✨ Here’s warm-up 76 of 100! ✨ This one is for Swimmingintheinkwell.
Please note: sometimes, I may add very simple backgrounds to these warm-ups. This is completely on a whim, not guaranteed, and not likely. Please do not expect anything beyond what is agreed to in the original commission. If it happens, it happens. 😊
All night long the little dragon tossed and turned, and time and time again a snapping branch or far-off growl caused him to start whenever sheer exhaustion overcame him. Shortly before daybreak, Horus all but gave up on trying to sleep. He was sore, worn out, profoundly irritated and most of all, ravenous.
Finding a stick lying on the ground nearby, Horus picked it up and gave the sleeping human child a few tentative, if rather ungentle, pokes.
“Wake up already,” he said to Nib, “I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” said Nib after a pleasant stretch. She was accustomed to sleeping rough, and was well rested. “Let’s start walking, then, and maybe we’ll find something on the way, if we’re lucky.”
“Maybe?” Horus repeated dismally.
“Or maybe something will find us,” said Nib with unsettling cheerfulness. “You never know.”
“Something? Like my parents?”
“Maybe your parents. Or maybe a bear. A lot of things are hungry in the morning and looking for breakfast, just as we are.”
Horus walked faster.
After they’d been trudging along for a while, with Horus apparently leading the way, Nib said, “You seem quite sure of which road to take. Exactly where do you live?”
“In the mountains,” replied Horus, who knew that much.
“That’s all very well,” said Nib dubiously, “but where in the mountains? They go on and on and on, you know. Just like this forest.”
This information unsettled Horus. But he could see part of the mountain range ahead of them, through the tree-tops.
“There,” he said, pointing his fat little finger in its direction, “I live over there.”
Nib squinted her eyes.
“There! Right there! Are you blind? It doesn’t matter anyway—all you have to do is follow me. So don’t be a pest. Remember, I haven’t had my breakfast yet!”
“Neither have I,” said Nib mildly, “and I didn’t have any dinner last night, either.”
She did not say it in a whiny or complaining tone, but it irked Horus nonetheless. Humans were such a hindrance!
Noon came. Horus was so hungry that he was letting out little frustrated sobs without even realizing it. These got more pronounced until he sat down on the ground, and would have thrown a tantrum out of habit. But then he remembered the human child standing behind him, and he covered his face with his paws. He could not, however, stifle his whimpers completely.
Nib knelt by the hatchling’s side and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You know,” she said, “If you can at least tell me what the outside of your lair looks like, maybe I could help you get home.”
“No, you couldn’t,” said Horus. “You have been lost here your whole life and I will be, too!”
“I have not been lost here my whole life,” said Nib, just a little bit defensively, “But I have been lost for a few months at a time. I always find my way home eventually.”
“You won’t lose anything by telling me,” Nib encouraged him.
“I can’t,” Horus murmured, ashamed. “I don’t know what it looks like. I’ve never even been outside before. I don’t know how I came to be outside. I woke up and I was in the woods. I don’t know what happened.”
“Listen,” said Nib, “Don’t cry.”
“But I’m hungry!”
“Crying won’t fix that.”
“It always does for me,” mumbled Horus. He was beginning to regret his outburst. Now the bothersome little human knew that he didn’t actually hunt dinner for his parents every night, and would fear him even less.
“Well, it won’t do you any good here,” retorted Nib pulling Horus up as she, too, got on her feet. “We’d better keep walking toward the mountains and hope we find something to eat. Your parents are probably looking for you, and will spot you from above or smell you out soon enough.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Probably,” answered Nib, “although I don’t know that it will bode very well for me if they do.”
“They might assume I’m the one who took you away, and—hello, what’s this?”
Nib had stopped walking, and was looking down at the ground.
“Tracks,” said the girl, pointing down at the dirt, “Look.”
Horus sniffed the small footprints, and Nib knelt down to study them more closely.
“Three toes,” Nib observed, “That’s a cyclops.”
“Oh,” said Horus faintly. Cyclopes liked to hunt dragons. A horde of them would even dare attack an adult dragon, especially one that had been grounded by some accident or misfortune. And Horus was only a baby. What would a cyclops to do him?
With growing dread the hatchling imagined his small bones being sucked clean by a foul-smelling, hairy brute with a single glowering eye. He saw his own small, red knotted horn hanging from a string tied around the cyclops’ fat neck as a makeshift pendant, and his blue, red-stripped hide stretched on a rack to dry—oh! Horus let out a pitiful whimper at the thought of these ghastly possibilities.
“It’s okay,” Nib reassured him. She had taken a small, rusty dagger from a little pouch on the side of her remaining boot. “I’ll take care of it. I’m not scared of any cyclopes —and it looks like this is only a little one, by the size of its tracks.”
“Aren’t even little cyclopes dangerous?” asked Horus. He was trailing behind Nib now, meekly.
“Well, yes,” answered Nib, but I’m going to be a squire one day, and later on a knight, and knights can’t ever be cowards.”
“I’ve eaten knights,” Horus observed after a thoughtful pause.
“And cyclopes eat little dragons,” said Nib, just as thoughtfully, “That’s how the world goes.”
Horus did not bring up the subject of eating knights any more that day.
Not far from where they had first come upon the cyclops’ footprints, the trail came to an abrupt end. This made Nib uneasy.
“Watch where you step,” she warned Horus, “Cyclopes are known to dig—”
Then there was a swish, and Nib disappeared. Horus froze on the spot, terrified by how suddenly he found himself alone again, and certain that a tribe of whooping cyclopes would descend upon him at any moment. He dared not move a muscle, or blink, or breathe.
Down in the pit just a few steps ahead of Horus, Nib was quiet as a mouse, too. Watchful as she knew herself to be, she had missed the trap, even as she was warning the hatchling to look out for them. The hole was deep, but the same brush and twigs that had hidden the pit from her view had provided her with a relatively soft landing, so Nib was only a little bruised. Now she lay as she had fallen, careful not to move and wondering what she should do next.
