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FFX: a bardic adaptation

Title: The Dragon of Zanarkand
Characters: Auron, Braska, Yuna...sort of.
Rating: G
Word count: 1478
Note: Extremely AU

Edit: Okay, it's really meant to be heard not read, so if you prefer, check out my Voice Post version!

Note: you may want to see the Author's Note that follows for a full explanation of why the heck I did this!

The Dragon of Zanarkand

I told you the history of our village, Bevelle, a modest farm and fishing village built upon the ruins of an ancient city. I told you of that city's great war a thousand years ago against the city across the bay, Zanarkand, and how our ancestors laid waste to it with fire and dark magics. I told you how ruined Zanarkand still lies across the bay, its ancient towers and ruins become a city of the dead where spirits go, from which the living do not return.

I told you of the great dragon that arises after a ten or score of years to decimate our land. I recounted how it comes to terrorize the children of Bevelle and lays waste to our houses and fields, livestock and our people, so that we are a folk grown few and pious. The dragon is punishment for our sins, some say. Others call it the vengeance of Zanarkand.

I told you of the art of Summoning by which a gifted few can charm down hawk on the wing or leaf from the trees, and the greatest Summoners, they say, can draw the moon down from the sky. I spoke of how the Summoner must go and do battle with the dragon when one arises. I spoke of how each Summoner has a guardian, a brave warrior skilled with sword, to defend him in that battle of will and steel. The Summoner uses his will to lull the dragon into slumber, and the warrior slays it, and then people sleep in their beds without fear for a time. But neither Summoner nor guardian has ever returned from their great quest.

I told how my father was the last Summoner to go, the last time a dragon was seen in the sky. I described to you his guardian and friend, the grizzled man in an old red cloak with a black sword and an unmarked shield upon his back. I recalled my last glimpse of them, setting forth in a borrowed boat across the bay. They did not return. Nor did the dragon, for ten long years.

But now the dragon is come again and I, the Summoner of the village, am dancing for the newly slain. Their corpse-boats dot the bay and float westward on an unseen current towards distant Zanarkand. The sun is setting, and I am singing a song to send them home. But one boat is coming back, a boat that we did not launch with wails and sighs.

My father's guardian stands alone at the prow and carries no oar, but it slides ashore. He is unchanged, save that his hair is a little grayer. He bows to me. "My lady. Are you a Summoner now?"

And I say yes.

"The dragon has returned," he says. "Do you mean to face it?"

And I told him that I wished to, but no one in the village was willing to stand guardian for me, so I must go alone.

"You must not," he told me. "We shall leave at dawn."

And that night he told me much I did not know about my father, his wandering years, his travels in many lands, how he came home to woo my mother with songs and tales and a secret of the magical land where birds go in winter, a secret which she took with her to the grave. He told me that my father could dance upon the water, and make the fishes sing. My father's guardian spoke many stories, but never of himself, nor of the dragon.

"You will see soon enough," he told me. "Sleep now."

In the morning we set forth. The villagers came out to see us off, or rather, not see us. Every one of them stood along the shore, every one of them with their backs to the west, to the water, to us, to Zanarkand across the bay. We belonged to the dead now. My father's guardian pushed us out into the water in an old fishing boat, with his sword at his knee and his shield upon his back.

For a few hours we skimmed across the water, riding a current the fisherman had never mentioned in all their salt sea tales. The spires and towers of the ruined city jutted out of the water, and strange ghost-lights hovered in the sky. Still he would not speak, and I gave up asking, instead reciting to myself every charm and spell I knew. The snake-charm, the dragon-charm, I had never tested on anything so large.

At last we came to Zanarkand, and the lights danced for us as we climbed up the broken rubble of the shore. My guardian pointed. "Yonder the dragon's lair," he said, "in that old temple. He mostly sleeps by day."

The temple's façade had fallen, and the dome formed a great dark cave. As we drew near, my guardian took me aside and hid me behind a pillar, then propped his shield against a great stone out in the open, facing it towards the dragon's lair.

"Now," said he. "I know what you have learned from the ancient texts. But it always fails. Summoner and Guardian die, and the dragon always returns. In the name of your father, I ask you to trust me, and do it a different way. Sing your charms as you were taught and draw the great serpent from its lair. But never look it in the eye. Keep your gaze upon my shield, and watch the dragon that way. No matter what happens, do not turn to look until you are sure it is slain. Else you will be held by the dragon's gaze, even as it is held by yours, and the cycle will continue."

