The dreams had started as soon as he reached puberty. His mother and father had been surprised but not completely shocked. He was half dragon fighter on his mother's side after all. Though there hadn't been dragons in the kingdom for at least two generations. But still, he was half dragon fighter, and apparently there was still at least one dragon left out there.
He dreamt of the castle it was guarding. He dreamt of the princess hidden inside. He could see her. Or at least her hands. She had the lovliest hands. Delicate fingers. Pale white skin. He had never seen skin so pale. Though when he thought of it during the day it made sense to him. If she was locked away in a castle she wouldn't see the sun.
He never dreamt of the dragon. He couldn't see it at all. When he asked his mother about the dragon fighters and their visions she had guessed that he was having dragon fighting dreams. He thought about lying to her, he didn't want to worry her, but he didn't. He told her about the castle, and the princess with the delicate hands. He also told her that he could not see the dragon.
His mother watched him speak. Listened to his dreams. He was afraid she didn't believe him when she seemed to have nothing to say. But the next day when he returned from school she called him in to her study. In front of her she had a sword and a book. The sword was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. It was gold and etched with symbols he didn't understand. The hilt was scrolled work with the largest ruby he had ever seen embedded in it.
"Today starts your training."
He reached for the sword and his mother snatched it away before he could lift it.
"You will train with a wooden blade at the start. Then steel. Gold is a soft metal. It is not for fighting. It is only for slaying."
"But how will I slay the dragon if I don't fight it?"
She smiled at him. "That's why we start with training."
She opened the book, paged through for a while then turned it to face him. "Start with reading this. It will explain the dreams."
"When do I learn to fight?"
She tapped the book. "Start with this."
She picked up the sword and left the room. His father met her in the kitchen with a cup of tea. "Well I wasn't expecting this."
"I wasn't either. I thought the dragons were gone."
"And him? Is he really going to be a dragon fighter?"
"He is having the dreams. The rest will be up to him."
"Do you think he will be able to do it?"
"We will train."
And they trained. They trained for months. The dreams kept coming and the details began to fill in. He could see the mountains around the castle. He could almost feel the bricks under his hands. He could see the sleeves of the gown the princess was wearing. And then one night he heard the scream of the dragon. Like the largest bird of prey he could imagine. The call vibrated through his bones. Raw, angry, terrifying. He woke in a cold sweat. His mother was standing in his doorway watching him. "I heard the call."
She nodded. "Then it's getting closer to time."
He thought it needed to come sooner. They had been training for a year already. How could the princess survive in the castle that long? How long should she have to wait for him to rescue her? His mother had explained that time was not the same in dreams and in life. And that what he was seeing was not of this time. Or of that time. It was of the right time. He didn't understand.
He continued to read the book. To learn about the dreams. For every dragon hunter called this is how it started. The dream. The castle. The call. But never the dragon. You never saw the dragon in your dreams. You had to be brave enough to face it unknown. Many weren't. The rescue never happened. The dragons sometimes won.
His mother continued to train him. He learned how to fight close in and at a distance. He learned how to see what was in front of him while seeing what was coming from the side as well. When he sparred with his mother he learned that she could see attacks from behind as well. "How do you know what is behind you?"
"You need to feel the fight, not just see it. Air shifts. Temperatures change. Dragons will not wait for you to see them to attack. You must feel the fight."
And so he trained.
"If the dragons were gone, why did you train?" He asked his mother.
"My grandparents did not believe the dragons were gone. Their generation had fought too many of them. Even though their children had not been called they did not believe that the dragons were gone forever. They knew they were tricky creatures and might well be hiding, waiting for the world to forget about them before they came back. And so they trained us as they had trained their own children. To make sure when the dragons returned our ways were not forgotten."
"Are you worried?"
"I am your mother, I am always worried."
"Is Dad worried?"
"Your father is not a dragon fighter. He is from the city where we were stories told to children before bed. For him we are as mythical as the creatures we fought. But when he met me he learned we are real. And we are fierce, but he was not scared for me. He is not scared of the dragon winning, because in the stories they told the dragon always loses. But even then, he is worried that they are back. And that you have been called. It's," she paused, "unsettling."
"Because I'm male?"
"Yes. Because you are male."
They continued to train. The years continued to pass.
He had more dreams. Now he was used to hearing the dragon's call. It was familiar to him. No less awful but now he did not wake in terror when he heard it. In the dreams he continued on his journey to the top of the castle, to his rescue. He saw the battles he would face on his way. Where the traps were. What was waiting for him. He used all of his training and skill and made it to her, he would see her hands. And then he would awake.
And always his mother standing in the doorway to his room watching him.
Finally she brought him the golden sword. When she placed it in his hands he could feel...he looked at her, "What is that?"
"The beat of the dragon's heart."
