When We All Lived in the Forest
He was nothing like the dragons of old. No Fafnir, he, much less Nidhogg, Nick was uninterested in gold and insufficiently ambitious to ever earn a fearsome name. His effigy clutches a shield, as if he had taken it from some would-be dragon slayer. This is incorrect. Too cowardly, let’s face it, to ever dare taste the roots of Yggdrasil, the Tree of the World, and too intimidated to ever kidnap a lovely maiden. The children of the town touch the statue as they pass, reaching always for him but content to simply pat the base of it until they are taller. They consider him their protector, they believe he is there for them. They no longer recall what they want to remember.
He was our village dragon when all such villages had at least one, but he was never the protector of children. He was never about them. They cannot help but place themselves at the center of things. It is their job as children. But Nick was never for them. He was for me.
Before the statue was cast and polished, placed right here, just so, on top of the hill just north of town, there stood in this spot the stump of a petrified tree. It had been walnut once or oak or something, back when it had been alive, back in that time when we all lived in the forest and no one lived anywhere else, one of those trees with a tap root, and the tree so old it seemed possible to tap the heart of the world. The tap root, by then as petrified as the rest of the tree, was like a colossal arrow of stone, a giant glass carrot penetrating deep into the earth, immoveable and impossible to destroy. The surface of the stump a bowl stained dark by memory and the blood of ancient sacrifice. No one remembers how this happened. No one admits to remembering.
I am an old man now, and fallen to redundancy. The children have no use for me and no interest in the story I want to tell.
When someone – my mother, it is presumed – placed my body into the bowl of the tree– yes, my body. My body, not me. It’s not that I wasn’t alive, it’s that I wasn’t yet myself. I hadn’t yet become. After she placed my body into the basin in the top of the stump, Nick came. He had never been one of those dragons to kidnap maidens or slay heroes or belch fire or terrorize the tourists for sport, but when presented with a baby he had some opinions on what was to be done. He thought about it, let’s say. Or had.
I am so slow. The children have no patience. Neither do heroes.
By the time a proper hero could be located and summoned, I had learned to walk, if not to dress. I had acquired language even if no one could speak to me but Nick. No one knew these things. No one asked. We stumble dumbly through this world, all of us, and wreak our casual destruction. It does not matter how enlightened we would think ourselves to be. When we see a thing that seems to be a dragon, we attribute to it the actions we believe dragons take, the thoughts we believe dragons think, the desires for which we assume a dragon yearns. We cannot be bothered to learn.
Nick did not die when he faced the hero who reclaimed me but something happened. Maybe he was terribly injured in a way none of us could see or understand – it’s not like we knew dragons after all, in any but the most general sense – but he kept returning to the petrified stump as if in search of something. As if in search of me. I think the village came once again to view him as a joke, the kind of dragon a backwards little burg like Winston deserves – but at some point they must have realized that he was looking for his baby. And surely they must have cared once they knew.
The children of the town think of him as their own. He is their Matafleur, searching the skies for her children, he is their Rachel, having lost everything but faith. They think they are the center, but I am the one who can still speak the words he taught me, I am the one who knows his secret name, which they will never speak. I am the one who waits for him.