Above, Horus was wondering the same thing. Since nothing awful had immediately happened, he was breathing again. He had begun to inch forward ever so slightly in the direction of the spot where his human companion had disappeared, when something sharp poked him in the back and a voice cried all in one breath, “Whoyou?”
Well, Horus gave a magnificent jump accompanied by a fittingly shrill shriek of terror, and in his fright he managed to trip and fall into the same pit where Nib was trapped (to Nib’s great discomfort).
Now a small head was looking down at them from above the hole. It had one enormous copper-colored eye that stared at them without blinking. A short blunt horn poked out of its forehead among a few tufts of straw-like yellow hair, and a single tooth protruded over its lower lip.
“Whoyou?” he demanded. His face was expressionless, but there was a clear note of annoyance in the question, which became more pronounced when he proceeded to answer it for them. “Mizz’rubul lookin’, no-good prey. You ruin Saffron’s good dragg’n catchin’ pit. Get out of it.”
He spoke clumsily, but quickly. Cyclopes were very intelligent, speaking the language of multiple other creatures in the Deep Dark Woods. Even this little one could speak well enough in the Common Tongue, if a little brokenly still.
“We can’t,” answered Nib, who had understood the last request, at least. “Isn’t that the point of a trap?”
The little cyclops looked at her hard, frowned with his single eye, and disappeared from view, though he could be heard grumbling to himself.
It was not long before a vine was thrown into the pit. Horus followed Nib’s instruction to take hold of it, since he was the stronger and heavier of the two, and, after losing his grip and falling back into the pit twice, he finally surfaced, with his bruised human companion clinging to his back.
Upon emerging from the hole, they saw that the other end of the vine had been tied to the thick trunk of a nearby tree, and a very small, harassed-looking cyclops stood beside it, spear in hand, waiting for them. He wore a sort of loincloth made of some animal’s furry pelt as his only garment, and there were little bones as well as colorful beads and feathers hanging from the handle of his weapon and around his neck. There was even one going through his nose. All around, he looked extraordinarily fierce for such a small creature.
“We’re, um… Sorry we ruined your trap,” ventured Nib.
“Sorry!” cried an outraged Horus, “Maybe you are! I am all black and blue, was frightened out of my wits, and got my back nearly torn open by this… This little one-eyed freak’s stick, and for no reason at all! Sorry! I like that!”
“Hush!” Nib hissed. She spoke again to the cyclops as politely as she knew how. “Please don’t listen to him, um, um…,” she struggled to remember the creature’s name.
“Saffron,” said the little cyclops, giving himself a firm thump on the chest with his fist.
“Right. Are you all alone here in the woods, Saffron?”
“Nevva alone in The Woods,” was the sober reply, “Prey all ‘round. Big things out huntin’ all day ’n all night long.” “That’s true enough,” said Nib, uncomfortably.
“Me too. Imma huntin’,” added Saffron. “My first dragg’n hunt.”
Horus felt the his heart sink to his feet, despite the fact that Saffron was slightly shorter than himself. He shot Nib a desperate look, which did not escape the young cyclops’ eye.
“Notta worry,” he said to Nib, “This dragg’n too little. Baby. Tribe laff at me. Li’l dragg’n no good for first hunt. Is “ha-ha” prey. Not “whoa-lookit-that” prey. You, same thing. Stringy and puny like worm. Not worth my time.”
“Ha-ha prey?!” shouted Horus, whose vanity and lack of courage were in such equal measure so as to overlap regularly.
“Will you be quiet!” Nib scolded him in a whisper. Then she asked Saffron, “You must be very brave, to be out hunting for dragons all by yourself.”
To her surprise, the little cyclops gave the dirt a kick and seemed embarrassed. He tried to hide the faintest hint of a smile.
“Not really. Cyclopes hunt anythin’. ‘Fraid of nuttin’.”
It was true. The Cyclops tribes were feared especially because they would hunt and eat anything and everything except for their own kind. They were known for wasting nothing and running away from no prey regardless of the odds of becoming prey themselves. It was their nature, rather than bravery. They were born fearless and raised to stay fearless —or so it was said.
“I’m not ha-ha prey,” Horus mumbled bitterly.
He was pouting. Nib gave him a black look.
“Anyone ought to be proud of hunting down a rare beast like me, with so fine a hide and such a bright red knotted horn!”
The little cyclops scratched an itch behind his ear with the tip of his spear. He looked puzzled.
“I kill’n roast baby dragg’n, if he wants me to,” he offered helpfully.
“He doesn’t!” Nib hurried to assure him. But now Saffron was eyeing Horus more carefully.
“Is nice ’n fat. I can make good breakfast of him. Give you a leg.”
Nib politely declined, and the little cyclops shrugged. But then all of a sudden his face lighted up, and he exclaimed, “I hassa better idea! Little baby dragg’n makes good bait for great big dragg’n. Maybe even two come for him!”
He clapped his hands and danced around a little, very pleased with himself.
“I should like to see you try to poke my Momma with that stick,” said Horus indignantly. “She’ll use it to pick your fat off her teeth when she’s done with you!”
The little cyclops became sober at once and glared at Horus with his intense yellow eye.
“I’m notta ‘fraid,” he said darkly, as he began to walk toward the hatchling, spear at the ready. “Call your momma.”
Horus felt sick with fear to see the pointed weapon so close to his soft belly, but for once he was ashamed to cry for his mother, who was unlikely to hear him anyway.
“I’m… I’m… I’m not afraid, either!”
Nib came between them.
“He is too afraid,” she said to Saffron, “Do spare him, please—he is so little.”
“I’m li’l, too, but notta chick’n,” was Saffron’s ruthless answer. “Call your momma,” he said again to Horus, this time punctuating the command with a sharp poke of the spear. Horus let out a squeal and broke down in tears, all pretense of bravery gone.
“Whatta chick’n,” scoffed the little cyclops, “I thought all dragg’ns brave, even li’l ones. If cyclops is chick’n, he get kicked outta tribe. You get kicked out, li’l dragg’n?”
Horus felt his heart drop. He had never considered this. Could his Momma and Poppa have kicked him out of the nest for being so lazy and eating all of their food?