So he spoke. I wanted to ask him what he meant, and what the cycle was. But at that moment we heard a stirring, a ponderous groan within the temple's walls. Sir Auron nodded to me, and straightway I began to sing. I sang as if all the spirits of the dead were singing through me, of every joy and sorrow they had known. I sang of summer and winter, and the water beneath the stone. I sang of my father dancing upon the water, and fish that answer. And the dragon came.

I heard it, booming hollowly in its temple cavern like a drum. I heard the hollow rumble of great wings and the grating of claws on shattered stone. Then I saw it. From my hiding place behind the pillar, I gazed upon the dragon's face, mirrored in an unmarked shield. Its head seemed formed of of crags and sharp horns as ragged as the broken skyline of Zanarkand, and it was very terrible. But it had my father's eyes.

Almost I turned to stare at the dragon's true face, and my song faltered. But my warrior gave a great war-cry. So I kept singing, coaxing, wheedling. Foot by foot, the dragon came tamely, fixed upon the reflectiion of my face and the work of my spell.

And now I heard the swordsman running, gravel crunching under his boots, and a great clang went up as the black sword smote the dragon's hide. The dragon screamed a man's scream, writhed and twisted, and its great tail swung around, knocking the shield aside. I closed my eyes and kept singing for the dead who have no voice, and covered my ears against the awful din of metal on scales, crunching bone.

At last the city grew silent, and the stones underfoot ceased to shake. I turned around. In the mouth of the temple, dragon and my former guardian were locked together, the man's crushed body beneath one of its hewn limbs. Red blood mingled with black, and the warrior's head lay against the dragon's sword-pierced breast. I ran to him.

"It is finished, Lord," he whispered. His eyes did not see me, but another. "The cycle is over and your chains are broken. Now in death I have freed you, who could not save you while I was alive. And your daughter will not suffer a Summoner's fate, nor will she ever slay a friend."

And as he spoke the final word, their bodies shimmered, turned clear as glass, and broke into jewels that floated skyward, to join the dancing lights of the city of the dead.

And upon the stone his shield had covered, I found this verse inscribed in the old tongue, which I translate clumsily so that its secret may not be lost:

He who is a Summoner and can hold a dragon's gaze
Himself will be a dragon, and thus live out his days
And he who is a Guardian will die by his lord's hand
And this shall be the vengeance of fallen Zanarkand.

Author's Note:

I am a sporadic member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and I attend bardic circle once a month. Being particularly anachronistic, I mostly recite Homer. It's more "period" for the bards of my guild to sing songs or tell tales of the Middle Ages, or at least compose "period-ish" pieces like songs about Robin Hood or alewives or chivalry that fit the time. For example, my friend Cal has woven a whole cycle of stories by one "Sean Michael Padraig of Sheep Haven" about his dealings with the Gentry (the sidhe) and other mythological figures of old Ireland.

The rule in my bards' circle is that after 10 o' clock, we can do anything. A few months back, I found myself telling a story about a man in a red coat, his lord, a dragon, and the lord's daughter who plans to follow in her father's footsteps. I can't remember what I said then, but I only got halfway through the story before I hit a performer's version of writer's block.

This is the rest of the tale, whose bare bones I hastily sketched out on a sheet of looseleaf paper ten minutes before I had to leave. Most of it had come to me a short time earlier while I was driving home. I had only written down the first sentence or so of each paragraph and the final four lines, trusting myself to remember something close to what I found myself saying to my windshield. These stories normally shape themselves during performance. I didn't actually get up the courage to perform it because it kept not really working with the tales the lady on my right was telling. So now I have just recited a full version of it to my cat and typed it in as fast as the words came out of my mouth, to make certain that I still have it ready for next month.

This is therefore essentially an oral transcript. Last time, I did tell my friends that I was adapting and simplifying one thread of a storyline from the FFX video game, which they should all play. :)

I did this because I often find myself wanting to share my love of FFX with people who know nothing about it, but the actual story -- with its large cast of characters, world, history, etc -- is too complicated to cram into a quick summary without killing the magic. My goal as a novice bard is to recreate some of the mythic themes and atmosphere of stories I find meaningful, without necessarily adhering to the details.



