SCENE TWO: DARGON 

(A crash of thunder and lightning. Barrow, breathless and drenched, stumbles out of a raging storm into a dark cave. He opens his pack, takes out a lantern, turns it on, looks around the cave. He is alone.)

 

(The storm rages; there is no leaving. Barrow strips off his wet jacket and trousers, wringing them dry. He sits for a while. He opens his pack, takes out a notebook. He sits, opening it, looking at it for a while.)

Barrow

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(reading) T… tow… towns-fo… townsfolk. Ki… Kins men. M… Mas ters of… c… craft. These are m… my words, my wi… wish for the fu… future. The… road… I will wa… walk to… to… to…

 

(He stops, frustrated. His words echo around him. He picks up the lantern, shines it around. Seeing nothing, he resumes reading.)

 

Towns folk. Kins men. M… masters of craft. These are my… words. My… wish for the future. The road I will… walk… to… to… arr… arrive… in the… w… world.

 

M… my. My name is…

 

(Movement in the dark above and around him: slithering, rumbling, sizzling. Barrow stops reading. The sound comes again. Barrow stands, raises the lantern. A pair of glowing eyes appear in the darkness, something huge hidden in the shadow behind them.)

 

Pernicious be the bird to sing me from my slumber, at this lengthy hour of this lonely time of night. And brief be its life to do so with so stuttering a song…

 

(The head and arms of an enormous dragon loom out of the darkness, the vastness of its body – coiled tail, folded wings – suggested in the shadows. The eyes turn to Barrow, narrowing.)

 

Ah? But see! No meagre scrap of bird this is, though meagre does it seem in size… Hmm! What manner of bird be thee? Flightless, I fancy. Bony to boot. Crunchable? Munchable? Explainable, perhaps? Speak! Speak now!

 

I… I…

 

What? What is this? Lack you the faculty of mind, the tongue to wag, or will to form the sound of speech?

 

I… I’m afraid.

 

Too afraid to speak? As you should, you who lights torches against the dark – who humbles himself before my earthly shrine – who presumes to sing to wake me from slumber, and to do so in the nude…

 

I meant you no offence, mighty lord.

 

And yet you are offensive.

 

You, boy. Define yourself.

 

Me? I am… Barrow.

 

Form or function?

 

Barrow. It’s… my name.

 

Your name? That is unfortunate.

 

I am Dargon.

 

Dragon?

 

I am Dargon, I am dragon, and you’re small, Barrow, you’re very small. Why?

 

I’m… I’m a boy.

 

A boy named Barrow who is not a barrow but a boy… Yes, that fits. That fits you well.

 

What is that insufferable sound?

 

Sound, mighty lord? That was only myself, committing to memory a pledge I am to give /

 

No, stupid boy, your speech is sufferable, though in truth is deeply strained. Turn your ear. Listen.

 

(They listen.)

 

There? You hear it now? That fluttering, flittering, flailing sort of sound.

 

It puts me in mind of something irksome and weak. A mouse I might stomp. A rock I might crush between my toes…

 

There! It comes again!

 

Forgive me, my lord. That is only so much as the pounding of my heart.

 

Pounding, you say? Small wonder I should not know its sound. It’s less the heart of a man, more that of a bird. Very small. A sparrow. Does a sparrow’s heart beat within you, boy?

 

No, mighty lord. My heart is my own, although a dragon may be forgiven ignorance to know a bird’s heart from a boy’s.

 

(growing large) You presume to assume me ignorant, or worse still, the nerve to forgive me?

 

(stepping back) Should it please you, my lord, I presume nothing so bold.

 

(diminishing) And yet you imply in me a need for forgiveness. We shall see in time whose need is greater.

 

Yes, a boy’s heart, that’s what it is: weak willed and shallow. A pity you should come by it. It does you no favours.

 

You speak as if a choice were made.

 

Why should I not? It is a fact of the world that hearts are given freely – one here for love, one there for valour; one taken for granted, another by force.

 

I myself have undertaken to possess a great many hearts. I’ve made something of a collection. Would you care to see?

 

I should think myself unworthy, mighty lord, of a treasure as great and… gory… as that, if it’s all the same to you?

 

There is comfort in sameness, though it brings no satisfaction.

 

The dragon’s head looms up to look down at him. Barrow cows by instinct.

 

You’re very small, Barrow.

 

Besides your majesty, mighty lord, I would seem but a small thing.

 

Seem, yes, besides my majesty, which is great, and my might, which is vast. All true. I am impressive. I am magnificent, and you are small – and have always been this way. Do you think we have always been as we are, you and I?

 

I know I have always been treated as small.

 

Most likely, and most likely you always will be, while I will remain… What is it, Barrow, that I will remain?

 

… Magnificent?

 

Indeed.

 

Are you afraid of me?

 

Yes.

 

Am I magnificent in my might, or just because you fear me?

 

It is a quality of yours that causes me to fear.

 

Well said.

 

You are small, Barrow, but you are not a liar.

 

For all it’s worth, it is your fear which makes me magnificent. Or if not fear, it is your ignorance, or your kindness… which is the worst, I think, the very worst above all else. Kindness is a promise people make to ease their fear. It is unkind, Barrow, to lavish kindness.

 

What is it, Barrow? Unkind to lavish…?

 

Kindness?

 

Very good. Now, leave me alone.

 

(The dragon begins to recede. Barrow starts to collect his clothing, still wet.)

 

So, the boy does as he is told? Does he brave the storm, or retreat within it? Dargon wonders…

 

Sit down. (Barrow sits) Arise. (Barrow stands) Turn yourself about. (Barrow turns in a circle) And so. The boy is still a boy. (Barrow mumbles) Hm? What is this? He speaks, or does he not?

 

I said, Of course I am a boy. How can I be otherwise?

 

He questions his form. The boy who is a Barrow. Ha! Hahaha!

 

Leave or do not. It is of no concern to me.

 

(Barrow goes to leave, stops.)

 

If it pleases you, lord Dargon… the storm is very great.

 

And what hindrance is this? Does the boy fear he shall become lost?

 

No. I know the way home.

 

Lightning, then – that he might be struck? Become wind-blown? Tree-felled? Crushed by detritus? Is that what you fear?

 

No, my lord. I fear I know the way home.

 

(A silence.)

 

That is a miserable fear for a boy to have. Get you gone.

 

Please, Dargon. I can’t. Tomorrow is the day of Choosing.

 

Tomorrow is Tuesday, with Wednesday to follow. Why must my slumber be denied for this?

 

It is the day I am to stand before the town, and by statement of my worth, be granted a place among them.

 

You fear, then, to choose?

 

I fear not being chosen.

 

(Silence.)

 

You are miserable, Barrow. You’re a miserable little thing.

 

I’m sorry.

 

Be not, for I am miserable also.

 

A dragon may know misery?

 

Indeed, Barrow. I am magnificent in my misery. I have always surpassed those among my kind, and in my misery I excel. Impressive, yes?

 

If you think it so impressive.

 

Well, isn’t it?

 

I’ve never thought it so.

 

Then you are ignorant of misery’s making, for in mine I am without rival. Do you know how?

 

Ask me how.

 

How?

 

Deception! Theft! The larceny of man! I should incinerate you where you stand for the ideals your species stands for…

 

I beseech you, mighty lord… don’t.

 

Had I but the breath, Barrow… Had the balance of my dragon’s flame, my very burning heart, not been stolen from within my chest…

 

You have lost your flame?

 

Did I not say stolen, boy?

 

You did.

 

I did, and I would, were I not abused, deceived, victimised by smaller men than you.

 

Tell me. Do you know many kings?

 

No, my lord.

 

They are small men at heart, though they clothe themselves in lion skins.

 

Once I lived by a village in the cleft of a hill, and a king did preside over it and all the land it lay upon, and in return for the protection afforded by my might, I was handsomely repaid in quantities of the most tender lamb available. Consider! Succulency for my renown! And once a year, a festival in my honour, with games and tribute laid before me, seated at the head of a table laden with luscious lamb!

 

Such lavish tribute they paid you for your deeds.

 

Tribute I earned in the mere flick of my wing while aback of the wind, so that a glimpse of my shadow might fall across this field or that one, and the village, in seeing, might feel satisfied with their investment.

 

But they didn’t, did they?

 

No, they did not. Your impertinence impedes my story.

 

Perhaps certain scales fell from their eyes, and they came to realise the steep value they placed on their satisfaction. Perhaps the price of lamb at market was simply too high that year. Perhaps they valued one thing over another and neglected to tell me both.

 

Whatever way it fell, the king marched to my vertiginous loft one morning and cut the heart from my very breast, tearing the flame within so that they might wield the balance of a dragon’s pride and owe nothing as their debt.

 

The treachery of friendship.

 

The treachery of friendship indeed! Well said, barrow boy.

 

I see now why you made a collection of hearts beside your own. Do they not fill the void within you?

 

How could they? Lion, bear, otter, fox... What worth have they to fill the heart of a mighty dragon, filled, as they are, with humble thoughts and small concerns…

 

I’ve often heard it said a lion’s heart is a noble thing for any man to have.

 

Such a thing might fill a man’s heart to bursting, but a dragon is no man.

 

Is a dragon’s heart so insatiable a thing?

 

As prideful and severe as a man’s is fleet and shallow – possessed, as they are, of qualities no noble beast would want: Weakness, loneliness, pettiness, hate…

 

Such a heart will be yours one day. Take what pride in it you will.

 

Now do you understand, Barrow? Now do you see the extent of my loss, the depth of my misery? That a creature as bold as I should be bereft with shame, inflicted with this wasteful sense of feeling?

 

I know something of that feeling.

 

Ah ha! And what was your unforgivable crime?

 

I can’t read.

 

And for this grievous sin…?

 

They hate me.

 

Hate you, yes, of course. We share the same dilemma. A dragon’s pride is tended by flame. What is he without pride or flame but a serpent upon a rock – impotent, unrealised, benign?

 

I cannot speak for boys, but I presume their fate is similar.

 

Do you know why they hate you?

 

Why?

 

You confuse them with your difference, provoke them with your flaws. You remind them of their failings, of their hurt pride and secret shames. This is why they clip your wings, deny your right to fly. For what is “family” but another word for “cage”?

 

Why do you not deny them? Why not turn aside their taunting with the fierceness of your pain?

 

They never listen. They never even ask.

 

Ah. You deny yourself your feelings, and of course, find no recourse. How alike we are, we two, the boy and dragon, to place our flame out of sight and pretend the world has done us wrong…

 

These people of this town: Why then do you not destroy them?

 

Destroy them?

 

Of course! Why not fan the flame within your sparrow heart and free yourself of pain?

 

Would that it was so easy.

 

Is it not?

 

For a dragon, perhaps, with… teeth, and claws, and fire! You could sweep away a town with the flick of your tail, or fly beyond the stars with one beat of your wings!

 

But I am no dragon. I have no power within me to change a heart, or take one.

 

Then you may concede no change, expect no kinship. The value of our lives is the value placed by others.

 

(A silence.)

 

I am sorry to intrude upon you, mighty lord. I will leave you, as you wish.

 

To where can you depart? Have you a destination devoid of fear?

 

I’ll walk until I find a new place. Somewhere far away. Somewhere no one knows me.

 

Walk the breadth of the seas if you wish, but fear will follow. It has your scent, as it does mine. It sleeps in your shadow.

 

I’m not afraid to be alone.

 

Then you have never truly been alone.

 

(A silence. Barrow, for the first time, releases the truth of this. Dargon watches Barrow; he comes to some decision.)

 

Fear not your future, for I will make you a gift. A memory of might; my magnificence, fear…

 

(The dragon’s shadow moves in the dark, crackling like dry twigs. A claw emerges from the darkness and passes to Barrow a small glowing ember.)

 

A dragon is mighty. A dragon is proud. A dragon is freedom, and wonder, and rage. It is a dream of the weak, and a shield to the small, for the hearts of them both will forever go unheard; they cannot hear themselves for the silence they provoke. Should you wed your heart instead upon the pride of a dragon, perhaps you might find the strength you so desire, and in finding it, regain the worth that’s been stolen from you.

 

Or… you may not. For what can a flame hope to do, but burn?

 

The storm abates. Return from whence you came, Barrow. Grow up. Grow old. Be content in your misery.

 

Must I be content, the same as you truly are?

 

Content I must be, for hope of anything else was taken long ago. The value of our lives is in the value others give it. Make them see your value… or resign yourself to live as the dragon you never were.

 

(A flicker of lightning and a final crash of thunder. Barrow’s lantern goes out.)

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