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The Dragon's Boy

The Dragon’s Boy

Published by G. Wulfing at Shakespir

Copyright 2016 G. Wulfing

 

 

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Table of contents:

The Dragon’s Boy

About G. Wulfing

 

The Dragon’s Boy

Prologue:

Landscape.

 

Blue and green, like an embroidered tapestry thrown and draped over the earth, like a rich quilt or lush rug, the land was spread out. In the mild, early morning light, a river gleamed like silver thread, winding between green hills. Beyond the hills the mountains rested, a deep distance-blue wash over the dark green of their forests. The sky above them was a soft pale blue; utterly peaceful. On the lower slopes of the foothills, and in the rolling green pastureland before them, small wood and stone houses clustered, and in one gentle fold in the land they gathered together to form a sheltered village. Hedges and grey stone walls wandered over the curves and into the little valleys, dividing dark brown ploughed fields from tawny ones of stubble and verdant ones inhabited by tiny white puffs of sheep and slightly larger brown spots of cattle. Lines of willows beginning to turn yellow marked the edges of streams. Small birds chirped and twittered. The air was dewy and crisp with the beginning of Autumn.

High on her hill, beneath an ancient pine wood that lay opposite the mountains and their foothills, a crimson dragon looked out at the land, noting again how beautiful it was. She wondered how long it would be before the people here, too, chased her away. She shifted her hind legs slightly where she sat, and winced. There was a gaping, unhealed wound in her left flank where a sword had bitten her.

The tapestry glimmered before her, blue and green and silver. It really was beautiful.

The dragon sighed.

 

 

 

I.

Despair.

 

Down in the village below the mountains, a boy stacked firewood against the side of a wooden barn, taking it from a cart while the black cart-horse dozed patiently in its traces. His uncle had told him to start collecting fuel for the Winter from the woods on the hills above the village. The boy had driven the cart uphill, gathered dead branches and chopped up an old log that he had found, and brought the load back.

The boy was an orphan. His name was Jack. He lived with his uncle and aunt, who appreciated the facts that he worked hard, only had to be told anything once, and rarely spoke. The other people in the village ignored him, mostly because of the last fact. He was strange; too quiet; a bit queer perhaps. He was harmless, wouldn’t hurt a snail, and did not seem to mind being ignored; so they ignored him. Occasionally, some of the other boys would mock him, but he never reacted and never had, so in general they left him alone.

Jack’s uncle kept pigs, and it was Jack’s job to clean out the sties. The pigs liked him because he was not loud nor boorish nor unsympathetic, unlike many of the youths in the village. Jack liked animals.

He patted the cart-horse’s broad black neck as he led the animal around to the front of the barn. Between them they backed the cart into its place, then Jack unhitched the traces and stood unharnessing the horse. Jack’s uncle was proud of his animals and took good care of them, calling each by name, while he and his wife frequently referred to Jack as ‘boy’, a custom followed by their children, who also used ‘Pigjack’; not really as an insult, just a label, a name. Jack answered to everything.

 

–––––––

 

Up on the hill opposite, under the edge of the pine wood, a creature who had been called far worse names lifted her weary, ragged wings. She was thin and ribby from hunger, having flown for three days and two nights from her last home, without finding anything to eat. Exhausted, she had half crash-landed on this hill, and had slept for a night and a day, then woken and dozed for another night. Now she had to find food.

She flapped several times, drawing her hind legs under her with a flinch of pain, then leapt into the air with a big downward stroke of her wings. She fluttered feebly before thumping to the ground, letting out a shriek as her hind legs collapsed underneath her. The sound carried out over the valley. The dragon hoped that no one had heard it.

She dragged herself back under the shelter of the pine wood that blanketed the crest of the hill and the slope behind her. There would be no food here, she could tell; it was the wrong kind of wood.

The dragon rested for a few minutes. She did not think she could last another day without food. There was no water on this hill, either. She had to move, and now, before she grew any weaker. There would be food in the village, but the dragon knew better than to try there. She must make for the forest beyond it, on the mountains.

She slithered out from under the pines again, her scaled tail dragging softly through the deep pine-needle carpet underfoot. Again she pushed upwards from the ground, again she thrashed with her stiff, weary wings. This time she managed to struggle into the air, and she flew off ungracefully to her right, parallel to the mountains, in order to avoid approaching the village. After a minute or two she turned and headed for the mountains, estimating that she was distant enough from the humans’ habitations not to be seen. As she flew, the small amount of energy that she possessed drained from her wings and body and she lost altitude, so that she flopped onto a slope considerably further below the tree-line than she had meant to. Collecting her rattled body, she crawled, panting, up the mountainside, past grey boulders, half-embedded in the turf, that littered the slope, and lay down, wheezing, in the shelter of the trees.

For a few moments she lay still on her belly, neck outstretched, her mind blank with exhaustion.

Then she dragged herself upright. Food. Was there any food here? She could smell water further up.

Before long she found the stream: broad, shallowish, and rocky bottomed, running away downhill to her right. There were huge rambling blackberry bushes growing at its edge – at last! The dragon ate every berry she could find that was black or even red. Her tough crimson snout nosed deep into the bushes, plunging in as far as her long neck would reach. Once she had combed through the berry bushes, she lay down in the stream, drinking again and letting the cold water numb her bruises; but it stung too much to let the water touch her wound.

After a while she clambered up onto the bank. As she heaved herself out of the stream, her tail struck the water with a splash that wet the blackberry bushes.

The dragon looked around at the woods. This place would do, for now, at least. She crawled away to look for somewhere to rest.

