Episode #42: Dragons’ Eyes: a Poem and Folk Song from The Thirteenth Hour
Today’s episode is about a song that I originally started started writing as a part of a chapter in The Thirteenth Hour. Finally got around to finishing it. It’s a bit of a folk song. Here’s the passage that talks about it:
Then she looked up at me, through reddened eyes, and I struggled to say, “I thought I would never see you again … I’m so glad I found you.”
She nodded, and I wiped her tear–streaked ashen face with my sleeve, trying to maneuver around the burns and scabs. After a time, her eyelids began to fall, and then right when I thought she might be drifting off to sleep, she laughed a little.
“Do you know, Logan, that since you’ve left I haven’t sang or hummed any of the songs I used to like? I just thought of one now.”
Do you remember when I said Aurora could sing? I suppose anyone who can talk can sing, but not everyone likes to. Aurora did. She had a quiet, mid–range, soothing voice that she liked to use when she was at her work, in the garden at the orphanage, or to quiet some of the younger kids there. I was never sure where she learned her songs – I think she made most of them up – and was never sure how she remembered all the lyrics. She did write some down – I think I remember her saying that was her main motivation for learning how to read – but really, it seemed like she had them all in her head. I learned the melodies, just by being around her and hearing her hum them, but kept getting the lyrics mixed up.
“Which one, Aurora?”
She coughed, and said, “Do you remember ‘Dragons’ Eyes’?”
I did – it was, at one time, a ballad often sung to young children to lull them to sleep. Then people forgot about it for a long time until a rather dodgy traveling bard used the melody in a love song that became very popular. His version was the standard tripe about star–crossed lovers who meet, fall in love, fall out of love, make up, break up, etc. So, of course, people loved it. And that’s how they rediscovered the more somber original version.
It told of a magic place hidden from view where anything you wished for could come true. The second verse mentioned a land of gold, and even though that was only one of the possible things one could wish for, it was the one people remembered. But to get there, you needed dragons’ eyes. Once you had them, east would become west, west would become east, and there it would be (to be honest, I never really understood that verse). Anyway, men never found it, the song said, because they killed off almost all the dragons trying to get their eyes, but it was a pair of living eyes you needed.
The last verse, the one the bard used as the basis for his song about human lovers, was actually about two young dragons, a male and his female mate, who’d been wounded and spotted by their human hunters. The dragons managed to crawl into a cave, which the men surrounded. After waiting for a long time, the dragons knew they had to either fight their way out or die in the cave from hunger and blood loss. But they had had enough of fighting and felt too weak to have much of a chance. Finally, they decided that instead of simply giving up and dying where they lay, they would go to the mouth of the cave, but not attack the men. Then the dragon gods would know they were not afraid, and perhaps their deaths would be quick.
And that’s where the song ended. It didn’t say what happened to the two dragons, but I remember hoping that the hunters would be touched by their courage and let them go. They must have, I reasoned, because if they had killed them, the last of their kind, there wouldn’t have been any more dragons today, and of course there were. All in all, a rather strange subject for a lullaby, but it had always been Aurora’s favorite song.
“I remember how it goes, Aurora.”
“Could you … sing it to me? It’s been so long … I can’t seem to remember how it starts now,” she said, looking both sad and puzzled.
My heart sank a little further as I realized the toll the past year must have taken on Aurora if she no longer remembered her favorite song. It meant the girl I knew from yesterday was gone, and a different woman had taken her place. But whoever she’d become, that’s the way it was. I thought of how the tables had turned – Aurora had always sung to me, and now, I would sing to her. (Just be glad you weren’t there).
“Um, sure, Aurora.” I cleared my throat.
A long, long time ago,
From legends dead,
There comes a tale
From which it’s said:
There is a place –
It’s hard to see.
East of here,
And West of there.
Where all the eye can see
Is made of gold.
And so it goes,
The story rolls.
Twisted ’round by man
In ambitions cold …
“Oh, I remember, now,” sighed Aurora. “You know, of all the things that have changed, it’s nice to know your singing’s still the same.”
“Yeah, thanks a lot.”
She laughed. “I always liked your voice, though. Would you mind singing the rest?”
I bumbled on the best I could, though I didn’t remember all the words. But Aurora filled in for me, except for once near the end, when I looked down and found Aurora asleep. I leaned my head on the wall and kept my arms around her as I sang the remaining verses softly to myself, just so I could refresh my memory. One day, under better circumstances, we would sing it again together. Long after I had finished, I heard the melody, which was usually played on a mandolin if an accompaniment was being used. The chords resonated through the night, and something about them seemed to grow in timbre and encircle us in a protective sphere.
A pixelart dragon from the vaporware Thirteenth Hour game
You can hear an acoustic guitar version on this week’s podcast. The song will eventually become part of the soundtrack, which you can find here.
Speaking of which, previews and discussion of music and movies that inspired the soundtrack is on Instagram under @the13thhr.ost. Since Instagram recently changed their videos to allow 60 seconds of footage, I’m considering making 1 min 80s-synth style versions of some of those favorite influential 80s songs. It’s hard to distill the essence of a great song down to just 1 minute … but it might be a fun exercise and different that the usual tribute. Look for those soon!
Lastly, check Twitter for weekly and bi-weekly Amazon giveaways (look for #AmazonGiveaway on social media)- free to enter; you can enter each week until you win if you want.
More on the creative process next week with author Missy Sheldrake. Preview links below!
As always, thanks for listening!
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