Once upon a time there was a young girl named Honor. She was a sweet and quiet child, who always tried to be helpful. The people in her small village would always say how she was suitably named. The villagers felt that this was the highest compliment. She thought they meant that the best they could say was that she was 'honorable'. She would hear how other children were told things like, "how pretty you are" or "how clever of you". Compared to these comments, being called honorable seemed to be faint praise indeed. Because of how they viewed her, the villagers tended to treat her differently than the other kids. Many children could be found on any given day playing in the town square, laughing and having a grand time. Honor could be seen sitting off to the side. She would be wishing very hard that someone would invite her to join in the game, but they never did. It wasn't because they were mean or trying to hurt her. They just thought she wasn't interested in their games. She seemed too grown up for goofing around, and she never asked to join. This train of thought extended to their parents. The little girl was never chosen for a part in a play or invited to the birthday parties. They thought she was too mature to bother with such childish things. Because of this Honor felt very insignificant. Each day she felt herself becoming more and more a part of the scenery.
This went on for years and might have continued that way, if a dragon hadn't made his home on top of the cliffs near the village. The villagers were terrified. Their town was a small place of little importance, so they felt that they couldn't get any outside help. Also being a small town meant they didn't really have anyone who was trained to battle dragons. All they knew about dragons was from stories told by travelers passing through. Without a champion, the only thing that was left to them was to sacrifice a maiden to the beast. No one wanted to ask parents to give up a daughter to this monster. People were beginning to panic at the hopelessness of the situation.
While the grownups were trying to figure out how to solve this dilemma, Honor was watching and listening. She saw the worried looks on the faces of the adults, and she heard the panic in their voices. Honor knew that if any of the girls went, they would be giving up their future. She wasn't really part of the village; so she felt certain that she didn't have a future, except to be always looking in from the outside. The little girl decided right then that she would rather die saving the village than keep living in the background. She felt if she did this, her life would mean something. So, she went to the leaders of the village and announced that she would go and face the dragon for the village. The leaders protested this idea. They couldn't see giving the dragon what they thought as the best of them. She viewed their arguing as a lack of confidence in her ability to appease the beast. She became more determined to go through with this idea, so she kept arguing until they gave in to her demands.
The next day she prepared for the journey by putting on her best dress and flowers in her hair. The whole village walked with her to the bottom of the cliffs. As she left the village behind to start on the path up the cliffs, she could hear the people crying. A small part of her was happy about this, because it was proof to her that she mattered; what she was doing was important. To her this was better than slowly fading into oblivion. She was sad for the pain this was causing; but, she was certain that they would get on with their lives, and she would become a fading memory. With steel in her spine, she kept walking up the cliff's path until she reached the opening of the dragon's lair.
Honor paused for just a moment to brace herself for what she was about to face, and then walked in with her head held high. After letting herself adjust to the dim lighting, she looked around the cavern and was amazed at what she saw. She, like the rest of the villagers, heard stories about dragons having mountains of gold and precious jewels that they fiercely guarded. She saw some gold and jewels, but only enough to cover the floor. What is not commonly known about dragons is that they are great collectors. Many collect gold because to them piles of gold make pleasant beds. Even so, not all dragons collect gold. A dragon's collection is a personal choice. It can be anything that strikes a dragon's fancy. Dragons have been known to collect magical weapons, music boxes, and one even had an odd fascination with marbles.
This particular dragon collected books. The cave was crammed with them. They were piled to the ceiling, covering every flat surface that could be seen. Also the books were about everything: books on the secrets of the universe, the meaning of life, and even one on the art of making Jell-O.
The only other thing that was in the cave was an ornate mirror with a silver frame that was worked to look like branches and leaves of an oak tree. Next to mirror was a large green dragon wearing gold-rimmed glasses and reading a large book entitled: "Why the Sky Is Blue and the Grass Is Green". Adjusting her dress, she marched straight to the dragon and introduced herself in a peculiar manner that went something like: "Hello, my name is Honor. I come from the village below the cliffs. I'm here to offer myself as a meal. In exchange, you will not torment or destroy the village. Will that be acceptable to you?"
The dragon raised his head from his book and lifted an eyebrow answering, "My name is Keenan. Welcome, Honor, to my cave. Now, could you please explain how you came to the conclusion that I was going to attack your village, or eat you?"
Honor took at deep breath and explained, "Well, you are a dragon. All of the stories say that dragons destroy villages unless killed or appeased. Since we are such a small village without soldiers, we decided to try appeasement. So, if you please, can we get to the part of devouring me? It would be most appreciated."
Keenan looked at this tiny girl with utter shock and amazement. He then set his book aside and scratched his chin for a moment. He then lowered his head a little to get a better look at the girl and asked, "What makes you think I want to devour you?"
Honor looked at the dragon with some fear in her eyes and in a panic babbled, "Oh please Mr. Keenan, you must accept me as your lunch. Everyone is counting on me to do this correctly. If I offended you in some way, I apologize. I didn't mean it. You have to accept me as your meal. I can't mess this up," she finished in tears.
Keenan stared at her in shock for a moment. He then shook his head and answered, "You have not offended me little one. Maybe I didn't make myself clear with my question. It was not you in particular, but the idea of eating a human in general that the desire to nosh on is questionable. What got into your head that I wanted to harm anyone, much less devour a child?"
She took a deep breath and answered, "Well, you are a dragon, Mr. Keenan. All the stories say that dragons must be appeased with a sacrifice, or they will destroy villages near them. If you're not hungry, I can wait until you are."