 

–––––––

 

For six days the dragon ranged the slopes of that mountainside, finding berries and wild apples and crabapples, drinking from pools and clear, fast-flowing mountain streams. She ate mushrooms and toadstools, even poisonous ones like the red, white-spotted fly agaric. She licked the tacky, sugary sap from tree trunks where branches had broken off, scraping up the hard-set dribbles with her sharp teeth, which left them sticky. She would scale the trunk like a cat, digging her curved claws into the bark and wrapping her long tail several times around the tree, and would cling there like an oversized lizard, to the consternation of the birds, stroking the sap meditatively with her tongue.

The dragon began to regain her strength; but as the days passed, the sword wound in her leg grew inflamed and sore; then swollen and buzzing; until finally it began to throb.

Now the leg was too painful to use, and the dragon limped slowly beneath the trees, impelling herself forward with only the toes of that foot. Climbing was now too difficult.

The dragon had to roam far to find enough food to keep her alive. With a painful, almost useless leg, she could not do so. Within a few days, worn out by hunger, pain, infection and loneliness, she grew weak again.

The dragon had spent her entire life being harried from place to place by humans. They thought of her as a flesh-eater; a devourer of sheep and cattle; a poisoner of water; a breather of sulphur and toxic vapours. A deadly serpent; a loathsome Worm. A killer of lambs and maidens. A servant of the Devil.

Why, the dragon did not know. She had given up trying to understand decades ago. In the two hundred or so years that she had already lived, the dragon had not spent more than twelve years in one place. She would land, make a den or two and forage quietly; but however careful and secretive she was, sooner or later someone would spot her tracks, and the humans would come after her. Sometimes a swineherd, gooseherd, or shepherd, or a hunter or traveller, would catch a glimpse of her flying above a plain or across a mountainside, and soon there would be knights with their squires or hunters with their dogs tracking her. Sometimes a village would detect her living nearby, and there would be peasants armed with farming tools searching for her. Sometimes the humans would hunt her for years before cornering her. Usually she fled as soon as she knew that they were aware of her, but occasionally she would be surprised and caught before she could leave. Her tattered wing membranes bore the traces of many battles: pitchfork stabs, arrow holes, tears, and nicks; and all over her body were faded scars from torch burns and various cuts and gashes. She had missing scales, a twisted claw on one foot, part of a spine on her head cut off, and two of her ribs had been broken by a club and had mended awkwardly.

All of these had healed, eventually. But the dragon knew that she was hated. And that was the deepest scar of all to bear.

Somewhere deep in her dragon’s heart, a voice would wonder, What is the point of living? She was no use to anyone. No one valued her, except perhaps as a trophy.

There were no other dragons. The humans had done away with them all. Someday they would do away with her, too.

 

–––––––

 

As the dragon’s wound grew more and more painful, life for Jack continued as normal. He cleaned out the pig-sties, helped to pick apples and plough fields. Every night he slept on straw in the barn, just as he had done every night since the house had become too full of his cousins to accommodate him also; and, since Jack was one of the eldest children in the household, and since he was an orphan, he was the one to sleep in the barn. Jack did not mind. It was peaceful in the barn, and he liked being with the animals: five brown cows and their calves, the black cart-horse, and a flock of hens that roosted in the barn. Their quiet noises would soothe him to sleep every night.

As the dragon on the mountainside lay halfway in a pool in the forest, trying to cool her burning leg in the water, and staring up at the crescent moon, the orphan called Jack lay in the barn, not thinking about anything in particular except the work that was to be done tomorrow. That was what he thought most about – the work he was doing. But occasionally one other thought would tap him on the shoulder …

Every now and then, Jack would pause in his tasks and gaze up at the mountains behind the village. He wondered what it was like on their high slopes, how far one could see from their peaks, and what was on the other side of them. He had never asked, so no one had ever told him. Jack didn’t want merely to be told. He wanted to know because he had been there.

As the dragon gave a fretful, dismal shudder that sent chilly Autumn ripples through the moon’s watery mirror-self where it lay encircled by the dragon’s crimson tail, the thought of the mountains came to Jack and again filled his mind with their blue-greenness. As Jack drifted off to sleep, the dragon flexed the claws of her left foot slightly, laid her head down on the bank, and gave a deep, deep sigh.

 

–––––––

 

In her wanderings, the dragon had come close to the village – closer than she would have gone if she had realised where she was. But a creature in pain and hunger does not think clearly all the time. As the moon moved through the sky, and its other self in the pool left the circle of the dragon’s tail to follow it, a breeze brought a smell to the dragon: the smell of ripe apples. The dragon’s stomach gaped like a cavern in response, and her tongue flowed with water. She swallowed. They smelt so near!

The water swirled silver and black as the dragon left the pool.

Where were they? The sweet, ripe apples! The smell was strong – there must be many of them. The dragon crawled downhill, weaving through the trees and carrying her left hind leg so that it scarcely touched the leaf litter. When these trees were bare in Winter, what would hide a crimson dragon then?

Almost at the edge of the forest, the dragon halted. She should have smelt the village before! There it sat, about a hundred paces away down the slope. So intent as she had been on the smell of the apples in the storerooms, she had disregarded the other scents of the village. Disappointed, the dragon looked at the human-made buildings of wood and stone. She could see them clearly in the dim moonlight, her slit-shaped pupils dilated like a cat’s. It was not worth the risk. She turned, her stomach blopping and gurgling emptily in protest.

She struggled back uphill, digging in her foreclaws and heaving herself up, straining with her working hind leg, pushing against tree trunks with her tail. She knew that she was leaving an obvious trail, but she could get up the slope and back into hiding no other way. After she had slept she would have to move on, far away from the village so that the humans would not find her.

