It is helpful, if not wholly accurate, to say that for a period of time roughly around the European Middle Ages, it was the fashion for Dragons to treat humans with contempt.
It’s helpful, but I’ve got some misgivings. It’s like the maps we used to study before ocean voyages: better than nothing, even some of the errors are dangerous in the extreme. The map, as has been said before, is an attempt to represent the territory; it’s not the actual territory.
So let me guide you through a few of the more treacherous shoals.
To begin with, Dragons don’t really have fashions as we know the term, as there’s really no faddishness in Draconic culture. Humans can take something trivial and hold onto it for a remarkable period of time; Dragons will give that sort of thing, essentially, a momentary flicker of the mind, conceived, processed, and done in the space of a breath or a snort. No small thought is likely to need more examination than that, and it certainly doesn’t require the oddly human trait of trying on a visibly useless idea as if it might really matter.
(And no large Draconic rumination really fits any human terms whatsoever.)
Secondly, and to address the latter part of the opening thought, Dragons are also without a word for for “contempt”. If something is beneath them, they don’t really address it unless forced to do so; and their term for “The necessity of dealing with some annoying but pressing little thing” would translate more literally, as, “Delayed disintegration.”
But no one is likely to produce a really accurate bridge between dragon and human speech, one which conveys the thoughts of the former properly through using the distressingly inadequate tools of the later. If I want to form any meaning at all, I’ll have to make do the best I can with approximations. I’ve called the aforementioned practice a “fashion” to indicate that while it included very serious and meaningful choices, they were made, essentially, out of whimsy. They were decisions of an aesthetic nature, at least in the sense of how Dragons see aesthetics.
…I’ll never get anywhere if I keep trying to explain this in terms of Wyrms. Let me go back to thinking like a human. Forgive me; I’m rusty at this.
All right. To put it briefly, there’s many direct Draconic actions which are incomprehensible to mammals, sentient or otherwise. We don’t understand their mating flights, their oddly rhyming songs, or the tantalizing references to their city, located in a very deep part of what they rather distressingly call, “The Hidden Ocean.” So you’ll pardon me if my story is little roundabout; I prefer to put my knowledge in context. I am looking to convey a level of threat which is, to you, entirely hypothetical. I’m hoping I can make it more concrete by offering you an explanation for a certain piece of human history.
There’s a period of about three hundred years when Dragons captured princesses, slew knights, and took and hoarded treasure because they felt it would really get our goats. (Also, during that time, they got many of our goats, and ate them)
And again, there are some easy mistakes to be made here. The first would be seeing their actions as petty; the second would be seeing them as suggesting that this means Dragons cared enough about our feelings to want to be jerks to us. Not so. What they really wanted to be was monsters.
Ever stood at the feet of a mountain and looked up? Or the top of a deep canyon, looking down? Ever stood on the same side of a river as even a small Jaguar, or looked through aquarium glass at a relatively harmless Mako shark? Have you ever felt something strange in your hindbrain, signaling danger and a need to flee?
It’s quite likely you have. And those things are mundane. Those are not intelligent beasts. They’re not long-lived. And they are, for want of a better term, of the “natural” world. We see the bones of vast dinosaurs in museums and imagine how we might feel if they were living beasts. We often figure we could handle it (perhaps)—especially if we were tackling the things in a human fashion; behind walls, covered by powerful weapons, comforted by technology. The most vicious T-Rex could hardly stand against the mortar shells of a hundred years ago; how inconsequential these creatures would be now! They’re scarcely threats to any reasonably-armed persons of the current day.
Dragons are different. Their hides are not of earthly flesh; I can’t speak to their endurance (though to withstand deep-sea pressures, they must be incredibly strong). I don’t know of their magic, or any magic really; what human does? I know enough to recognize that I really do not want to know more. I do not want to search them out any more than I already have. And, trust me, neither do you.
A long time ago, they must have seen us rise, and known we’d be something that resembled a threat. Not to their existence, perhaps, but to their chosen lifestyle; it’s not as relaxing to fly aimlessly about the world when you have to spend half your time running into jets and knocking down cruise missiles.
Why didn’t they kill us all? I don’t know. They are lizards; what mammal can truly speak to their motives? Instead, they terrified us. I don’t mean in general. I mean at gut level. I mean they implanted in us a certain mortal terror which appears to be essentially universal throughout the species. They did something to us to make us fear them by instinct.
Yes, I love them, and dream of them, sometimes. But this is why we wish them away. This is why we find the aforementioned dinosaur bones and think, “This is what it must have been; there were no Dragons, just these bits of massive skeletal structure, inspiring wonder and awe in early peoples”. Balderdash.
Early in the development of our minds, something reptilian got deep in our heads and stayed there. Who knows what they must have felt, abandoning this world to us? As I said, I don’t imagine it was entirely necessary; I assume it was some kind of choice they mad. Knowing them, it wasn’t something “Moral”; at least, not as we know that term. Like I said: aesthetics: why put in time on a planet riddled and pockmarked with idiot hominids? It hardly seems to please one’s senses.
So they vanished. Somewhat. But before they did, they put in an extended appearance, in a place and time where they’d implant on our culture, before we had the technology to record them well. Thus they showed up as horrible Leviathans, devours of the innocent, slayers of the strong, jealous acquirers of a wealth they didn’t even need: Monsters.
Wherever they went, you won’t find them. Because they don’t want you to find them. And you won’t find me, either.
They weren’t really that aggressive about devouring every single princess. I don’t think they really cared. Some of us ran away, through the strange dark at the back of their caves We thought we might perhaps flee to some part of the world of Dragons, somewhere that might be hospitable to us. I can’t say if that’s what the world around me is like now. I don’t even have a name for where I am. It’s a complicated fate. Sometimes, the barriers are thin, and I might speak to a dragon (after a few hundred years, they begin to grow on you.) And once in a while, I speak to other humans. Humans who are close. It’s not the worst life. If you don’t mind eternal longing, intermittently interspersed with bouts of fear. Me, I like these halfway points. Interstitial spaces are more common than one would think, and so I’ve kept up with the human world, and human tongues, and I stay something resembling sane. My family died of the Plague, which was lucky. It gave me perspective, early on, that there are potentialities worse than existing where I am now.
Besides, once you’ve spent enough time talking to Dragons, you really can’t go back. There’s a dormant part of our mind which never troubles you unless you awaken it. But it’s awakened in me now. I don’t want to go back to a world where everyone thinks like a human. They’re all so… small, and trivial. It’s hard to care about their joy, or their screams. I’m a monster now, and I like it.
But you, little human. You should turn back. This is just a warning: however you found this place, turn back. Whatever you think you’re doing, turn back. This is not a good place to be. This is not a human place to be. I’m sure you think I exaggerate. Human language is extremely inadequate for conveying the ineffable. But let me give you the closest approximation I can of the unknown, the vast strangeness I inhabit. It might look like ordinary land to you, but wait until you are halfway across something you think you recognize, when up from depths which ought not exist on solid land, arising like the peculiar storms which swallow ships, looming up over you for half a mile, blotting out whatever would be a “sun” if there’d ever been such a thing, but now you know there never was, that what you always thought was a light source was just a fragmentary shiny ripple in the overwhelming shadow of the creature’s wings. Don’t do this. You should leave this place. For here?
Here Be Dragons.
Jeff Mach is a writer and creator who has long aspired to be the sort of person who neither needs to promote his other work at the bottom of his short stories, nor speaks of himself in the third person, but sadly, in both regards, he has failed.