A short note before beginning: This is the first installment in what will ultimately be a very long project. Breaking it up (a lot) for easier reading.
Comments welcome, always. 🙂
The forest was never silent.
Jakob awoke to the sounds of birds, singing loudly in the trees above him. His stomach grumbled with hunger, but he had nothing available to eat. He lay half buried in the leaves, feeling little desire to move.
After a moment or two, he rolled onto his back and looked up at the summer sun streaming through the trees. Though it was early in the day, the heat was already intense. Sweat beaded on his forehead, the collar of his tunic sticking to his neck.
‘If I’m hungry, I need food,’ he thought. ‘If I need food, then I’m alive.’
Or perhaps he was merely holding on to the memories of life. Maybe he thought he needed food because he had not forgotten that part yet. Maybe, when he accepted his death, he would cease to try to live.
Or maybe he wasn’t dead after all.
His stomach grumbled, pushing these thoughts from his mind, delaying any conclusions he might have reached. With a groan, he rolled again onto his stomach.
The sound of water flowing nearby reminded him that he was also thirsty. Slowly, he pushed himself to his knees, then to his feet, and saw the stream at once.
He stumbled to the water, kneeling on the soft grass at the edge, and scooped the cool clear liquid into his mouth with his hands. He drank until his thirst was sated and his stomach felt it might burst. He rinsed the dirt and sweat from his face and studied his reflection in the water.
There was a thin red line visible on his throat, the only evidence remaining of his execution.
He shook his head. Thinking had so far only made his head hurt. He got to his feet and began to walk, following the river.
It was hard to keep his mind from thinking when there was so little to distract his thoughts. His stomach growled, but he saw little that might serve to ease his hunger pangs. There were no fish in the shallow stream. He saw no berries helpfully presenting themselves on bushes, nor fruits dangling from trees, waiting to be eaten.
There were animals aplenty in this forest. His eyes caught sight of a half-dozen squirrels, scampering through the undergrowth, dashing up the tree trunks. He thought he might have seen a rabbit, but it vanished quickly beyond his sight before he could be certain of what it was.
Even if he had seen a rabbit, he had nothing with which he might kill any creatures for food. He kept walking, for there was nothing else to do.
After nearly an hour of stumbling through the forest, Jakob came to a clearing. The trees that had surrounded him along his walk were now absent, and there was nothing but short, green grass. The river he had been following meandered across this field, toward some distant hills and mountains.
In the distance, he heard the faint sound of human voices. As he was trying to determine their origin, a shadow passed over him, and he turned his head upward, expecting to see a cloud or some bird pass between himself and the sun.
It was neither.
It was a dragon, a huge specimen, its massive wings spread to their full span, gliding effortlessly upon the breezes. As it sailed overhead, Jakob could see each scale, dark red in color, glinting in the bright sunlight. Upon each of the three toes of its feet was a long, sharp claw, easily capable of piercing the skin of a man and leaving him for true, inescapable death.
In an instant, it was beyond him, and an instant later, the tip of its tail was disappearing beyond the crest of a hill at the other end of the clearing.
“A Dragonya settlement,” Jakob realized, speaking aloud. His voice sounded odd to him, meek and tiny compared to the enormity of the dragon. Suddenly, he knew where he was, or at least had more of an idea than he’d had the hour before. This was reality, and not some odd afterlife into which he had stumbled.
He would have run across the clearing, following the dragon, but he had no strength for such an endeavor even now. He was able to at least muster the strength to walk a bit faster, now that he had a purpose.
What had taken the dragon a half an instant took him nearly twenty minutes to traverse. As he rounded the hill, the sound of human voices grew louder, and he heard the rumblings of sound he recognized as belonging to the dragons.
It was not long afterward that he saw the village.
Though he had never before visited a Dragonya settlement, Jakob saw now that the reality quite easily matched the descriptions he had been given. A number of caves were carved out of the hillsides, several of which were obviously currently housing the dragons themselves, and in the center stood a collection of about a dozen small buildings – larger than huts, but far smaller than the manor of a Lord – built of some mixture of stone and wood. Between these buildings were quite a number of people milling about – some talking to one another, some carrying objects, some engaged in various types of labor.
For a long moment, Jakob stood at the edge of this village, watching with some interest. It was only when he had satisfied the barest of his curiosity that he realized that he might appear to be rather rude, staring openly at them all. He shook his head and walked forward.
He expected that people might turn to look at him, to greet him, to ask the reason for his presence, to ask his name and where he had come from, but not a single person did any such thing. He kept walking forward, and at long last paused a short distance from the nearest building and waited to be noticed.
No one did.
“That’s it, that’s a good girl,” a woman said then, and Jakob turned as a woman carrying a baby not more than a few months old, walked past him, barely a half-inch from his body. She was cooing and rocking the child, who was fussing somewhat, and did not even look up at the near collision.
She was three steps beyond him before Jakob thought to be insulted. He cleared his throat loudly and said, “Excuse me!”
The woman took no notice of this, but passed around a corner and entered the nearest building through an open doorway. “Oh,” she said at that moment. “Beg pardon, Mai.”
“No harm,” came a responding voice, as a young man stepped around her, leaving the building. “I can see you’re quite busy with the little one.” He was grinning even as he departed, and walked past Jakob without even a glance in his direction.
“Can none of you see me?” Jakob asked the man, and began to follow after him. “Hear me? Anything?”
The man went on walking, taking no notice of the visitor, continuing on toward the nearest dragon cave. Several young men were outside of this cave, stoking a fire with a bit of roasted meat turning. The scent of it made Jakob’s stomach growl ferociously.
“Well I can’t be dead if I’m hungry!” he declared aloud, mostly to prove to himself that he could. “So why can’t you see me?”