The dragon sighed and shook his head a little. He then growled, "A couple of bad eggs and the whole world will condemn an entire species. Well, I shouldn't be surprised. People tend to dwell on the bad instead of the good. I can put your mind at ease on this whole thing. I have no intention of destroying your village, or eating anyone. I prefer wild game, with the occasional cow thrown in for variety. So, go back to your village and tell everyone that they are safe from destruction."
Honor wrapped her arms around her waist as if trying to hold herself together. She started crying loudly, "No! I can't go back. I couldn't bear to be overlooked again. This was my only chance to be useful. Please, don't send me back to the village. I couldn't stand it."
Keenan turned and looked at the mirror for a minute, and then nodded to himself. He then turned back to Honor. He then asked, "Don't you think your friends and parents might be happy to have you back safe and sound instead? They must have been upset about you coming up here to die. Go back and ease their minds. They will be happy, I promise," he finished with a plea creeping into his voice.
She shook her head with more force than probably was needed and answered, "No sir, you are quite wrong. They would miss me like missing a tapestry on the wall. They might wonder about it every once in awhile, but wouldn't really care enough to go looking for it. Please, don't send me back there. I'm of little importance in the village. Can't I just stay here with you? I won't be any bother, and I can clean."
The dragon sighed a little, and looked at the young girl with tears running down her face. He could tell that she wasn't going to leave unless he physically dragged her down the cliffs, and doing something like that wasn't going to do either of them any favors. He also didn't think he would be able to convince her anytime soon that she should go back to the village. Whatever caused her mindset was not going to be altered overnight. Resigned to that fact, he looked down at her and asked, "So, would you like a tour of the caverns? They're not the largest I've been in, but a person could still get lost if they don't know their way around."
After that Keenan and Honor settled into a simple routine. They would get up. He would go for food, and she would clean the caves. Later, Honor would go exploring throughout the caves, while Keenan read his great pile of books. At night she would go to sleep, while the dragon looked into his mirror before he slept.
One day Honor asked her friend why he read so much. He told her that anything he wishes to know, he could find in a book. Hearing that, Honor asked if she could read some books, because she had many questions that she wanted answered. Keenan was pleased, and happily gave her permission to read any of his books. He also hoped that the more answers she found, the better her opinion of herself would become. The more self-assured she became, and then the closer she would be to finding the strength to return home. Even though he did enjoy the company of this little friend, he knew she needed to be with other humans.
So, years passed with Honor and Keenan learning from books and each other. Every night the dragon gazed into his mirror looking for a way to help his little friend. One night after watching him look at his mirror for some time, Honor asked, "Why do you keep looking into that mirror? Is it magic or something?"
He laughed and answered, "As a matter of fact it is a magic mirror. Whoever stands in front of it and asks a question, the mirror will show the answer. It is a truth mirror, for it only shows the absolute truth. If a person really doesn't want to know the truth, then this mirror is useless to them. Would you like to look into the mirror and see what the truth is for you?"
Honor thought for a moment and then shook her head, "No, I don't think so. I already know the truth about myself. So, there really is no point to ask it anything."
The dragon nodded and went back to his gazing. He had hoped that Honor would make it easy to show her the truth, but he figured out the first day that his friend never took the easy path. So, he gazed into the mirror with his question and received a surprising answer. He then tapped his claws on the floor, lost in thought. When the plan completely formed, he nodded to himself and grinned a little before settling in for the night.
The next day Keenan put his plan into action. He looked at Honor and told her that he was worried about her being cooped up in this cave. She brushed his worries off, and assured him that she felt fine. He kept after her until she admitted that she was worried that she would be spotted during the day by the villagers. This could put him in danger, and she was not willing to risk his safety for a bit of fresh air.
Not to be defeated Keenan gave the argument a rest until he thought of a way around her objections. He then argued that she didn't have to go out during the day. If she was afraid that someone would see her, then she could go out and explore at night. The point was she had to get out, and if she felt more comfortable going out at night, then so be it. Honor agreed with him, and made plans to go out on the cliffs the next night. She was confident that he would be safe and she could make him happy by going outside.
What she didn't know, and what Keenan wasn't going to tell her, was that the next night would have a full moon. It would help to see where she was going, but it would also make it easier to be seen from the valley. He hoped that someone would see her and start the events that would help her find her place in the world. Until then his friend was just existing; hiding from life. Keenan felt that someone as brave as Honor shouldn't hide from life.
The next night Honor left the cave for the first time since she arrived to face what was now her best friend. She marveled at the sights and sounds that reintroduced themselves to her. Every leaf, every blade of grass, and breeze she soaked in trying to commit them to memory. She also felt the subtle embrace of the moonlight, while she stood on the edge of the cliff with her face turned up to gaze at its soft, quiet beauty.
If she had looked down at the village, she might have noticed the night watchmen watching her. It had been years since she left the village, but everyone remembered the brave and honorable girl, who had died to save the village from a vicious dragon. When a young maiden, bathed in moonlight, appeared on the cliffs, they believed that she was the ghost of that girl.
The next day, the story flew through the village until even the most antisocial person knew about the ghost on the cliffs. People started to panic with the idea of a ghost appearing on the cliffs. They were worried that it was a sign that the dragon would be coming back. They also were feeling guilty for letting a little girl die to keep them safe. The villagers wondered if Honor was haunting them because nobody avenged her death, and now another would be demanded to keep them protected.
The Elders decided that they couldn't ask another girl to give up her life, and they felt they owed it to Honor to make sure the dragon wouldn't harm anyone ever again. They had a meeting and this time came up with a plan that they were sure would help the village and respect Honor's memory. They gathered as much money as the village could spare and sent a trusted messenger with a note to the nearest stronghold to request help from the legendary fighter by the name of Sir Trahern.
