Having set out from our native shores upon a long and difficult voyage, we survived as best we could. None of us were mariners (although we had gained some experience paddling down the Mikaluf), so we knew only vaguely the course our craft was taking, and we did our best to steer westward. I believe we all had doubts about our chances of arriving at the ancestral home of the Kroats, but we maintained a spirit of optimism throughout. However, by the time we sighted land after many months of roving the seas, we were thoroughly disgusted with our standard diet of fish and gulls, our supplies having run out long before.
Thou canst imagine our joy when we first sighted a stone turret jutting out of the mists, revealing our almost alarming proximity to land. Our leather boat had indeed brought us across the ocean Svôsivik with minimal repairs, and for this we were thankful, yet we thought only of solid ground and the benefits thereof as we paddled into a windless haven.
Disembarking, we secured the boat and examined our surroundings.
‘Troth, this is a dismal place!’ exclaimed Ferondei. ‘It doth not look like our homeland.’
‘When sawest thou the homeland before?’ said Aiĝif. ‘I’ll warrant thee that we are equally clueless in this respect.’
The fact was that none of us knew what country we had come to, and neither could any of us tell if this were perhaps the old Kroatelmia, for not a single person could be seen on the streets of the town before us. We were all utterly exhausted from our late completed voyage, and being unable to find an inn or any such lodging in the village, we began to make our way towards a grove of fruit trees to lay down our heads, for any piece of solid ground would be sufficient to give us rest from the tossing of the sea.
We had nearly reached the grove when behind us in the city a great bell began tolling, and suddenly folk began pouring out into the streets of the city. We moved aside as a host of workers marched past to work in the grove, and we then began to wonder if we would ever find a place to rest.
Ferondei pulled aside a man who was walking briskly along the cobbled street, and interrogated him. They spake not long, however, and upon returning to our company Ferondei said ‘My fears are confirmed. That man was no more a Kroat than I am a jellyfish!’
‘What said he?’ I asked.
‘How am I to know? These people speak as the inhabitants of Tokmea!’
As we stood observing the bustling seaside town, we saw that this place was dismal even when populated. The people were all employed with their work, but with grave expressions and little enthusiasm. Their dress certainly did not uplift the countenance, for the men all wore the same garb, and likewise the women. Moreover, all their clothing was made with cloth of a plain grey colour. Indeed, all things bright and colourful were missing from this scene, rendering our hearts not a little depressed.
Yet suddenly afar off was seen a flash of colour, and we all beheld a young man walking towards us, about twenty-five years of age. He was clearly not of that country, for he wore a very singular garment of red and yellow, and was decked with colorful stones. In fact, his gay dress verily shone against the drab surroundings. Although at that time we considered it not, we too stood out from the press, though our coloured clothes had become faded and tattered during our long journey.
As this eccentric young man approached, he uttered the words Silla sillina ahaa sani!
Each of us was most astonished to find that we could understand perfectly the language in which he spake (for it was certainly not Ĝimlugand or Krotelmian), a tongue which we had never before heard. For as thou, traveller, surely knowest, this tongue of Zefelen which we use now is somewhat of a magic language (for this is the only explanation), and is understood and spoken by all who have the fortune of meeting a native of this country. The reason for this is told in the lore of Zefelen, but I shall not now deviate from mine own tale.
This young man identified himself as Lathenu of Zefelen, and he informed us that we had landed in a country called Sandrothi. Seeing our bedraggled state, he offered to lead us to the foreigners quarters, where we could get some rest and a square meal. We gladly followed, though a bit perplexed about the place (for no such ‘foreigners quarters’ exist in our homeland).
We soon found the place where we were to stay for the night, and we agreed to meet Lathenu for dinner later that day. This we did after donning some new clothes and refreshing ourselves.
We found Lathenu’s company quite enjoyable, and the cuisine of Sandrothi was nourishing, if not entirely pleasing to our palates. Lathenu enquired about our voyage and our reasons for leaving our homeland, so we told him the whole story. I myself greatly desired to know why this shining person had come to such a dull country, and at length I had a chance to ask:
‘Wherefore art thou here in Sandrothi, master Lathenu?’
‘Ah, verily I would not be in this place, but of great necessity. Troth, this folk despises everything beautiful; they regard jewels as trash! But thou wouldest know why I am here. It is on behalf of my family that I came, for a fortnight ago the great dragons descended from the mountains and wrecked our house, and my sister had even been killed by them, were she not out gathering berries. My mother and father are greatly distraught over this (as well they may), and they have sent me here to purchase supplies and tools.’
‘Surely I heard thee not aright,’ said I. ‘Saidst thou that dragons do dwell in thy country?’
‘Aye, that they do, Kutava. Big green brutes they are, always snatching sheep from people’s flocks. In the past month they have become even more ravenous, destroying barns and houses when we hide the flocks.’
I was elated as I brought to remembrance the old tale of Terimla Kon, in which the great beasts of eld—the terimlae—destroyed whole ships.
‘Wouldest thou suffer us to journey with thee when thou return to Zefelen, Lathenu?’