Her progress grew painfully slow. At last she could not move any further. She lay exhausted in the leaf litter, hoping that she was far enough from the village to avoid detection for a few hours …

Within seconds, she was sleeping like a stone.

 

 

 

II.

Defeat.

 

A whiff of smell sounded an alarm in the dragon’s brain before she realised what the smell was. HUMAN!

The dragon’s head whipped up and her eyes opened. Immediately the youth turned and ran for his life downhill, his footsteps crashing through the forest.

Oh no, no, no! Not now, when she was too weak to fly away! The dragon began to heave herself up the slope, further away from the village. Every movement was flailing and uncontrolled. The human’s yell of alarm floated back up the mountainside: “Draagooonn!”

The dragon rested for a moment in a clearish spot, her heart pounding with fear and effort. Even her heartbeat felt unsteady and light. She spread her wings, flexed them, and thrashed with them, trying to beat strongly, refusing to let fear weaken them, willing herself into the air. For a moment she lifted, but not enough to break gravity’s hold. She beat harder, bludgeoning the air; but it was no use. Her tail had not even left the ground.

With the same sense of futile despair that she had felt since scenting the human, she inched onwards, toward a grassy clearing cropped short by rabbits.

It was a morning just like the one on which she had looked out at the landscape before crossing the valley. Above the clearing on the mountain, the sky was a soft, peaceful pale blue. The air was cool, crisp, and hazy, with the slight chill behind it that tells of Winter’s coming. The dragon reached the far side of the clearing, turned her back to the trees, and waited, facing downhill.

 

–––––––

 

Within an hour, the men were following her trail up the mountain. The youth who had found her was with them. The dragon heard them coming, and sighed.

Somewhere in the forest, Jack chopped at a heavy, fallen branch and threw the pieces of wood onto the cart. At the distant sound of the village boy’s cry, the black cart-horse’s ears had flicked around; but Jack, his ears full of the song of the axe, had not heard it. He did not know that his uncle was storming up the mountainside with a hayfork, wondering whether the dragon had already found Jack, but reluctant to call for him lest the sound alert the dragon to the villagers’ approach.

Jack paused in his chopping. In the moment of silence, the horse pointed his ears behind him, listening. Jack turned and listened too, hearing what the horse heard: distant rustlings and low voices. Men, proceeding up the mountain.

It was unusual for a large group of men to come into the forest together, but perhaps they were hunting, or trapping, or felling. Jack was about to resume chopping when he thought he heard his name mentioned. Were the men looking for him? Had they been calling him, and he not heard it because of his chopping?

He doubted it; his uncle knew that Jack had gone to collect firewood; but his uncle would be angry if he had been calling and Jack did not answer. So he put the axe safely into the cart, and followed the quiet sounds uphill. The horse would wait until he returned.

The men were travelling faster than he had thought; Jack had to hurry in order to catch up with them.

 

–––––––

 

Standing in the clearing, her eyes fixed across it at the trees, the dragon waited.

 

–––––––

 

Now the voices were closer; uphill, to the right. Jack followed their tracks. The group seemed to be larger than he had realised: the trail they had made was easily discernible. Jack scrambled further up the slope. Suddenly there were scattered shouts and exclamations from the men: “There it is!” “That’s it!” Jack could hear apprehension in their voices.

He hesitated; then continued.

 

–––––––

 

The dragon watched the men step to the edge of the clearing and halt, staring at her. She had seen it before: the pitchforks and hayforks, the long knives, the home-made spiked clubs … weapons with which to hurt and kill her. The nervous aggression and fear. She was the dragon; the hideous beast; the enemy fit to be killed. Once again, as she always did, she wondered why. Why did they do this to her? Why did they hate her?

 

–––––––

 

The men from the village looked on their foe, the fearsome dragon. They saw the huge, battle-scarred wings that must have brought terror to many villages; the sharp, curved talons that were stained dark with blood; the snapping, crushing capability of the jaws – how many men’s skulls had those teeth pierced? – the snakelike shape and ugly scaly hide; the evil-looking, slit-pupilled yellow eyes and unnaturally spiked back. This foul beast, this loathsome apparition, would never terrorise their valley. They would get rid of it here and now.

 

–––––––

 

Maybe it was because she was fit only to be hated. But it didn’t really matter why. If this was life, then the dragon had had enough. What was the point of being harried and tormented from one place to another? What was the point of being forever hated, abhorred and punished? What was the point in living?

Why bother? Why not just give up? She might as well die at the hands of these villagers as at anyone else’s. She would die soon anyway – a slow, agonising death of hunger and infection and misery. She had had enough. Let it be over.

So the dragon stood, gazing at those who hunted her as they gripped their weapons. Even if she could have flown away she would not have. Great despair filled her heart, and now a deep sadness came upon her. It was so sad that now she would die here; for a reason that she did not know, having lived a spurned life.

The dragon gave a last, deep sigh.

 

–––––––

 

The orphan called Jack, staring through the trees at the edge of the clearing, looked upon the dragon. He saw the huge, tattered wings that had carried the dragon so far; the sharp, curved talons that were not attacking anybody; the long, narrow jaws that were not snapping or breathing deadly fumes; the snakelike shape and battered, scaly crimson hide, the impressively spiked back –– 

And most of all he saw what was beyond the slit-pupilled yellow eyes; the pain and sorrow, the fear and confusion, the great despair and the deep sadness; and the terrible loneliness. He saw the defeat.

In a low voice one of the men said, “I think it’s already wounded. In that hind leg. See?”

“Good;” muttered another, “that’ll slow it down. Er – where’s the rope, Smith?”

Now, confronted by the cornered dragon, they hesitated, a little unsure of themselves. But there were running footsteps, and suddenly Jack was in the clearing and had run to stand in its centre, between the men and the dragon. “Stop!”