A week later they got a response; just not the kind they were expecting. The message had been received by Sir Trahern, but he thought the story was exaggerated. Also he had received a summons from the king, which took precedence over a small village that didn't even appear on a map. Still not wanting to ignore a call of help, he decided to send his son, Sir Cleary to see about this so-called dragon.
As with most living-legends the children tend to be vastly different from the legend itself. While Sir Trahern seems to be made from iron and larger than life, his son was built like a sapling and could possibly hide in narrow spaces in the wall. Sir Cleary did have one thing going for him. He might not have his father's presence, but he did have his mother's clever mind. He was forever building things and conducting experiments that sometimes caused the castle to be remodeled suddenly. Because of this cleverness Sir Trahern knew his son could find out what was really going on in the village.
So, the village came out expecting to greet a great, powerful knight to save them from this living nightmare. What they saw instead was a tall, slender youth in armor that was much too big for him, on a horse that was weighed down by odd contraptions. They had some misgivings about whether he would be able to deal with a real dragon, but they were willing to hear his plans since he traveled a long way to help them.
He met with the Elders. They told him the whole story. When they talked about Honor, they spoke as if they were confessing the greatest sin ever committed. Sir Cleary could tell they were sincere in their beliefs about what was happening in the village. He also thought there was a logical explanation for these events. The knight didn't believe for a moment that there really was a dragon living on the cliffs waiting to devour maidens. He decided to go up the cliff path the next day to see what was really going on, and get some answers for these people.
The next day with a sword strapped to his back and a large pack slung over his shoulder Sir Cleary started up the path. On the way he collected soil samples and plant life to analyze later, because a person never knew where he would find a piece of the puzzle he was trying to solve. He also took detailed notes in a small battered notebook to make sure he didn't forget any items of interest he saw along the path.
Because of this, it was past midmorning before he made his way to the top of the cliffs. He looked around towards the edge trying to see if anything could be mistaken for a person walking around. Except for some pitiful looking bushes, there was really nothing but rocks at the edge of the cliffs. All the plant life was around the large entrance to a cave.
The knight started to walk towards the mouth of the cave to see if there was anything in there. There was; but, he wasn't expecting to see a young woman with a staff running towards him. He also wasn't expecting the young woman to yell at him, while repeatedly hitting him with that staff.
After being knocked to the ground, Sir Cleary braced himself before he was able to grab the weapon and yank it out of the angry young woman's hands. He then got up and screamed at her, "What is your problem lady? I just came up here to get some answers for the village. Did someone melt your sister or something?"
The young woman became silent and still as stone. He saw that her pale complexion became pasty white with his words. The knight frowned at her reaction. He was being sarcastic when he said those things. As far as he knew a human body couldn't melt. So, he didn't know what he had said that frightened her.
It became clear immediately when she choked out, "What do you mean; you came from the village for answers? There is no mystery here. Go back to them and tell them they imagined whatever it was they saw….please."
Sir Clearly had been told everything by the Elders, including how long ago the sacrifice was, and what the girl had looked like. He would bet his chemistry set that the young woman before him was the long-thought-dead Honor. He wondered why she was up here. When she saw there was no dragon, she should have returned to the village. The knight voiced his theory and questions to her.
She fidgeted a little and then answered, "Yes, I am Honor. I didn't return to the village because I knew they wouldn't miss me. I was really of no use to anybody down there. As for the dragon, his name is Keenan. He's really smart and awfully nice. Also he doesn't eat humans, he prefers wild game. So, there is no need of you services. Please, would you leave and not tell anyone what you've seen?"
He looked at her with a stunned expression on his face. Sir Cleary didn't know what shocked him more, the fact that this lady thought that no one missed her, or that she really thought there was a dragon living in the cave. He decided that he was going to have to convince her that there really wasn't a dragon, and that she was missed by her village.
Sweeping his fingers through his hair, he decided that the first thing to do was to prove to her that there was no dragon. With this thought in mind he marched into the cave. Unfortunately he marched himself right into the dragon and knocked himself down. The clash of his armor against the stone floor made a deafening sound, which helped spare his pride, because both Keenan and Honor couldn't help laughing just a little bit. The knight picked himself up and readjusted his armor. He then looked up to see what was blocking his path. What he saw was a large green dragon smiling and waving at him. After a second of this Sir Cleary blurted out, "I thought the name Keenan meant LITTLE ancient one."
The dragon looked at the young man and answered, "Well yes, that is true. I was a bit of a late bloomer. I didn't hit a growth spurt until I was over three hundred years old. I see your name is correct, learned one. So, what do we owe the honor of a visit from the great Sir Trahern's son?"
Honor stepped between the two of them. Giving Sir Cleary a little shove to give her more room to stand she answered, "He's here because of the village. They saw me on my walks. I told you that they would see me and cause trouble. What should we do to fix this?"
Keenan looked down at the two humans and tried to keep from grinning. When he had a more serious expression on his face he told Honor, "It's simple. You have to go back to the village and show them that there is nothing harmful up here. Once they realize that, all will be fine. If it makes you feel better, I can check the mirror."
The knight looked at the dragon and the young woman. He agreed with the dragon. Once the villagers saw that Honor had been safe all these years, then they would stop being nervous with a dragon living near them. Sir Cleary did notice that Honor was not happy with that idea. For some reason she really did not want to go back to the village. From the stories he was told about her she was a paragon, a living saint who could do no wrong. It was illogical; a mystery.