Perhaps I should have consulted with my comrades before making such a request, for Aiĝif promptly turned pale upon hearing that I wished to go to a land with dragons. Lathenu seemed not to notice, however, and said ‘Ye are most welcome to accompany me, and I think ye will find my country most delightful. I leave in a fortnight; would ye dwell in this place forever?’
I shall not tell thee of the remaining time we spent in Sandrothi, for nothing of import happened as we awaited Lathenu’s departure. We simply explored the place, and acquainted ourselves with the culture of that queer country.
After the space of two weeks, we set out with Lathenu, bound for the country of Zefelen. We went on foot (for they have no llamas on this side of the ocean), and a mule carried the goods that Lathenu had obtained in Sandrothi. Our own belongings were few, and we carried them on our backs.
Zefelen was farther away than we had at first expected, and the journey to the frontier took about a week. Upon arriving at the frontier, we encountered a great wall of astounding height and thickness. There was a small gate for travellers to pass through, and they allowed us all to enter when they had verified that Lathenu was a native of Zefelen.
The change we witnessed passing from Sandrothi into Zefelen was astonishing, and I found the countryside of the latter to be most lovely. There were verdant hills dotted with sheep and goats, and as we walked along the path we saw many a young shepherdess seated under a tree, playing sweet melodies to the flocks with her flageolet. There were colorful flowers everywhere, and small antelope and other creatures were often seen grazing near our path, as docile as the domestic livestock. Whereas Sandrothi was perhaps the ugliest place I had ever seen, this was the fairest. The sky was blue with puffy white clouds, the sun shone its radiance upon the earth, and the temperature was pleasant. In the distance mountains could be seen, but even these were not as the cold rugged Kutvête of Ĝimlu, but were smooth green mountains, bathed in rainfall by the clouds which often hovered above them.
Three weeks we travelled through this country, and we met few people along the way. Lathenu explained to us that the concentration of people in Zefelen was nearly perfect for their way of life, so the gatekeepers did not allow foreigners to enter unless accompanied by a native. This policy hath since been changed, as surely thou knowest, but thus did they in those days.
When we finally arrived at the home of Lathenu’s family, we were greeted by his sister Yeklashi, a charming young lady of eighteen years.
‘Silla sillina! Who be these with thee, Lathenu?’
‘Travellers from across the sea, my sister. I brought them to see if they like our country better than Sandrothi. And mother and father?’
‘They are in another district, seeking to buy some lambs.’ She put on a temporary expression of sorrow. ‘Poor Mentaina! She was such a sweet little goat.’
After the standard consolation from Lathenu, we were shown the remains of the house which had been destroyed. The walls were laying flat upon the ground, some apparently having been rent by some very large claws. The roof lay a full half mile away, and the structure which had previously sheltered their sheep and goats was entirely gone.
As we all gazed upon the destruction, I asked Yeklashi why the dragons had so suddenly become so rabid, when before they were relatively well-behaved. ‘Are they just looking for sport?’
‘Nyaana’ [no], she answered, ‘it’s all because of that new “plan” they’ve begun. Everyone was weary of the dragons stealing from their flocks, so they began putting them in shelters when unattended. We may have lost a few lambs before, but at least we still had our homes.’
‘Nyaana saga sor’ [no, my sister], quoth Lathenu, ‘those beasts are not hungry. They have plenty of game in the mountains to eat.’
‘They have nothing of the sort, Lathenu! Unless it be berries, which they are not fond of in the least.’
Suddenly a woman came up, riding a donkey at full speed, and dismounting she ran to Yeklashi and embraced her.
‘Saga uuyash [my daughter] Yeklashi, thou art safe!’ she cried.
‘Why yes, mother, what could have happened to me?’
‘Well, Fellye and Waasna informed us that of late the dragons have had a appetite for girls about thy age. They told us we ought to keep a close eye on thee.’
‘Come now, mother, be sensible,’ quoth Lathenu. ‘Why would a dragon choose beautiful maidens over nice fat sheep? A sheep hath more meat, anyway!’
‘O my son, do not jest so—this is a serious matter.’ Finally she noticed the four strangers standing nearby, and she greeted us heartily.
‘‘Tis a pity ye’ve come at such a time, or I’d fix you a nice lentil soup with mutton!’ The kind lady was very hospitable, especially considering that she had not a house, and we were most grateful.
Later that evening the master of the family came riding in, herding a small flock of lambs.
‘Lathenu, take these to the fold,’ he commanded. ‘Troth, ma’am, didst thou ride as a hawk the whole way? We did set out together.’
‘I feared for the safety of our dear daughter here alone,’ responded his wife.
‘Alone? But who are these?’
We each introduced ourselves, and partook of a meal soon thereafter.
During this whole time, I had been thinking. Thinking of the dragons, and of their recent raid. How I longed to see one of those creatures! Suddenly Taeĝan nudged me and whispered in Ĝimlugand ‘methinks thy beloved terimlae will be extinguished after all.’ Awakening from my thoughts, I realized that Lathenu and his father were talking about gathering all the men of that region together to slay the creatures.