Astonished and consternated, the men stared at this interruptor. “What are you doing here boy?! Get out of the way or it’ll kill yer!” Jack’s uncle commanded.

“You mustn’t kill her.” Jack’s voice was only as loud as it needed to be.

“‘Her’?!” His uncle had never been more incredulous.

“The boy’s gibbering,” exclaimed another villager.

“You mustn’t kill her,” the boy repeated stoically, unmoving.

Jack’s uncle tried to explain. “You don’t understand, boy. Dragons are dangerous, bloodthirsty beasts. They’re completely savage. We have to kill it before it attacks the village. So stand aside boy, and let us do the job.”

“Out of the way, boy!” another villager growled. Jack did not move.

“Give me three days with her and you won’t see her again,” said Jack clearly.

The men could not believe what they were hearing.

“What?!”

“Let the beast go? Are you mad, boy?”

“Not see ’er again? Aye – ’cause we’ll be dead!”

“And you can promise that, I s’pose?”

“Don’t be daft, boy,” said his uncle, taking a step toward him, with one wary eye on the dragon beyond.

“Three days,” said the boy, stepping backwards, towards the dragon.

The villagers looked at the dragon. Its eyes were half closed and its head had sunk lower. It was injured already and seemed to be weakening. It might die soon anyway and save them the danger of trying to kill it. And if it didn’t die within three days, it would be so much the weaker when they did come to kill it. None of them wanted to risk an injury more than was necessary. And if the simple boy got eaten, what did they care?

Jack looked at them. “She’s dying anyway,” he said calmly.

 

–––––––

 

Once the men had left, Jack having directed his uncle to where the cart was, the boy turned and regarded the dragon. As he watched, the dragon’s head sank into the grass. She saw what had happened, but she did not understand what this young human wanted. It did not matter. She would die soon. Her body too sank to the ground, and she lay uncaring.

Jack approached the dragon slowly, murmuring a soothing string of nonsense, studying the creature. Her scales were crimson, with a dull waxy film on them that was probably unhealthy. Near the lower parts of the jaw, neck, belly and tail the colour gradated smoothly to rose pink. Jack guessed that it probably became even paler on the dragon’s underside, like a sunset: he couldn’t see because the dragon was lying on her belly. The spikes that rowed themselves along the dragon’s spine were the same crimson as the scales on her back and on the ‘fingers’ of each wing; but the wing membranes themselves were rose pink and semi-opaque, with a faint tracery of veins visible. Each wing had a curved claw at what would have been the thumb of the wing if the wing had been a hand; and the long, outermost finger of each wing was armoured with a horny ridge running partway down it from the wingclaw. On the dragon’s tail, the spines diminished in size, almost vanishing at the tip, where there was a solid, hard-edged point like an arrowhead. On the neck, too, the spines were smaller, but the grew in size on top of the head to form a horny, bumpy ridge on the forehead, then they shrank and petered out down the slope of the dragon’s nose. The head was narrow and bony, almost fine, the crimson scales turning finer and paler around the face. Jack gazed at the creature in wonder. The dragon was beautiful.

But there were so many scars; so many discoloured patches and missing scales, and tears in the wings. And that wound: it was swollen and weeping, the scales crusty with blood. Jack stood assessing it. It was horribly infected and would not heal quickly. It needed washing and the infection drawn out …

He drew level with the dragon’s head and stood a little beyond arm’s reach. “I’m called Jack,” he said softly. “You need help. I can help you.”

Through the dark haze that had descended on her mind, the dragon heard the gently spoken words. What did this human want with her? The dragon opened her eyes halfway and gazed dully at the human. At first, she barely registered the upright human shape with its light-coloured skin, the light-brown hair and blue eyes. Then she looked again at the eyes. They were bright, the colour of the sky in high Summer, and there was an expression in them, an emotion that did not match any other emotion she had seen in human eyes. It was not anger, nor hate nor terror, nor amazement and horror, nor intent to kill. What was this human feeling? And why had it spoken so quietly? Had it really spoken to her? Other humans had spoken to her, but aggressively, and with abhorrence or vindictiveness, usually loudly. She had rarely spoken back, because they never seemed to hear her.

Jack spoke again, looking into the half-open yellow eyes. “I can help you.”

Surely the human was speaking to her. She answered it, gazing back into those eyes. “What do you want with me?”

The dragon’s jaws hadn’t moved, but Jack had heard her quite clearly and unmistakably. It did not really surprise him that the dragon could talk; he had expected an answer. He seemed to have known from the first moment he saw her that she could talk. “You need help,” Jack said again. “I want to help you.”

The dragon could see that the human wasn’t just repeating itself – it actually had heard her. ‘Help’? “What do you mean?” she asked it.

“Your leg is hurt. You’re dying. I want to help heal you.”

The dragon was conversing with a human, and the human was saying that it wanted to heal her. Impossible. It didn’t make sense. The dragon closed her eyes.

“Can you hear me? My name is Jack, I want to help you. … Are you awake?”

There was no response. Jack stepped closer.

“Can you hear me, – dragon?” he asked softly. It seemed wrong somehow to call this injured, hurting beast by that fearsome, terrible name, but that was what she was. … Or so he had been told. He reached out and carefully, as unthreateningly as possible, touched the dragon’s neck.

The dragon lay limp, waiting for the blow to fall or the blade to stab through her neck.

Slowly, very gently, Jack began to stroke the dragon’s neck with his fingers. After a moment he carefully stepped closer and began to stroke with his whole hand, slow, caressing strokes, murmuring his calming half-mumbles. The dragon did not twitch.