They followed Keenan into the cave to use the mirror. The knight, who has always loved books over weapons, was in danger of developing a sudden case of whiplash. Keeping his hands behind his back to resist temptation to start grabbing the nearest book and start reading, he followed them to the back of the cave where Keenan kept the mirror. He watched the dragon face it, and then while gazing into its depths made a noise that sounded like a musical but long aggravated sneeze. Sir Cleary turned to Honor questionly. She explained that Keenan was questioning the mirror in the ancient dragon language. He nodded and then stood silently next to Honor as the dragon watched for his answer.
Keenan nodded and turned to the two humans. He grinned for a few seconds as if he'd heard a good joke. He then leaned down and said, "The mirror confirmed my thoughts on the matter. The best thing is for you to go back to the village and show them that there is nothing to be worried about. Also it would be a good if Sir Cleary escorted you. I'm sure your appearance will cause quite a stir after being away for so long. He could help to get everyone calmed down. Does this ease your mind?"
Honor frowned and played with the folds of her dress. She knew that her friend had always wanted her to go back to the village, and now it seemed she would have to go back to keep him safe. She looked at the knight. She wanted to hate him for what had happened, but she knew that all of this really wasn't his fault. The blame was hers. If she hadn't insisted on staying here with Keenan then the villagers would know that there wasn't anything to fear. She nodded her head and sighed a little.
As Honor started to gather her few possessions for the descent, Keenan motioned Sir Cleary to join him by the mirror. He then said in a hushed voice, "I see you noticed that Honor is not happy about returning back to the village. It's a complicated matter that deals with perception. The town sees her one way, and treats her as they think they should. She sees their actions from a different perspective. Don't return home right away. Stay in the village and watch what happens. I think you and that clever brain of yours might be able to help. You are always welcome here, if you need answers."
The knight didn't know what to think of all of this. Talking dragons and maidens that resent being rescued were never mentioned by his dad during training. He was starting to wonder if he was cut out to be a knight. He looked for Honor and found her near the mouth of the cave fiddling with her bag. She looked like she was about to face another dragon. This one was not as friendly as her friend. He walked up to her and silently offered his hand.
They went down the hillside without saying a word to each other. Honor was nervous about the villagers' reactions. Sir Cleary was worried about Honor. Gone was the vibrant, if somewhat hostile woman. In her place was a quiet, sullen waif who seems to limit her movements for fear of making herself shatter. Sir Cleary didn't know how to help her through this, so he decided to just be there until he felt she would be able to stand by herself.
Soon they arrived at the bottom of the cliff, and reached the small trail that would take them to the village. The knight felt that he needed to stop and say something encouraging to Honor; but, the look on her face made it clear that nothing he could say would make what she was going through any easier. So, he tightened his grip on her hand and gave her a small smile of reassurance. She tried to give a smile back, but it fell short before it turned back to a worried frown. Then they both looked down the road, and braced themselves for what awaited them.
When they reached the village, the sun was just starting to set. The villagers were huddled in the town square waiting for the knight to come back with some good news. What appeared before them struck everyone speechless for a moment. They saw Honor, their long lost Honor, being escorted by the willowy knight. Some cried, while others laughed with pure joy at the sight. Everyone ran over to the new arrivals bombarding them with hundreds of questions, the first of course being where Honor has been all these years.
Honor stepped forward and explained to the village how when she arrived at the cave, the dragon, who was named Keenan, was more interested in books than destroying villages. She also explained how her friend wasn't interested in eating humans and was really a sweet dragon. She had a harder time trying to explain why she stayed with Keenan instead of coming back to the village.
Sir Cleary could see that she was having trouble explaining why she stayed away. He stepped forward and told them that she was curious about the dragon. Then he explained how she wanted to make sure that the village was truly safe from any threat. While he was telling the villagers this, Honor was either sneaking looks at everyone around her, or studying the ground like the dirt held the answer to some great riddle.
On hearing that the dragon was no threat and that Honor was back to stay, the villagers cheered. They hugged and thanked the knight and they hugged each other. With Honor they smiled and patted her arm or brushed against her hair. As each person did this, Honor's shoulders and head went down a little more. Sir Cleary was confused by how everyone was acting. He knew from what the villagers told him that they truly loved this woman. To watch how they acted towards her one would think that she just came back from a stroll instead of being gone for years. Even her parents seemed to greet her in a lukewarm manner. He realized that Keenan was right. He couldn't leave until he could figure out what is going on in the village. The knight turned to the Elders and asked if he could stay for a while. He told them he wanted to make sure that Honor was able to adjust to living with humans again. The Elders were more than happy to let him stay as long as he wanted. They felt that since he brought their Honor back, he was entitled to anything he asked.
For the next few days Sir Cleary watched the interaction between Honor and the other villagers. He soon saw what Keenan had meant by misperceptions. Even though the people talked to Honor and interacted with her on some level, there was still an invisible wall the separated her from everyone else. She helped with chores, answered questions, was always surrounded by people, and yet always seemed to be alone. The more he saw, the more confused he became.
Finally he had his fill of watching, and decided that the next step was to start asking the villagers questions. If he was going to figure out what is going on, and help Honor, he was going have to use a more active approach to the problem. Watching only went so far in getting answers.
He started with her parents. If anyone was close to Honor, it should be them. Three hours later, Sir Cleary was resisting the urge to tear out his hair. He spoke to everyone who knew Honor. They all said the same thing. She was wonderful, sweet, and could do no wrong. When he started to ask about some of their favorite memories of her, he wasn't told of parties or gatherings, but her acts of kindness and problem solving. When he did ask about games and dances, they would just look at him as if he had said something strange. They would then tell him how she was above such common foolishness. He was beginning to see what life was like for a person who was thought of as a living saint. It was very lonely.
Hearing how the villagers thought of Honor, Sir Cleary decided it was time to talk to the lady herself about the situation. He found her sewing near a group of women. It would be wrong to say she was sitting with them. As with all the other times the knight observed her with the townsfolk, there was a distinct line that separated her from the others. So she wasn't really sewing with them, but near them.
He walked up to the group, and greeted each of the women in the sewing circle. Each in turn greeted him with some words and a giggle. He then turned to Honor, and greeted her. She looked up with a start. He could tell that she wasn't expecting anyone to acknowledge her, much less start a conversation. Realizing they were now the center of attention, Sir Cleary asked Honor if she would like to take a walk. She looked at his pleading face, set her sewing down, and let him escort her toward the edge of the village so they could talk more privately.
After a few moments Sir Cleary looked at Honor. She had more color to her checks and the sun had streaked her hair. But she had grown thinner, her figure had become sharper. In other words, she was absolutely miserable. He could see it etched in her face. Part of him wished that he had never come to this place, because his arrival brought about her misery. The other part knew that if it weren't him, it would have been someone else.
He asked her how she was adjusting to village life. She answered him by just shrugging her shoulders and looking down. He then asked if she had reconnected with any of her old friends. The strength drained out of her, and she broke down crying. The knight tried to comfort her, but it only seemed to make her cry harder. Honor finally pulled herself together enough to shake her head and run from him and the village.
He followed her to make sure she didn't get into trouble. He saw that she ran to an old well that the locals thought granted wishes. He didn't know if it really did. But with the track record he's been having with logical theories lately, he decided it might be safer to calm Honor down before she wished him into oblivion.
As he came up from behind, she turned and stared at him for a bit. She then started crying again. Finally her sobs slowed down enough for her to speak. With tears still streaming down her cheeks, she said, "I can't stand it anymore. I was better off when they thought me dead. They don't care about me. I'm just scenery to them; an object that takes up room, that can be easily dismissed. I'm just nothing."
Sir Cleary was stunned by this revelation. Everything was in focus now. Honor had no clue how the villagers felt about her. She saw their actions as dismissing her. He could see how she would get that idea. In their need to be reverent, the villagers had completely isolated her from their lives. They had their little joys and moments that enriched their lives. Honor had nothing. She was a shadow that just floated through their lives without any real impact on them.
Looking at her he asked, "Why haven't you told them how you feel? If you are in this much pain because of their treatment, say something. Suffering in silence isn't going to help anyone. Their actions may be hurting you, but they have no clue. Tell them. Let them know that they are hurting you. I promise you, if they know, they'll try to change."
Honor held herself tight and took a couple of deep breaths. She then said, "I can't. Even if I did, they wouldn't listen. I should just accept that my life will either be in the shadows of the village or in a cave with Keenan."
The knight answered, "I never took you for a coward, Honor. Stubborn, pushy and rude I can see. But a coward, I would have never guessed. It's not that you can't tell them, but that you are afraid to tell them. For you it's better to believe that nothing can help. Because if it did, then that means you suffered needlessly for all these years. Grow up."
She glared at him as he spoke. When he finished, she said, "It's not that. Yes, part of me is scared to think that I've lived like this for nothing. But that's not the main reason why I can't tell them. Don't you see? If I tell them now about how I feel, they will be wracked with guilt. There would be more people hurt if I said anything. No, it's better if I'm the only one to suffer. I'll be fine. I'm used to living in the shadows."
With a slight nod, she turned and walked back to the village. Sir Cleary was left at the well, struck speechless. He shouldn't have been surprised. It seems with Honor he was always ending up slack-jawed. He did understand things a little better. Unfortunately, he wasn't seeing a solution to this problem. He somehow had become a bridge that the villagers would use to get to Honor, but he couldn't stay here forever. His father was going to start wondering about the situation. The only thing Sir Cleary could do was to go to Keenan, and ask for his advice. Maybe the dragon would have some ideas, because he was scraping bottom.
The next day Sir Cleary went back to Keenan's cave. The dragon welcomed him. The knight noticed that Keenan didn't seem surprised by the impromptu visit. If he didn't know any better, Sir Cleary suspected that Keenan expected him sooner, when he came through the foliage.
"Ah, Learned One. It's a pleasure to see you again. I trust that you have some questions for me. The situation is quite the puzzle, isn't it? I've had years to try to figure it out. The key, as I have come to see it, is you," he said.
Sir Cleary ruffled his hair and then answered, "I don't see how I can be a key to anything. I'm a mediocre knight, who has a tendency to cause explosions. Yes, I fix things, but I can't fix people. They aren't clocks that can run again if you replace a spring. People don't work that way. They're not logical. They're messy, emotional, and ever changing. How can I fix such illogical masses?"
Keenan tilted his head and studied the knight. The dragon could tell that Sir Cleary was frazzled. It made Keenan happy. He knew that if the knight was frazzled, it meant that he truly cared about Honor and the villagers. Someone, who didn't care, would have just voiced the situation loudly and left during the aftermath. Keenan knew that Sir Cleary would be staying for some time, even if the knight didn't realize it yet.
Keenan moved a little to the side and motioned Sir Cleary to follow him. They soon were standing in front of the mirror. The mirror was still as beautiful as the knight remembered. He turned to Keenan and asked, "So what do you want me to do? I assume you have a plan. If not, then we are going to have to think of one quick. Honor is about to break, and I think the villagers can sense her moods even if they don't know why she's so upset."
Keenan smiled a little and said, "You may think differently, but you are the key to this puzzle. Sir Cleary, you understand Honor better than anyone. Have you not yourself lived in a shadow? Always people refer to you as Sir Trahern's son. They never let you stand on your own name, but keep you in the shadow of your father. Honor is kept in her own shadow. They have this idea of her, and they won't get close enough to truly see her. Also it has become even more tangled by the fact that she doesn't know how to encourage them to come closer. It's a delicate problem. Maybe you should ask the mirror how to solve this. Don't worry that it won't understand you. It speaks truth. So, it knows all languages."
Sir Cleary faced the mirror feeling a little uncertain about this plan. He sighed knowing that there weren't many options. Looking into its silvery depths, the knight wondered how he could help the villagers and Honor out of this mess. The instant those thoughts entered his mind, the mirror's surface started to mist and swirl into different shapes. The shapes came together and formed his answer. He looked at Keenan and realized that the dragon already knew what he would see. Sir Cleary asked, "Well, do you have any suggestions on how we are going to pull this off with our heads intact?"
Keenan smirked a little and responded, "What do you mean by 'we'? You are the one to accomplish this task. The mirror has shown you the truth of things. It is up to you to manifest it. I'm just a dragon. I can't see any human listening to me, no matter how open-minded they might think they are. So, I will wish you luck, and if you need someone to talk to, you know where to find me."
Sir Cleary glared and him. Keenan's answer wasn't an answer at all, but a slight of hand in the form of words. The knight didn't know if he could do this on his own. He did know that he was going to find out soon. Gathering his thoughts, he asked Keenan, "Has Honor ever looked into the mirror and asked a question?"
The dragon was somber when he answered, "No, and not from my lack of trying. That girl has her own ideas about things. She is confident in what she thinks, and what she thinks is that the village doesn't need or want her. Since she is resolute in her thinking, Honor feels that she doesn't need the mirror. I do have to say that things would have been easier if she had just looked into the mirror. Of course you'll notice that she doesn't get that concept."
Sir Cleary sighed his understanding. He looked back at the mirror, and was surprised by what he saw. He then turned back towards the dragon, who was nodding his head as if to encourage him. With an idea in his head the knight said, "Well, I better write my father to let him know that I'm going to be staying here longer than planned. It wouldn't do to add him to this mess. While I'm trying to untangle this knot, pray to whatever god that's yours. I have a feeling that I'm going to need all the help I can get."
The knight thanked Keenan, and then started to hike back to the village. On the way Sir Cleary tweaked and refined his idea until he had what he felt was a workable plan. When he arrived at the town, he greeted a few people, but really didn't stop to talk to anyone. He told the innkeeper that he wanted his meal in his room, and was not to be disturbed. He explained that he needed to write a letter to his father to let him know that he was staying here for a bit longer, as he didn't want him to worry. He then spent the rest of the night tinkering with his plan, ripping words out of his brain, and trying to slam them to the paper for his father.
The next day he handed the product of his self-torture to the post, and went in search of Honor. He worried about how she handled things while he was visiting Keenan. He found her near the lake. While many of the villagers where playing, eating, and gossiping, Honor was sitting under a weeping willow, with a droopy plate of food. He walked towards her on gentle feet, so as to not give her a hint of his approach.
He studied how she was bowed over the plate while the willow branches gave her little embraces with the encouragement of the breeze. He didn't think he could conjure up a sadder image. The knight then made a sound to give her warning of his presence. When she looked up, he asked, "Why are you over here by yourself? You need to join in the fun."
She just shook her head and went back at staring at her plate. He looked back at the group of villagers. Most seemed unaware of the meeting under the willow. Her father did notice. The grimace that twisted his mouth showed that he was not happy that Sir Cleary was talking to his daughter. The knight decided that her father was the first person he needed to line up in order to make his plan work.
He walked over to her parents and made a short bow, while giving a bright smile. Sir Cleary then said, "Hello Sir and Madame. It's a wonderful day for a gathering by the lake. I'm glad that everyone is taking advantage of this fine weather to enjoy themselves. I did notice that Honor doesn't seem to be enjoying herself like everyone else. It must be hard trying to reconnect with people you haven't seen since you were a child. It can be terrifying even for someone as brave as Honor. Looking at her over there, most people would see a serene lady, who was content to keep an eye on all those she loves. What I see is woman who knows how to handle a dragon, but is lost when it come to dealing with people. Not to say that she wouldn't be happier if she could become a part of their lives. Have you talked to her about it? You know, about how you both could help make this transition easier for her?"
Honor's father was a gruff and burley man. Some would have mistaken him for a bear with his build and hair sprouting everywhere. He grumbled and then said, "My name's Thankful. 'Sir' doesn't fit right with me. So, I'd be appreciative if you'd stick with that. The thing you have to understand with Honor is that she's always been special. She came to us when her mother and I had lost hope for a baby. When she started walking and talking, it just seemed like she was born knowing what to do. We're in awe of her. How do you connect with an unearthly being, who should probably be holding court with the Fae or some other-worldly beings. She should not be trapped here with such earthly creatures, who can't understand much-less connect with her. She may have come from her mother and me, but she's not ours to keep."
Sir Cleary stared slack-jawed at the man. He then said, "She's your daughter. Honor belongs to you more than to anyone else. If she doesn't belong with you, then where does she belong?"
Thankful just smiled and said, "Why, with you of course. My wife noticed it right away. I'm not too pleased by it since Honor just came back. But life has a funny way of doing things on its own. You've must have known, if not from the first moments of meeting her, then at least the first few days. If not, then for a smart man, you're pretty dense."
The knight cleared his throat, and then responded, "Um, Thankful, the first time I met your daughter, she mistook me for a bug to be squashed. This whole situation is hard for me to wrap my brain around. It's like a magic trick that I can't quite figure out. It's annoying, and frustrating."
Thankful looked at him, and said, "It's Honor. If this was just an annoyance, then you would have left the first day. It's more. You are fascinated by her and this place. Where else can you go up a hill to have a chat with a dragon? This place changes everything you thought you knew about how the world worked. Honor has made you question what you wanted out of the world. You usually are comfortable questioning things, but you're not usually questioning your place in everything. So, I can understand how this might be uncomfortable for you."
Shaking his head, Sir Cleary answered, "Thankful, I'm always questioning my place in everything. Even though I know my parents love and support me, I really don't fit with them anymore. It's their place, their home. I'm still looking for mine."
Honor's father responded, "Here's the thing you have to remember about homes. They aren't really a place. There's really not a spot on the map that person can point to and say, 'that's my home'. Home is usually always with a person. People are what make a place a home. People are why someone responds to a place and says 'that's my home'. So Cleary, who's your home?"
Thankful went back to his wife and left the knight to think about things. He understood now why Thankful and his wife kept their distance. They believed that their daughter was going to be leaving again. Sir Cleary felt uncomfortable about how they thought she was going to leave. He looked around at the rest of the villagers, and wondered if they were thinking similar things. He also realized that even though the mirror showed him the truth of things, and the path, it didn't show how everything was going to end. The only thing he knew was that he couldn't leave the situation like this. He decided to go where the food was set up. Food always helped with his thinking.
A few minutes later Sir Cleary was back at Honor's side juggling three plates, which had their strength tested by the wonderful samples of home cooking. Plopping down next to her with his goodies, the knight started chowing down on his portable feast. As he fueled his mind with food, he noticed that Honor was still picking at her meager portions. He wanted to help her, but he didn't think he could change how the people felt about her. Part of him didn't know if he wanted to. The problem, as he saw it, wasn't how they thought of her, but how they treated her because of how they thought of her. Maybe instead of trying to change their reaction to Honor, Sir Cleary could try and change how she sees their reaction. The knight chewed his bread while thinking how he might accomplish this task.
After emptying one of his plates of its bounty, Sir Cleary decided to feel things out with Honor. Bracing himself he asked, "Why don't we go over and talk with your parents? They seem interesting. I wonder how he got the name Thankful. It's an unusual name. You don't meet many people with a name like that. Your mom seems to be more on the quiet side. She's content to let your father do the talking. Come on, it could be fun."
Honor just looked at her plate and sighed. She then added her plate to his collection, got up, and walked away. Sir Cleary got up and followed her back to the well. As he watched her looking into the well and sighing, He got angry.
Before he could think on it, Sir Cleary stomped up to her and said, "What is it with you? I'm trying to help you. How can I help you, if you won't help yourself? Nothing will change: they won't change, if you don't. Sighing in a well, and picking at food away from everyone is NOT going to change things. Talking to them will. They're in awe of you, Honor, and they also expect you to leave again. That's why they act that way. And don't tell me I don't understand what's going on, I do. Unlike you I do talk to people. It's amazing what you can accomplish if you just talk. So, come on Honor, talk."
She just looked at him in amazement. She couldn't have guessed that anyone could get that furious and not destroy something. And Sir Cleary was angry; there was no mistaking it. She then said, "It's easy for you. They don't know you. They haven't put you in a box and closed the lid. Once you're in that box, it's hard to climb out. I tried talking to them before Keenan came, but they never listened. So, I just stopped talking. I gave up. It's sad for a child to give up hope. I did. I gave up the hope of having friends, family, even someone to love and accept me. Then Keenan came. I thought if I couldn't be a part of the village, then I could be a part of the legends. They would talk about the brave little girl, who sacrificed herself to save the town. They would forget that they knew me; forget that I walked down their streets, shopped in their stores, and visited their homes. I was fine with that, because I would finally belong in some way. I knew that coming back would mean getting shoved pack into that box again. So, I've decided to just accept it, and stop fighting with their beliefs. It's less painful that way. Also if things get too tough, then I can just go and visit Keenan. It will be fine. You can go home with a clear conscience."
He looked at her and finally understood something. He then said, "You expect me to leave. You've been waiting for it this whole time. It puzzles me why I like you so much. You're quick to temper. You rush off without thinking things through, and you are beyond stubborn. Even with all these headache-causing reasons, I still like you. I don't leave someone I like when they need help, and you do, Honor. You can't last like this for the rest of your life. Both you and the villagers have twisted your image into something that doesn't reflect the real you. Someone is going to have to bend; change their viewpoint."
Honor sighed and then answered, "Well, you might as well give it up. You can't change a person's opinion like a reflection. A person's opinion is less tangible and yet much harder than anything that I know. If I knew how to do that, I would have done it long ago."
Sir Cleary eyes seemed to light up and big grin spread across his face. He asked, "Do you trust me? My idea won't work, if you don't trust me. But if we pull this off, then I think everyone will be happy. I'll have to leave for a little bit, and I can't really tell you about it. So, do you trust me?"
Honor stared at him with a critical eye. She knew there was much more to this than he was letting on. She also felt that it wasn't a matter of him not being able to tell her, but he wouldn't tell her. With that thought running around in her mind, she made the second biggest decision of her life. She looked at him and said, "Yes, I trust you. Be safe and hurry back."
The next day Sir Cleary packed and told everyone that he had pressing matters that needed his attention, but that he would be back as soon as he could. He left with as much fanfare as he had received when he arrived. The days turned into weeks. The villagers still stayed away and Honor didn't try to fix it. She missed the knight. Other than Keenan, Sir Cleary had been her only friend. She didn't know it would hurt so much to not have him around. Because of this, Honor was grateful for the first time in her life that everyone tended to leave her alone. She was able to wallow in her misery without having to worry about hiding her feelings from anyone.
