Once there were dragons in the mountains. Great worms with whom we made pacts when our hunger became unbearable. One daughter’s heart an obsecration for a good harvest, one son’s blood for rain to come. A child taken into the mountains to be left there and never to be spoken of again. A silent secret. “Taken by the wind” we said of those children, for indeed there were warm winds that blew and howled in the mountains where the dragons lived. But there would be a grave marker at an empty grave.

Once there were dragons in the mountains and we made pacts with them when we needed gold and silver. One woman in return for as much as you could carry away while the dragon feasted. They, too, were taken by the wind. No-one ever spoke about the uses of the deadly nightshade at the edge of town.

Once there were dragons in the mountains and we attacked them with weapons drenched in magic. The dragons who survived the first attack came from the mountains and burnt the towns until their fires were doused and their flesh hacked to pieces. Once we built great monuments to those who brought the gold from the mountains. Once we knew that we would never have to sacrifice one of our own again.

Once there were dragons in the mountains. Regal beasts that hoarded piles of gold and swooped down from the mountains to attack the innocents. Once there were heroes who defied their dominion over men and slew them in their lairs when they tried to steal the children.

Once there were tales about dragons that lived in the mountains. Ignorant tales to explain why the winds blew so warm or why there were bits of old gold coins and jewelery hidden in caves.

Once there woke in the caves creatures that were never supposed to have been able to exist. Their breath warmed the winds of the mountains and razed cities and could not be killed by any of our weapons.

Once we remembered that the only way to placate them was through the blood of innocents.

Once there were dragons in the mountains. Once we made a pact with the beasts and then never spoke of it again. Just like we never spoke about the different uses of morphine. Just like we never spoke of the empty graves of the dead.

Once we waited for heroes to rise again.

Once there were dragons.