By Liz White
Moira was so frightened she was certain her legs would fold under her and she would collapse in a pile of quivering terror. Her stomach first threatened to revolt, then followed through with the threat. She managed to lean over a large rock, protecting the only cloak she owned from what had been her meager breakfast, now being spewed over the ground. She clung to the rock with her eyes squeezed shut in the vain hope that when she opened them again, all would be as it had been five minutes ago. Five minutes, or a life-time, it was the same thing.
She knew it was still there. The fetid air, hot and dry on her neck, crackled with power.
"Well, what do you want?"
The voice boomed in her ear, its echo rolling away down the hillside and up the mountain across the valley to the east. But the terror that filled her mind edged over to make a little room for puzzlement as she tried to make sense of the question. Pulling together all of her courage, she turned toward the voice and opened her eyes.
"What do I want?" Her voice was little more than a whisper, but the answer came anyway, though the response was tinged with a bit of irritation.
"Yes, yes. You called me, so what do you want?"
"I called you?"
"Why do you repeat my words rather than answer me, are you stupid?"
"Not stupid, afraid."
"Afraid of what? You're the one who asked for me. I never eat those who ask for me, well, at least not usually."
Moira's curiosity overcame some of her fear. "Why would I call a dragon, especially such a huge and terrifying one? It hurts my neck just to look up enough to see your eyes! And your voice is so loud it makes my head hurt."
The dragon let out a huge, rasping sigh that singed the leaves on a nearby birch. "You were sitting on that very rock. You said, and I distinctly remember this, 'I wish I had a dragon.'" He was sensitive enough to soften his voice.
She started to tell him that was nonsense when a distant memory rose. She saw herself, a seven-year old girl with a dirty, tear-streaked face huddled in the shadow of the rock. In her memory, she was alternately pounding her little fist on the rock and picking at a scabby knee. The plaintive little voice came back to her, peppered with a mixture of sobs and hiccups. "I don't want to be a weaver, I want to be a wizard. I would make wings and fly. I wish I could fly with dragons! I wish I had a dragon. I'd show them."
She bowed her head with the painful weight of that long ago moment, and of the path she had been forbidden to follow. Dully, "Why do you come now, thirty years after I asked for you?"
"Look how terrified you are now. What do you think would have happened if I had appeared to a seven-year old?" Then, gently, "But I did come, many times, and always you ran from me."
"You never did, a dragon is not a thing I would forget!" She flinched as she felt the heat from an exasperated expulsion of dragon breath.
"Let's have a little talk." He settled his huge haunches in a ravine a few yards away, leaned the rest of his hulk up the hill toward the surface, and brought his head down to where Moira could look at him without craning her neck. Warily, she settled herself next to the rock, in the very same place where, as a child she had sought refuge and comfort from her father's discipline.
"You said you wanted to be a wizard, yet you have run from every opportunity to do so. You," he pointed a very long, very bony claw tipped with a six inch talon at her, "are a coward!"
She looked down to see how much blood the talon had drawn, surprised to see no physical wound. It was only the dragon's accusation that pierced her heart so deeply. She reacted in denial, "I've worked hard to be the best weaver around. I've supported myself since I was ten years old, and since my father has lived inside the mug of mead, I've supported him as well."
"Bitterness does not become you, nor will it win you any sympathy."
She saw the truth of the statement immediately, but wasn't ready to concede, didn't even know to what she would be conceding.
"You said you've visited me before, that I've had opportunities to change my path, but that I've run away." She paused, starting to feel like she might know what he was going to say when he explained. "I didn't know."
"You didn't want to know. The question is, are you ready to know now?"
"Yes, I am ready." Her words sounded braver than she felt.
A long silence stretched as the great yellow eyes probed her own, seeming to search her heart, mind, and soul. With a slight nod of satisfaction, the dragon switched his gaze to his talons, examining them while he gathered his thoughts.
"You weave magick," he began. Her mouth opened to protest such a ridiculous statement, but snapped shut again at the look he gave her.
"You are already a wizard. You just refuse to acknowledge it. You would rather hide in your safe little world, using your bitterness as a whip to lash out at your father, and ignore what others have to offer."
Moira could feel the color draining from her face. She had spent years carefully constructing a shell around her inner core, and now, in a matter of moments, he was peeling it away as easily as if peeling an onion. She wasn't sure she could stand it if he exposed her naked heart.
"You think you gave up your dream long ago, and have refused to see otherwise, even when someone comes along to show you. This is how you lost Robyn." Moira could not suppress a cry at that. Robyn, handsome, strong, funny Robyn, who loved me, and whom I loved so dearly. Why didn't I marry you in spite of my father? Why did I let him destroy our happiness? The dragon interrupted her thoughts.
"Now your cowardice is about to cost you your other dream."
She sobbed, "It's too late! Why are you doing this?"
Though his voice was quiet, it was firm. "I'm doing it because you called me, because you need to choose. Right here, right now, you need to choose to face your dream or lose it forever. If you don't face it, if you run away again, you will have chosen by default, and that's a craven, poor-spirited way to make a decision."
"But I don't have the time to do it now. I need to keep weaving cloth that people need. I need to make a living, I need to support Father. Besides, I'm too old to start learning wizardry now."
Impatience laced the considerably louder response. "Stop hiding behind excuses! You can do it if you want to do it."
"I know. I even know what you're afraid of. You're afraid to show people who you really are inside. But tell me this, what's the worst that happens if you show yourself? Many people won't understand you, perhaps most won't. But Moira, some will, and for those who do, you can make a difference. You can touch their lives in ways neither you nor I can imagine, but almost certainly for the better. Isn't that worth the risk?"
