed to put together a small leanto and clear away enough snow to build a small fire."
"'Yo in the lean-to! Might I enter your camp?' came a tiny voice from the darkness of the swirling snow. I was hesitant. I could be inviting a troll or brigand into my little shelter. 'Yo in there...let me come in.' came the tiny voice again."The old woman stopped now and refilled the cups of the two warriors sitting at her table. They were well enthralled in her tale she could see.
"But after a few moments I realized that this stranger might carry food or some other supplies which might make the night pass easier, so I called back, 'Enter and be welcome stranger,' as was the custom. I waited a long moment and still I saw no one enter the lean-to. 'Enter and be welcome stranger,' I shouted again. and then I heard the tiny voice again, "No need to shout warrior. I have entered.' I looked around the lean-to, and there, hidden almost by the shadows cast by the fire a tiny tiny dragon sat warming himself by my fire."
"A dragon!" one of the warriors exclaimed slamming down his tin."
"Aye, a dragon. But he was so small a fellow that he was no bigger than a rabbit. For a few moments I was struck dumb of it. I had been on many a dragon lair and fought dragons of many colors and metals. I had fought rogue dragons who fell from the sky to loot my gold coins. Yet none, none were as small or as colorful as the fellow who now warmed himself by my blaze. His hide was prismatic, the firelight causing it to change colors as he moved. First gold, then white, then blue, then green and silver. It was the most beautiful dragonhide I had ever seen."
"'I thank you, warrior for allowing me the heat of your fire and the protection of your lean-to. I seem to have lost my way and flight is almost impossible in a storm such as this. I am sore hungry kind Lady. Will your share your provisions with me?'"
One of the young warriors pushed his empty bowl away and growled, "Share provisions with a dragon!? Never!" he shouted, "I'd sooner burn it in the fire."
"Aye," answered the old woman, "Those were my very first thoughts, truly. But as the little dragon shivered in the cold and inched close to the fire to soak up more of its heat something inside of me melted. It was very small. Perhaps an infant of its kind, I thought. Or perhaps the last of his kind. For when has anyone ever seen such a small and beautiful dragon?
I dug around in my pack and pulled out a brick of cheese. It was plain and I had no crackers nor bread to go with it, as I had hoped to be arriving home at any time. The little dragon tilted its head like a little bird and looked at me with great shining emerald eyes and said, 'Oh great warrior, that cheese smells like a great feast from the very top of Mt. Vryce.'"
The old woman chuckled a bit and then laughed, "Imagine such words from such a tiny creature, even one as beautiful as he was. It pleased me to hear the joy in its tiny voice as the cold snow blew about us with a fury and the darkness closed in around our small fire. I handed him the cheese which he took delicately in his small front claws. Again, he cocked his head and looked at me, 'Have none for yourself warrior?' I shook my head and said, "No thank you little dragon. I have eaten." It was a little lie. I hadn't eaten but I really did expect to be home on the morrow. I had fasted for much longer and the little dragon was obviously hungry."
The two warriors shook their heads in wonder, "You gave all your food to the little dragon?" they asked in unison.
"Indeed I did. Perhaps it was the holiday season which had come over me. Perhaps it was pity over the small creature in front of me, so hungry and yet so beautiful with its shining emerald eyes. When I finally settled down for sleep, the small dragon lying against me for heat, I had a strange dream.
Lord Vryce came to me in my lean-to. His light brought heat to everything around like a spring day. On his shoulder sat the little prismatic dragon. He smiled down at me and all I could do is let tears fall from my face in awe of him. The little dragon whispered in Lord Vryce's ear and then Vryce spoke, 'You have been kind to my little friend, Mowena. You warmed him when he was cold and fed him when he was hungry. It is a season of giving and I would give you a gift as thanks for the safety of my Mowena,.' I could not believe my ears. A gift from the hand of Vryce himself? I was to be so blessed? But then I was not worthy."
The old woman smiled to herself almost as if she had forgotten the two young warriors who listened raptly to her tale, "My Lord Vryce," I said, "I cursed you for the snow which slowed me on my way. I am not worthy of any gift from your hand." But Vryce only smiled and shook his head, "Such things are of no concern. Tell me what will be your reward for aiding my little friend." Vryce reached up and touched the little dragon's nose and its emerald eyes glinted with pleasure, "I would," I paused, "I would that I could always help those who needed it my Lord. That I never forget that a small kindness is worth as much as any great wealth." Vryce nodded and whispered to the little dragon. It nodded to him, almost happily, and flitted to the ground at Vryce's feet.
In Vryce's hand appeared a black pot which he sat over the dying embers of my fire, "This pot will always have food in it when you have need of it, Lady Warrior." Then, the little dragon, Mowena turned about on itself and with its small claws pulled at its tiny tail. It pulled and pulled until the tail was torn loose from its body. Yet, no blood sprang from the wound, as Vryce touched and healed it quickly. The little dragon threw his tail at my feet where it began to grow and glow. A shining blade appeared at one end growing at the other a beautiful hilt with emerald eyes. "Wield your blade in the service of good, Lady Warrior. Help those who need your help. I will call you Avatar and in the name of myself and your patron Soleil we will guard your steps."
In a swirl of snow the Lord Vryce was gone, the dragon gone with him. The cold returned, but the smell of rabbit stew came from the pot and it was warm. The blade remained on the snow while I stared at it a long while. Then removing my own blade and wrapping it carefully, I replaced it with the blade of Vryce."
The two young warriors looked at the blade over the fireplace, "That is a dragon's tail?"
"Indeed. Remember that the magic of this season is more powerful than the magic of any mage or wizard. Remember," she stood from the stool at the table and hobbled over the fireplace and took down the blade. With two hands she held the sword above her head, its tip pointed at thatched roof of the little hut. "Remember that this is the season of kindness and generosity." A light grew from the blade and surrounded the old crone. She was bathed in it. Her ragged leathers were transformed into softest suede. Her boots shined, her hair became coal black, her lips shining red. The wrinkles of age fell from her and she was an able strong beautiful warrior."All of Medievia wishes the dreams, the hopes, and the happiness of magic and kindness for the coming year."
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