Skip to content

Week #4: Creative Writing Challenge – Silence is Golden

January 31, 2021

Silence is now literally golden. For every day of total silence a person completes, they receive a piece of gold.

Once upon a time there was a small island full of magic. It was an island full of stories, told to rapt children curled in warm kitchens on frigid evenings when the wind howled. Those children grew to tell their own stories about magic, how life grew, how love flourished. The island was not an easy life, but it provided for its inhabitants, fueled by the magic at the heart of rock jutting above the crystal waters.

One day a fleet of boats landed on its shores to demand fealty and pillage the islands resources in a bid for conquest and expansion.

This story starts with an orphan boy who, fearing for his land and adopted family, sought the source of the islands’ magic for a solution. He traveled to the highest peak where he found a cave with a staircase descending into the heart of the island. No one knows for sure what happened in that dark and sacred place, because the boy came back and never said a word again. The next day, gold appeared on his pillow. The next day the same thing happened. And the next and the next. The islanders beseeched him to tell his tale, but no amount of pleading would open his mouth. After a month, the boy had amassed great wealth and went to the mayor of the town with his gold. The boy imitated, for he could not read or write, that the gold should be given to the intruders as a payment of fealty and a bribe to leave. The mayor made a deal with the invaders that the boats would come back every 10 years to collect their payment from the islanders, but would leave their island and its people alone. That was more than 200 years ago, and the invader boats had not been seen for 150.

Present day

The island was completely silent when Vaness stepped outside her cottage. Had the boy been in earnest about saving the island or did he just want gold? Vaness had been considering the story all morning after she dreamed about the orphan boy, magic whirling at the heart of the island, and fire. Lots of fire.

On the front porch of her small cottage, Vaness could see the brown hills, trash in the streets, and haze settling above the town in the late morning sunshine. The silence was familiar. Many of the islands inhabitants had stopped caring about the health of the island, instead they coveted their gold and used their paltry magic to create material possessions from that gold. There were mansions in the middle of the town, machines burning fuels to do work more easily, and it was all so ugly. From her perch, Vaness could feel the island crying.

Vaness lived in that small cottage on the outskirts of town. She didn’t have much gold, silence being too much for her to bear most days. Not many of the inhabitants of the island had pure magic anymore. The magic had been twisted and crumpled by greed and had lost power over the generations. But Vaness came from a line of healers and prophets who had felt a deep connection to the land. When they spoke to the grass and trees, the land listened and responded in kind. Vaness felt too much of, and from, the land to hold it all bottled up inside. She used her warm and soothing voice to sing to the land, to take away some of its pain. She sang to her garden and it sprouted with healing herbs, grew delicious foods, and unfurled the most beautiful flowers. Small children snuck to the cottage in the cool weather to listen as Vaness told stories about the land in front of her small, warm hearth.

The adults of the island mostly hated Vaness. They resented her ability to heal them, her ability to grow some of the food they ate, and especially the love those children gave her as she spun tales in her warm cottage.

As Vaness stood on her porch, she knew this day felt different. The island had been spiraling toward it for years and her dream-vision left her with a sense of anticipation. She could still see the flames on her eyelids when she closed them. Vaness stepped off her porch and headed toward the clifftop marketplace. She needed to stock up on some medical supplies and the Crispin family had finally paid her for saving the youngest from a food-borne sickness.

Vaness had been wandering the marketplace for about 30 min when she started to hear low murmuring sounds. There was confusion on her face when she looked up, trying to figure out where the sounds were coming from. She saw people with wide-open mouths looking upward. Some were now screaming and running for the edges of the marketplace and the shelter of the buildings. Vaness looked up, searching for the source of their panic.

A smile stole across Vaness’ face as she beheld what the wind carried in from the sea. Fire. Great shooting flames coming from a forest green dragon soaring for the marketplace. It was the most beautiful creature Vaness had ever seen. As it got closer she could see eyes bright as the sun, and shining black talons curving from long muscled limbs. Its tail was as long as its body and moved almost languidly through the eddies created by sleek, smooth wings. The dragon shot for the marketplace, pumping the muscles in its wings as it slowed down and reached out back legs for a graceful landing. As soon as it touched down, the dragon shot flames through the marketplace burning all the stalls, but the flames did not harm any of the people still too stunned to move from their positions.

“Who speaks for this island?” the dragon’s voice boomed through the village.

Vaness didn’t move, curiosity overwhelming her fear. Who would come forward? She knew no one wanted to actually speak for fear of losing their gold.

