Winter of the Survivor

The final story of my long-time D&D character, whose game stats were published in DRAGON #79.

Eleador sat in his chair, watching the world go by. The rose, silver and blue, smoked in its dragon-shaped vase on his desk, the green glass one, filling the air with its sweet fragrance. The vapors were almost, but not quite, a narcotic, and quite pleasant. A crow could be heard outside his widow, noisy, industrious, and busy. He didn’t mind the bird, though he should have grudged him on a hundred battlefields, pecking away at his dead friends. The crow, like any other form of death, consumed all on its plate.

His hand once held high the mace, blazing in fire, but his arm could not move so well. His voice, which once sang mighty anthems, was barely capable of anything above a whisper. His blue eyes were dull and his hair silver, his cheek slumped like a sluggard shirking a load. Yet he still commanded respect in his waning years, and that put him ahead of most. He still had people who genuinely loved him in his final days, and did not begrudge the burden. That put him ahead of all the old men he knew, Auru be praised and Man be pitied.

His servants hummed around him like bees. He paid well, for he won much gold in his adventuresome youth, and the mighty paid well for his words, faint and rasping. That also put him ahead of most. He did not hold himself so high. The survivor. The saint. Proud Eleador, defiant in the face of tyrants. Humble Eleador, who pitied the poor and miserable, and shared a cloak of comfort with the destitute. Bold Eleador, who would not let fear be his master, for there was but one god for him, and its name was kindness and not fear. Fear was, among other things, the father of blasphemies.

“Ten eyes! Ten eyes!” came the watchword, the voice of the watchtower. “Ten eyes!”

“Some things,” Eleador said. “Deserve to be feared.”

He could have fallen to his knees, prayed to his god for salvation, as he had done so often. Seldom had his god failed him, and usually it was in the subtlety of is purpose, hiding His way from his sight, until the revelation dropped an unexpected bounty. Instead, he turned to his servants. “You are treasures deserving of treasures. Go the tunnels and flee as I fled so many years ago. Go to the tunnels and seek Lord Dudley’s grandsons. The paladins will take care of you.”

And they wept. But a final fire had been rekindled in the saint’s one good eye.

Her wings could be heard from a league away. She was not crying; she let the hurricane be her herald. Eleador hoisted himself to the wine cellar and hoisted out a keg of wine. It hurt his back to lift it, and the wooden edges of the barrel wounded the palm of his hand with an enormous sliver. He pulled it free -- yes, it was painful -- and sucked the wound. It throbbed. Then he rolled the barrel in his fingers, using it as a walking stick. Propping it, he doubted he would be able to return to his home.It should have been five barrels, he thought. But he could hardly have asked her servants to do menial tasks when death winged its way hither. It was best to assure their safety, even if it made him a poorer host.

Her wings flapped like the banners of war. Her winds pressed against his skin, hot as dragon anger, even from a mile away.

It was dusk, the deepening crimson. They were dragon stars above, lamps in the night. So, so beautiful. He had always loved the heavens, to which he reached out in hope. They were Dragon stars set above a dragon wood, junipers and cedars and fading maples, as the ten-eyed one herself swept by. She who had lived when the world was chaos, and revelled in the worldwomb, dancing in a world yet unborn. Men called her evil. But, in the dawn of the world, she was dance and laughter, and she sang.

“Your majesty,” the saint said. He had been the defiant even in the face of gods, ones unfit for worship. Yet, in the end, he was respectful to one of the most ancient and vile ones of its kind. For though she was evil, still she was wise.

And five heads, and ten eyes, gazed upon him. The five heads danced, like cobras, in the nightmare of his world.

”It has been a very long time,” the green head said, the Lady of the Rotting Wood.

“I was barely more than a boy when last we met,” spake the saint. “Time has done what unnumbered foes could not, set me on my knees.”

“I should be very cross at you,” spoke the blue head, Queen of the Airs. Hers was a gentle voice. “You built your reputation at my expense. I did but scratch you, all those many years ago.”

“Perhaps you were slowed by the consumption of my comrades. It could happen to anyone, even the great. But I still bear the wound,” Eleador said, and he displayed it, lifting his blue tunic to show the faint scar in his side. Her draconic faces, if you knew how to read them, smiled. Ah, you sweet old beauty, she thought. The wound throbbed, as if it sang in the presence of the one who gave it. If it discomfited the saint, he did not show it. “I took unnumbered wounds in my day, but only this one did not fully heal. For some wounds are too mighty for healing but must be borne. So yours has always been with me. Yet, or so I trust, this is hardly wisdom to a creature such as you, pierced by life and light and steel and the fingers of gods.”