The dragon wondered faintly what the human was doing, moving its hand over her hide like that. Was it some sort of ritual the humans made before killing their enemies?

Jack’s hand felt the smooth texture of the scales, and brushed over the stiff raised welts of scars. Tenderly he traced the line of one with his forefinger, wondering how old it was and how the dragon had received it.

“Dragon,” he said, “you must wake. Is there water near?”

Why was the human taking so long a time, the dragon wondered. It did want to kill her, did it not?

Finally Jack touched the dragon’s head tentatively, near the edge of her jaw. Then he stroked the nose briefly. At last, a little nervously, he knelt close by the large, wedge-shaped head, and lifted it onto his lap. It was heavy and weighed down his knees. It lay on its side, one large eye encased in delicately-skinned eyelids of pink, the line of the jaw long and curving.

What was this? The dragon’s lightless eyes opened.

“Listen to me.” Still caressing the head with one hand while the other kept it on his lap, the boy tried to hold the dragon’s gaze, to stop those yellow eyes closing one more time, perhaps permanently. “I want to heal you. But you must not give up. If you give up, you will die though I do everything in my power. You don’t have to die. You can find somewhere safe to live. But you mustn’t give up.” And that was the longest speech that the orphan Jack had ever given.

And the dragon asked the great question: “What is the point of living?”

The boy looked into that great, slit-pupilled, yellow eye, and saw so much to be pitied, and a soul so like his own, that tears began to well up. The dragon saw the tears, which puzzled her but then seemed familiar, and she saw in the blue, round-pupilled eyes of the human something she had never seen but now identified. And suddenly something happened to the dragon’s eyes that had not happened in over a century: tears welled up in them; but she did not know why.

“Is there water near here, O Dragon?” asked the boy.

“Yes. It is further up the mountainside.”

Jack pointed. “Straight up this way?”

“Yes.”

Jack lowered the dragon’s head back to the ground, giving it a final stroke; and went first to the village to take, unseen, all of his few possessions from his place from his aunt’s and uncle’s barn, along with a bucket and some rags, and several handfuls of herbs from their garden. He left the herbs in the clearing with the dragon, and went in search of the water. The dragon lay still, two dragon-sized tears trickling down her cheeks, still feeling the human’s touch on her hide, and found herself expecting its – the human’s – return.

The boy brought water from the pool and cleaned the dragon’s wound, then bandaged it with herbs to draw out the seeping infection that possessed it. Then he brought more water for the dragon to drink, and asked her what food she required. When the dragon had told him, he roamed the forest until he returned with his tunic full of food, including berries and wild apples for himself. In the few hours of daylight left, the boy and the dragon rested. Then, before the forest grew dark, Jack brought one more drink for the dragon, and they both slept, Jack lying at the clearing’s edge, wrapped in his cloak, a few paces from the dragon.

Though her aching wound was only slightly soothed by the cleaning and the herbs, and though it was new and strange to have talked with a human and to have one sleeping near her, the dragon slept better than she had in weeks.

At dawn the next day Jack woke, fetched water, searched for some fresh, wild herbs, and waited. The dragon slept until noon. When she awoke, Jack washed and rebandaged her leg, then told the dragon that tomorrow morning they would have to move to the pool. “My uncle and the other men from the village will return tomorrow.”

 

–––––––

 

At noon the next day the villagers entered the clearing. Three whole days had not yet passed, but if the dragon was not dead, the men did not want to be fighting it in the dark, just as Jack had guessed. The clearing was empty, but for a single wooden bucket in its centre. The dragon, and the boy Jack, were gone.

For a few minutes, the men called for Jack.

“Shall we search for ’im?” one of them asked.

“No,” replied Jack’s uncle, after a pause. “The boy made his choice. He’s old enough.”

“What if the dragon ate ’im?” another speculated. Jack’s uncle shook his head.

“There’s not any blood on the grass,” one man said.

“The boy had a way with animals,” mused Jack’s uncle, as he turned and they left the clearing.

As far as the people of the village were concerned, Jack’s life had ended. They suspected that they would not see Jack again, and in this their instincts were correct. But for Jack and the dragon, their lives were soon to begin.

The dragon had managed, with a great effort, to fly to the pool, so she left no trail in the leaf litter. Jack had watched her go in wonder, then placed the bucket in the clearing and followed, leaving no tracks. From beside the pool he had heard the men calling, and their voices echoing faintly up the mountainside. When they stopped calling, he knew that they had turned away. His decision was complete, and his own. Now only freedom waited.

 

–––––––

 

As soon as the dragon was completely healed – a matter of a few weeks – they left the pool, the peasant boy walking beside the lizardlike dragon, and headed deeper into the forest, upwards, further into the mountains. Jack went where the dragon roamed, and ate what she ate, but for the things that he knew to be poisonous. At last one day the dragon asked, “Why did you help me?”

“Because you needed help,” said Jack simply.

And that was all the answer that there could be.

 

–––––––

 

One day they reached the top of the mountains. Below their feet were huge, green-forested slopes, stretching down forever, and beyond those was what seemed like half the world: plains, valleys, hills, lakes and rivers, reaching to the horizon.

Jack stared, feeling the vastness of the world, feeling his freedom. He lifted his arms into the airy boundlessness of the blue sky around and above him.

“If you flew, could you bear me on your back?”

So the boy padded the dragon’s spines with his woollen tunic, and straddled them in a kneeling position, cleaving hard to the spines in front of him. And the dragon launched herself from the peak.

For one moment, it was terrifying.

And then, once the boy found his balance, and they soared higher and higher until they were impossibly high, untouchably high, gloriously limitlessly inestimably high, the orphan boy threw back his head, flung his fists to the air and whooped from the depths of his being.