As the dragon’s eyes scanned the crowd a tall man stepped toward the middle of the marketplace. Vaness tried to stifle a chuckle unsuccessfully. It was Davis Gelder, the eldest son of the mayor. The mayor didn’t have the courage to step out himself. Davis shot Vaness a look and she just shrugged with a smile. They had been friends when they were younger. Davis was mostly aware of Vaness’ magic and they had even shared a bed once or twice when they had both had a rough day, or when Davis’ family had their attention elsewhere. Their friendship would certainly not be approved of by his family.

“I smell gold. It oozes from your very pores. This gold and magic does not belong to you. It belongs to the land, to the old creatures of the world. Until you willingly return what you have taken, I will take it by force. You will bring all your gold here tomorrow morning. Do you understand?” The dragon explained with a snarl.

Davis only nodded.

The dragon pushed off the ground with those muscled legs and beat its wings as it rose steadily into the sky. With a roar of fire, the dragon flew toward the highest mountain on the island where the cave leading to the heart of the island was located.

Despite the destruction of the marketplace and the clear panic of the people, Vaness felt a quiet calm. In the old stories dragons were instruments of fairness and judgement. They had immense magic that was connected to the land and were said to protect those that didn’t have the power to protect themselves. Vaness wondered if that included the land itself.

Davis sought Vaness’ eyes across the hurried crowd. He gave her a quick nod and motioned to a nearby alley. “What the hell was that?” Davis demanded in his deep melodic voice. Vaness loved his voice. It was like a melting caramel down her insides, buttery and soothing. “How the hell should I know?” Vaness responded with a coy smile. “Don’t do that.” Davis sighed as he reached out to stroke her arm.”Have you had a vision? Do you know anything about dragons?” He withdrew his hand and ran it through his hair. “Please.” He beseeched.

Vaness considered him a minute. “Come by the cottage later and I’ll explain what I know,” she finally said and walked off before he could respond.

At the cottage later, Vaness explained how the land suffered under the greed of it’s supposed protectors. She had entreated him to do something to protect the land in the past, but he was stuck in the treadmill of his family’s desire for power. This time he listened, and Vaness described the role of dragons in protecting the land. She told Davis of her dream-vision and the original story of the orphan boy. Davis had never heard it before. He had just assumed that the island inhabitants were blessed with gold. “What do we do?” Davis finally asked.

“Nothing.” Vaness responded slowly. “The dragon is here to make right what has been wronged. It is here to restore balance to our island. There is nothing to be done.”

“What about the people in the village? They are innocent in this, their only fault is being born on this island and into this life.” Davis snapped.

It was exactly the wrong thing to say. Vaness told him in a slow and clear voice exactly what she thought of the people in the village, their greed, their thoughtlessness for others and for the land. She ended by saying, “Do not come back here until you see that fault can also lie with people who do nothing to change what is wrong. Leave.”

The next morning the village gathered in the marketplace and put their gold in a pile for the dragon. The dragon arrived shortly after the last piece was thrown on the pile, as if it had known they were ready. The dragon sniffed the pile and then sniffed the air around the marketplace. It stared at the pile of gold which started to burn. Slowly at first and then faster as the flames shifted from reds and oranges to bright blues and whites. Within 5 minutes the pile had disappeared, like it never existed in the first place.

The dragon looked slowly around the marketplace, its nostrils flaring. With angered eyes it spat out, “You seek to deceive me? You have hidden gold in your houses, deep in your cellars, buried it within the ground. I can smell it. Your greed goes deep enough to endanger your people and your land?” It paused, as if to let anyone challenge him. “I will come each morning to collect your gold until you give it all to me. If you need encouragement, I will start by burning one house each morning until you comply.” And with that, the dragon flew away.

The next day the same thing happened. The dragon burned the town’s gold, then sniffed the air. Presumably smelling hidden gold somehow, the dragon took to the air and flew in slow and languid circles above the village. Having found what it was looking for, the dragon blew crisp and strong blue flames straight down at the Cripsin house. That elicited screams from the Crispin matron.

The next day it was the Bronwin’s on the opposite side of town. The next it was the Thomas’s. And on it went for a month. Some of the displaced families were taken in by relatives. Others were forced into silence and then into bartering for food with their slim gold pieces. Many found their way to Vaness’s cottage. Especially the children. They knew they could find a fine meal, a warm spot of ground, and a good story in exchange for a smile and some conversation. There were regulars to Vaness’s cottage and she started to teach them to sing, and tend the garden, and to listen to the land.

One day it was the Mayor Gelder’s house that burned under the dragon’s wrath. Davis appeared that afternoon among the gaggle of children visiting the cottage. Vaness only opened the door to him. After the children had eaten and were practicing their plant growing skills in the garden, Davis approached Vaness. “I am sorry. I should have listened. I should have realized. And I am sorry. I know that you must think the worst of me that I am here now only after my own misfortune, but this past month I’ve tried to help those who have lost everything. I have come to ask if there is anything you can do to stop more from being hurt. You have more magic than the rest of us combined. Is there nothing you can do?”