Nib was glancing at him sideways. Horus swallowed, feeling his face grow hot.
“No,” he quavered, “No—I… I don’t know…”
The idea that his parents may not be out looking for him, may not even want him back home, was more frightening than anything Horus had experienced so far. He forgot all about Nib and the cyclops, and about being hungry, or tired, or bruised. He stood still and stared down at his talons.
He made such a pitiful picture that, although cyclopes were renowned for their seeming inability to feel compassion for anything which could be considered viable prey, this one lowered his spear with a gesture of confusion and appeared very uncomfortable.
“Go,” he said to Nib with a shrug, “Take li’l dragg’n with you. He too salty from boohoo’ing to eat now, anyway.”
Nib did not wait to be told twice. She thanked Saffron profusely and grabbed Horus by the paw, hurriedly pulling him along the path.
She had not gone far, however, when a thought occurred to her.
“Wait here,” she said to Horus before running back to where the young cyclops still stood watching them. But Horus was too sad and stunned to pay any attention to her.
“Do you know,” Nib asked Saffron once she had reached him, “the way to the dragon nesting grounds?”
“Uppa mountain,” said Saffron, pointing in said direction with his spear.
“Yes, but do you know how to get there?”
The little cyclops nodded.
“Could you… Well, could you guide us there? Please? If you are hunting for dragons, you’re probably going that way anyhow, aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” said Saffron. “What you gimme?”
“Oh,” said Nib, taken aback, “I—well, I have this knife.”
And she presented her little dagger, which she treasured. But the little cyclops shook his head.
“Blunt ’n puny, like you. No good,” he said, not unkindly, but decidedly.
“I don’t have anything else,” said Nib.
Suddenly Horus, who had been listening, spoke up. “I’ll give you my bearskin,” he said in a strangled voice.
“It’s in my lair,” said Horus. “On my bed. My Momma hunted the bear down, and my Poppa skinned it. They used it to wrap the egg I was inside of. I’ve had it since the day I was hatched.”
He thought of his nest, and how good the blanket smelled, of fur and of home.
“It’s… It’s very warm and thick,” he added softly. “It’s a good bearskin blanket.”
The little cyclops considered the offer. The bears that lived in the Deep Dark Woods were very big, bigger than any bear you’ve ever seen or heard of. The pelt from one of them was a good, useful thing to have.
“The bearskin,” he said, “and your horn.”
Horus’ hands flew up to the aforementioned appendage.
“Your knotta-horn. Makes good drinkin’ cup.”
“But—but—it’s stuck to my head!”
“I chop it off.”
“Won’t that hurt a lot?”
“Dunno. Maybe,” was the phlegmatic reply.
“Oh, oh,” moaned Horus, with his hands still protectively over his horn. “What kind of knotted-horn dragon will I be, with no knotted horn on my head?”
Both Nib and Saffron were looking intently at him, waiting. Nib seemed concerned, but she did not say anything that helped Horus. The poor hatchling heaved one deep, shuddering sigh, and grimly nodded his head.
“Horus, are you sure?” said Nib.
“I will give you my knotted-horn, and my bearskin blanket too,” said Horus to the little cyclops, “but you won’t get my horn until after you get me home!”
“Notta worry,” Saffron assured him cheerfully, “I no chop off horn until then. You havva deal.”
He held out his grubby, callused little hand for Horus to shake. And Horus did.
Baby dragons were never left home alone. Their parents knew better: it would have been unwise to the safety of the family’s dwelling, given an energetic hatchling’s destructive tendencies, and certainly unwise to the safety of the hatchling itself, since most baby dragons could hardly wait to go out into the world to wreak some havoc. And the world, as you may suspect, does not always take kindly to little dragons wreaking havoc upon it.
Had Horus been a normal, havoc-wreaking dragon hatchling, he would not have been left home alone that morning, and he would not have rolled out of his nest and down the mountainside in his sleep. His father would have caught him in time and tucked him in again, all safe and snug in his bearskin blanket as if nothing had happened, and there would be no story to tell.
But Horus’ father had no fear of his hatchling going meandering into the woods or setting the family lair on fire. So when Horus did roll out of his nest in his sleep and go bumpety-bump down the rocky mountain, there was no one there to stop it from happening.
The morning after our story began, Pop was left home alone with his napping son. His wife had flown off in a fury to hunt a young squire who, after accidentally stumbling upon her hidden treasure, had made off with her favorite golden goblet.
Horus’s father looked in the larder for something to fix his breakfast with, but found no leftovers of the smoked-leg-of-knight they had had for dinner the night before. No matter; he told himself, it was too dry anyhow. So he checked the attic, hoping to find some pickled sheep or rams there, but these were all gone too. There was not a single crumb or morsel of food to be found anywhere in the dragons’ lair.
Pop looked at his snoring hatchling, and thought there could be no harm in flying off for just a little while to catch a wayward goat or two, or perhaps even a tender young goatherd if he got lucky. He knew his wife would not approve of leaving the baby alone, but given the fact that Horus would soon wake up and start wailing for his breakfast, he felt the short excursion would be justified. Besides, after having thought of it, he’d begun to really crave some goatherd. So off he flew, and little Horus was left all by himself.
Now, not many things can wake a dragon that is very deeply asleep, especially a dragon hatchling such as Horus, but even he would have been awoken by a violent descent down the mountain. And yet, as you will see, he did not wake up, and that is because he had done a very naughty thing the night before.
While his Momma and Pop were soundly asleep themselves, Horus had gotten out of his nest, climbed on top of his mother’s head, and then clambered laboriously all the way up her long neck up to the tallest spike on her spiked back. From this elevated position he hopped inside the larder, which had been left open. Then he ate every bit of leftover smoked-leg-of-knight that he found there, and when he was done, he slid back down his mother’s back and tail, and went back to sleep in his nest.
So this is the reason why the next morning Horus was so very deeply asleep and in no kind of hurry to eat breakfast. In fact, as a result of his midnight snack, he now felt such painful pangs in his round little belly that he tried to roll over on his tummy as he slept (something you’ve probably done too when you’ve had a bellyache.) This, alas, would not make him more comfortable, at least not in the short term, but would rather have the opposite effect:
Horus slid off his nest with a swish of straw and a squishy bump on the lair’s rocky floor, and because the level of the ground was on a descending angle in that part of the mountain and also owing to the fact that Horus was so round,
and rolled some more,
and bumped and and bounced all the way down the rocky, thorny, hard mountainside, and he did not stop bumping and bouncing and rolling until he reached the foot of the mountain, and from there he went right on rolling until he was well into the Deep Dark Woods, the same woods that were home to Very Big Bears, and Cyclopes, and Other Creatures of a Generally Unpleasant Nature. And there, on a little glade, he finally came to a stop, but so profound was his slumber that even this bruising trip down the mountain had not been enough to rouse him.
It was not until twilight that Horus’ protesting belly finally caused him to stir. He found upon awakening that he no longer had a bellyache; however, he was bruised from head to tail and had a big, nasty bump on the tip of his snout. Such disagreeables discoveries, in addition to a very empty stomach and the fact that he found himself in a dark, cold place which he did not recognize in the least, prompted Horus to do the one thing that invariably resulted in the removal or correction of any unpleasantness present: he broke out in ear-splitting screeches.
Horus howled and wailed and bawled for the better part of an hour. He threw a full tantrum, with much sobbing and kicking and pounding of the mossy ground with his little fists and tail. When he finally stopped to catch his breath, night had fallen, and the dark woods had grown even darker than before.
One would think Horus to be used to darkness, what with spending most of the time asleep beneath his thick bearskin blanket, but there is a marked difference between the darkness of your own warm, safe lair, and the darkness of the Deep Dark Woods, especially if you had never been in them before and you suddenly found yourself in them all by yourself.
So now Horus was frightened in addition to hungry and bruised. He took a deep breath in preparation to a louder howling fit that he hoped his parents would hear, when a twig cracked in the brush ahead.
The little dragon froze, his breath held all up inside of his chest, because he was afraid to let it out and make a sound that could betray his presence to something Big and Hungry. It was of course too late to worry about that, after his earlier outburst. But luckily for Horus, he was not to meet any such danger just yet.
Instead, from among the bushes appeared a pencil-thin human child, of about ten or eleven years old. A reddish-brown head of hair grazed their shoulders and framed their pale face, which was full of freckles. The child’s arms and legs were long and scrawny, as was the rest of them. All in rags and sporting only one shoe, the young human looked anything but threatening.
However, Horus had never before seen a human that his father or mother hadn’t already hunted and roasted or baked for his dinner, and he knew that the right kind of human could be very dangerous to a baby dragon who met such a creature all alone.
As for the child, a young girl, she was no coward, but had more to fear from such an encounter than Horus did. So it is not surprising that her face should become the very picture of dismay and consternation the moment her eyes fell upon the dragon hatchling.
“Oh, no,” she moaned under her breath, “Oh, what rotten luck.”
Having looked quickly up to the darkening skies for any sign of the hatchling’s parents, she took a careful step back, and then another, keeping a watchful eye on Horus (who had by now been holding his breath for so long that even the blood-red stripes on his cheeks were beginning to turn blue.)
“It’s alright,” coaxed the girl, as she cautiously made her way back to the bushes, “It’s okay. I’m going away, see? No need to call your mama, I won’t hurt you.”
And she would have continued to step backward into the brush had she not happened to step on a sharp little pebble with the heel of her naked foot. Now, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you just how much stepping on a sharp little pebble can hurt, even if you’re wearing socks, and particularly if you step on it with the heel of your naked foot. Which explains why our freckled, pencil-thin gangly girl gave a yell of a pitch that could easily have rivaled Horus’ own banshee-like howls, and then proceeded to hop about on her healthy foot, putting on such an alarming display that Horus forgot all about holding his breath anymore.
“Help! Oh, help!” wailed the terrified hatchling, “Oh, Momma! Poppa! Help me! Save me!”
He ran back and forth in no particular direction, changing course whenever he tripped or bumped into the occasional boulder or thorny bush, and so did not get very far at all.
Meanwhile, Horus’ loud outburst made the girl forget all about her sore foot, prompting her to run off into the thicket at top speed, for she was sure the hatchling’s furious parents must not be far away, and would be hot on her heels at any given moment (she was courageous, but prudent.) However, when no such fearsome beasts appeared and the baby’s wails continued loud and sorrowful, the girl slackened her pace, and waited a little (just to be sure) before walking back to the glade.
There sat Horus, hiccuping and exhausted. He scrambled to his feet in alarm when he saw the human child reenter the glade, but stood frozen on the spot, too frightened to run.
“Easy there,” said the girl in a friendly manner while she approached the little dragon with as much caution as she had earlier endeavored to distance herself from it. “You have nothing to fear from me. Don’t be scared.”
But while Horus had stopped crying, he was not at all reassured. He stood trembling on the spot with his large red eyes fixed on the young human. His chest heaved rapidly up and down.
“Are you alone?” ventured the girl.
Horus bristled defensively at the question. He curled his lips in a tiny snarl despite his fear.
“I don’t have to tell you!” he growled, “Go away and leave me be, or I’ll… I’ll eat you!”
To mark this threatening little speech Horus took a brave step forward and bared his teeth even further. He was greatly surprised when the girl jumped back, showing genuine alarm.
“I-it’s alright, really!” she entreated, “I’m alone too. You’re lost, aren’t you? So am I, you see—”
“Be quiet!” Horus barked. He was feeling bolder. If the small human showed fear, that meant it was weak enough to be his prey. And Horus was very, very hungry.
“I’m Nib,” said the girl, “What’s your name?”
“I don’t have to tell you,” Horus answered gruffly. But he conceded to add, “I’m Horus.”
“Nice to meet you,” ventured Nib.
Horus didn’t want to make friends with this human. It is a known fact that if you get too chummy with your dinner, you will most likely end up not eating it, or else feeling guilty while you do it, which can result in an upset stomach.
Horus’ belly growled a long, gurgling growl.
“Are you hungry?” asked Nib.
“That’s right,” answered the hatchling, “and it’s you I’m going to eat.”
“Oh,” faltered Nib. And for a short, uncomfortable moment neither of them spoke or moved.
Horus knew he had to do something. He was the predator, the dragon, the hunter. He was supposed to make the first move. But he was too young to ever have accompanied his parents on a hunt, and had never been particularly interested in learning more about it by asking them directly. He needed to catch and kill the boy before he could eat it, and he had no idea how to accomplish this.
As if reading his thoughts, Nib asked, “Have you ever hunted your own food before?”
“Of course I have!” Horus retorted. “Lots ‘n lots of times! Sometimes, I hunt enough for me and my Poppa and Momma to eat for days. S-sometimes.”
It seemed to Horus that a wave of relief flickered the young human’s pale, freckled face for a moment.
“You know,” said Nib, “I have a pouch full of berries right here, and they won’t keep. Wouldn’t you rather eat my berries for now, and save me for later? I’ll keep just fine, and perhaps I can help you find your way back, in the meantime.”
“I can get home very well by myself!” Horus said defensively. And he really thought he could. He did not know how lost he was.
“Well then, if you can find your way out of the woods so easily, mind if I tag along anyway?” said Nib, “I’ve been lost for an awful long time, myself. Not that it’s anything out of the ordinary for me,” she added with a shrug, “Seems I spend most of the year lost in these woods.”
“Then you must be a perfect blockhead,” said Horus pitilessly. “If you’ve been here so many times, how can you not know your way around?”
“It’s a very big forest,” explained Nib, “It looks the same all over, and yet it’s always changing.”
They could not travel at night, Nib said. They could not see where they were going and the night was pitch black, with no stars to guide them. She suggested that she and Horus camp under the curling roots of an enormous tree. It was a little damp there, but the moss was soft and the evening air was warm and pleasant. It was a beautiful spring night.
Horus ate the berries Nib gave him in one big bite, swallowing a chunk of the leather pouch along with them. Nib didn’t eat anything—as there was nothing else to eat—but she did not complain. She seemed glad enough not to be part of Horus’ dinner.
After this, they settled down to sleep. Nib slept soundly, for she was used to the forest and its noises, and knew which ones were dangerous and which ones one need not worry about.
But Horus didn’t know these things and for the first time in his life the little dragon experienced a sleepless night.
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.
Faahvrigüo grew older and bigger. He grew until he was all done growing. But even though he was an adult, he was still much smaller than his mother. This was a good thing, for the world in which he lived was not very vast for a fully grown dragon. Nevertheless, having crossed the Meganeean skies far too many times to count, he grew very bored, and became taciturn too. With little to do and only Uricchin to confide in, the Dragon Prince slept. He was especially fond of napping underwater, where he was least likely to be bothered. And in this manner, sometimes decades would pass without elven eyes getting as much as a glimpse of him.
There was an occasion in which Faahvrigüo took an especially long nap. He slept for years and years, decades, maybe a whole century. I don’t think noise could have waken him easily, so who knows just how long he might have slept have it not been for the light, and for her.
Underwater, down in the deepest of depths, it’s very dark. Faahvrigüo had gone as deep down as it was possible for him to go. Down in those darkest corners there was only the dull, tremulous echo of the shifting waters above and around. Very little life stirred there. Surrounded by the water’s rushing noise and enveloped by the pitch black darkness, the Dragon Prince slept soundly.
Being fast asleep, Faahvrigüo did not notice the glow as it drew closer to where he lay. He did not notice it until it had spread to the point that it reached his sleeping place and grown so blindingly bright that everything surrounding him became white, even with his eyes closed —then he was startled awake! But the same bright light forced him to shut his eyes again, for it was too strong, and so he remained, motionless and temporarily blind, but awake. He was, truth be told, considerably frightened. He waited for his eyes to accustom themselves so this assault so that he may open them again.
It must be mentioned that this blinding light was more like a gentle, all-enveloping glow. But try and sleep a few decades in the darkest, most pitch black corner of the world and then have a lantern shone right in your face; you might be momentarily blinded and rightly scared out of your wits too.
The water all around Faahvrigüo was aglow. The Dragon Prince blinked several times, taking in the landscape. In any direction he looked, he could see everything. It was as if the water itself and everything in it —the fish, the reefs and the dancing algae; down to the sandy soil at the bottom of the lake— everything glowed in soft, bright colors, showing its beauty in a way that made it brand new.
Faahvrigüo knew instinctively that he was not alone, that a foreign creature was causing this, and that it could not be his mother’s doing or some other natural phenomena. He supposed it must be a large creature, perhaps bigger than he was, and felt terribly defenseless at the thought. He curled up on the lake floor like a frightened hatchling.
Yet instantly he was ashamed of his own cowardice. Without moving from the spot he let out what he meant to be a roar, but as it came out, it sounded like more of a bubbly bark, muffled by the water. Still, breaking the silence emboldened him, and he roared a second time —a true, long roar that reverberated for some time.
All the light went out as soon as that second, fiercer roar began, snuffed out like a candle. Faahvrigüo began to swim upward with careful, calculated strokes that became more rapid and powerful the closer they brought him to the surface, until he broke out of the calm waters and into the cold night air.
On the surface, all was dark and still, except for the crashing of the waves that Faahvrigüo’s body created upon emerging, and for some time after the waves had calmed themselves, the only visible light was that of the stars and the moon. But then, out of the corner of his eye, Faahvrigüo spotted a glow shining behind the peak of a small rocky island not far from where he was. He began to swim toward it, but as he got closer the glow faded until it was hardly there at all. The faintest hint of it remained, sharpening the rock’s edges with its presence. Faahvrigüo paused his approach and huffed, frustrated. But he wasn’t afraid anymore.
“If you are bold enough to swim in my waters, come forth and let me see you!” he called out. “I will not hurt you.” “I see you. I am not afraid of you,” a voice answered, timid, but clear. It betrayed no fear, nor hold hint of any threat. “Here I am.”
