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I have seen forever. And forever is not infinite, as the creatures that take it for granted are not. I have seen their lives pass in a blink, a sword to the heart and a family full of vengeance, a starved carnivore on a higher link in the food chain. Time passes as soon as it comes.
I have seen the end of everything, and the beginning of everything, and the brief time in between those times.
It is my job, my draconic-birthright, to know absolutely what comes next, what came before, and what is.
I am the Dark Age’s Oracle of Delhi, its Gypsy fortuneteller, its scrying crystal into the human unfathomness that is time.
But I am real now, not then, and I know truth. And what I foresee in the future and saw in the past and will see in the present is absolute. I am witness to it.
I foresaw the coming of the man-beast Grendel, so too I foresaw his end. I knew the fury of his mother, the curious grief of an animalistic, almost-human being. I heard her anguish before the occurrence, and it rings among my treasure hall even now, ricocheting off the arches and slithering between pile upon pile of gold and hoarded jewels.
She, of course, is dead. A primal instinct to protect, to avenge he-that-came-from-her, stemming from long forgotten (I have not forgotten) roots, from he-who-crossed-the-will-of-God, has ended her. She knew what would happen to her son. She saw, but not with dragon-sight. She saw with mother-eyes, the same that first sight their newborn and swear to never, ever leave them, to never let them come to harm.
Grendel pushed her away, stripped away her mother-power and she knew.
Just as I knew, just as the stars knew before even I.
But the stars do not speak, and I will not tell.
The treasure of conquests long past is cold beneath my feet.
Enter he who slew them both, the beardless man-child from across the sea. Beowulf. The ‘hero’ of the Geats.
His existence means the diminishing of my fire to a trickle, a tiny gust of hot air, sparks. Cold air.
I am not afraid.
I am not afraid of this future, because it is my future, and I have known of it from my very hatching. I have seen his face and heard his name and felt his blade before he was even born. Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow.
I have had time. So much more time than humans, than wolves and goats and everything besides other dragons. And yet I wish for more time. Did I not tell that one, that Grendel, my personal wish? My greatest ambition? I want for order. I want to take every last sandspeck of treasure and organize it, form it to an idea and a place. I want to separate the animate from the inanimate. Through place, and order, and type: a garage sale mess into a museum exhibit! And it is mine, my hoard, all of it. I fought for it, I stole it, I won it, it is mine. That one fool of a human tried to take one of my goblets; I let him have it, a warning, and I killed his people. Never, never, never touch my things. The one rule of the universe. Break it, and death will dog your heels.
But that won’t matter soon. I hear the impending footsteps.
Can you hear them? They ring ghostlike on the roughhewn floors of my cave.
Grendel, fool that you were, you heard them too. You knew what they were, even, a surprise to even I. But you fell to ancestral human folly. You had to rationalize them, those death tolls you heard. For they were not death bells, not omens of doom. You were Grendel, “Ruiner of Meadhalls, Wrecker of Kings”! You were a devil, a heathen god! Brute existent! You could never perish. O, Grendel, you were absolute!
You were a fool. You hesitated for one frail, foolish flicker-flash and the footsteps changed. You heard your own heartbeat in their stead, then, and you despaired, and in that moment was the death of what little soul you possessed.
I know them for what they are. They are footsteps. They come from far away, over the frozen waters in great carved boats, surrounded by men as thick as trees. Footsteps are often harbingers of doom, Grendel, did you know that?
The footfalls are solid and loud in my ears.
My future treads on heavy feet.
And yet, as his footsteps ring loud upon my ears, so too the pure heat of my fire has scorched him in dreams and sent him tumbling from sleep in a cold sweat. We shall be the end of each other. We are destined to be the end of each other. O’, Geat hero! O’, killer of the Wrecker of Kings! O’ Beowulf! I welcome you, my death!
He stands before the treasure hoard, quiet, contemplative: the cruelty of a child in the body of an old dead man. This one who does not deem me a threat. Foolish boy. You come at me in a rage with bloodlust and insanity gleaming in your eyes. But you feel your own death, do you not? You have been burned enough in your dreams to know that this is the final stand. Before long, young prince, your spirit shall spin free from your body. I have seen it. I am witness.