‘Kaaln [father], knowest thou of a surety that men could overpower a dragon?’
‘Aa [yes], but it might cost a few lives. However, I see no alternative to keep these creatures from further harming us.’
Later on I spake to Yeklashi: ‘Knowest thou well yon mountains?’
‘Aa, sure I do. I’ve found the best berries in Zefelen up there.’
‘Wouldest thou then take me and my comrades to see the place? I would know whether thy brother’s sayings concerning the dragons’ food supply be true.’
‘I tell thee, there is naught but rabbits and small creatures up there, nothing that would sate a dragon’s appetite. But I’ll gladly take you if ye will, and perhaps we shall take even my unbelieving brother.’
The next day it was decided that Taeĝan and I should go with Yeklashi and Lathenu, while Aiĝif and Ferondei stayed to help the master rebuild his house.
A trip to the mountains is a day’s journey, and we stayed there a day as Yeklashi showed us all the many wonders to be found there. These things were new to Lathenu as well, for he had never before visited the mountains.
At one point, a small two-legged reptile dashed in front of us and up into the bushes.
‘Yeklashi, zanyake? — Yeklashi, what was that?’ I cried.
‘Winthek sa lani “niiltanka” — I call them “tall lizards,”’ she replied.
I turned to Taeĝan. ‘That creature seemeth just alike to the shamnu in the stories old Zêstika used to tell!’
‘Indeed,’ quoth Taeĝan.
Later that same day, I asked Yeklashi if she had ever beheld a dragon in those mountains.
‘Indeed I have, Kutava (but tell not my mother!) In fact, I can show them to thee now, if thou wilt.’
‘Are they not dangerous?’ I enquired.
‘Of course they are, but we may view them from a safe distance.’
She began to walk away as I followed, and Lathenu and Taeĝan slowly came behind, not at all eager for an encounter with a fearsome beast.
We soon arrived there, to a place where one can peek through the bushes and view a valley up among the mountains. Upon confirming that there was something to be seen, Yeklashi let us look through, unnecessarily signalling us to keep silent.
When I peered through this leafy peephole, I saw with mine own eyes that which had been the object of my fascination for so many years. I recognized the beast, for I had seen multiple images of it in the town of Nuĝim back home, and it was as large as I had always imagined it. It matched perfectly the description I had heard years ago in the legend of Terimla Kon, for it ‘was of a dark green colour, and rose high above the tallest tree. Its skin was rough, yet without scales.’ Although I never thought I would feel fear when I saw the terimla, I soon realized that the old Ĝimluvian proverb was true, Ra terimla kaklor su re jostê ĝiv mavataka mitavush, or ‘the terimla striketh fear into the heart of every man.’ I was genuinely thrilled.
For Taeĝan and Lathenu, a quick glance at the monster was sufficient. As we travelled back the next day, I thought of various ideas for the terimlae’s salvation, consulting with my friends for their insight and advice.
When we arrived, we found the house about halfway rebuilt. Everyone was overjoyed at our safe return, the master’s wife more than anyone.
That evening I revealed my plan in everyone’s hearing:
‘I have seen with mine own eyes that the dragons have no food in the mountains, and thus it is that they must feed on your flocks in order to survive. Instead of allowing them to steal from us, however, I say to let the people of this valley hand over one sheep or goat from the flock of each family, to be given to the dragons periodically. These creatures are destructive only when faced with starvation; moreover they have disappeared from the rest of the earth. This is their last haven; we should not slay them here. What think ye of these things?’
The master was skeptical, but he agreed to test mine idea. Over the next several days he took me to the homes of the neighbouring families to speak to them of my plan, and within a month we had a small flock dedicated to the satisfaction of the terimlae.
Lathenu and I then took the sheep and goats to the haunt of the dragons, where we left them to be eaten. It was not a joyous task, but we hoped it would save human lives that would have been taken by the chaos of hungry terimlae.
As it came to pass, the system was quite successful. The dragons stayed peacefully in the mountains with their bimonthly rations, and the farmers could keep their flocks under the stars and take them far and wide to graze on the grassy hills.
I myself was hailed as a hero for bringing peace to the land, and the people of Zefelen gave me the name which I now bear, Melpalepsen [dragon tamer].
By this time, the house of our most gracious hosts had been fully rebuilt, and Aiĝif deemed it high time that we return to our own homes across the sea, since a whole year had passed since we left Ĝimlu. However, during our time in Zefelen I had grown quite fond of Yeklashi, the shepherd’s daughter. Indeed, she and I plighted our troth a month before, and soon thereafter we were married.
Although I did go back to Ĝimlu to see my mother (I learned later that my dear father had been slain in the war), I soon returned here to Zefelen, and Yeklashi and I have lived happily many years in this beautiful land. Many things have changed since those days, but the dragons still survive here, the only remnants of the great beasts which once were plentiful in every part of the earth. Although I myself have grown too old to take sheep to the terimlae, my son does the task now for me. However, at times I still love to go up into the mountains to see the fearsome terimlae, and the other zintushe that dwell there as well.