The glow shone brighter, and, as it moved from behind the rocky peak, it began to spread and fill out into a solid body. Light spilled into its every feature and extremity until a definite shape stood out sharply against the night sky, creating a display that was arresting to behold.
It was another dragon. Faahvrigüo knew this from the moment he laid eyes upon her, even though she did not look very much like himself or his mother. Instead of two horns curving inward, like he and his mother had, she had one sharp long horn on the center of her brow, and another at the tip of her long tail. Faahvrigüo was puzzled most of all by her ethereal, luminous body. Had he ever seen a ghost, he might have taken her for one. It transfixed him. Now she was approaching him, and Faahvrigüo’s boldness left him almost completely. He was rooted to the spot. She stopped a short distance from him, and watched him with curiosity.
“What a wonderful country this is,” she said, looking up at the stars, “I came here hungry, and not long after I landed, my hunger is sated.” She looked full at him. “I don’t understand it. Is this your doing?”
Faahvrigüo opened his mouth but found his voice strangely difficult to summon. So he closed it again and only shook his head.
“What is this place?”
“This is my mother’s land,” answered Faahvrigüo, somehow managing to find his voice, “She must have funneled her energy into you when you were landing so you wouldn’t rampage her precious little… Well, this —this planet’s lifeforms. She’s rather overly fond of them.”
“Oh?” there was a hint of amusement in the other dragon’s voice. She slid closer to him, though still keeping some distance. “I take it you are not?”
“Not as much.”
“Why is that?”
Faahvrigüo huffed. “They maim and kill and burn the land and each other. There is no peace to be had around them.”
“I see. So you hide underwater. Is it peaceful down there?”
“I just want to be left alone,” answered Faahvrigüo defensively. He couldn’t meet her inquisitive gaze. Dawn was now breaking. He rested his eyes on the sun rays that flickered on the water, glad to have something else to look at. There was something in the way she looked at him which made him feel terribly self-conscious.
“Very well then. Good-bye.”
Her words startled him into looking up.
“Wait!” he cried, but too late. The brightness of the sun rising behind her swallowed her luminous body until it no longer seemed to be there, leaving Faahvrigüo to struggle with an odd combination of relief and regret.
After this encounter, Faahvrigüo found that he was quite done with sleeping for the time being, and took to the skies. He coursed above the clouds, at first with poorly feigned nonchalance, then becoming increasingly annoyed with himself each time that a ray of sun bouncing off a cloud, or a gleam of moonlight peeking through the edge of another, caused him to start, heart at his throat, thinking that he had found her at last.
After several fruitless seasons of searching while trying his best to appear bored and aloof, he grudgingly made himself fly under the cloud cover, hoping to extend his search while attracting as little attention as possible. He’d been flying over the great lake, and to his dismay, no sooner did he make himself visible that one of the contraptions he had first come upon on that awful day (Uricchin called them “ships”) greeted his eyes. Of all the luck!
A groan of dislike left his throat before he could help it, and tiny screeching creatures scattered in all directions at the sound. It was a fishing vessel, manned by humble, particularly simple elves, and they were terrified. Some, stupid in their fright, jumped overboard; others ran on deck aimlessly, and a few brave ones brandished whatever was handy and stood ready to defend their weaker companions and their ship.
Faahvrigüo had not seen any elves in many a year, and, jarred by the unpleasant discovery and irritated by the threatening, unfriendly ways he had known from them before, he let out a disgusted roar to leave no doubt that the feelings were mutual before taking for higher skies once again, until he could no longer see them.
There he flew in long, fast circles, up and down, round and round, like an angry, pacing cat, riling up the clouds and wind while his body rained down below in a hard, heavy, pounding stream. He was trying to let off some steam, only half aware that the rainstorm must be affecting the fishing vessel. He found that he did not really care very much. He might have gone on to cause a small tornado and sent the hapless elves to the bottom of the lake (though, granted, not on purpose) had she not spoken just then in her clear, resolute voice, barely audible over the storm.
“How cruel you are,” she said, “How heartless. Stop! Stop this instant.”
Faahvrigüo’s attention was instantly and wholly redirected. The storm he had riled up stopped so suddenly that the elves below were even more confused, but regardless lost no time in getting away from there, and a few changed professions thereafter.
“Whatever do you mean by scaring them so?” she reproached him, her shining face spying him between the remaining clouds. She did not come nearer to him. “I was looking all the while, and they did you no harm, no harm at all. Why?”
“I took no notice of them,” Faahvrigüo said shortly, angry with himself because she sounded so disappointed in him. “I needed to pour down rain and make the wind scream. I can’t watch my every step and breath for their sake. Why should I?”
“Why are you angry?” she asked more kindly after a moment’s pause.
“I couldn’t —” he began, then snapped, “You hid yourself from me!”
“I don’t go into hiding,” she answered, laughing, “That is something you are fond of doing, as I recall, but not me.”
“You must have hid,” grumbled Faahvrigüo stubbornly, “I flew from one end of the land to the other for I know not how many days and nights. You were nowhere to be seen.”
He had perched upon one of the mountain peaks that rose at the center of the lake, worn out by his tantrum.
“This is my territory,” he said sullenly, with his back to her, “If you won’t share in my company, then go home! Wherever that is.”
He instantly regretted his words and turned round, but she did not seem inclined to leave him this time. Faahvrigüo’s claws dug into the rock when he saw her drawing near —very near. She did not perch beside him, however. For one, there was no room. Had there been, she might not have done it anyway, for her ethereal form appeared to be all but weightless. Faahvrigüo felt all the more awkward with his great hulking, constantly dripping body. His claws dug deeper into the mountain —he felt the need to steady himself— and the water coursed faster through his body, making furious little waves down his back and filling his ears with a rushing noise.
“All this time you’ve sought me over the clouds, while I’ve been beneath them, seeing your world up close. You rule over a beautiful land.”
“I wouldn’t know,” said Faahvrigüo, “It’s overrun by little pests —my mother’s creatures. I don’t rule the land. I only live in it.”
