A Rose, A Dragon--A Los Nefilim Vignette

I wanted to post a short Valentine's Day Los Nefilim story for you, but I got sidetracked. You see, while the Spanish do observe Valentine's Day, they have a much cooler celebration on April 23, which is St. George's Day.

Like any other legend of St. George, it goes something like this:

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A dragon came to a village and began to terrorize the people. The dragon demanded that the villagers should feed him--first with sheep, then cows, horses, and finally with people. A lottery was developed, and of course, a princess was chosen to be sacrificed to the dragon. Enter St. George, who killed the dragon in order to save the princess.

This story has one minor difference: when the dragon died, its blood fell to the ground and formed a rose, which St. George presented to the princess.

In Catalonia and other parts of Spain, it has become the tradition on St. George's Day to give your loved one a rose for love and a book for culture. Barcelona comes alive with the scent of roses and open air stalls with books for sale.

So here is a very short vignette for you, whether you celebrate Valentine's Day or St. George's Day. Unlike the Los Nefilim novellas, no one dies and there is no great adventure. It's just a slice of life scene, but since so many folks have seemed to enjoy the moments with Diago, Miquel, and Rafael, I thought you might like "A Rose, A Dragon."

A Rose, A Dragon

Diago paused outside his son’s room and frowned. Another soft sniffle penetrated the silence, confirming what Diago suspected: Rafael was crying.

Across the hall, Miquel was already abed, where he awaited Diago to join him. Diago glanced at the closed door and sighed. His lover would have to wait a little longer.

A thin web of moonlight trickled through Rafael’s window and wound around the pure white rose Miquel and Diago had chosen for Rafael. Beside the rose was a book with the picture of a white cat on the cover: El Gato Sanson y Otros Cuentas. It was St. George’s Day, a day of roses and books, and they had all exchanged their carefully chosen gifts earlier in the afternoon.

Rafael had been delighted with his gifts and had even read passages from Sanson to his kitten, Ghost. Whenever he came to a word beyond his comprehension, he merely made up the rest of the story to a disinterested Ghost. Diago and Miquel, on the other hand, had thoroughly enjoyed Rafael’s attempts to instill culture in his aloof feline, who was far more interested in chasing the shadows on the floor.

Attuned as he was to his son’s moods, the sudden shift to tears troubled Diago. He entered the room and asked, “Are you all right?”

Rafael squinched his eyes shut and feigned sleep.

Diago couldn’t help but smile. The boy was a horrible liar.

Ghost had already settled into her spot on Rafael’s pillow and curled around his head. She blinked up at Diago with her odd eyes--one blue and one green--and gave a soft purr.

Diago stroked the kitten’s back and let his fingers trail into Rafael’s thick curls. “Why do you cry, my ositio?” The nickname “little bear” often won Diago a smile, but not tonight.

“I’m asleep,” Rafael whispered and hunched his shoulders as he burrowed deeper under his covers.

Strangely enough, Diago wasn’t convinced. “Do you want to tell me what troubles you?”

“No.” He sniffled. “I am very happy.”

Diago sat on the edge of the bed. “You have tears in your voice.”

Rafael shrugged.

Diago didn’t move. Patience, he had found, was the key to unlocking his son’s many moods.

Moments passed and the moonlight made an imperceptible shift across the table. When Rafael spoke again, the words came tumbling one over the other until Diago had to listen very closely to hear why his son was so aggrieved. “I miss Mamá. If I’d been older or stronger, I might have saved her from the bad angels like St. George saved the princess from the dragon. I would have made those mean angels go away, and then she would be here to celebrate with us, and I would give her a beautiful rose, the most beautiful rose in the whole world, and a book made of leather so it would truly last forever.” The pronouncement was followed by a sob that wrenched Diago’s heart.

So there it was. Juanita, Los Nefilim’s doctor, had warned Diago that Rafael’s grief over the loss of his mother might take a while for him to resolve. The child was so afraid of being abandoned again that he tried to pretend everything was fine all the time.

Without a word, Diago gathered the boy in his arms and sat him on the edge of the bed.

Rafael blinked through his tears as Diago put on his shoes. “Where are we going? Are you sending me away?” A note of panic carried the last word high.

