Artwork by Liz Ortiz
Story by Georg Freese
Someone once asked what drove me to push myself to suicidal limits, and I answered that if the world had no place for me I would make one by force.
Many saw me as the odd girl who shouldered her way into the world of men, an aristocrat who wanted to stand amongst the ranks of the laymen, but that was not my true oddity. My difference, and my frustration, is that I would not envision myself the wife of any man. I loved a girl.
The first time I became aware of the strength of this love was when she, my best friend, a girl I had grown up with since childhood, was betrothed by her father to a youth we knew. It is hard to describe, given all the emotions fluttering within my adolescent heart, how deeply that had affected me, but I suppose it was the sudden awareness that she would no longer be free to ride horses with me anymore, that we would not share the sunsets anymore, and that I could dream of having her to myself no more.
Out of desperation, I kissed her. But she did not feel the way I did. She became estranged. I became miserable.
Someone once asked me what drove me to such suicidal limits. Men will never understand the overwhelming sorrow of unrequited love.
The only way to release my frustration was riding mares through perilous cliffs and across open plains until they panted and frothed with exhaustion, challenging with training swords every squire in my father's household, and my older brothers, defeating them all in joyless victories. I then challenged my father, but him I could not defeat, for his age, his strength and his wisdom surpassed me immeasurably.
I told him one afternoon, as our breaths calmed and our sweat cooled following our duel, that I would not be betrothed to a man. He was kind and offered me the rare chance to chose the youth to whom I was to be married. But he did not understand, and I did not have the nerves to tell him, that he was the only man in my life, and that in my heart there would never be a place for another. Not as a husband. Not ever.
I was admitted into the regiment of sentry cadets given the influence of my father, even when I told him not to intercede, even when I could have gained admittance on my own skill at swords and horses. I know he meant good, but still, ever since I was a young girl I was disregarded from contests of archery, sword and horsemanship, contests reserved almost exclusively for men. As a girl, my sense of frustration at not being regarded adept was only increased when challenges where won on my behalf. It was as if I was not even given the chance to compete, but allowed to win out of sympathy.
When I entered the sentry cadets regiment I was received with the sniggering hostility I was used to when stepping into the domain of men. And even though I kept to myself and my frustrations, still they challenged me. After defeating their champion in a sword duel, he dared me to a flight by night, which involved breaking into the stalls at midnight and stealing away with two dragons for a race to the marches at the limits of the realm and back. I had never ridden a dragon before. I was terrified. I was thrilled. I was excited.
That is when I met her who, restless at our presence, paced within her cage, eager to burst with fire but for the guard about her beak. The cadets dared me to ride her, and I did.
She was restless indeed, and once we swooshed from the stalls, up into the blackness of the night skies, she bucked and swerved and rolled to cast me off her back, yet I was too stubborn to let loose. In the meantime, my challenger had ridden his dragon far into the distance where his silhouette faded in the dark.
I then yanked at the reins and yelled at the dragon, telling her that, rebellious as she may be, that man was winning the contest to which he had challenged me, and that I was not about to allow for that to pass. And to my surprise she hearkened, and she obeyed, of her own volition.
She undulated with mythical grace as she gained velocity, and I held onto her, undulating with her as we soared across the night skies with such swiftness that my heart pounded with a thrill greater than racing the fastest horse could ever arouse.
We reached the end of the realm, the snow-peaked eastern marches, just as my challenger returned with his dragon, taunting me with jeers as he swooshed past. I whispered for my dragon not to disappoint, and again, she hearkened and, swerving wide over the marches, we began the stretch home at such a velocity that my eyes watered at the chill of the oncoming wind, yet still I glanced ahead as we approached the challenger and overtook him, returning to the headquarters first.
Elated as I was, once my dragon landed, I found not the cheering of congratulations I had expected, but an ominous silence, for the commanders had received word of what happened at the stables and had arrived to set order. I was sentenced and punished to spend three days in solitary confinement, three days endured in misery and contemplation. The freedom I had experienced flying that dragon was then just a memory recalled within the confines of my cell.
At last I was released and asked to present myself before the commanders' council in full uniform. I did, expecting to be further disciplined. And, even though I was severely scolded and threatened, I was eventually congratulated for having dominated the dragon which none other had been able to ride. I was surprised and elated when they told me that, though I was still to undergo cadet training, she would be reserved for me exclusively.
Something inside of me fell off that day, a heavy anchor which had been dragging me under for years, a frustration which I no longer felt for, bonding with her, and soaring the skies patrolling the marches, I felt the most exhilarating liberation I could have ever dreamed of.
With her, I was free.