The old storyteller sucked on the bread my mother had given her, listening to my song as she sat by the hearth. On finishing I knelt at the woman’s bare feet, gnarled and tanned as leather, to await my reward. She bent towards me, her face hidden in the shadow of her heavy cloak, and began:
In a land far away there lived a handsome, but foolish boy.
Her lips barely twitched yet her words seeped into my mind like the melody of an ancient song.
Foolish because he loved Aurora, a beautiful and high born lady, long since promised to another.
‘Did she love him back?’ I interrupted, winding a strand of hair around my finger.
The old woman made a snort like one of our pigs.
Aurora loved only her betrothed, Borealis the Sky Lighter dragon, not some mortal boy. Each night her true love took to the skies to flame them with all the colours of his heart.
I wanted to believe the hag’s tale but she was making it up. The glowing lights in the Northern skies were only seen at certain times of the year. Everyone knew that.
One night the boy waited for Borealis to take flight then hurled a spear towards the creature’s chest. The spearhead was forged by Dwarves and sharpened by Trolls’ talons, it pierced the silver scales and sank into the dragon’s flesh.
The old woman paused for me to gasp and clutch my knees tighter.
‘So Aurora had to marry the boy instead?’ I said, but hoped for another ending.
She held out a flat sliver of silver, splashed with blood, then laughed.
The silly boy was crushed to dust when Borealis fell to earth. Aurora stayed with the Sky Lighter until she grew too old and frail to soothe him with her songs.
Her palms were smooth and white, unlike my mother’s hands - grey and hardened from working in the fields all day.
The villagers brought Aurora and Borealis food and precious treasures. They lived well, wanting for nothing.
She placed the dragon scale in my lap. I flinched as the hood slipped back from her face, revealing a scar that cut through one eye and gouged out most of her cheek
His wing tip grazed me as he tumbled from the sky. Though my beauty was gone Borealis still loved me. Weakened by the wound, he could no longer flame the skies every night. Only when he is strong enough to fly then his dragon breath can still be seen. Now he is alone, waiting for a new love to sing to him.
The dragon’s scale flashed in the firelight: emerald green, then yellow and finally a blush of pink. When I looked up the storyteller was gone. Only her cloak, lined with the fur of a snow hare, remained on her stool. Swirling Aurora’s cloak around my body I knew it would serve me well on the long journey ahead.