“They are interesting, your mother’s creatures,” said she, ignoring his bitter tone, “I’ve seen life in other dragons’ planets before, briefly, but it is always so… primitive. No one ever lets it grow too much between feedings. It doesn’t talk or walk on two legs. They are just dumb animals, as one might say.”
“Dumb animals are much better company than my mother’s pets,” he interrupted her, “You don’t really know them. They haven’t spent hundreds of years ruining your peace and even their own. They certainly have never done me a bit of good, have never done a thing that did not being me irritation or grief. Love them if you want to, and be as my mother, but to me they always have and will always be nothing but scurrying, vile little vermin.”
With that last savage retort Faahvrigüo looked away, because he’d been struck by his own biting remark and felt rather ashamed.
“You speak cruel words with such ease,” she said. Her tone was more wondering than reproachful, and Faahvrigüo felt doubly mortified.
“It’s awfully lonely,” he said without looking at her, “to grow up in such a vast land as this one, with a mother who must always sleep for the sake of a people to whom you cannot even speak, and who are terrified of your approach. I was not born feeling animosity toward my mother’s creation.”
And here he stopped himself again, because his tone had become spiteful as before. He sighed heavily, and turned to face her.
“I’ve grown up surrounded by the things, and have never seen them do any good, to the land, to themselves, to my mother or to myself. And yet for their sake, I must be always alone, and I must always watch my step.”
“Well… I am here, now, too, if you will allow me to remain. And I think that, while you sought me so tirelessly, I’ve perhaps seen things from up close, and notice that which you have not noticed before.”
“So maybe you have. Maybe not. I don’t want to talk about them anymore,” said Faahvrigüo. “What is your name?”
“I’m Tekneea. I have no world of my own. I grew too big for the planet I hatched in, so I left it.”
“I am Faahvrigüo,” returned he, with a nod of the head he hoped made him appear gallant, even if the opportunity for a good impression was long past. “That mountain range over there is, as you already know, my mother. She’s an Earth Dragon. I am a Rain Dragon. I suppose my father must have been one also, but I don’t know. Mother and I have never spoken much, and she’s never talked to me about where she lived before she came to this planet to build her nest.”
“You mean, you’ve never seen any other worlds but this one?”
“No,” answered he. “Have you?”
“Yes —well,” she smiled sheepishly, “Not quite like this one, I’m afraid. This is a very peculiar world. It’s so… peaceful.”
“Peaceful!” exclaimed Faahvrigüo. He shook his head. She didn’t know any better, clearly. “Well, that shows what you know, but you can’t be blamed. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen, I assume. I might show you, if you want, but you won’t like it.”
“Perhaps I might show you some things, as well?”
Faahvrigüo found this a little impertinent —this was his land, after all— but he was charmed by her. He couldn’t help it. “Show me my own domain?” he said with a smile.
“I think some things have changed,” she hastened to add, “I mean, while you were sleeping. I’ve been traveling ever since my arrival. I’ve seen some things that you might want to look at, too.”
“Very well, then,” said he, “I’ve got nothing to do, so lead the way.”
Her face lit up with pleasure, and with a quick bound she took to the skies. Faahvrigüo followed close behind.
He was in awe and delight of her body. It was so unlike anything he’d ever seen. When the sun shone upon her skin, if it could be called that, it sparkled back in luminous colors, as if her scales were made of paper-thin opal, that let you see through her, except when her glow became too bright, which seemed to depend on how intense her mood was. At the tip of her horn, and on her talons and her tail, there was a different sort of glow, that never looked the same either —sometimes white, sometimes bluish, sometimes with a violet tinge to it. “It’s like the color of lightening,” Faahvrigüo thought to himself. The constant flicker of it reminded him of that, too. But most of all, he thought she was beautiful, and he’d never thought that about anyone before.
After flying for some time Faahvrigüo’s attention began to drift to the ground below them. It was not as he remembered it. “The land has changed somewhat,” he observed. “I guess I’ve been away a long time.”
“What is different?”
“It’s all —I don’t know, rather yellow. Dry looking. I flew over the land many seasons before I took my nap. I guess the earth got used to me raining on it.”
“Ah, that would explain some things,” said she. “I’ve seen little dwellings surrounded by yellow-brown fields that seem to be all but baking in the sun, and sometimes when taking a closer look, I’ve noticed the poor little people standing by their thresholds, looking up at the sky. Perhaps they are looking for you?”
Faahvrigüo snorted. “Hardly. They’ve ran for cover whenever they’ve spotted me.”
They flew in silence for a while, until Tekneea said, “These creatures, they don’t live very long, do they, compared to us? I suspect any creature alive today has never laid an eye upon you, other than the ones that you recently scared witless. Maybe they’re not the same way that they were when you fell asleep.”
“In all likelihood they are much worse,” answered Faahvrigüo curtly. She gave him an exasperated look and flew ahead of him. He quickly caught up. She would not look at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said meekly, “What do you want me to do? I can’t help the way I feel.”
Tekneea let her eyes meet his again, and her look had softened. “Come with me down to the earth,” she said to him. “Let me show you the things I’ve seen. And —perhaps you might let some of your rain fall as we go.”
“Very well. Though I can’t understand why you care so much.”
Tekneea didn’t say any more. Instead she guided Faahvrigüo to one of the fields she’d mentioned, where a miserable, weather-grayed little farmhouse stood, and on the way there Faahvrigüo rained and rained, not in a torrential manner, but with a cold, heavy rain that had been held beneath his scales for a long, long while, as his body soaked deep underwater. A dusty smell rose up to meet them as they flew.
Their approach —or more likely Faahvrigüo’s downpour— brought forth a large number of children. They tumbled out of the house’s threshold followed by their parents, all jumping and screeching and throwing little hats in the air. They appeared thin, and so fragile and small; Faahvrigüo could have held several of them in one clawed paw. He let his talons touch the ground as gently as he could.
The taller elves froze on the spot. One of them fell to his knees. The children stopped for a moment, and then approached the Dragon Prince full of awe.
