This is the second part of my autumn special. If you want to refresh your mind before continue reading, here is the link to the first part: https://fabianswriting.com/2022/10/28/an-autumn-special-the-white-dragon-part-1/
Has someone followed Jonathan from the village? He had asked questions about strange occurrences. He had made sure to leave out the word magic and mermaids but maybe the villagers had been suspicious after all? Maybe he did not blend in well enough? Or was it just an animal? A fox, a badger, or a wild cat feeling disturbed by Jonathan’s presence? He wouldn’t blame them. At this time of the year, not a lot of strange walkers came up these hills.
Jonathan raised his eyebrows in annoyance when he saw a man stepping out from the thickness of the vegetation. He knew him very well. Jonathan himself would have never moved so elegantly through the bushes, but this man was someone who had a talent for walking through wilderness.
‘Please, don’t stop on my account. I always love listening to your poems.’ The young man said.
It was Jonathan’s boyfriend. Although he wasn’t so sure about that lately. Jonathan just stared at the broad shouldered, muscular man, and could not help but admire him. He wore dark red and green winter clothes, which created a beautiful contrast to his olive skin. His black curly hair was covered in a silver film of water. He must have gotten caught in the rain earlier today without an umbrella. His most striking features were his long, dark eyelashes and his midnight blue eyes, which looked at Jonathan with warmth.
‘They are not my poems. They are poems written thousands of years ago, praising a long-lost kingdom. What are you doing here, Criston?’ Jonathan asked, ‘After our fight, I told you I didn’t want you to come. Shouldn’t you be on a mission with Andreas in London or something?’
‘The mission would have been in Dublin. Very pretty city, actually. I like it much more than London.’ Criston replied, ‘And I changed my mind last minute. Sereyah went with him instead.’
Jonathan frowned. Sereyah was their best friend. She did not like Andreas very much. But Criston must have convinced her. Otherwise, he would not have been able to come here. Jonathan would have a word with Sereyah when he was back at the academy. He knew she didn’t do it to annoy him, but because so he and Criston had time to resolve their fight. Still, he didn’t like it that she had interfered. Part of his plan was to clear his head. And now Jonathan would be unable to do that.
‘I like your new wool hat.’ Criston said to change the topic, ‘Although, it’s hiding your blonde hair.’
‘That doesn’t matter. I cut it really short anyway.’
‘Did you?’ Criston asked with disappointment in his voice, ‘I always liked it when it was a little bit longer. It was a bit curly then. Like waves breaking in sunlight.’
Jonathan wanted to smile, but he was still angry at him. He looked up into the sky. The clouds were grey, the same colour as his eyes. Towards the east, the sky was darker. It might rain later today. Jonathan chose to ignore Criston’s compliment and his flirtatious demeanour. After all, that’s the reason why he was in a bad mood in the first place: ‘You are not wearing a hat. Your hair is already wet. You will catch a cold.’
Criston shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘I am a merman of the Alaskanta Kingdom. I am used to way colder temperatures.’
The Alaskanta Kingdom was the northernmost kingdom of mermaids. Most of their underwater palaces and homes were not built of stone but out of ice. They could handle freezing temperatures. Even in their strange walker form, coldness was their natural habitat.
‘Well, I am not.’ Was the only thing Jonathan could come up with, and it was the truth.
He was a merman of the Aquorsian Kingdom. He was used to a tropical climate. He grew up in the warmest of waters. And with these words, he turned around and stomped up the hill.
‘Can we please talk about what happened?’ Criston called after him and followed Jonathan.
‘What do you want to talk about?’ Jonathan asked, ‘I am very busy. This is my mission. If you want to help me, we can talk about the white dragons.’
Criston sighed and caught up with him. He grinned at Jonathan. Jonathan tried to focus on the path ahead. Criston’s smile in combination with his three day beard was irresistible, but Jonathan would not give in.
‘Good! Then let’s talk about the white dragons. What did the villagers say?’ Criston asked.
‘You really want to talk about the mission? Help me with it?’
‘Of course, I want to. This is why I came all this way. And because of other things too. But mainly to help you.’
Jonathan sighed. This could be neutral ground. The white dragons and the lost kingdom could be their starting points. Jonathan tried to push these thoughts away. He did not want to be distracted. He was still annoyed that Criston had just turned up here: ‘Okay.’ Jonathan said, ‘Then let’s talk about the white dragons.’
‘Has there been any more sightings?’
This time, Jonathan was unable to suppress a smile. He looked at Criston and said: ‘Yes, there have been. Just as I predicted. That’s why I am going this way.’
Curiosity flared up in Criston’s dark blue eyes: ‘Tell me everything!’ he said, with genuine interest in his voice.
