A Gift for Alessandro
Alessandro was born in the village known as Ville de Joie to his parents, Rand Goliathbane and Jasmine Morninglight. He was a young squire in training under a knight chosen by his father, Sir Tomkin Drakeslayer.
His father, Rand, was a courageous Champion serving his sire, King Cyrus Griffonheart. Rand earned the title of "Champion" by performing many dangerous quests and defending Cyrus from the evil armies of Queen Irs the Impure. The Champion was tall with sandy hair and a smile that could light a room. As much as he was a powerful knight, Rand was also a kind man offering aid to all those in need of his assistance.
Jasmine was a battle-tested healer and fought next to Rand's side for many years. The natural beauty of his mother was unmatched in the Kingdom. A somewhat slight woman with bright blue eyes and auburn hair that flowed like strands of the finest silk to her waist, Jasmine had gained fame for her heroic acts of saving warriors from death and disease, while wielding her own weapons to ward off enemies. Within the past year, Jasmine had moved from Rand's quarters in Castle Griffonheart to a small cottage in the wooded glen, but within sight of Ville de Joie. Alessandro's mother spent most of her time now tending to Alessandro's training and education. She also spent many hours as a scrivener of tales, tales of the bravery of knights such as his father. Jasmine told Alessandro stories at night of the many heroes of the Kingdom-stories of his father often brought a smile to both of their faces, even though Rand was not in the cottage with them.
Alessandro was very proud of his family, which was held in high esteem in the Kingdom because of the heroic acts and kindness of his mother and father. He never doubted for a moment that his parents loved him. Indeed, the centerpiece of their family coat-of-arms was a triangle with a heart in the middle, each corner representing each member of his family.
Sadness entered his life, however, when Jasmine moved from the Castle. His mother tried to explain to him that just as he and his closest friends would grow up and choose different paths in their lives-- some becoming knights like Alessandro others leaving the Kingdom to study the arts, still others joining the ranks of wizards and mages-in a way, so had his mother and father. One day he would wish his companions well in their own quests, but would need to say goodbye to follow his own. Jasmine told Alessandro that Rand would always occupy a special place in her heart, but it was their time in life to go in different directions. Alessandro fell asleep at night sometimes wishing that his family were still living together in the Champion's quarters, but knowing in his heart that everything was different now.
The quarters of the King's Champion, the most honored knight in the land, were decorated with reminders of Rand's many battles and conquests. The weapons of enemies, scraps of armor, paintings of his fights with drakes, orcs, trolls, giants and the like were mounted on the walls of his chambers. Each souvenir told its own story of valor and the danger faced by the brave Champion.
One spot remained empty, however. The vacant section of wall was reserved for a memento of a fight left unfinished-a fight started many years ago with Pyrothicus, a mighty golden dragon who had claimed the lives of many good knights. Pyrothicus was over 500 years old and wise beyond those years. He scorched the fields of grains and cattle within the Kingdom and destroyed entire villages with but one blast of magical flame. For some reason, the dragon tried to avoid killing the King's subjects, unless a knight or brave soul faced him in a battle to the death.
Pyrothicus was a very unusual dragon. Unlike others of his kind, his scales were golden as the treasure hoard he guarded. The scaled spikes that traveled the length of his spine to his tail were crystalline in color and cast the colors of the rainbow when caught by the sun in the dragon's flight. The most unusual characteristic of the golden dragon, however, was an unusual pattern of three red marks on the dragon's broad chest. It was this feature of the dragonscale that attracted so many willing noble knights to engage the great golden dragon. These markings were believed by many to hold magical powers beyond all known in the Kingdom. Thus, it was the Champion's quest to find Pyrothicus to slay him not only for his treasures, but also for the special dragon hide.
Rand last met Pyrothicus when the dragon had set a small village on fire. As was the dragon's custom, he gave warning to the villagers to allow them to flee with their lives. Mounted on a splendid black stallion bearing his coat of arms and armor befitting the finest knight in the Kingdom, Rand drew his lance to charge the dragon as it rested admiring its work. Pyrothicus caught movement out of the corner of his eye as the knight closed the distance between them at a full gallop. Almost as if the dragon was bored, he raised one wing, the one closest to Rand. In a single stroke with his wing, Pyrothicus created a gale force wind that blew Rand off of his steed. A few moments later, Rand picked himself up off of the ground and remounted his horse. The golden dragon was nowhere in sight, however, so the Champion returned to Castle Griffonheart saddened by his failed challenge. Rand knew, as did Pyrothicus, that they would meet again soon.