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 21st, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC)
Great heavens. That is absolutely fantastic.
Oct. 21st, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC)
*beams* Thank you!
Oct. 21st, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC)
very beautiful. :) You know, parts of it remind me of the Tolkien's tales concerning the Children of Hurin. How the dragon held Turin's gaze to keep him from destroying him or saving the city.... Then also I am reminded of Luthien and her song that distracted all who heard it so that she and her love could escape. *sigh*

ok I'm escaping now... btw have you heard of the new Tolkien book being released? it is more about the Children of Hurin ironically. :D
Oct. 21st, 2006 03:48 pm (UTC)
Heh. Yes, I had Mormegil in the back of my mind -- I wasn't really trying to imitate or bring in that tale, but between the dragon and Auron's black sword, it was obviously triggering bits of that. You know how I've lived and breathed Tolkien for so long.

(Speaking of which, I used to do a newsletter illustrated as an illuminated manuscript during my Rivendell days, and here's the Eye of Glaurung I did as a divider after someone sent in a poem on Húrin! It's colored to blend in on a parchment-colored background. )

Oct. 21st, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
*shivers in fear* eeeep!
Oct. 21st, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful reimagining of the FFX main storyline. I can hear you, or Yuna, reciting it aloud. Very lyrical. Lovely work.

On a bit of a tangent, I'm interested to notice that, of all the changes from the FFX universe, the one that most caught my attention is Auron having always been old and gray, rather than being turned to that state by the horrors of Braska's pilgrimage.
Oct. 21st, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, interesting. I didn't really think out the details, and I hadn't done that on purpose.

I guess my unconscious just loves the "grizzled warrior" archetype so much that I always see him that way, even though that's not what he was like as a young man! I may tweak that when I deliver this, though, the almost unnatural ageing of the character is a nice touch in the game.

I remember having written a mental conversation between him and Braska's spirit -- something about "make mistakes, Auron. Live a little." "Hmph. Good advice for the young." "You never let yourself be young, Auron."
Oct. 21st, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
Your reading of this is just beautiful. Mezmerizing. Kitty in the background and all. ;)

Just what happened to turn the somewhat brash and stiff young Auron into the grizzled veteran we all got to know is a topic of great interest to me. We only get glimpses of the young man but they fascinate me. Idealistic, loyal, with a temper. And all these things carry through into the man who seems to have aged twenty years in ten, the same yet different. I can see him as the "never really young" sort, already old at twenty, and yet to the man the youth seems like a callow boy.

Auron's evolution from young to old, and my curiousity at the nature of his relationship with Kinoc, is what drew me to write him in the first place. Aaaaand... I'll stop blathering at you now. ;)
Oct. 21st, 2006 05:09 pm (UTC)
You're so very right, and it's a precious part of his character... he was SO passionate, so naive, so young-looking, and, yes, a rather beautiful bishie fellow! "I was just a boy." It aches to watch echoes of the younger version of him, especially when the older is so curt and cynical, and seems to have had most of the passion ironed out. (Although it pops out a little in Zanarkand when he loses his temper, and when he rallies the troops.) On the flipside, older-Auron is a lot more patient with people's quirks, though not inexhaustibly so. ("She's worse than the storm!")

I'm puzzled myself why that dropped out of my distillation. I will have to be careful NOT to read this from my notes, and see what happens when I tell it from a live audience. (I find it far too comforting if I bring a written version with me.) Maybe the young-Auron will make a reappearance. I notice I slipped once and used his name; I was trying to generalize the tale the way fairy tales tend to strip away the specifics of older stories and become more universal, archetypal.
Oct. 21st, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC)
You? Win, so profoundly that there are no words to describe it. It's...shiny!

It reminded me a little of the story of Perseus, with the use of the shield as a mirror. Just a thought.
Oct. 21st, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that was in the back of my mind as well! The "drawing down the moon" reference also goes back to the stock phrases classical authors used to describe the powers of witches like Medea and Circe, and "so he spoke" is one of those handy little Homeric filler-phrases.
Oct. 21st, 2006 04:58 pm (UTC)
I like this, and I think you've done a really good job of boiling the essence of FFX down into this story so that the meaning comes across even though the details do not. I also like the allusion to Perseus and the Medusa.

The idea of summoning as a song, rather than a dance and a set of gestures as it appears in the game, works very well with the bardic slant to the piece, and I love how people come not to see them off, but rather to not see them because by making this choice, they are already dead.
Oct. 21st, 2006 06:07 pm (UTC)
I am in absolute awe. It's beautiful, and while it's 'creatively anachronistic' it definitely has enough properties of medieval literature that I could almost see it as a Breton Lai or the like.

You've definitely distilled the essence of Final Fantasy X into a new and fascinating story. I wish that my computer would let me hear your oral rendition.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
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