What Honor didn't realize was that even though no one came near her, they could still see that she was suffering. This unsettled the villagers. Honor was their strength, their rock. They were indecisive about what to do to help her. Some wanted to leave it alone and hope that it would work out by itself. Others wanted to go to the knight and bring him back to face Honor. Since they couldn't agree, they did nothing but hope that the waiting would soon be over.
While the others dithered, one person made a decision. Faith may have been a quiet woman, but saw much of what was happening around her. She saw her daughter's pain, and the villager's lack of action. She had always left most things to Thankful, but her husband seemed to be at a loss as to how to help his daughter. Faith felt she couldn't leave things they way they were.
She found Honor at the well, staring into its depths. She walked up to her daughter and watched as Honor quietly suffered. She then said, "He's not in the well, and no amount of wishing will bring him back."
Honor looked up, startled to hear her mother's voice. It was such a rare thing, that it took a second for Honor to realize that Faith had spoken. Honor answered, "I don't know who you're talking about. I just came here to think, nothing more."
Faith raised an eyebrow and gave her daughter a look. She responded, "Daughter you are a great many things, but a liar is not one of them. You miss the knight that is obvious. Everyone has noticed. I just left the villagers in a raging debate on how to help you. Some are hoping that you will get over this sadness and return to your wonderful self. Others, and I might add the majority of people, want to drag Sir Cleary by the scruff of his neck back here to answer for leaving you like this. I also will add that your father is on neither side. He wants to help you, but doesn't think that forcing the knight back here will help you. I tend to agree with him. So I'm going to start by asking a very simple question. One I should have asked a long time ago. Why were you so eager to face the dragon?"
Of all the things her mother could have asked, this was not a question she would have expected. It made her pause for a moment. She answered, "Because no one needed me. I was just an outsider. Everyone else seemed to have a future; something to look forward to. I just had loneliness. I thought death was better. At least it would have meant something. People would be safe, and I would finally be a part of something."
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Faith said, "We have treated you badly. Others can be excused, but I should not. Honor we all love you. When we thought you were dead, the village mourned for years. Your death left this town bleeding. It's hard to show love to someone greater than you. Because of our ignorance, we almost lost our greatest treasure. Don't ever think that you are not a part of the village. Everything you do; everything you feel affects us all. Please Honor can you forgive me for being so blind and ignorant of your pain?"
Honor hugged her mother, and answered, "There is nothing to forgive. You are my mother. I'm just happy that you are here now. Don't worry about Sir Cleary. He said he'd come back, and he will. I trust him."
As if to echo Honor's words, a few days later Sir Cleary came back. He was dirty and worn out. Even in his state of exhaustion he made it a point to see Honor before he found rest. The villagers were speculating about what was going to happen. As the day went on the rumors were becoming outrageous and even bizarre. Still the knight said nothing about where he went or why he was back.
The next day Sir Cleary had a private talk with Thankful. What it was about no one knew, since both parties were close-mouthed about the meeting. This just added more fuel to the speculations.
The day after, Sir Cleary went to look for Honor. He found her once again in the sewing circle. He did notice there was something different about this gathering from the last time. The other women were talking with Honor. Since he had left, it seemed that some bending had taken place. He had also noticed coolness from the villagers when he talked to them. He had expected that, and didn't care as long as Honor was happy. He stood next to her and asked, "Do you want to take a walk with me? You can ask as me any questions you want."
Honor smiled and stood up. They walked for a few minutes before she let loose with her questions. She asked, "So, where did you go, and why did it take you so long to get back?"
Sir Cleary answered, "I went back home. I didn't want my father thinking that I was in trouble, and needed him to bail me out. It seemed best to show him that I was still alive and well. The reason that it took so long is kind of complicated. I was hoping if I left that maybe someone would do something to bridge the gap between you and the village. After a week there, I realized how hard it was going to be to stay away from you and the village. My mother noticed and asked me what was wrong. I told her everything. Then she gave the most unusual response. She laughed. She was laughing so hard that my father came running to see what was going on. She just looked him and through laughing spurts said that Keenan was up to his old tricks again. My mother has been friends with Keenan for years. It seems we don't have to worry about my father trying to slay your friend. He tried to do that once and mother knocked him out with a rock. Seems that's how they met."
Honor tried to get over the shock of the fact that Sir Cleary's parents knew Keenan. She even understood what he was trying to do by leaving the village, and wasn't angry about that stunt. She did latch on to one thing, and asked," What did your mother mean that Keenan was up to his old tricks?"
Sir Cleary smiled and answered, "Nothing more than the fact that Keenan likes to fix things without appearing to fix things. He believes it builds character. My leaving did make me realize one thing. I now know where my home is. If you will have me, I would like it to be with you. So, Honor will you be by my side for the rest of our lives?"
Honor took his hand and smiled, "Of course. I've been waiting for you for years. I just didn't know it until you left." As she finished they both heard cheering from among the trees. It seemed that the villagers couldn't take the suspense any longer. So they hid behind the trees to hear what was going on with Honor and her knight. From their response there could be no doubt the Sir Cleary would be welcomed.
Honor and Sir Cleary were happy living in the village. Of course it wasn't perfect. Someone might slip into the old habit of isolating Honor, one of Sir Cleary's experiments would go amuck, or a visitor would be startled by one of Keenan's visits; but, in spite of a few bumps here and there, once again the villager lived in peace and harmony.