Dark clouds joined each other for the deafening ceremony of a thunderstorm. Pyrothicus was in flight and took note of the gathering storm-even great dragons were at risk to the forces of nature. The golden dragon drifted down among the clouds to set himself down at the edge of a forest close to Ville de Joie. The dragon spied the village and was spurred to do what dragons do, destroy things. Pyrothicus took flight again to circle the village to issue his warning in a voice that would push back the loud sounds of thunderclaps. "Citizens of the village below me, depart with your lives, thine possessions and gold shall be mine," roared Pyrothicus.
Alessandro was behind his mother's cottage practicing his swordsmanship with a dull practice claymore and flimsy leather armor. The practice dummy had been the evil Queen Irs the Impure, an ugly mean giant and all sorts of evil and dangerous enemies. Under his mother and father's watchful eyes, the young squire was gaining in skill and confidence every day. In his battles with the dummy, Alessandro was victorious in a battle graced with honor and courage like he imagined his father would be in an epic fight. Today, though, his dreams were interrupted by the voice of his father's longtime foe.
Rand heard the dragon's warning from Castle Griffonheart. He told his men to prepare his steed, armor and weapons in haste so that he might challenge again the beast causing havoc in the Kingdom. He was mounted on his black stallion and leaving the castle to find Pyrothicus within moments. A fear gripped his heart as he knew immediately from the direction of the dragon's voice that his son was in danger.
Jasmine had been writing a tale of two unlikely characters finding peace and happiness amid chaos when she was interrupted by the foe of Alessandro's father. She dug through a large chest located at the foot of her bed and retrieved her golden armor bearing the marks of battles past. She found her mace and shield with the family crest etched on it. Although it had been quite some time since she entered battle, she had never faced an enemy alone before. She did not hesitate for a moment to prepare to engage Pyrothicus, however, to protect the young man she loved so dearly since she brought him into the world.
Pyrothicus circled the village several times then landed at the crossroads joining the village to the road to Castle Griffonheart and the road through the wood that was close to Jasmine's cottage. From the direction of the Castle, Pyrothicus could see the road dust disturbed by the Champion's great steed at full gallop. "Perhaps one of us must perish this day, good knight, for our battle is destined to end some day," thought the golden dragon. As the thought drifted off, Pyrothicus caught a glimpse of Jasmine moving toward him. She was maybe less than 500 yards away from the dragon and would reach him slightly before the Champion.
Alessandro rushed into the cottage. He noticed that the door was left wide open. The cottage was empty. The quill his mother had been using moments ago to craft a tale of love had been dropped on the floor. The chest was sill wide open at the foot of her bed and empty. The thought of her death at the hand of the fearsome dragon filled his head briefly and energized him to break into a full sprint to the location of the beast.
Jasminye arrived at the crossroads first. "Why must ye disturb our peace, great dragon," she asked in a firm voice. Pyrothicus did something he rarely did in his 500 years, he responded "dear brave lady, I simply do what dragons were born to do. My role is not evil, but flows from my destiny. I spare the villagers and merely take what is or should be rightfully mine to possess, their gold and jewels for my treasure. Please spare your own life to raise the child that follows you yonder," the dragon said as he directed a wing in the direction of Alessandro. "Your destruction and greed must be ended, oh great and wise dragon. My son and others desire a peace that you never fail to disturb. I wish ye no harm, but I cannot stand silent while you continue your reign of destruction. Prepare to do battle, dragon."
Alessandro was but a few paces behind his mother when he heard her words. He had known of her courage and heart from the tales told by others, but he had never witnessed such an act of bravery or determination.
During the exchange between Pyrothicus and Jasmine, Rand had time to reach the crossroads. He also heard the words of his former wife and mother of his son and was taken by her strength of purpose. As the Champion of the King, his duty was clear. "Dragon, we meet again. Leave Jasmine and my son in peace-your fight is with me golden one," shouted Rand in a voice that demanded and received respect.
Pyrothicus turned to the knight and once again broke his silence. "My good knight, I have taken the lives of many before thee out of necessity, not a desire to draw blood. If you wish to continue our fight, so be it, but take heed. This time one of us shall not leave this place breathing."
