OF DRAGONS AND FALCONS
"The dragons left us thousands of years ago," Aigiarn Chinuajin whispered to her son. Four-year-old Temuchin lay tucked against the chill of winter beneath blankets and furs, his dark eyes wide with wonder as he gazed up at her. The waning fire cast soft glow and dancing shadows across the inside of the ger and the boy’s face.
"Where did they go?" Temu asked. He knew, of course; Aigiarn had told him this story countless times, but he always listened eagerly, as though each retelling was the first.
"To the west," she said, leaning over and kissing his brow. "Beyond the borders of the Nuqut and into the Khar mountains. They are sleeping there."
"In the lair," Temu whispered, and she smiled.
"Yes, oyotona," she said, calling him field mouse in their native Ulusian tongue.
"Ag’iamon called them there," Temu said. "He called them away from Ulus ... away from us. He brought them to the mountains so they could hide."
Aigiarn nodded. "Ag’iamon was the greatest dragon that ever lived," she said. "He was the golden dragon, lord of them all. He helped your ancestor, the yeke Kagan Borjigidal build an empire for us to share ... Ulusians and dragons. In all of history, in the entire world, Temu, no other people have ever been chosen by the dragons. There was a balance between us as intrinsic and sacred as the Tegsh itself ... the universal harmony of sky and earth, spirit and form."
"We rode the dragons," Temu said, his eyes bright and eager.
"Our ancestors did, yes."
"We could fly with them," he said.
"Once, the skies over Ulus were filled with dragonriders," Aigiarn said. "The sacred, chosen tribes of our people, and the dragons that had bound themselves to them."
"What did the dragons look like, Mamma?"
"They were beautiful," she said with a smile. "Red dragons and blue ones, green, black, white…"
"And gold," Temu whispered. "Ag’iamon was gold."
"He was the most beautiful of them all," she said. "They had crests on their heads and they could make music with them, cries that sounded for miles and miles. Their front legs, their feet…" She wiggled her fingertips at him. "Those were their wings. They could shrug them forward…" Aigiarn leaned over Temu, hunching her shoulders and planting her hands on either side of his head, mimicking the posture of a dragon, making him giggle. "…and walk like that. They were clumsy on the ground, but in the sky, oyotona ... in the air ... they were magnificent. They could soar over the treetops, sail among the clouds and the melody of their voices could reach every corner of the empire."
Temu’s eyes grew troubled; a small cleft furrowed between his brows. "But they left us."
"Kagan Borjigidal had three wives," Aigiarn said. "Qatun Hoelun gave him a son ... Dobun ... before she died. His second gave him no heirs, but his third ... Qatun Mongoljin ... bore him another son, Duua. Though Dobun was heir to the empire by birthright, Mongoljin wanted it for Duua. When Borjigidal grew old and feeble, blind and sick, she saw her chance."
"She tricked him," Temu said.
"She poisoned Ag’iamon," Aigiarn said. "She knew Ag’iamon would leave the royal city of Kharhorin, that he would retreat into the mountains to die. She sent Dobun to find him. She told Dobun his father had begged it of him. Dobun loved his father very much, oyotona ... so much that he could never refuse him, no matter what. Dobun left Kharhorin and followed Ag’iamon into the Khar Mountains. It took him many long days to find the dragon lord, and by then, it was too late."
"Dobun’s father, yeke Kagan Borjigidal was dead," Temu said, the pained furrow between his brows cleaving more deeply.
Aigiarn nodded. She worried sometimes that this story would upset Temu. He was too young to understand ambition, greed, treachery or deceit, but he understood love ... and the pain of loss. His own father, Aigiarn’s husband Yesugei Bokeagha had been murdered when Temu had been only days old. Though Temu had never known Yesugei, he longed to, and mourned for his father’s absence with a poignancy that broke Aigiarn’s heart.
She stroked her hand against his face. "Yes, oyotona," she said. "Mongoljin knew Borjigidal would not pass without telling Dobun good bye. She sent Dobun away and dressed her own son, Duua in Dobun’s clothes. Borjigidal could not see, and when Mongoljin brought Duua before him, she told him it was Dobun. Borjigidal could feel Dobun’s familiar clothes, smelled him in the fur and fabric, and believed her. He told his council, ’Here is my son, beloved to me as no other. All that I have ... my lands, peoples, fortresses, the whole of the Ulus empire ... shall be his ever more, and to his sons and blood kin.’"