Diago soothed the child’s fear. “We are going to make a rose for your mamá.” Although it will be more for you, my osito, Diago thought as he buckled his son’s shoes.

A new wave of tears covered his cheeks, but the fear was gone from his words. “She won’t see it, Papa. She is dead.”

“I will tell you a secret,” Diago whispered. He put his mouth against Rafael’s ear. “Even the angels don’t know everything. She may be here--” he touched Rafael’s chest “--or anywhere.” He gestured to the moonlight. “So just in case, we are going to make her the most special rose in the world.” He took Rafael’s hand and led him from the room.

Ghost settled onto the pillow, content to have it to herself. Diago didn’t want her to follow, so he shut the door and led Rafael outside. The warm April air greeted them with the promise of summer, so they left their coats on the hooks by the door.

They walked to a spot in the yard, where the moon touched the earth. Diago evaluated the stars and their position, making a much greater show than necessary, but the longer he took, the more Rafael calmed. When he was satisfied Rafael was serene enough to sing, Diago positioned him beneath the moon, and then he took his place closer to the stars that formed Pleaides.

He faced his son. “I want you to sing of your love for her. And tell your mamá of your grief. Give her your sadness, too.”

“But how is that the same as giving her a rose on St. George’s Day?”

“You sing, and I will show you.”

Rafael bit his trembling lower lip into submission and thought for a moment. “Can it be anything?”

“Sing from your heart,” said Diago. “Anything.”

Rafael nodded and cleared his throat. Two more heartbeats passed before he parted his lips and released a soft note, which grew stronger as he sang. His loss and his love turned into vibrations of sound. Diago snatched the colorful ribbons from the air--blue for his sorrow, gold for his love--and he shaped the strands of magic into a rose. As he formed the stem, he deliberately pricked his finger on one of the thorns. Three perfect drops of his blood fell to the earth, but Diago made no note of the wound.

Rafael, caught deep within his song, did not notice his father’s cut. Instead, his gaze followed the contours of the rose petals, dyed crimson and silver--the color of his angelic mother’s eyes.

The rose glittered with the magic of his voice as Rafael came to the end of his song. His tears were gone and his voice had grown strong.

On the last note, Diago threw his arms wide. The rose that was not a rose but was a song shot upward and into stars.

“There,” Diago whispered in the ensuing silence. “No matter where she is, your song will find her.”

Rafael came to Diago’s side and took his hand. “Was St. George a real person, Papa?”

Will I ever understand how this child thinks? Startled by the sudden shift in topics, Diago took a moment before he answered. “His name was Jordi, and he was a powerful Nefil.”

“Did he really slay a dragon?”

“Yes.”

“And did the dragon’s blood really turn into a rose?”

“Yes.”

They stood quietly for a moment, and then Rafael said, “I would slay a dragon for you, Papa.”

“And I would slay ten thousand for you.” Diago gave his son’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Are you ready to go to bed now?”

Rafael assessed the stars and said, “Yes.”

They went inside. When they opened the door to Rafael’s room, Ghost lifted her head from the pillow and gave a great yawn. She rose to greet Rafael, who immediately removed his shoes and got into bed. “I’m okay now, Papa. Everything is okay.”

“Good.” Diago kissed the child and tucked him beneath his covers. As he left, he heard Rafael whispering to Ghost and telling her about the rose he had made for his mother. Diago didn’t admonish him. Rafael talked himself to sleep every night.

Diago slipped across the hall and found his lover engrossed in his novel.

Miquel looked up and set aside the book. “Is he calm now?”

“Yes.” Diago took off his shirt and folded it.

“Good,” Miquel reached across the bed and tugged Diago down. “Because I have a song for you.”

* * *

The next morning Rafael found the new rosebush first. He came running into the kitchen and wouldn’t stop talking until Diago and Miquel followed him back outdoors.

“See?” He spread his arms wide and cocked his head. “This is where we stood, Miquel.”

Miquel glanced at Diago, who confirmed Rafael's facts. “It is indeed.”

“And it has three roses on it already, Papa. They grew there last night." Rafael backed away a pace and frowned at the rosebush. "But there was no dragon. I thought the roses came from a dragon’s blood.”

“They do,” said Diago with a smile.