The Keeper of Dragon's Fire
The Keeper of Dragonís Fire
Kainan sat in his place upon the dais beside Zhu Yin, the Keeper of the Scepter. She was a beauty to behold despite her age. Zhu Yin was thin and small boned, as were all the Miyashi. Her face, both delicate and firm, betrayed the essence of her timelessness and wisdom. The eyes of other Miyashi were usually blue, but Zhu Yin was blessed by the gods with sparkling green eyes. Red-graying hair whirled about her body, past her waist. But this night, the usually wild locks had been carefully combed and braided for the Ceremony of Fire.
A dragon hatched from its egg the day before. It now lay sleeping at Zhu Yin's feet, oblivious to the gathering crowd. Songji, the name the Miyashi had given this dragon, was curled up in a ball with her tail wrapped around her head. Since her feet were hidden beneath her, a stranger might have mistaken her for a very large snake.
Songji's bright green scales glittered with an iridescent shine. They were soft to the touch but would one day grow as hard and rough as stone. Her teeth were long and sharp but the Miyashi would file them down. Songji was their pet and would always be tame. She was about the size of a dog. She would remain so for the rest of her life for the Miyashi had a way to hinder her growth.
Kainan was chosen to be the Keeper of the dragon's fire, an honor he had been working to obtain for over a hundred years. As old as Kainan was, he was still young compared to other Miyashi. His dark red hair held not a single strand of gray. His clean-shaven face was devoid of any wrinkles. His victories in martial games and his prowess in hunting proved he was as fit as he was fifty years ago.
A man with no reservations about showing his age came upon the dais and took his seat beside the Keeper of the Scepter, opposite of Kainan. Jinshing was only a few decades older than Zhu Yin. His short hair no longer held any color. It had long ago turned clear and luminescent. The bottom half of his face was covered with a trim white beard. Domineering blue eyes framed by deeply engraved lines was Jinshing's most prevailing feature.
When Jinshing arrived, the crowd of Miyashi before them hushed. The ceremony would soon begin. But first, Jinshing, the Keeper of the Ages, would recite a short history of their people. Although the Miyashi heard this story many times since their young childhood, they watched the old man with a reverent gaze. The Miyashi were a proud people. Their heritage was a long and remarkable legacy.
Jinshing rose from his chair and stepped to the edge of the platform. Kainan and Zhu Yin stood up as well, but remained in the old man's shadow. Jinshing cleared his throat and began. "A new era has come for the Miyashi, but old times have not gone from our minds. Thirty-five ages have come to pass. Thirty-five dragons have brought us life."
Kainan reflected how thirty-five ages was a long time since each age was three to four-hundred years, depending on the life of the dragon.
"For over ten-thousand years we have lived and died together. For ten-thousand more we will rejoice and endure together," Jinshing continued. "The way of the Miyashi is the way of the gods. Long ago, the gods gave the Miyashi the secret of their dragons. Not long after, the Miyashi shamed them with their greed and lust. The people grew corrupt. The gods grew angry. They sent plagues and famine to the people. Then they sent the Duridians to our land. Many Miyashi died at the hands of the gods. Many more Miyashi were slaughtered by the invaders. But the dragons pleaded their cause, and the gods showed mercy. The wicked were left to die. The pious were allowed to live."
Kainan hated the Duridians. While most Miyashi blamed their own sins for the invasion, Kainan did not. If it weren't for their enemies, he and his people would be able to live openly. Ungal was their land. But the Duridians forced them into hiding.
Jinshing concluded his oration. "We are the descendants of those great Miyashi. We are the inheritors of their great legacy. Today we honor them by honoring the gods. We honor the gods by honoring their dragons. The dragons we treat with love and respect so they may, in turn, grant us health . . . and longevity."
The people repeated Jinshing's last verse. It was the motto of their people. Kainan, too, repeated the words. They meant a lot to him. He respected the dragons and was proud to have been chosen to take a part of the young dragon unto himself.
Priests appeared from behind the stage. They walked in single file from either side wearing their white hooded robes. Each priest carried a torch and a bottle of oil. The crowd stepped back revealing a circle of stones prepared especially for the ceremony.
As each priest came upon the circle, they placed their torches in the designated holes. When the ring of torches was complete, the head priest nodded to Kainan. With a small effort, Kainan picked up the sleeping young dragon. Songji yawned revealing rows of sharp white teeth, but did not protest. As the priests poured oil around the circle of torches and stones, Kainan and the dragon took their place in the center. He lay Songji at his feet while the priests set the oil alight and enclosed them in a ring of fire.
The priests, standing just outside the circle, began to hum and chant. As their voices grew in power, the circle of flames grew taller. Before long, all Kainan could see was fire. All he could hear was the crackling of flames. He was not frightened, but his heart pounded wildly in anticipation. Songji still slept.
"You, Kainan," bellowed a deep booming voice which seemed to come from the sky. He felt the power of it through his bones. "You have been chosen to be the Keeper of the Fire." The flames flickered intensely with each word. Kainan could feel the heat burning away his sweat. "Do you accept this honor of your own free will?" the faceless voice asked.
"Upon my soul," Kainan swore reverently. He spoke loudly but his voice seemed feeble in comparison.
"Do you promise to endure the pain it will bring you and not take your own life?"
"Upon my soul." Kainan wouldn't dare kill himself. If he died, the responsibility and the honor of holding the sacred fire would go to someone else. Only those Keepers who upheld the fire were noted in the chronicles. Those who did not were only spoken of as a curse.
"Do you promise to suppress its power and not use it against your own people?"
"Upon my soul."
"Do you promise to love and care for this dragon and protect it at any cost?"
"Upon my soul."
"Do you promise to forsake drink and any concoctions which might hinder you from controlling the fire?"
"Upon my soul," Kainan said. The heat of the fire was burning his skin. He made no attempt to shy from it knowing the pain he would soon have to endure would be just the same, or worse. It was too late to back out now. His vows were spoken.
The flames died down. Kainan could see the priests again. He could hear they were still chanting. The head priest was holding a blue crystal. As their hymns grew louder, the crystal grew brighter.
They stepped closer to the circle of fire. A blue haze formed a wall separating Kainan and the dragon from the fire. The wall closed in. Kainan held his breath. The transaction was about to begin.
Songji awoke from her sleep with an alarming cry. It was a cry of pain. She panicked and tried to run, but the blue wall held her in. Her eyes filled with terror.
A red glow began to rise from her throat. She clawed at her neck and shrieked in agony. Her cry pierced the night, sounding something like the screech of an owl and the bellow of a bear. The glow drew closer to her mouth and she opened her jaw to the sky. Her cries stopped as a crystal of flame flew from her throat. With the object of pain gone, she collapsed exhaustedly to the ground.
Kainan's pain was just beginning. He took deep relaxing breaths in an attempt to calm himself and prepare for the shock. Beads of burning sweat gathered at his brows, then fell down the sides of his cheeks. He closed his eyes and, almost reluctantly, opened his mouth. He didn't want to see the flames coming for him.
His face grew warm, then burning hot. He yelled in agony as the fiery glow entered his mouth. But he didn't try to force it out. Kainan trembled as the scorching flames went down into his throat. He felt it burn inside his neck, chest, heart, then inside his stomach. As it settled, Kainan used his magic to control it. His magic, like glittering ice, crackled and hissed as it wrapped itself around the dragon's fire.
Like Songji, Kainan fell to the ground in fatigue. But the pain of the fire wouldn't allow him to rest. It was his burden, and his privilege, to carry it for the rest of his life.
By D.R. Ross © 2008