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Leeli and the Dragon Song

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, with Andrew Peterson

Since this issue of Credo Magazine is all about fiction and theology, we’ve included an example of a piece of fiction that can stir the Christian’s imagination. The following is an excerpt from Andrew Peterson’s book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Waterbrook, 2008).

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A long, warm note like the sound of a yawning mountain rose in the air and bounced off the belly of the sky. The deep echo was absorbed by the tall trees of Glipwood Forest and was answered a moment later by a higher sound that felt like a soft rain. Even Janner forgot to worry over the Fangs for a mo­ment. His chest tightened and his eyes stung with tears. Book Cover

“Quick!” Tink said. “It’s starting!” Tink ran ahead, dangerously close to the cliff. His fear of heights was all but gone.

“Tink!” Janner called. But there was no stopping Tink—the sound of the dragons had changed him somehow. Janner even thought for a moment that he looked different, boldly making his way along the precipice.

Janner and Leeli moved as quickly as they dared till they could make out the dark cluster of people watching the ocean below them. The verge of the cliffs was cluttered with boulders between patches of tall grass, places where one could sit and comfortably watch the sea. The Dark Sea was so far below that it seemed if someone were to tumble over the cliff, they would have time to stop screaming and take a final, breezy nap before crashing into it. Tiny, silent streaks of white on the surface were actually chaotic waves smashing into the jagged rocks below, and the mightiest spray was only faintly visible, like a poof of dust from a pebble dropped in the sand.

Janner and Leeli found Tink sitting on a flat outcropping of rock that depressed in the center. They were still an arrow’s shot away from the crowd, enough to satisfy Janner that they were well hidden.

By the light of the big moon, Tink leaned out over the edge, straining to see something in the dark water below. How could this be, Janner thought, when just this morning Tink had nearly wet himself on the roof of the house?

From where they sat they could see the mighty Fingap Falls far to the north, roaring over the cliffs and pounding into the sea. To the south, the cliffs marched away into the distance, where they eventually curled backward and sloped downward to embrace Shard Harbor, home to Fort Lamendron, the largest Fang outpost in all of Skree. It was there the Black Carriage bore the children taken in the night.

Janner shuddered and tried not to think about Fort Lamendron or the Carriage. It wasn’t hard, because the dragon song was rising in pitch and volume. Hidden in their cleft of rock, Janner forgot about the Fangs. He forgot about their desperate need to find their grandfather and mother. And, like Tink, he forgot the precariousness of the edges of the high cliffs as he leaned out over the empty air and felt his heart ache.

Tink was the first to see them. His breath caught in his throat and he couldn’t speak. He tapped Leeli on the knee with the back of his hand and pointed. She and Janner saw it as well.

In the churning white waters at the base of Fingap Falls, a long, graceful shape burst from the surface. Its skin caught and magnified the light of the moon. The sea dragon was easily twice the height of the tallest tree in Glip­wood Forest. Its reddish body glimmered like a living fire. The head was crowned with two curved horns and its fins spread out behind it like wings. Indeed, it looked as if it might actually fly, but the dragon wheeled in the air and crashed into the sea with what must have been a sound like thunder but was inaudible over the constant roar of the waterfall.

At that moment, the dragon song rose into the air on a bright wind and filled the people gathered on the cliffs with a thousand feelings—some peace­ful, some exhilarating, all more alive than usual.

Wingfeather ImageA middle-aged man named Robesbus Nicefellow, who had spent his life balancing records for the famed button merchant Osbeck Osbeckson of Tor­rboro, decided he wouldn’t spend one more day working behind a desk; he had always wanted to sail. Mr. Alep Brume, who was sitting beside Ferinia Swapleton (proprietor of Ferinia’s Flower Shop), turned to her and whispered that he’d secretly loved her for years. Mayor Blaggus silently swore he’d never again pick his nose.[1] All of the passion and sadness and joy of those who lis­tened wound into one common strand of feeling that was to Janner like homesickness, though he couldn’t think why; he was just a short walk from the only home he’d ever known.

The few Fangs unlucky enough to stand watch at the cliffs, however, heard only screeching, a miserable wail that set their teeth on edge. Their green skin shivered and they snarled and hissed at the people closest to them.

Tink was leaning so far over the edge that it looked like he might fall to the sea. Eyes wide open, his jaw was clenched and his knuckles were white where they gripped the rock at his sides. Janner had the strange thought that he looked like a statue of a king, perched there so rigid and serene in the warm dusk.