And something that had been rising in the dragon’s heart with every beat of her wings now exploded, and she too threw back her head and hurled a long, bugling trumpet-cry into space, and it was glorious, glorious, wonderful and unbearable and glorious.

THIS,” roared the boy to the dragon, “THIS IS LIVING!

“I know!” shouted the dragon, “I see!”

And both yelled together, “I’M ALIVE!”

 

–––––––

 

For more than a year the boy and the dragon wandered together, lingering where food and water were plentiful and moving on from where they were insufficient. After a few weeks the dragon finally understood the meaning of the stroke, and her heart beat more deeply at the feel of Jack’s hand.

One night, in a cave halfway down the side of a valley, the dragon and Jack watched a thunderstorm rage. The sky was black with cloud, the lightning vivid and bright, and wind blasted the valley. As the dragon regarded the river at the bottom of the valley, swollen and turbulent from the heavy pelting rain, she thought with dread of what could happen if Jack were swept away in that roiling stream and the dragon unable to rescue him.

“What if I were ever to lose you?” she asked aloud, sadly.

The boy came and took the dragon’s face in his hands.

“You would survive,” he said calmly.

“But what would be the point of it,” said the dragon softly.

There was a long moment of quiet from the wind; and the sound of the rain and the rushing river filled the cave.

“You are a dragon,” the boy said at last. “Just by being a dragon you gift something to the world that no other creature can bring. … You are lovely, necessary, unique. You are special.”

“I wish we could bind ourselves to each other, become part of each other so that we need never be alone,” said the dragon.

Silhouetted dimly in the entrance to the cave – the boy straight and almost as tall as the dragon, with her large, spiky outline, whose head he held in his hands – Jack bent his smooth-skinned forehead to the dragon’s hard ridged one.

“I know what you mean,” he said.

 

–––––––

 

A short time later, the dragon was lying down on the floor of the dark cave, and Jack was sitting with his back against her right side. The dragon curved her neck around to look at Jack.

The dragon asked, “Would you ever leave me?”

The boy reached up his left hand to hold the dragon’s head, so that he was gazing straight into her large, yellow eye. In the dim light, the dragon’s pupil was round and black. In the lightning flashes, the dragon could see that Jack’s own eyes were as blue and intense as the lightning’s fire. The boy moved his other arm, which had been resting draped along the dragon’s side, and clasped the left side of the dragon’s jaw with both hands, keeping her head turned to look at him.

The boy kissed the dragon on the cheek.

“No,” he said. “I would never leave you.”

And the dragon opened her long, fanged jaws and closed them round the boy’s left shoulder and chest, whereby she could pierce his breast in an instant if she chose; and Jack, knowing this, relaxed, and, resting his hands lightly on the dragon’s jaw, caressed the smooth scales with his thumb. The dragon closed her eyes, feeling the boy’s heartbeat against the teeth of her lower jaw. After a few moments she put her head in the boy’s lap, and, with Jack leaning into the crook of her neck and stroking her, in the utmost expression of trust, she abandoned all defences in sleep.

 

–––––––

 

Another year passed. That Winter, before the first snowfall, the dragon and the boy lay sleeping within in a thicket in a wood, tangled close together for warmth, the dragon’s tail curled tightly around the boy. Above the pair the sky was heavy, low and pale grey. The trees were bare.

There was a soft noise of crushing leaf litter. The boy’s eyelids cracked open. He blinked awake. Through a gap in the bare branches that surrounded him and the dragon, he could see human clothing. There was a man, a man standing ten paces away in the trees, facing him!

Jack held his breath. Had he and the dragon been detected?

The man advanced one slow, stalking pace, and Jack had his answer.

With a violent yell of warning Jack struggled out of the dragon’s embrace and leapt to his feet. There were running footsteps through the leaf litter, and the sound of crashing branches came from all directions. “Dragon, fly!” screamed Jack. The man that he could see was running toward him. Jack glanced behind at the dragon. She was on her feet, rearing, wings spread, smashing the twigs around her. All around Jack and the dragon, men were closing in, ragged, bearded men with ropes and nets in their hands. The first man whom Jack had seen grabbed him. Jack struggled, twisted, elbowed and kicked. With a blasting, reverberating roar at the man, the dragon towered over him; but the man held Jack in front of him, facing the dragon, like a human shield. The dragon turned on the others and breathed fire in a sweeping semicircle, causing the men to cry out and back away, and the branches of the thicket to crack and blacken instantly. Jack and the man holding him gasped. Jack arched and thrashed again, desperate to get away. A rope sailed through the trees from Jack’s left and its noose snared the dragon’s crest. The dragon shook it off and snapped at the thrower, dropping to all fours as she lunged. Then she was rearing again with a flap of her wings, scattering fragments of charred twigs, and roared her threat at the man who held Jack. The men behind her were closing in again, their ropes and nets at the ready. “Dragon, there’re too many! Fly!” Jack beseeched her.

Again the dragon whirled, and hissed blazing gold flame at them, but this time they dodged. Jack cried, “Dragon, if you love me, fly! Fly!”

The dragon threw a last glance at him, and with a scream of misery and fury, beat into the air, circling above the thicket. An arrow zipped up at her, puncturing and passing through her wing membrane, and she rolled sideways in the air in belated evasion; then, as more arrows began to pepper the air, she climbed higher and flew out of Jack’s sight.

Within moments the dragon returned, flying above the thicket whereat Jack had been captured. But the men, and the boy Jack, were nowhere to be seen. The dragon landed with caution, suspecting an ambush, but the area was empty of humans. The dragon searched for footprints, for a scent trail; but she found nothing. All day the dragon searched, listening, sniffing, circling the area. Into the cold black night she searched. But the men had disappeared, and had taken Jack with them.

