Sits on his horse back at mine hostess' door.
Teach us some fence!"
--Philip the Bastard from "King John" (2.1)
Here be dragons! A Michaelmas Tale
Run… Run! RUN!!
Victoria ran fast, faster than she had ever thought she could run. She knew it was vital to be at the spectacle lakes before the Moon shone, before it was too late. Victoria was running down the side of the hill, in the wood, trying hard not to stumble and fall, but despite all her efforts she had already slipped a few times, it was too dark under the trees at night. Her long brown hair was filled with twigs and leaves she had fallen into, and her clothes felt damp and muddy. But she had no time for all this, she had to be there before the hunters. They would certainly kill the swans and find the dragons. Both things had to be prevented.
She was too slow and she knew it: she was so plump and clumsy. Victoria was very young, just seventeen, and had real magical powers, acquired over the summer, when she was Anointed in the Moonlight reflected in the waters of the Lake Garda, Italy. She was not a special person, she was just plain Victoria. But somehow Victoria Springer was the person who had to be there. Now she was in Italy again, she was running again, and she had to save so many lives this time, not just her own. It all felt like a big giant déjà-vu. But somehow she could not remember how she had even got there…
She woke up with a jerk. Victoria Springer had fallen asleep on a chair at the airport of Verona. She had had this dream over and over again: in the past few weeks it had been such a rare experience to have a good night of sleep, she was afraid she did not know how to dream anymore. Victoria heard Omobono and Teresa Andreis, her friends who were the Dragon Handler and the Herbalist in the organization that protected the Lake and surroundings, marching in the airport and looking for her. She knew that they would come to pick her up: it was almost Michaelmas! Victoria had really no clue of what was so special about the 29th of September, but the Andreis couple and Susanna Del Lago had arranged for her to visit for a whole week, and she would never say no to a week in Italy.
Susanna, a woman in her forties with crimson hair and a very strong character, Healer of the Organization, lived in a beautiful house in the village of Paese, on the western shores of the Lake, that had once been the temple of Diana, goddess of the Moon, nestled in a valley, once home to a Greek colony. It was there that Victoria had got her powers, given to her by the early Moon rays cast back by the Lake last summer, when the Magic was most powerful.
In those days she had to stay hidden inside the Domus, as they called that magical house, because Ursula Pola, a very evil woman, and her two cronies, where looking for her and wanted to kill her. She sometimes wondered about what had happened to them, after disappearing during a magical storm.
The dream she just had, reminded her very much of her escape from those three, on her very first day in the Italian village, when she was found by Luca, a Golden Soul, who had helped her escape and reach Susanna and the Domus. In those summer days she had met Sara, a beautiful and intelligent girl, who lived in the Institution for Young Blinds of Paese, and who was desperately in love with Luca. Sara was legally blind, but she knew the Domus and the village so well, Victoria hardly ever noticed, while hanging out with her. The two girls had become best friends and they had missed each other terribly during the month and a half that they had not been together.
Omobono and Teresa were a lovely elderly married couple, who lived not very far from the Domus. They, together with Susanna, Victoria and Novella, the Priestess of the Organization, were the last generation that looked after the Lake and it’s Magic, guarding them from all evil and destruction, which often came in the form of pollution.
The early flight Victoria had taken from the UK and her sleep deprivation were the reason why she had not been able to stay awake while waiting for her friends. Her flight had arrived in Verona earlier than expected, so she had looked for a chair and had settled in. She had not even felt her eyes close.
Last night had been utter torture: she had not been able to fall asleep, tossing and turning in her bed again, thinking of everyone, of everything that had happened and maybe would happen in the next few days. She knew very well that life at the Domus could not be called dull or normal, what with the fairies and gnomes coming in and out at all times, or the talking cats, Viola and Tommy, who lived with Susanna, or even Omobono’s dragons, like Gigiò, his favorite.
And, Victoria knew, Joe was waiting for her. Joe. She had met him on her very last night in Paese, the night before taking the plane back to the UK, where she lived, alone with her frail mother. He was the most magnificent boy she had ever met, she was quite sure about it. When their eyes had met, on the packed piazza of Paese, both their skins had lighted up and their souls had recognized each other. She had never been properly “in love” before. But she was very sure, that being “in love” could not be anything like this, not even close. This “thing” they had, was so much more, that she knew there were no words to describe it! How she had got to be the lucky one, she had never understood, but somehow she was and she had been the one on his mind ever since. He had written her long emails, sent her funny pictures of himself and of the others, called before her going to bed every night and wished her good morning every day. He was not smothering her though, for he always knew how to keep the right distance somehow. He had become every girl’s dream come true, no doubt about it. And now she would see him again for the very first time and she felt sick.
Victoria had asked him not to come with Omobono and Teresa, she had said that she probably needed to take a shower before meeting him, and he had graciously understood. That was another thing about him she liked very much: he understood. Not always of course, but often enough, especially when her shyness was barking again.
The Andreis went straight for Victoria and her suitcase. They looked both very excited when they saw her: Teresa almost ran to the girl and hugged her very tightly, as if she had to be certain that she was real, while Omobono caressed her hair softly, standing next to them. The girl felt tears well up in her eyes, grateful of their affection and probably too tired not to feel all soggy.