The song continued, and more dragons exploded out of the water. They spun in the air and hung there for a moment before slamming back into the sea. Scores of horned bull dragons, amber and shimmering gold, swam cir­cles around the thinner and more sleek mares that burst out of the water and over them in an intricate pattern. Now even the roar of Fingap Falls was not as loud as the crash of the many dragons into the Dark Sea. The strains of the song entwined and followed one another until a haunting melody emerged. Janner thought, as he thought every summer the dragons came, that there could be nothing more beautiful in all the world.

Leeli was still as a statue, her hands clasped at her chest. Janner heard a whisper of sound mingling with the dragon song as her lips moved like she was trying to remember the words to a song, or like she was praying. Her gaze was far away, resting somewhere beyond the dragons. A slight, sweet melody, the beauty of which Janner had never heard before, drifted from Leeli’s mouth. Janner looked at her with wonder. He was so enthralled with her song he scarcely noticed that after a moment it was all he heard.

The dragons had fallen silent.

They had halted their dance and were gazing up at the cliffs. Though they were leagues away and the dusk made it difficult to see, Janner knew with a shudder that the sea dragons were watching them.

They were listening.

O holoré lay thee low

Holoél dark in the Deep

Down beneath the earth you go

Go holoré fast to sleep

Fast to sleep

Fast to sleep

Dark holoré in the Deep

Rise again holoré now

Spring abundant holoél

Render green the dying bough

Raise the rock where Yurgen fell

Raise the rock

Raise the rock

Spring abundant holoél[2]

A breezy sound of gasps and whispers rose from the crowd. In all the years the dragons had come, this was something new. Tink and Janner looked in awe at Leeli, who seemed unaware of the quiet commotion she was causing. The wind carried Leeli’s voice along the cliffs so it seemed to the crowd that the song was coming from the air itself.

Finally her song ended. Leeli came to herself and focused on the shimmering beasts below her, silent and watching. For a moment the only sound was the wind and the sea and the distant waterfall. Then the drag­ons arched their great necks, spread wide their fins, and bellowed an an­swer that rattled Janner’s teeth. It echoed Leeli’s tune in a sad, hopeful reprise.

Then it stopped.

The dragons were gone as fast as they had come. The last fin disap­peared in a swirl of water. Only the dull, even rush of Fingap Falls and the occasional cry of a gull interrupted the awed silence.

Mr. Alep Brume blew his nose. Whispers turned to hushed voices, which finally became the chattering of the multitude stand­ing and stretching, then turning to walk back to town.

The moment was over. The dragons would make their way, so people said, back south to the Sunken Mountains to live out the winter.

Tink was still staring at the sea, at the place where the last dragon had sunk away. He blinked several times and came out of a trance of his own.

He looked down, his face turned pale and he squealed like a flabbit. He skittered back and lay panting on the ground five feet away, clutching the grass as if the world might lurch to its side and try to shake him over the edge.

Leeli giggled, her head full of music.

“What was that, Leeli?” Janner asked. “Who is Yurgen?”

She shrugged, blushing. “I don’t know. I think it’s a song Mama used to sing me when I was little, or something like it anyway.” She scrunched her face up, thinking hard. “It’s odd,” she said.

“What?”

“I can’t remember it now,” said Leeli, looking out at the Dark Sea.

“Well, it was . . . really pretty.” Janner didn’t know what else to say.

He was about to suggest that they find Podo and their mother when two cold hands grabbed him from behind. Janner was spun violently around to find himself face to face with Slarb the Fang, who had a swollen, bleeding wound on the side of his scaly face.

 


Excerpted from On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Copyright © 2020 by Andrew Peterson. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

[1] Mayor Blaggus broke his vow on the walk back to town.

[2] Though it is impossible to be sure, most scholars agree that this is likely the song that Leeli Igiby sang at the cliffs that evening. Holoré is an ancient word with several meanings. Its most common definition is “the feeling of forgetting to do something without knowing what that thing is.” For example: Foom was overcome with holoré for the whole journey, but when he returned home to find his wife still waiting on the front steps, he realized what he had forgotten. The word holoré is also used to describe the scent of burned cookies, and is often applied to any potentially good thing that has turned unexpectedly sour. For example: When Foom realized he had forgotten to bring his wife on the three- day vacation, the holiday was holoré. The ancient meaning of the word, which is how it is likely being used in the song, refers to the stones laid deep within the earth by the Maker at the creation of Aerwiar. The stones, according to The Legends of Aerwiar, are imbued with power to keep the world alive and growing, functioning much the same, it is assumed, as Water from the First Well. The meaning of holoél is uncertain, but very likely has to do with cookies as well.

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is a critically acclaimed recording artist and songwriter, as well as the author of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga. He’s also the founder of The Rabbit Room, an organization that fosters community through story, art, and music. He and his wife, Jamie, have three children, and make their home in Nashville.

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