“Whom I slew,” spake the Red, Empress of Flames, its voice a holocaust, rumbling.

“Thankfully, I chose to follow one of wiser, kinder stock,” Eleador answered. “One should follow kindness, and not others, not bravado, Kindness, alone in creation, endures.”

“For awhile. And will he take you to his paradise?” asked the white head, the Ghastly Winter.

“This I do not know.” Eleador said. “In the long dark, we see with our heart when eyes fail us, and hope that our hope does not betray us. Would you like some wine, majesty? It is an excellent vintage. Unlike its maker, it is still in its prime. I dare say it tastes better than its vintner, and comes from a headier vintage. Come, partake!”

“Thank you,” replied three heads, two words that none had ever heard the dragon use since the beginning of the world, not even gods. She sipped it with the green head, the one best given to savoring wine, lapping it with a forked tongue. “This is indeed delectable.” she said.

“I have always endeavored to live a life of quality.” The saint replied. “In the end, that’s all we have.”

“No,” the black head said, the Tongue of Hell. “From birth to death, all you have is a flash of light that briefly shines in your eyes, and then the universe returns to darkness.”

“And yet, majesty, if you don’t resent the fumblings of an old man, it is magnificent even in the flash. No wonder we look forward to reopening our eyes a second time and staring at it with eyes wide open.”

The dragon chuckled and stretched prone on the ground. He had brought him wine instead of gold, but that was a pardonable offense, given her errand.

“Are you impatient for the feast?” Eleador asked. “So many hosts I have known delayed their meals, to bask in themselves. So irritating, was it not?”

“That is the nature of hosts.” spake the Dragon. “But I do not mind. Yours is a tired ad reedy voice, and patience is required to properly mine your wisdom. Patience is a jewel, and I offer it, to your world-horde.”

Eleador chuckled. “I gather I am past my prime as a meal as I am in other things, being old and brittle, reed-thin and tired.

“And you believe in that your god will restore you?” the red head asked.

“I believe he is just,” Eleador answered. “If I deserve rebirth, I will receive it, if I deserve eternity, I will be given it with both hands, lovingly and not begrudgingly, in accordance with the promise.”

“And if the promise is false?”

“Then I’ve had a life,” Eleador said. “And it will not matter. I go to my grave knowing I am blessed, and that is not such a bad thing. Yet I have hopes of more.”

“A hoard composed of eternity?” Tiamat asked.

“I suppose. Though I imagine that would be a fearsome prospect for some,” Eleador said. “To creatures of hoards, those who enjoyed lionizing their splendor. The dragon-hearted fear eternity, whether it is a long day where others enjoy splendor in equal or greater abundance than themselves, or a long night where all are equally devoured by the dark.”

“And your hope is?” Tiamat asked.

“To be surprised,” Eleador answered. “Pleasantly so. And if I am to be surprised above the wonders of this world, if they are greater than what I’ve seen in my life of wonder and cruelty – well they must be great indeed!”

“Indeed,” spake the blue head, cold, and cruel and calculating. She licked her lips, and thought of the feast. It would just take one quick dart! He would not dodge her this time, the little nimble praying man. Yet other heads shared that thought, and it was the green head that won the race, devouring the saint, greedily engulfing him before he could react, without even a roar, just a flash of fang, and the gulping of a green tongue. And her quickness was a mercy.

And so St. Eleador ceased to be a survivor, but left the world for the halls of memory. And poorly-wrought were those halls, the work of cluttered mortal minds.

“He made the world less cruel,” said the dragon. “Such a pity!” Yet, eternity or not, those were the best words she could have possibly said about the saint. For that itself was a grand legacy, far outlasting his stale taste in her belly. Roast prelate was hardly a delicacy, but a saint’s deeds could be a feast, depending on the saint.

But dead is dead, and the door closed. And so, the saint was no more, save a morsel, the sated appetite of the universe. And with a roar that may have been a belch – for many said the saint was a fire in her stomach – the great dragon alighted, and winged its way into the wondrous world, in search of more prey, more treasure. The universe is an appetite which rarely stops to contemplate its meal.
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