The dragon howled, Jack’s last words echoing in her ears.

 

 

 

III.

Death.

 

After many long, dark and frigid hours, the sky began to lighten and turn grey. A Winter’s day was dawning, but for the dragon the sun would not rise again until she had found the boy who had rescued her. By mid-morning she curled up in weary, troubled slumber, having searched all night.

When the dragon awoke, she once again looked over the area she had examined; then she flew over the area, spiralling outwards, overflying a larger and larger section of the wood. On her outstretched wings, the first white dots of snow fell.

All that day and all the next she searched, scarcely stopping to rest or refresh herself, eating whatever she came across that was edible. For days she searched, and then for months, and slowly the months piled themselves up into years. Silently and single-mindedly the dragon searched, thinking of nothing but how to continue her quest to find the boy Jack. In a colossal, ever-widening spiral the dragon lived and flew. She hunted over mountains, into valleys, across steppes and grasslands and deserts, over rivers and lakes, forests and scrublands and moors. On dark nights she even dared to search villages, towns, and cities; landing outside them and creeping quietly in to sniff for Jack’s scent. Sometimes she would be made known – usually by the humans’ animals detecting her and raising a noise. Then a few humans would stagger blearily out of their dwellings, armed with clubs and torches, and if it was a city the guards on the wall would shout, “Who goes there?” But the dragon would be gone, flying swiftly away into the night at the first sound of alerted humans.

Over many realms the dragon flew; over kingdoms that mourned the deaths of old rulers and kingdoms that celebrated the births of new ones; through regions with old wars and regions with new peace. Golden suns sank; silver moons rose. Seasons passed; – snow, rain, heat and leaves all fell in their turns, and still the dragon searched, through thunderclaps that rolled from a grey sky as she crested great mountains, and sun that beat down on her back as she crawled through shining golden wheatfields.

On and on she searched.

 

–––––––

 

One night in midsummer, the dragon sat on a small round hill, a knoll, and gazed at the day-old moon. It hung in a deep kingfisher-blue sky, a thin crescent like a sliver of a perfect pearl, gilded slightly by the sun which had sunk beyond the world into the night. But, seeming still to want to bless the world with its light, the sun shone on the moon, which mirrored the sun’s light in a pale reflection – gilded silver instead of pure gold – as though to say that ‘though it may be night, day is not dead’. Near the moon, on the right, hung the evening star, as beautiful as only a star can be. They were like partners in a dance of forever: crescent moon, evening star. The dragon gazed at them; themselves so far away, yet their beauty right here, right in front of her.

The sky became deeper and deeper blues. The star glinted, the moon glowed, and the great mantle of night drew over the landscape.

And the dragon’s heart grew a few beats older.

 

–––––––

 

For a creature that has lived for two hundred years, ten years is not an age. But for a creature that is searching for the one thing that made its life worthwhile, ten years is as long as two hundred. The dragon knew that humans do not live as long as dragons. And that they are easier to kill. She had searched the land looking for the boy Jack, the human who had rescued her, and she had found nothing. She could not do anything more. She hoped, with the last forlorn thread of hope she possessed, that he was safe.

Lying in a large, natural, grey stone cave partway down a hillside, the crimson dragon closed her eyes. For the three-thousandth time she relived the sensation of a boy’s gentle hand on her hide, stroking her with the tenderest, most sympathetic caresses. For the three-thousandth time she recalled the boy’s face: the light brown hair, the bright-blue eyes the colour of the sky in high Summer. I am sorry, Jack, she thought. I am sorry that I could not find you. And, deep in her heart, the dragon said, Thank you. I thank you, Jack, for saving me. I thank you for being with me. I thank you for coming to help me. I thank you for … for your unwarranted love for me. I love you too.

It was sunset. Outside the cave the sky was brilliant crimson, the clouds stretched across the sky like great wings, glowing with pure, blood-red colour. The sun blazed above the horizon. The dragon opened her eyes to look once more upon the scene. The magenta light washed over her hide and her yellow eyes where she lay, and filled the grey stone cave with roseate light.

The dragon sighed.

Then she closed her eyes and again laid her head down on the floor of the cave. Her long dragonish form was draped full-length, wings folded. It lay still.

 

–––––––

 

“Dragon?”

The young man stepped further into the cave. His voice was full of trepidation. “Dragon?”

Suddenly he rushed towards the long shape. He stroked the face, then knelt and lifted the big, limp-necked head into his lap. He held his hand at the dragon’s nostrils to see if there was any breath.

Through a mist, the dragon heard the voice that she had heard in her dreams every time she had slept for the last ten years.

“Dragon … wake.”

She must be dreaming again. That voice, that touch, that smell … she knew them so well! So many times she had known them, and so many more dreamed them.

“Dragon, please wake.”

They were so real … She wondered why, in this dream, the boy was asking her to wake, but it did not matter: this was only a dream, only a dream; and it would be her last.

“Dragon, you must wake!”

Slowly, the dragon half-opened her eyes. And the first thing she saw was blue eyes, Jack’s eyes, and in them Jack’s soul gazing into hers.

“Jack …” the dragon murmured.

“My dragon.” Jack’s tears welled up and spilled over.

At last, at last the dragon could see him again. She had hoped that, after death, she might see him again; but he looked different; – older; not the way he appeared in her dreams …

“Why are you so much older?” the dragon murmured.

“Because it’s been ten years,” said Jack, tears streaming.

The dragon’s eyes widened. She was still alive. And Jack was here, and he was real.

“I have searched the world for you,” said the dragon.