He looked down at the ruby. It was pulsing light. "This is a dragon's heart?"
His mother gave him a sad smile and nodded. "Yes, you cannot slay a dragon if you do not have their heart."
"Do you think I'm strong enough to slay the dragon? I am only half dragon fighter."
She watched him for a while. Silently. Then she took the sword from him. "Which half?"
"The half from you."
"But which half is that? Is it this half?" She touched the sword to his right shoulder. "Or is it this half?" She moved to his left.
He laughed. "Not half like that, you know what I mean. Dad isn't a dragon fighter. I am only half."
She didn't smile. "You are my son. Do you feel as if only half of you is mine? I remember carrying all of you inside my body. I remember raising all of you to be my child. Not half. You are no more half dragon fighter than you are half loved by your mother."
He nodded. He understood what she was saying, and yet, he still worried. "I will be all that I can be."
She didn't tell him that would be enough. Sometimes the dragons won.
He slept without dreams. Dark and deep. Not moving. His mother watched from the doorway. His father stood next to her. "Is it time?"
She watched him breathing deeply, "Yes. It's time."
He took the gold sword strapped to his side. He took the daggers he would need for the creatures on the stairs and he strapped those to his wrists. He took the machete he would need to cut through the thorned forest surrounding the road and he hung that from his belt. He put on the thick leather gloves that would protect him from the poison in the thorns. He strapped another short blade to his belt to attack the wild animals that lived in the garden. He put on the pack that would carry food and supplies for the trip. His mother looked him over and made a few adjustments to his clothes and his weapons. "Do you have everything you need?"
"Everything I have seen in the dreams I am prepared for, and I have the sword for the unknown."
She nodded solemnly. "Then you are as ready as you can be. Good luck and dragon be damned."
He walked from the front door of their house on to a road that had never existed before. He walked down a path a hundred yards from his home that he had never seen. The veil between his father's world and his mother's had shifted and now he was no longer just a normal child, he was a dragon fighter. Though he had not been a normal child since the dreams had begun. In the years that had passed since the first dream he had grown to be a young man. But more than a young man. A dragon fighter. He was as fierce and as focused as his mother.
He camped on the side of the road. He started a fire. He ate the food he had packed. Then when he was fed and warm he rested while leaning against a giant tree. He knew he would be safe here because he had seen it all in his dreams. The fire died out and he closed his eyes and slept a deep dreamless sleep.
The next day he fought his way through the poisoned thorns guarding the path, he battled the wild animals in the garden, he slashed and parried with the creatures guarding the stairs. He fought them all successfully. And as he moved each step closer to his rescue he heard the dragon screaming in frustration. He knew he would face it soon enough. And he was ready.
He opened the door at the top of the stairs. She was sitting in the shadows in the corner of the room. He could see her hands in the beam of sunlight coming in from the window. She stepped forward in to the light, "Are you here to rescue me?"
He caught his breath. Or lost it. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was as pale as the moon, yet glowed like the sun. Her eyes were as dark as night but held the stars in their gaze. Her hair was long and dark and she wore it like a cloak around her shoulders. Her voice felt like honey on his skin. Warm and thick. She held her lovely hands out to him.
He stepped toward her. Now was the time of the most danger. The dragon would sense he was stealing the captive. He waited for the scream. She moved toward him narrowing the space between them. He could feel her. The air shifted. The temperature changed. Recognition dawned in her eyes, "Oh so you know?"
Her pale hands turned to talons and she slashed toward him. He stepped back reaching for the sword at the same time pulling it free. He could feel the vibration as the dragon's heart beat faster.
"Lovely, you've brought me a gift." Her hair shifted and wings sprung from her back, she was ready to take flight. He looked at her beautiful face one last time and then brought the sword up and in to her chest.
The soft metal should have bent. The gold should have never been able to pierce her skin. But the heart pulsed and the blade struck home.
The dragon screamed and fell to the ground.
He stood looking down at her lovely face. He pulled the blade from her chest, then he looked around the room. The princess must still be trapped. He felt another shift in the air and turned ready to fight. He spun quickly holding the sword in front of him, when he turned the stone fell from the shaft hitting the stone floor and shattering. He was defenseless against another attack, he began to panic but then saw it was his mother standing in the doorway watching him.
He watched her for a moment as she took in the scene in the room.
"She was the dragon, not the princess."
His mother nodded. "Yes."
"She called to me because I am male."
"She thought I wouldn't be able to do what I needed to do."
"Are you here because you thought I wouldn't be able to do what I needed to do?"
He looked at her standing in the doorway, "Then why did you come?"
"Because you forgot this." She held out a box to her son.
"For the heart."
"Yes. We will need to repair the sword and for that we need a dragon's heart."
He opened the box and did what needed to be done.
Because he was a dragon fighter.