Jonathan sighed but was relieved to talk about his favourite topic: ‘So apparently, the sightings have been more frequent over the last couple of years than I ever thought. However, the sightings appear to be limited to children and very old people. If the white dragons use some form of concealment magic, then somehow children and old people seem to have a form of immunity or are just able to see through the charm.’
‘Strange walker children don’t surprise me. They are capable of seeing magic in general. But why old strange walkers? That doesn’t make any sense.’
‘So thought I.’ Jonathan said. ‘But then I talked to this old strange walker in town yesterday evening. What he said did make sense.’
‘What did he say?’
Jonathan looked up at the trees again. They had reached the top of the hill and were now on a forest path. The leaves that still clung to the trees were yellow. As if the trees were dressed in golden gowns. The path was scattered with the fallen ones. It looked like drops of sunlight decorated the dark brown and mossy path. He breathed in the air. It smelled different here than in the open fields. The air was moist, and the scent of soil was all around them. It felt so different from Jonathan’s natural habitat. There was no warm ocean breeze and no taste of salt on their tongues. They were indeed far from the ocean.
‘The old man I talked to had seen the white dragon flying in the night sky when he was a little boy. He said it filled his mind with wonder, and for a time, he believed in magic. He even went up the hill, through the forest, to the ancient ruins, and looked for the dragon. But he didn’t find anything. The older he became, the more uncertain he was about actually having seen a dragon, and he didn’t see the dragon a second time. Other things began to occupy his mind. School, later work, love, family, and travel. He forgot all about the white dragon until his wife died and he was suddenly all alone in his house. His children had moved away long ago, and most of his friends had died. He told me the most peculiar thing.’
‘What was it?’ Criston asked.
Jonathan looked at him and could see how Criston had listened to every single word he had said. Jonathan remembered from their time at the academy that Criston had always had a genuine interest in the mundane lives of strange walkers. What made them the way they are. He had always said that in order to change their lives, to teach them to respect nature so that nature could thrive again, they needed to understand strange walkers rather than know them.
‘The old man said that he had lived his life. He had worked, travelled, learned, fallen in love, struggled, and raised his children. He had experienced happiness and sorrow. And now, he felt content, knowing that his children were happy. He said he could rest. He said all around him, he could see younger people living their lives. Everything felt faster. He didn’t feel like being a part of everyday life anymore, but more like a spectator. He didn’t have to worry or care so much anymore. He has had his turn. Now, the next generation would get their turn. He just wanted to enjoy the rest of the time he had.’
Jonathan hesitated. It was a strange conversation. Mermaids lived for more than three hundred years. For most of their adult lives, they are young and healthy. Under the sea, no one ever gets really tired of exploring and seeing the world in a different light, discovering new colours. But this strange walker, this man, had appeared composed and measured. He knew there could be more to see, that there could be more to do. But he seemed happy and tired at the same time about the fact that he did not have to do anything anymore.
‘There was a lightness in his voice.’ Jonathan began to explain, ‘Something I usually hear in the voices of children. But he had it too. And he said, that sometimes, when he walked from his wife’s grave back home, when he looked up, he could see a white dragon, almost transparent, gliding through the autumn sky. And that was the moment he remembered seeing the white dragon as a child.’
For a moment, it was completely quiet. Yellow leaves glided to the ground around the two men. They made no sound, falling silently, as if they had listened to Jonathan’s story as well.
‘That means someone’s mind must be untroubled…’ Criston surmised. ‘Light and happy and quiet. Like the mind of a child or someone old who has lived a long and happy life.’
‘To break the spell of invisibility it seems, yes.’ Jonathan answered, ‘But we have no idea how it works for mermaids, whose minds and eyes work completely differently. And strange walkers only see through the barriers of magic in the autumn. And we have no idea why this is the case either.’
‘So, what is the next step?’ Criston asked.
‘I want to return to the ruins. See if there is anything I missed or any new signs. If the tale of the old man and the children is true, then there should be new traces to be found. The white dragons or any dragon should have left some sort of sign. Any traces of their existence.’
‘Unless the white dragons haven’t returned to the ruins.’ Criston argued.
‘Then we will have to rethink what to do next.’
‘We?’ Criston teased Jonathan.
Jonathan had to smile. ‘Yes, I thought you were going to help me with the white dragons?’
‘Among other things.’ Criston answered.
Jonathan sighed but chose not to respond. He noticed more daylight coming through the trees. The path was coming to an end. Jonathan hurried along the muddy way, with Criston following him. They reached a clearing, and Jonathan’s eyes glistened with wonder. In front of them stood the ancient ruins of a castle that belonged to a long-lost kingdom.