“I know,” answered Jack, stroking her face.

And the dragon closed her eyes again, utterly happy, and for the first time in ten long years she slept without dreaming, a healing sleep in the boy’s arms, peaceful at last.

 

–––––––

 

And when the dragon woke, an hour later, a full, brilliant moon was rising; and Jack told the dragon how he had been abandoned by the men, who had kept him as bait to catch the dragon and thus he proved useless when the dragon could not find him; and how he had wandered, trying to search for the dragon but losing his way back to the wood where he had been captured. How he had searched for her, working in villages and farms and towns for food when there was too little where he searched. How, at last, after ten years, he had seen familiar claw-marks in some mud and had followed his guess to where she had gone and had found her, lying, apparently lifeless, in the cave on the hillside. And as he spoke, tears of long, long searching and yearning fell from his face and glittered silver in the moonlight for half a second, before falling out of sight to the floor.

The boy had grown taller and stronger since the dragon had last seen him, and in fact he was now full-grown; but even in the moonlight, and in the moment she had first seen him, the dragon knew that he was still the same Jack. Nothing inside him had changed.

They moved to sit outside the cave, full in the moonlight, and as the boy saw his dragon emerging from the half shadow, half light of the cave’s entrance to sit beside him, he hugged her hard and close. The dragon curled her tail around the boy. And suddenly she remembered what she had thought in the cave before the boy found her.

“Listen,” she said, pulling gently back and releasing the boy, to look at him; “I thank you, Jack, for saving me. I thank you for being with me. I thank you for coming to help me. I thank you for …” And again – for but a second – the dragon hesitated, for great love can be harder to admit to than great wrong. But then she looked again at the boy, her Jack whom she knew, and said, “I thank you, Jack, for loving me.”

And Jack nodded, knowing that words were unnecessary, and they embraced again.

For a long hour or two they just sat on the hillside, as the moon soared higher above them. Then the boy asked the dragon, “Where shall we go now?”

And the dragon answered, “Where do you say?”

The boy pointed straight ahead, at the horizon. “To those distant mountains. Let us go there,” said Jack.

And the dragon nodded. “Then we shall.”

And they slept in the moonlight, curled up together on the hillside.

 

 

 

Epilogue:

Flight.

 

Gold and brown, like an embroidered tapestry thrown and draped over the earth, like a rich quilt or lush rug, the land was spread out. In the mild, early morning light, a river gleamed like silver thread, as it wound past the bottom of a hill that had a cave partway down its side. Beyond the river were huge ancient forests, their leaves dyed bold hues of gold, orange, crimson, brown and a thousand shades in between. A mile or two downstream from the hill, a tiny bridge spanned the river, and near it was a small village. Around the village the pastureland was emerald green, spotted with dark brown where the fields had been ploughed. Sounds of cattle and sheep murmured from the village, carrying faintly into the sky, while from the great forests a loud chorus of birdsong exuberantly greeted the dawn. And beyond the vast Autumn forests, which spilled their myriad colours across the land in a splendid carpet, lay a chain of distant mountains, blue and smooth-crested, like the backs of some sleeping blue monsters. And above them was the sky, pale lemon-yellow with the sunrise which stretched its rays across the sky in blessing, having returned from beyond the world. And –– 

Casting a fleeting shadow on the leaves of the forest below, her crimson hide brilliant against their Autumn colours, a dragon sped over the tree-carpet through the chilly air. Half-kneeling astride the dragon’s spiny back, on a pad made from his tunic, was a boy – or was it a young man? – finding his balance again after so many years. This double creature, the boy and the dragon, lifted higher, rising with every flap of its wings straight towards the dawn. Higher and higher, leaving the world behind.

Up and up, dizzyingly, but somehow in their hearts neither the dragon nor the boy was frightened.

And once they had soared into the sky so that they were impossibly high, untouchably high, gloriously limitlessly inestimably high, the once-orphaned boy threw back his head, flung his fists to the air, and he and the once-lonely dragon simultaneously whooped and trumpeted from the depths of their beings in utter exultation; their voices twining and ringing together like the double-toned note of a single bell.

And as the boy’s hands stroked her neck, his own eyes wet, the dragon wept, big dragon-tears of indescribable, unbelievable, intolerable joy.

For it was glorious; glorious; wonderful and unbearable and glorious.

And both yelled together,

“I’M ALIVE!”

 

The End.

G. Wulfing, January 2004.

 

About G. Wulfing

G. Wulfing, author of kidult fantasy and other bits of magic, is a freak. They have been obsessed with reading since they learned how to do it, and obsessed with writing since they discovered the fantasy genre a few years later. G. Wulfing has no gender, and varies between twelve and one hundred years of age on the inside, and somewhere in between that on the outside. G. Wulfing lives amidst the beautiful scenery of New Zealand, prefers animals to people, and is in a dedicated relationship with theirself and hot chocolate.

 


The Dragon's Boy

The last dragon is dying. She knows it. And she is almost glad: her life has been long, sad, and full of suffering. She is hated, hunted and harassed wherever she goes. And she wonders: what is the point of living when no one wants you to live? So when she is discovered yet again, she does not bother trying to flee. Wounded and despairing, she waits for her death at the hands of human villagers with their pitchforks and prejudice. Following her would-be destroyers, however, is a strange, solitary young soul who is also unloved, and who wishes for more than his life has allotted to him. 'The Dragon's Boy' is a short fairytale about the last dragon in the world, an orphan named Jack, and faithful, persistent love.

  • ISBN: 9781311261069
  • Author: G. Wulfing
  • Published: 2016-01-10 07:40:08
  • Words: 9436
The Dragon's Boy The Dragon's Boy