Silence is all that is left to us, a man-beast and a fire-wyrm face to face, twin pairs of cold, indifferent, empty eyes glittering in the frigid darkness.
You brought no lamp; you knew you would not need it. What use is light to death-webbed eyes?
You open your mouth to speak, teeth sharp and wolfish. You match your name, young one.
“I know who you are child. I know your father, and your father’s father, and everyone in your birthline from the moment the first of your kind walked the Earth. And you know me, or of my reputation. There is no need for introductions in this encounter.”
Fire-tongues lick at him; he pays no heed.
Still bodies in a cavernous room, metal and jewels screaming their stories, can you hear them?
A small, childish twitch at the corner of his mouth almost alludes to a smile.
It is pointless, I know, but something needs to be done. If everything did nothing the future would be void. I set the wheel of this future to spinning.
“What are you here for, son of Ecgtheow?”
His eyes glitter, yet are dull. He is a paradox within himself.
If you are all seeing, shouldn’t you know by now?
Smile of the mad.
“Of course I know. Only heroes are supposed to tell their foes of their intent, are they not? Chivalry and some nonsense.” A careless wave of a claw, feigned (or is it?) nonchalance thick in the air.
Which one of us is the liar?
I match his smile, tooth for tooth.
(Remember friend, we are all mad here.)
Cold laugh, harsh stance- the man built like a tree stands with steel at his hip and ice in his soul.
I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning, if the evil one will only abandon his earth-fort and face me in the open.
He speaks, and his tone mocks me, as it did, I know, Grendel. Evil one indeed.
“Are we assigning titles now, young sprat? ‘Evil One’ hardly suits me, I assure you. I have eaten humans (not at all as delicious as they seem). I have stolen, and lied and seen thing that are not meant to be seen. I have killed. Oh how I have killed! But so have you, young princeling. You are not free of sin. And yet I am the evil one? Double standards, child! Hardly fair!”
Two can play at his game, young wolf.
Stalemate. And then…
A silent understanding, an agreement. Beowulf disappears from my treasure trove, a speech on his lips, a plan in his calculating, whirling, machinery mind.
I grant him four minutes. Five. Six. A chance to spout all manner of nonsense in the open daylight where it wraps around subordinate shoulders, a lead cape of hero expectations. They will never rise to the challenge. I have but one true opponent.
I prepare to leave my land, my hard earned spoils. Prepare for final battle. A grin.
Bat-leather red-sun wings unfurl, talons shifting through piles, sparking off chests of gold and diamonds and emeralds and ruby encrusted crowns. Crimson heat flare, practice run. The piles, so neat, so careful, unorganized-organized mess, slide.
A landfall of ancestors and history.
But what is history? Bards of all ages have their ideas. The Shaper, the god of the godless Grendel, had his ideas of it. It isn’t fact, history, and trying to define one past event as a bigger lie than another is an exercise in futility.
So, then: what is history, and what is a story?
The difference is this: In story you imagine the future, and in history you imagine the past.
But I am a dragon, and I know all. I know the future. I know the past. So what does that make me? Another inanimate object without a specified place to be? Oh, Merlin, you had it easy living backwards in time. You had knowledge only of the beginning, the grave dirt falling over your dulled blue eyes. Easier than normal perception.
I heard once, that life is just a chance to grow a soul.
But dragons have no need of souls.
And my future is awaiting me, steel shield protector, hand-me-down sword of the ancients, dragonslayer!
Cave ceiling explodes (the bats left long ago) and I see him, his hand-picked warriors fleeing behind him, as I knew they would, dead-man’s warrior eyes trained steadily on me.
Cruel smile of a child, and I know.
Future, past, present, all and everything and nothing.
The wide openness of the universe is stifling and I scream, a battle roar (requiem) of seismic proportions, and the cobalt sky is reflected in my tears.
“My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it”.
The treasures of my youth, my possessions, everything ever important, are already cold.
Aurum Est Potestas. Auri sacra fames.
“Things come and go. That’s the gist of it. Even I will be gone. A certain man will absurdly kill me”.
Death, transfiguration. I let go of my tail, and it is the end of the world.
“Ashes to ashes and slime to slime, amen”.
So may it be.