Rand lowered his lance and charged forward with a determination to prevail at long last over his noble enemy. Rand and his charger got within 100 feet of Pyrothicus when the dragon unleashed a great blue magical flame. The brave knight raised his shield to deflect the blast. For a moment, Rand was successful as the magical flame struck the shield and went around him and his charger. The shield was, however, weakened by the intensity of the dragon's breath and buckled. Rand was thrown from his mount. The charger suffered a worse fate, as he was consumed by the blue flames. Pyrothicus moved toward Rand to deliver a killing blow with his sharp claws when he felt the sting of Jasmine's mace on his left side. Caught by surprise, but still prepared to dispatch all foolish heroes, the golden dragon swept his tail swiftly to the left. Jasmine took the blow to her legs and was swept within a few feet of Rand and collapsed in pain from the assault.
Alessandro was paralyzed with shock of the scene before him. His beloved mother and father lay almost motionless in defeat before the powerful dragon. He could see the dragon's nostrils flare as Pyrothicus gathered energy and mana to blast the pair into eternity within the next few seconds. As much fear as was flowing through the squire, he found the voice of a man, "leave them alone and face me, Pyrothicus. Leave my mother and father to wage battle with me, Alessandro de Joie, squire to, Sir Tomkin Drakeslayer and loyal servant of King Cyrus. " Alessandro could not believe the words that had just passed his lips. Here he was before his fallen parents and the villagers who had come out to witness the battle challenging the most fearsome dragon ever to battle. In his young heart, he knew that it was not only right to do so, it was his destiny to save his parents from the harm of others, even if he could not repair the harm to each of them caused by their separation (there are some things that even the bravest of young men cannot change).
Jasmine and Rand gathered enough strength to prop themselves up to witness the birth of a man of courage, honor and a deep and abiding love for them both. Before they could do anything to change the course of battle, Pyrothicus turned to Alessandro. The golden dragon clawed the earth beneath him. The magical fire of his breath filled the dragon. Pyrothicus moved a few steps closer to the boy to see for himself the heart of a man. As the dragon reared up on his tail to let loose a single deathblow to Alessandro, the violent storm that had formed the stage for this play of courage paused for a moment. Behind Pyrothicus, the thunderheads parted, the bolts of lightning ceased and the clash of thunder went silent. A shaft of sunlight fell from the opening between the clouds to strike Pyrothicus on his crystalline scales. The light was transformed into beautiful bands of colored light. All who saw the lights before them knew that this was not an ordinary day in which a brave but ordinary hero would fall to the golden dragon.
Pyrothicus recognized the sign of the gods given to him and all about him. He lowered himself from the position that he would have used to kill Alessandro. He placed each of his claws as far apart on the ground so that all could see the special markings on his chest. His nostrils flared briefly as he shot a small burst of flame in the direction of Alessandro. Everyone gasped thinking that the boy was to meet his end. The flames touched only the practice claymore that the squire wielded in preparation for battle. The blade was transformed by the flame into one of ebony. Alessandro did not feel the heat of the flame nor did he flinch as the dragon cast jewels that imbedded themselves in the hilt of the now magical sword.
Pyrothicus' work was not yet complete. "Sir Alessandro, this day marks your first and perhaps most important conquest, the conquest of your own fears and your readiness to sacrifice yourself for the parents you love so dearly and who return such love in equal measure. I bow and yield to thee good and courageous knight. Take my gift, the sword which shall become known as "The Blade of Sir Alessandro Dragonheart. Wait, lest I forget. This Blade lacks its most important feature." Pyrothicus took flight. The golden dragon circled low and in a tight circle about the new knight until all anyone could see was a golden blur. Pyrothicus landed and took the same pose as before. Everyone gasped again-the three red markings on the scale on his chest were gone. "Look at the blade again, good knight, and view for the first time a picture of a family divided, but bound by love." On the blade, Alessandro recognized the markings of the dragon. There were three red hearts joined by a single line through each connecting each heart to the one next to it.
Without asking the dragon, Alessandro knew that the center heart was his, with those of his mother and father on either side, each bound by a line of love. The markings of Pyrothicus appeared on his mother and father's armor in place of the triangle surrounding the heart portion of the family coat-of-arms. Jasmine, Rand and Alessandro all realized that the dragon markings had opened the triangle into a straight line, placing a heart at what used to be each corner. Jasmine and Rand smiled at their brave knight, brushing more than a few tears of pride aside.
Pyrothicus spoke for the last time. "Alessandro, you have your gift. Use it wisely to create peace from chaos, happiness from sadness, hope from despair and love from an empty heart. I shall disturb neither you nor your countrymen again-I have met my match in these lands." With those words the dragon took flight to return to his lair, never to be seen again. Alessandro helped his mother and father to their feet, as they all hugged for a moment. Alessandro and Jasmine returned to the cottage and Rand to the Champion's quarters filled with the joy of life.
© 2000 Copyright held by the author.
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