She felt frozen in place, her face a mask, but her heart and her mind whirled in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions.
"Here's what you need to do," said the dragon. "Go home now. Weave a kerchief with my portrait on it. Make it worthy of me, and I will wear it. Bring it to me here in three days."
She didn't really understand why he was asking her to do this thing, but somewhere in the midst of her confusion and turmoil was an inner voice telling her it was important. So, she picked herself up off the ground and started off down the hill to the village. As she drew near him, about to pass by, she paused. He raised a knobby, brow in question as she stepped up and gently, but bravely, reached out and touched his face before turning and hurrying off.
The next day she searched through all of her wool to find the finest she had, some midnight blue as soft as the summer night, and some pale yellow that sparkled as the sun on the leaves of the cottonwood trees.
For three days she concentrated on the weaving. She worked hard, weaving with a love she didn't know she had, until finally, on the third day and in the golden light of late afternoon, she tied off the last of the threads. As she spread the kerchief to fold it she stopped to take a look at it, almost as if she had not seen it before.
In one corner was an exquisite portrait of the dragon and in the opposite one was a finely rendered image of herself. She had portrayed herself reaching for the stars, and she had given herself wings. Carefully she folded the cloth and set out for the hill to meet the dragon.
He was waiting for her when she arrived, so she immediately unfurled the large piece of cloth and spread it on the grass before him. He stared at it for a long moment without speaking. She watched his face carefully, but could not read it, and hadn't any idea what his reaction was. Finally she let her eyes drift down to the cloth and gasped.
The shadows were climbing the hill as the sun slowly slid out of the sky, and in the last of the light the images on the cloth shimmered brightly. The pale yellow wool had changed to threads of gold. She looked back at the dragon in wonder.
"You see? You weave magick."
"I did that? How? And what use is it if I don't know what I'm doing?"
"Listen to me, and listen carefully. Your magick comes from your heart and soul. Don't worry too much about your head for now. For now it gets in the way more than helps you. Trust your ability, and you will do well."
Moira felt the old inner voices tug at her. "But.."
"Stop questioning and accept your abilities. Trust yourself."
"But what about Father? How will we manage ."
"STOP," he roared. "It's time to choose, and a choice it must be. To become your dream, you must hold nothing back. You must decide to be what you are meant to be. You must wipe away all your doubts, right here, right now!"
"I can do it, can't I?"
The dragon said nothing, but watched her closely. She was tingling all over, the skin on her back itched, and stomach was doing an uncomfortable little jig.
"Choose!" said the dragon.
"I.I want to weave magick." She tried to reach around and scratch her back, the itch was getting worse.
"You aren't saying that like you believe it."
"I want to weave magick," her voice became steadier.
"Say it so I know you believe it, make me believe it."
"I want to weave magick. I will weave magick."
"That's better, but it's not enough." She looked at him in frustration. "You see your picture on the kerchief? You see your wings? You feel the itch of them on your back?"
"Wings, MY wings? That's what's been itching?" Again, the dragon said nothing, giving her a moment to absorb the idea.
Finally he said, "It's time to fly."
Suddenly all the confidence drained right out of her. She could almost feel it seeping out of her toes and soaking into the ground, taking with it the golden image of the dragon and herself, and her childhood dream of becoming a wizard. She nearly collapsed in despair as she thought of how close she had come to grasping the dream and the impossibly difficult thing she had to do now to regain it.
Tentatively she flexed the unfamiliar muscles on her back. She felt the strange bulk of the new appendages so foreign to the body in which she had been so comfortable all her thirty-seven years. She looked pleadingly into his eyes, and though she thought there was some caring and sympathy there, it was not evident in his command.
"Choose Moira. Right here, right now. Fly!"
She flexed again, and this time the wings felt a little more natural, a little more like the arms and legs she was used to. He pointed off toward the spot where the sun had disappeared. "Fly that way, make a circle and return to me here."
"Fly." It was not really a question, more like a little voice inside her, there to give her encouragement.
"Choose to believe in yourself. CHOOSE!"
She poised on the edge of the hill, then, finally, putting her faith in the dragon and in herself, she worked the wings into a rhythmic motion and threw herself off the hill.
A moment of panic swept over her as she sank, and she worked the wings harder in an attempt to keep from smashing face first into the rocky slope. She recovered and found herself rising, her clumsy wing flapping smoothing to graceful arcs. She flew out toward the sunset, reveling in her new-found freedom.
When she returned, the dragon and the kerchief were gone.
She cut back on her routine weaving to make time for her magick. People grumbled at having to wait longer for their goods, but when they saw her new work, they were entranced. She began to weave cloth that healed, cloth that brought love, cloth that taught, cloth that told stories. She was sad at the loss of her friend the dragon, but happy with the strength she had found within.
One day, a month after her meeting with the dragon as she sat working at her loom, she saw a man walking up the path with a familiar gait. She ran out to meet him.
"I heard of the wonderful wizard who weaves magick into her cloth, and I had to come to see. I had to come back to the woman who learned, finally, to become who she was meant to be."
Moira could not keep the tears away as she embraced the man she'd thought she had lost forever. "Dry your eyes on this, my love," he said, and handed her a beautiful midnight blue kerchief with an exquisite portrait of a dragon in one corner, and a winged woman in the other, both woven in gold.
E-mail: lizwhite [at] netptc.net