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  • Jeff Monday

Items On My Bookshelf: The Key of the Three Dragons




Like many people, I have various trinkets and knickknacks collected from over the years. Random bits and bobs taken from random moments. I thought it would be fun to share some of these objects with you and share the absolutely true and unembellished stories behind them...


THE KEY OF THE THREE DRAGONS


This comes from one of my first adventures. There I was, deep in the wilderness, clinging to the side of a foggy mountain, when my two companions and I stumbled upon a mystical cave. Exhausted from climbing, we took shelter just as a storm passed through the range, pelting us with hail the size of frogs and frogs the size of snowflakes. (So cute!)

The cave was shallow, barely more than a hollow scooped out of the side of the mountain. We were surprised to see it was already occupied. An ancient woman sat near the back of the cave, watching the storm pass. At her feet was a battered pack. She was munching on a cold pop tart and greeted us with a warm smile.

“Hello, hello, young travelers.” Her voice was warm apple pie and cinnamon.

“Hello,” I responded. “May we join you and wait out the storm?”

“The storm will pass in four minutes, but you may sit as long as you like.”

Puzzled at the precise nature of her answer, we sat.

“How do you know the storm will only last four minutes?” I asked.

She shrugged paper thin shoulders. “Because that is how long it lasts every day.”

“Every day?”

She nodded. “Every day.”

“So you’ve climbed this mountain before?”

She nodded. “Every day.”

My companions and I exchanged looks. The woman looked to be well into her twilight years and, although energetic and convivial, did not strike us as an athlete.

“That’s amazing,” I responded cautiously.

“Yep,” she nodded. “Every day for the last two hundred years, I’ve walked this mountain. Foot to peak and back again.”

Hearing her words, I wondered how such a senile senor had found her way halfway up a rugged mountain when we, three strapping lads, had barely survived a raging river and a pack of monstrous boars already on our journey.

“It is a wonder that you can accomplish such a feat, day in and day out,” I told her.

She gave a short laugh, sounding like a cat bringing up a hairball. “The dragons watch over me.”

Dragons? The dementia deepened!

“Dragons?” I asked.

“Of course the dragons! Why are you on this mountain, if not to seek the three dragons?”

“Honestly, we know nothing about dragons,” I admitted. “We are here simply to conquer a challenge and enjoy the view.”

She crossed her arms and looked cross. “Tourists,” she muttered under her breath.

“Where might we find these dragons?” I asked cautiously.

She screwed up her face, giving us the once-over twice. Apparently she decided we were no threat. “They live inside the mountain. The only way in is through a door. The door is locked. This is the key.”

She pulled an object out of her pack. We leaned in, our breath escaping through open mouths.

She held a rectangular sculpture, no more than a few inches tall. It was exquisitely carved out of red jade with the image of three intertwined dragons, flames surrounding them. The thing radiated an energy that was unnerving, as if it came from a place and time separate from ours.

“Only with this key may you gain audience with the dragons.”

“How...how did you acquire it?” I asked, my mouth dry.

She smiled a secret. “I killed the previous owner for it.”

At her words, we leaned back, increasingly unsure of her mental stability. Although ancient, she could still be dangerous, as the glint in her eye told us.

I looked out into the world. As promised, the storm had passed. Azure peeked through the gray, promising a pleasant afternoon for climbing.

“We should go,” I said. My companions nodded and we gathered our things. “Thank you for the story. And letting us see your...key.”

She nodded. “Perhaps I will see you at the peak,” she said, then turned to return the key to her pack.

We took our leave and continued on our way. The trail took us through birch forests and around cliffs that dropped off into the clouds. It was an agreeable afternoon, made strenuous only a few times when we were forced to scale imposing walls of rock to continue.

We did not see the woman again. We argued amongst ourselves over whether she had fallen to her long-overdue demise or had turned back, deciding not, for the first time in two hundred years, to complete the climb. Regardless, when we passed by the cave on the way down, there was the key, left in the middle of the trail. We could not go past. Something prevented us from circumventing the object. I picked it up, feeling its odd energy tingle my hand. It was heavier than I expected. Solid with age and history.

“We could find the cave,” one of my companions suggested.

But I shook my head. We were tired, almost out of both food and daylight, and without adequate camping equipment.

“Some day. Some day we’ll return and find the lock for this key.”

But we haven’t yet. The mountain, from what I understand, has disappeared, no longer accessible from this world. Yet the key remains, sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for me to find the lock to which it fits.

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