Category Archives: The Stone Garden

The Stone Garden

 

I glimpsed the green-beaded, trailing branches of willows coming into leaf and the rose-tinged trunks of paper birches presiding over a deeply grassed meadow. Beyond I saw the brown standing husks of last year’s cattails deeper in the vale. The lush rankness of the grasses and ferns foretold swampland as surely as the green smell of standing water did. … Before long we came to where an energetic stream had long ago washed out a bridge and devoured the road to either side of it. Now it trickled shining and silver in a gravelly bed, but the fallen trees on either bank attested to its flood time fury. A chorus of frogs stilled suddenly at our approach. … Blackbirds called and early insects hummed. … words seemed to hang in the still sweet air. Then I saw the dragon. … We stared at it, as unmoving as it was. Golden and green, he sprawled under the trees in their dappled shade. He was far enough off the trail that I could only see patches of him through the trees, but those were impressive enough. His immense head, as long as a horse’s body, rested deep in the moss. His single eye that I could see was closed. A great crest of feather-scales, rainbow hued, lay lax about his throat. Similar tufts above each eye looked almost comical, save that there could be nothing comical about a creature so immense and so strange. I saw a scaled shoulder, and winding between two trees, a length of tail. Old leaves were heaped about it like a sort of nest.

This one sprawled in the deep shade of evergreen trees. Like the first, she nestled deep in moss and forest debris. But there the resemblance ended. Her long sinuous tail was coiled and wrapped around her like a garland, and her smoothly scaled hide shone a rich, coppery brown. I could see wings folded tight to her narrow body. Her long neck was craned over her back like a sleeping goose’s and the shape of her head was birdlike also, even to a hawklike beak. From the creature’s brow spiraled up a shining horn, wickedly sharp at the tip. The four limbs folded beneath her put me more in mind of a hind than a lizard. To call both these creatures dragons seemed a contradiction, yet I had no other word for beings such as these.

“I spy at least a dozen of these things,” the Fool announced. “And, behind those trees, I found another carved column such as we have seen before.” He set a curious hand to the skin of the sculpture, then almost winced away at the cold contact.

I was expounding my thoughts slowly to the others as we sat about our campfire that evening. I was trying to work Kettricken’s comb through my wet hair. In the late afternoon, I had slipped away from the others, to wash thoroughly for the first time since we had left Jhaampe. I had also attempted to wash out some of my clothes. When I returned to camp, I had found that all of the others had had much the same ideas. Kettle was moodily draping wet laundry on a dragon to dry. Kettricken’s cheeks were pinker than usual and she had rebraided her wet hair into a tight queue. Starling seemed to have forgotten her earlier anger at me. Indeed, she seemed to have forgotten entirely about the rest of us. She stared at the flames of the campfire, a musing look on her face, and I could almost see the tumbling words and notes as she fit them together. I wondered what it was like, if it was like solving the game puzzles that Kettle set for me. It seemed odd to watch her face, knowing a song was unfolding in her mind.

The word “scale” does no justice to the ornate plates that sheathed its wings, yet “feather” is too airy a word to describe them. Could a feather be made of finely beaten gold, perhaps it might come close to the dragon’s plumage.

Cool shade and trampled grass.