"Ag’iamon knew when Borjigidal died," Temu said. "He sensed it."
"Yes," Aigiarn said. "Ag’iamon’s instincts drove him from Kharhorin and to the solitude of the mountains when the time had come for his ami suld to leave this earth for the great spirit tree. His heart led him there, but his mind was bound to Borjigidal, almost as though they were one. He felt it when Borjigidal left this mortal plane; he sensed Mongoljin’s trick, her deceit. He lived long enough for Dobun to find him, to tell Dobun what had come to pass."
"And then he took the dragons away," Temu said.
"What Mongoljin did violated the balance of the Tegsh," Aigiarn said. "She betrayed all of the dragons when she poisoned Ag’iamon. She destroyed the trust and love between our races and to punish her, Ag’iamon called the dragons to him. He summoned them from Ulus with a mighty cry from his crest that shook the mountainsides and trembled like wind in the air. He drew them west ... they flew among the peaks in exodus, leaving us behind."
She brushed Temu’s hair back from his brow. "But Ag’iamon did not abandon us. Mongoljin and Duua ... and all of their heirs ... had to make amends for the breaking of the Tegsh. Ag’iamon promised Dobun that they would lose everything they had gained through their deceit. They would lose their empire; it would crumble around them, lost to them. The dragons would keep from them until atonement had been made ... until one day, when Dobun’s heir would come to call the dragons out again, and to rebuild the fallen empire."
"The Negh," Temu whispered.
"The one, oyotona ... lord of dragons and men, who shares the spirits of both of these races within him. He will find the dragon lair in the mountains and he will command them. They will answer him; they will come to him. Ag’iamon said he would bear the mark of the Seven Sacred Stars of the Dologhon."
She tapped her fingertip against Temu’s breast. Beneath the overlapping, fur-lined front of his del, he bore an unusual birthmark, a series of seven small marks arranged in a shape resembling the stellar constellation, Dologhon. "Ag’iamon told Dobun, ’By this mark, you shall know him. By this mark, he shall pass. By this mark, he shall call to us, and by this mark, we will rise.’"
Temu looked up at her as her voice faded and her mouth unfolded in a gentle smile. "It is time for bed, oyotona," she said, drawing his blankets toward his chin. "Close your eyes now."
"Not yet, Mamma," he said.
"Yes, yet," she said, kissing his nose.
"Not yet ... you forgot the baga’han," he told her and she laughed.
"Yes, I did."
"And the falcon."
"Yes, I did," Aigiarn said, laughing again. "You do not need to hear this story. You know it better than me. Bedtime now, Temu."
"No, Mamma," Temu said. "Please, just the rest of it. Just the baga’han and the falcon."
Aigiarn raised her brow as she looked down at him. "Temu…" she began.
Aigiarn sighed. Temu did not plead anymore; she had relented and he knew it. He smiled at her, wriggling beneath his blankets.
"Ag’iamon sent the dragons to a secret lair hidden deep within the Khar mountains," Aigiarn said. "The only one who knew of the lair’s location was a shaman of the baga’han, the little people of the west. He used his hiimori, his magic powers to seal the lair, to mark its doors with Ag’iamon’s promise so the Negh would know it when he came to it. The shaman cut out his tongue and scarred his hands with fire so that he could never tell or write of the lair’s location. When the shaman died, the secret of the dragons’ lair died with him.
"When the Negh is born and the time comes for him to fulfill his destiny and travel deep into the mountains to wake the dragons, Ag’iamon promised he would beseech Keiden, the sky spirit of wind to send a falcon from the west to guide the Negh on his journey."
"A golden falcon," Temu whispered.
"A golden falcon, an unfamiliar breed we will have never seen before," Aigiarn said. "And when the golden falcon arrives from the west, it will lead the Negh into the Khar and to the dragons’ lair." She smiled at him. "It will lead you there, Temu."
"Do you think I am the Negh, Mamma?" he asked softly.
"I know you are, oyotona," she said, kissing his forehead.
"Do you think I will get to ride a dragon some day?" he asked, his voice quiet but hopeful.
"You will get to rule the dragons some day," Aigiarn promised. "And men besides. But not tonight. Tonight, you get to sleep."
"Mamma…" he began, and she pressed her fingertips against his mouth, staying his voice.
"Sleep, Temu," she said. He nodded his head in reluctant concession. Aigiarn smiled and kissed him again. "Oroin mend." Good night.