I wrote this piece years ago, in the earlier stages of working on the series. It doesn’t fit with any of the books since it happened hundreds of years before, maybe thousands of years. No one is quite sure how long it took to build Anamat city, and how long it thrived before the last days. Here, though, is the moment of its founding.
Back out on the ocean, before the mists of time had taken on the burden of history, a late spring storm blew a rickety craft off course. Its few dozen passengers clung to it in various states of illness and exhaustion. Men took turns at the oars, their muscles burning while everything else shivered. Their provisions were nearly exhausted and the dawn shone all too dim.
Through the lightening sea mist, Ara spotted the dark outline of land. She signaled to the oarsmen and pointed. She hoped the chief was too seasick to mind her taking charge for the moment. The waves eased their hammering blows as the raft slipped into a natural harbor and was pushed gently forward to a sandy shore. Light drifted down through the dawn-purpled clouds, waking the day.
The jolt of the raft against sand awakened the chief from his sea-sickness enough to resume his mantle of authority. He was the first to step onto the shore, with his son following. Ara was close behind, followed by Enat and the rest of the able-bodied men and women. The children and the ill straggled behind, towing the shaky legged goats and carrying a few bedraggled ducks. Some young women offloaded the waterlogged sacks of seed-grain. A young man blew the sea water out of his flute and tried it for a shaky tune. It sputtered a little but cleared and he played as the last of the immigrants set their feet on solid ground.
The sodden band gathered on the shore, huddled around their possessions, watched the raft unravel as the chief and a few other men tried to wrestle it onto shore. Then the light faltered, and they turned to see a great flying beast coast down through the mists, blocking the light of the rising sun. The people didn’t need to be told that it was a dragon, though none among them had seen one before. They had heard of dragons in the legends of their old country, and they were were afraid.
Dragons of every land were notoriously shy of humankind. On the continent and the inhabited islands they had withdrawn to the heights of the mountains, the depths of the sea, and to their fabled lands beneath the earth. They emerged only to forage the land in camouflage, quietly and under cover of darkness. Occasionally, they crossed paths with humankind, giving life to legends and terrifying the populace of villages and towns. In this land, though, the dragons had lived untroubled for another dozen generations of humankind, breathing life into the land and flourishing with it. The people had never seen such a beautiful place, such a green and welcoming landscape.
The dragon reached its claws down to touch the earth and the people cowered back towards their raft, fear overwhelming their fascination. Only two stood their ground as the dragon landed, the places around it shimmering with power. Ara and Enat found themselves standing together, watching the dragon’s wings fold back. The dragon’s energy extended all around, flowing in the river and growing in the soil, sprouting from the earth and singing in the wind. Then the chief’s son grasped at his spear and charged towards the dragon, voicing a war cry. Few saw what happened next, but when they looked again Enat and the chief’s son lay struggling on the ground. As they fell, Ara approached the dragon, her step light and steady. The dragon bowed its head to her and spoke in the ancient language once shared by all the sentient beings of the earth. Even in those days it was lost to all but a rare few. As the dragon spoke, Enat turned to guard the way between Ara and the rest of the people, holding the chief’s son back.
Few of the people raised their eyes to look. They cowered before the dragon, covering their heads against the roar of its wings, its rumored fires and its claws, but Enat and Ara stood before it. When the rest of the people dared to look up, nudging one another to chance a glimpse of the dragon, she was walking away peacefully, her feet sounding like bells on the plain. At the river, the dragon raised her wings, lifting her into the sky. She circled once then soared away into the mountains.
Ara stood closest to where the dragon had been, with Enat beside her, watchful. The chief’s son huddled in the scrappy grasses left where the dragon’s wing had beaten. His eyes gazed to an empty middle distance, blind of understanding. He started up and tried to run after the dragon, then faltered, shrank back to the ground, and wept. It is said in the histories that he never spoke again in any tongue known to his people.
Ara addressed the others. “We have come ashore in a good land,” she began. “Dragons have dwelt here since the dawn of time, and made it the bountiful place we have chanced to land in today. They have granted us leave to dwell respectfully along the coast and in the lowlands, though they keep the high mountains to themselves. In return, we are to share with them the bounty that this land brings us, always knowing that it is they that inspire the life of this place.”
The dragon’s fire still hung over the spot where Ara and Enat stood. “This dragon, whose name is Anara, has bid us take care, to dwell lightly in this new place, and not to trouble her or her kin,” Enat warned. “They are secretive creatures, she says, and will not seek you out to harm you, but in return their dwellings must be left to them in peace.”
The chief’s son blinked in the brightening morning fog.
“We will mediate between the dragons and our people, here in this land,” Ara said, indicating herself and Enat. “Some of us women will be charged with carrying the people’s offerings to the dragons, along with any wishes we might ask of them. Do not go to them in fear or anger. We who can understand the dragons, and speak to them, will help to bridge the gap between the people and the dragons. Others will follow myself and Enat, to carry on our work.”
The chief roused himself from his paralysis and shuddered at the sight of his son. He had heard what Ara and Enat said, and he had seen what the dragon could do, he felt unsettled. He glowered at Enat and stepped between him and the gathered people. A goat bleated weakly.
The chief addressed his assembled people. “We have little choice but to stay here, for now. Our ship is in splinters, the water skins sucked dry, and we have no food for further voyaging.” He looked around at the low hills by the harbor and lowered his voice to speak to Ara and Enat. “It may be as you say, a fertile land, but will the dragons keep peace with us?” The valley before them was the most fertile farming land he’d ever set foot in, by the look of it.
Enat nodded. “They will, if we do not provoke them.”
“So then, let it be as you say for now, we will settle here and make a town of it,” the chief announced. He turned to Ara and Enat and whispered. “Make no mistake, dragons or no, myself and my descendants will rule here, whatever pact you have made with this beast.”
Ara looked at him coolly. The dragon had not heard his words. “You can be assured of that,” she said. Standing at the dragon’s landing place, Ara, Enat, and the chief had forged an uneasy, half-spoken agreement. They nodded to each other and split apart. In generations to come, those who followed in Ara and Enat’s callings struggled always to keep peace between the princes, the common folk, and the dragons.
Myth merged into history as the generations passed, building into a civilization great in its arts, and blessed in its lands. The agreement they reached at the landing was tested time and time again, but carried on down through the ages until the last generation of the dwellers on Theranis.
Anara circled her city in the early dawn. It had been built beneath the shelter of her wings, it had grown out of her reaching claws as much as by the hands of its human builders. She swooped low over the rooftops, looking in on the guardians of her gateway, the priestesses of her temples, and on the roadside shrines where the farmers and tradesmen left their offerings. She circled the palace at a cautious distance, wary. The governor and princes clung to their memories of every dragon’s offense, down to each unnecessary alarm and every missing goat. Anara drifted back out to the harbor, camouflaged against the grey morning sky, almost invisible.