Vaness did not respond and eventually Davis left with a sorrowful look on his face.

Vaness didn’t like the villagers, but she also didn’t like to see others suffer. To settle her feelings, Vaness went for a walk in the hills that afternoon. She followed a little creek to a small crystal blue lake in the foothills. As she walked around the edge of the lake Vaness sang. She sang to the blue waters, the trees edging the lake, and the animals hiding in the grasses. As Vaness rounded a narrow section of shore she spied the dragon lounging in a clearing.

Vaness was scared but kept singing because the land needed something beautiful. She could feel the land yearning for peace and the melodies calmed it. The dragon lifted its scaled head and looked at her with its blazing eyes. Vaness stopped walking and just gazed at the dragon as she finished her song. “Surely such beautiful music could not have come from this accursed place.” The dragon said softly and it looked at Vaness. It was not quite a question, but not quite a statement either.

Vaness did not respond, but just kept looking at the dragon. She maintained eye contact as she slowly stepped closer. The dragon stiffened, but did not move to get up. Vaness was within a foot of the dragon’s forest green snout when she stretched out her hand, palm down. The dragon stared at her. After a moment it slowly closed its eyes and lifted the top of its snout to meet Vaness’ palm.

Visions of the land, magic, and the most beautiful sounds swirled around Vaness with the dragon’s touch. She shuddered with the truth and deepness of the visions, the feeling of being a part of it all. The dragon drew in a sharp breath and moved its snout out of her touch. “Oh,” it said in surprise as it opened its eyes. “I did not think I would ever meet one of your kind again.”

“What was that?” Vaness struggled to find the words and the breath to say them.

“You have a deep connection to the land. You hear its troubles and its joys. You sing to it to calm it and the land rewards you by making sure you want for nothing. Am I correct?” The dragon calmly asked Vaness. “Yes,” she breathlessly responded.

“You could have ended this ages ago lovely girl. Did you not know of your power?” The dragon queried.

“W- what do you mean?” Vaness stuttered.

“You have a connection to the land so powerful that you can end this golden curse on your people.”

“How?” Vaness asked simply.

“You must let the land borrow some of your power so that it can reclaim what your people took. You must sing to the heart of the mountain. Your words will be its strength. That is the only way to remove the curse. But I warn you. Think deeply about the consequences of your actions. People’s values are slow to change and others will resist change whole-heartedly.” The dragon explained. “I feel your weariness and the land’s sadness. You and your land will not last long if we continue on our current path. Your people have shown that their greed and callousness run deep. They will not be able to remove the curse with their actions, even if many of them wish for it. I leave the choice in your hands. If you wish to travel to the heart of the mountain, I will meet you here tomorrow afternoon and can fly you there myself.”

Vaness was stunned, but somehow what the dragon revealed felt true. All of it. She returned to the village and her cozy warm cottage to think. It was a particularly cold evening and soon enough she heard a knock at her door. She found a small boy on the porch, practically frozen. “They told me to come here. Please help.” The little boy pleaded. Vaness did not recognize him from the village, but she was not going to turn away someone in need. She settled the boy near the warm hearth and made to find something for him to eat.

With a bowl of warm soup in his hands the boy started to speak in a low voice between mouthfuls. “I didn’t mean to curse our people. I wanted to save them. The island said that it would only be a temporary solution and that I would have to convince them to give it back, but I was weak. I loved my new family so much and they were so happy with all their gold and precious things. But as the years went by I became so sad. I missed their voices, their kind words, their happy shouts. I tried to convince them to give it back. I tried so hard and they grew so angry.” Tears were streaming down his face now. “They threw me out and I came here, to a woman very much like you. She was kind. I gave her my story. She didn’t have the magic to help, but she did give me a gift, a promise. She told me that she would continue to tell stories, to sing, to protect the land and that all those who came after her would do the same. Eventually magic would build in the line until one strong enough would rise and break the curse for me.” He paused, sniffling. He looked Vaness straight in the eye and said simply, “Save them from themselves Vaness.” And then he disappeared and the soup bowl clattered to the ground.

The next afternoon Vaness saw children laughing and yelling in the street, a little girl urging tendrils of peas to grow in a garden, a teenage boy documenting the diversity of flowers growing alongside a creek. As she walked towards the lake, Vaness knew that breaking the curse would result in chaos. People would fight and argue and place blame on each other. But these children, this next generation, had already made connections to the land and to each other that would help them create a new vision of prosperity. They could survive and thrive with a respect for the land and for each other. Vaness would do this for them. She would lead them into a better world.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: