The Dragon Hatchling
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This story happened long, long ago in human years, but not quite so long ago in The Grand Scheme of Things, and it starts deep in a cozy cave situated on the western side of a long mountain range, where it was far too high for any human soul to dare venture. In it lived a dragon husband and wife with a little dragon hatchling, and the hatchling’s name was Horus.
Horus belonged to a race of knotted-horn dragons. He had a stubby red horn in the center of his forehead, which was wound up in a single tight knot. It was a soft, blunt-tipped horn, because Horus was still so young. It would grow longer and wind up into more knots as he grew older.
Knotted-horn dragons are long extinct nowadays, but back when they did exist, they had instead of scales a very thick leathery hide which was very coveted by men of the time for its strength and beauty, and which few weapons could pierce, or even scratch for that matter. This hide was sometimes spotted, sometimes plain, but most commonly striped, not unlike a tiger’s. Horus’s own hide was cobalt blue, and streaked with blood-red stripes which gave him a rather gruesome appearance when the light hit him in the right way.
But Horus’s hide did not often see daylight. He was always in his parents’ cave, always asleep on his nest, wrapped in a snug bearskin blanket.
Horus wasn’t the only young dragon living on that mountain range with his Momma and Pop. Those were ancient dragon nesting grounds, so Horus lived in a sort of dragon neighborhood. The mountains were peppered with caves, caverns and grottoes that made good lairs for dragons to lay their eggs in, and every hundred and fifty years or so, they came in droves to do precisely that. Every hatching season the mountain range became noisy and busy with the happy squeals and growls of the baby dragons that played in and out of the depths of every warm lair, under the watchful eye of their parents.
But Horus did not care to play with them. He would cover his head with his bearskin blanket and go right on sleeping.
This was a good era for dragons, for there were few humans about in the world and not very many had gotten up to being knights just yet. Generally, the most dragons had to fear was other dragons stealing their hoards of gold and jewels.
A little dragon, however, would have plenty to worry about if it had left its nest all by itself. Young dragons had no treasures that could be stolen from them, but on the eastern side of the mountain range roamed Giants, and at the forest that went all around the foot of the mountains lived Cyclopes, and Very Big Bears, and all of these creatures might catch and kill a little baby dragon for its meat, its hide or its horns, if it were brave or stupid enough to risk the terrible wrath of the hatchling’s mother and father.
Because of these dangers, all dragons made sure that their offspring were well warned to stay inside their lairs and not go wandering the mountainside or the woods while their parents were out hunting or checking on their year-round dwellings, where the stores of precious metals and stones were left, unguarded, during the breeding season.
But Horus’ Momma and Pop never had to worry about their son running off in search of adventure.
“We’re lucky that we needn’t watch our good little Horus all the time,” Horus’ Pop would sometimes say to his wife complacently, “he is such a good little boy, always sleeping the hours away.”
“Yes, I suppose we are,” his wife would sigh in response, with a glance at her round, plump baby, sleeping belly-up on the nest and snoring mightily with his mouth wide open. A little cloud of gray smoke came regularly from somewhere deep within his throat with each breath he let out.
“And we’re lucky that he isn’t flying all over the place knocking all the books and candles off the shelves with his tail,” said Pop, who like many dragons enjoyed a good read, and heard many horror stories from his older acquaintances about little dragons wreaking havoc in their homes the moment they began to get about on their own.
“Why, we’re lucky that he isn’t spitting fire on the curtains and setting them ablaze, too,” added Pop after a moment’s contemplation (though he was really thinking about his books and not the curtains.)
“Oh, you’re only thinking about your books,” said his wife with some irritation, “I frankly wish he would fly about, and knock everything off the shelves, and make a bonfire of your library.”
“Mercy, my dear!”
“Well, look at him! Here, just look at him!”
Momma was dangling Horus by his short, thick tail, and swaying him back and forth like a pendulum, which elicited no reaction whatsoever from the sleeping hatchling.
“All babies spend a great deal of time sleeping, my pet,” said Pop, while giving his wife’s back a reassuring caress with his tail, “Don’t worry about it. He’ll wake up and start wreaking havoc too soon, you’ll see.”
Horus was put back into his nest and lovingly tucked in by his mother, who I must tell you loved him very much indeed, and was proud of him, even though he did nothing but sleep and eat, and sometimes eat in his sleep.
“How can I not worry,” she said, “when the my baby’s horn already has one complete knot, and yet he doesn’t crawl, let alone walk, and his little stubs of wings always hang limp? How will I ever teach him to hunt so he can bring home dinner for his own brood one day, or go out and get a treasure of his very own to sit on? He only wakes up when he’s hungry, and then screeches like a banshee.”
And Pop was quiet, because sometime he worried about these things, too.
“My dearest husband, I am sorry to say this, but as much as I love our son, you have to admit that he is a fat, lazy hatchling, who may never grow up to be a Proper Dragon who can take care of himself. I fear he will never be a dragon that is Fierce and Feared and Respected. And I simply don’t know what to do with him.”
Horus’s Pop was quiet and thoughtful, and both dragons embraced each other with their tails as they watched their beloved (but fat and lazy) little dragon sleep, feeling much helpless and concerned about what should become of him. They had no way of knowing that their baby would have a very rude awakening the following morning, and they would not see him again for many a day to come.
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