A couple weeks ago, I posted about the economic impact of Smaug in my journal. The ensuing discussion inspired a fantasy world plagued not by a single dragon, but by a mass migration of them, hence the series title "A Conflagration of Dragons." I have spent the intervening time doing some heavy-duty worldbuilding. A very brief thumbnail to set the scene ...
There are six races, all of them humanoid and none of those human, dwarven, or elven. They are unique designs, each based on an affinity for two of the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water). They only sort-of get along with each other, with some alliances and a lot of rivalries. Also unlike most fantasy settings, there are no prevailing religions; the cultures focus on different philosophies instead. This causes about the same amount of tension as religions, just minus the personification.
Dragons are a single species, all able to breed with each other, but they have different color phases. That relates to which toxic elements they use best and can find most, thus influencing the style of their breath weapon. The basic phases are red, blue/green, bronze, and black. These dragons are stupendously powerful; an adult has approximately the same ecological footprint as a volcano. Consequently they've adapted so that they can go dormant if the environment can't support them anymore. That can happen on an individual cycle, but also groups of dragons can hibernate together, creating the conflagration effect when they all wake up.
Here, then, is the first poem in the series. "The Janardanakavita" marks the end of the Golden Age and the beginning of the Conflagration. It introduces three of the six races: the Madhusudana, the Imran, and the Shu. It's written in couplets in a form inpsired by Hindi poetry; but I'm breaking the lines into half-lines so they'll work onscreen, as indicated by the indentations. The kavita form is designed to accommodate that. I'm planning to do each of the six poems about the fall of the capitol cities in a different form. Names of characters, races, cities, etc. are taken from famous works of literature and mythology, a different one for each race, so you might recognize some.
This poem also fills the "first time" square on my Dark Fantasy Bingo Card.
Title: "The Janardanakavita"
Fandom: Original (A Conflagration of Dragons)
Characters: Atemu, Janardana, Puru, Yaqub, Zabur
Prompt: First time
Warning: Character death. Graphic violence. Doom, destruction, and despair. Helpless to stop destruction.
Summary/Preview: The rulers of different lands like to show off their treasures to each other. While this is going on, a dragon arrives. Nobody is remotely prepared to cope with the level of carnage that ensues.
Shaunaka rose above the beach,
a city carved in cliffs of white
where in their rows the lanterns burned
through silver windows in the night.
Upon the coast the people called
Madhusudana plied their trade;
it was no boast to praise the boats
and supple seasilk that they made.
The gull-winged ships sailed far and wide
from harbors safe in sheltered bays;
beloved lips brought news and tunes
to charm the folk in happy days.
On feathered wings the sailors flew,
their bodies clad in shining scales;
they spoke of things beneath the waves
and caught the wind in dancing sails.
A pearl they found in waters deep,
as smooth as silk, as blue as sky;
it weighed a pound, and seemed to gaze,
as if the sea had lost an eye.
The Autocrat was lilac-pale
his body graceful, slim and fair,
and like a cat his cool blue eyes
peeked out through strands of creamy hair.
He held Shaunaka in his hands,
its every thought within his mind,
for none could block or slip his will,
nor hide somewhere he could not find.
The sailors came to Puru's hall,
the shining court above the coast;
they praised his name and wished him well,
then offered what he wanted most.
Eye of the Sea they gave to him,
a treasure like none seen before,
a thing to be admired long
between the cliffs and sighing shore.
Then Puru took the priceless pearl
and set it as his scepter's head,
that all might look on it in awe,
held by the one who rightly led.
In those fine days, the mighty folk
would often travel land to land
that they might gaze on treasures rare
and meet their equals, hand to hand.
First Yaqub to Shaunaka came,
an Imran strategist renowned,
in counsel true, in battle fierce,
his thoughtful planning always sound.
His auburn hair was streaked with blond;
tall horns he bore upon his head,
and he wore there thick rings of gold,
as on his wings of rust and red.
Then Puru's rival showed his face:
Atemu, consul of the Shu,
who kept his eye on nature's way
and sought to lead his people through.
On glider's wings he floated down,
his tail a fluffy graceful line,
with golden strings in hair of bronze
and eyes as green as ancient pine.
They came to sit in Puru's court
where deep intrigues would soon unfurl,
to see the city by the sea
and view the huge and famous pearl.
First Yaqub bowed, his wings of skin
extending brightly side to side;
Atemu, proud, just nodded once
'til Puru's power pricked his pride.
Eye of the Sea was on display;
Atemu dipped his knee at last
and must agree the treasure rare
his own abundance far surpassed.
As Puru held his court in thrall,
there came a thunder from beyond --
the talk was quelled and all eyes turned
to windows flanked by fern and frond.
A shape descended from the sky
with great wings wide as galleon sails,
sharp teeth to rend and claws to catch
the folk who fled the fearsome wails.
"What beast is this?" asked Puru then,
his mind a whip, his tone gone hard;
a hush, a hiss, for none could say --
then, "Dragon!" cried an Imran bard.
Zabur was right, though few agreed --
the legend lived, and flame it breathed
a crimson light that flared and spread
beneath whose onslaught water seethed.
The dragon hen had ruby scales
with royal purple here and there;
she swallowed men in florid jaws
and sank great ships without a care.
As people fled their cliffs and ships,
they named her Janardana then,
the dragon red from legend come,
who evil brings to prideful men.
She raked the windows from the rocks
and snuffed out lives with ruddy flame;
the ramparts thinned, the railings broke,
and on the hungry dragon came.
At first the stony cliff held firm,
then Janardana burst the wall
to crack the bone and drink the blood
of those within the courtly hall.
As Puru called with mind and word
for aid, Atemu mocked him sore,
then fled appalled by carnage rare:
a coward cur his mother bore.
Then Yaqub ran to find his troop
and rally soldiers to the cause --
too long a span for Puru's sake
who fell beneath the steely claws.
Without his guidance, panic reigned;
Madhusudana fled the court
to run and hide, or fight and die,
in Janardana's favorite sport.
The ships yet whole set free their sails
and caught the febrile wind to go;
a bitter toll was taken there
where fang and flame laid many low.
With Puru slain, Shaunaka fell
and people spread their wings to fly
toward sea or plain as best they might
while smoke rose up to blot the sky.
Then Janardana crawled inside
the shattered cliff to make a nest;
the pearl upon the fallen staff
she pressed against her garnet breast.
Brave Yaqub fought as best he could,
fell wounded, carried from the fray
by those who caught him as he fell
then shipped him safely far away.
It was too late when Yaqub came
to Zayd, the city in the sand,
yet he fought fate and stood his ground
and called fresh soldiers to his hand.
He took what men would heed his call
and tried to drive the dragon out;
the mighty hen was stronger still
and battle soon became a rout.
Zabur survived to tell the tale --
how Janardana did her worst --
but though men strived to set things right
the blood-red hen was but the first.