‘How was your flight?’ Teresa asked, pulling her gently away a little, so that she could look at her in the eyes.
‘Great, thank you’, was all Victoria could say, wiping the tears from her eyes.
‘Are you hungry?’, this was typical of Teresa, always worried that others might be hungry or thirsty.
‘No, thank you. Let’s go, I’m dying to see the others…’
The three of them set of for the short journey to the Lake. In the car they chatted about the flight, and about airports, and the funny things Victoria had seen. Omobono also asked about Victoria’s mother, who was under the supervision of Mrs. Rita Rossi, their Italian neighbour in the Uk, and who had prepared Victoria from a very early age for her task in Italy, teaching her Italian and being part of the Organization itself. The girl did not feel particularly worried about her mother this time, for she knew she was well looked after. When she was at home, she had to keep an eye on her mother, her dear, defeated mother, who was slowly regaining her mental strength back. The girl never understood what had taken her down so much, she had never asked for fear of upsetting the woman. But she knew that something must have happened a long time ago. All she knew, was that she and her mom were alone.
Omobono’s car pulled in the alley the Andreis lived in, the iron gate electrically swung open, and as soon as it was closed behind the car again, a dozen Labrador sized dragons came trotting out of their kennel, under an arch on the western side of the small court in front of the yellow house. Gigiò was jumping and fluttering the highest, trying desperately to lick Victoria’s face. His glossy red skin shining even more than she remembered in the morning light.
‘Down, boys, down!’ Omobono commanded. All the dragons ignored him and kept bouncing around. She had visited them every day during her holiday in Italy. Victoria had been afraid of the dragons at first: they could spit fire after all! But she had learned not to be afraid of them, she knew they were very well trained and had a gentle nature. They were not the monsters people of the past believed, but quite the opposite: they had been hunted down to near extinction and had to be kept secret, for people would try to use them for all the wrong reasons or try to kill them all, if they found out.
Once the animals had calmed down, Omobono took her suitcase out of the car and said,
‘The others are waiting, lets go.’
Victoria felt a lump in her throat. She would soon see them all. She would soon see Joe. It was amazing how the thought of one person could absorb another individual so completely!
The dragons obeyed to a sign their master made and trotted back to their kennel, only looking at the girl before entering their brick cave again. The three got out of the small door in the iron gate and went straight in southern direction, crossing the tiny square their alley started from. The new alley they walked in was even narrower and steeper, it all still smelled of milk and figs, like during the hot summer nights Victoria had spent there. She was reminded of her holiday with a stab of nostalgia.
They arrived in a couple of minutes in front of the broken looking door of the Domus, Omobono knocked twice, and the door swung open, Susanna holding it and beaming at them, while the radio was playing.
‘Victoria!!’, she screamed happily, ‘Come here!’, she said hugging her even tighter than Teresa had done.
The girl heard cheers in the background, and when Susanna let go, she saw that everyone was there: Sara, smiling happily, Luca, beaming his charming smile at her and standing next to the girl, the gnome Lucio holding the hand of his beloved fairy, Agatha, and the hearth-creature Spraky crackling merrily in the fire. The cats were standing on the small chaise longue on the veranda, calling even louder than the others.
The only one who was missing, was Joe. Victoria felt a little disappointed, although she had asked him not to be there in the first place. She could not help it, feeling even sadder for him, picturing him while hearing them all cheer loudly.
Susanna, guessing her thoughts correctly, as always, whispered in her ear,
‘He’s in the garden, plucking the apples for Michaelmas. I’m backing a lot of apple pies!’
Victoria only nodded, she took her suitcase and went to what she called her room, one story lower; she went to the bathroom under the staircase and showered and changed before going down to the garden.
She walked down the last flight of stairs to the lowest level, to the wonderful garden full of fruit trees. She heard the song on the radio: it was Sky full of stars by Coldplay.
The blond head that had so fascinated her that first time she had seen him, was almost hidden behind a branch, heavy with pink apples.('Cause you're a sky, cause you're a sky full of stars/I'm gonna give you my heart) His arms were stretched out to the highest fruits and several baskets stood around the tree, brimming over with what he had plucked so far. ('Cause you're a sky, cause you're a sky full of stars/'Cause you light up the path) The girl watched him work steadily, observed his tall and slender body flexing and straightening,(I don't care, go on and tear me apart/I don't care if you do) and got lost in fascination again. Her heart was beating madly, even worse than it normally did when she was thinking about him, or talking to him, or reading something he had sent her.('Cause in a sky, cause in a sky full of stars/I think I saw you)Joe slowly turned to the right, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. She saw his profile, his forehead with his beautiful blue eye underneath, his small nose, his lips, his chin… she felt her stomach drop a few yards. Then he turned around and faced her. Happiness filled his face, that opened in the most delightful smile he had ever given her.('Cause you're a sky, cause you're a sky full of stars/I want to die in your arms, arms)In a couple of jumps he stood before her, in his shorts and t-shirt, panting with excitement and scanning her face, looking again for that something he had been looking for only six weeks previously. Then he took her hands, always smiling and tenderly kissed her on her right cheek.