Only later would Faahvrigüo learn the significance of this moment. He knew not that, while he slumbered, stories had been passed down of the Dragon Prince that, though fearsome, had once soared the Meganeean skies and nourished their crops with the rain that fell wherever he flew.
One child, a little girl, dared approach closer than all the others. No one stopped her. She brought a curious, small hand up and touched with it the rippling surface of Faahvrigüo’s body. The water parted along her fingers and she laughed. She sunk both hands inside his skin, and Faahvrigüo, though startled, managed to keep his composure by an encouraging glance from Tekneea, who had alighted beside him.
The little girl then did something astonishing to all. She brought water cupped in her hands up to her mouth and drank it. She smiled up at Faahvrigüo, a smile that was full of innocence and delight. She blabbed words at him which he did not understand, and trotted back to her parents.
The other children were not so bold. The family huddled together and watched the dragons, parents still kneeling in reverence.
“There are other places to visit,” said Tekneea. And so they flew away from there, with Faahvrigüo following behind her, his heart aching strangely, and full of things which he could not have put into words.
In the time that followed, Tekneea and Faahvrigüo would make some of their happiest memories together. They would show each other the world, and they would let themselves be seen by everyone. So, while some elves certainly did doubt whether the Earth Dragon was real, or if she was, whether she was still alive, no one had any doubts that these two creatures were part of their world, and more and more, they were seen with a fearful benevolence. And very, very slowly, as he no longer hid himself, Faahvrigüo began to develop —I would not say a fondness, exactly, but rather a tolerance for the elves, at least for some of them. He did not seek to interact with them as Tekneea would however, vastly preferring when it was just the two of them in their favorite haunts, ignoring anything and anyone else.
Faahvrigüo came to discover that when he and Tekneea flew together in a frenzy, they would create some pretty fierce thunderstorms. To him, it was intoxicating, and so it was for her, but she worried about frightening the elves, and often cut these events short. But these were the best times —high enough not to see any elves below, twisting and turning this and that way among the clouds, flashes of white all around them, wind whistling, and a rain so strong that the two were but a blur within it— the two would become almost drunk with one another. Sometimes, something in the make of Tekneea’s body would shock Faahvrigüo, sending a painful punch all throughout his liquid body, but it would be over in a second, and he would then chase her, his desire for some sort of retribution mixed with his desperate desire to touch her again, driving him wild. He was never sure whether she did it on purpose or it was an accident. Sometimes she laughed at him and sometimes she seemed completely unaware that it had happened. But it didn’t matter to him.
For many a year Faahvrigüo flew, and he wanted nothing to do with elves. He was angry with them for being there, and angry with his mother because she had left him alone for their sake. At least that is how things felt to him.
So he watched them from afar with a scornful sort of curiosity, perched on mountain peaks or between holes in the clouds over which he flew. They looked to him not unlike ants would look to you, and what he could see from his lofty vantage point rarely encouraged him to take a closer look. He watched a few times as they swarmed forming tight little packs of angry black dots, shrinking and expanding until they collided violently with one another in an explosion of noise and confusion that almost invariably left the trampled fields dark with blood. This happened often, and he soon grew bored and repulsed by the spectacle.
When many years had gone by, and the Earth Dragon’s sleep become deeper, Faahvrigüo felt bold enough to occasionally express his disgust at them by flying over their fields, bringing such heavy rains along with him that battlegrounds invariably became too muddy to walk, let alone battle on. He would fly frighteningly low, casting an enormous shadow over them, blocking out the sun and sending them scattering in terror, leaving their killing sticks strewn over the fields or awkwardly stuck at odd angles on the muddy ground.
But Meganeea, as the elves called the land, was still a wild, young place, and vast stretches of it were still peaceful havens for the Dragon Prince to find quiet refuge in.
The wildlife put him at ease. Sometimes he would lie perfectly still for hours, and wait for the animals to approach him. They had no fear of him, just as they did not fear the Earth Dragon. It was as though they innately knew better, unlike the elves. So they would get quite close, and even dip their muzzles and snouts into the cool, gentle flowing waters that made Faahvrigüo’s body, and drink from it, and he was greatly soothed by their company.
There was one incident, however, that changed this forever.
One afternoon found the Dragon Prince comfortably wedged inside a gorge. A wooded mountainside rose around him, and he lazily watched small creatures —an eagle, a bear, some mountain goats— go about their business on it. It was very pleasant, and sometimes he would doze off. One such time, a loud rustling noise woke him with a start. Something about it was too careless to have been caused by an animal. He looked up in annoyance, careful not to raise his head, and saw that it was an elf, as he had suspected. Perhaps taking the constant watery rush and the glints caused by the sun as mere signs of a river running through the gorge, it did not notice Faahvrigüo or as much as glance in his direction. But the Dragon Prince was watching it —and he was full of apprehension.
It was a very young female, a child, long-snouted, with thin limbs and clumsy, trampling feet. Her plain, dirty dress ended at her knees, and a little green hood covered her shoulders. She carried a little basket and was foraging for something. Mushrooms perhaps, or berries.
Faahvrigüo watched as another elven child appeared behind her, screeching noisily, snatching the basket and provoking the other child into giving chase. They drew closer to the edge of the gorge, filling the air with their shrill little cries. Faahvrigüo was annoyed. Go away already, he thought to himself. He did not like small elves any more than he did big ones.
The children had come up to the edge now, and the second one, a boy, had picked up a stone to throw down the gorge. Looking down into it he then froze, with the stone in his raised hand, trying to comprehend the picture that presented itself in front of him. For you must realize, Faahvrigüo was almost incomprehensibly large for a child of this size to process. While not as big as his mother, who was so big as to actually escape notice because she was part of the landscape, Faahvrigüo was somewhere in between —large enough that you wouldn’t immediately notice he was a living creature himself, especially if you were right next to him, but once you realized it, you might have been a little alarmed.
The little girl now approached her companion, who remained comically frozen, his eyes locked into Faahvrigüo’s, and she too froze, her face white with dread. She grabbed the boy’s shoulder and began to drag him back from the edge. And then something happened, something that to Faahvrigüo was terribly disturbing. In front of his eyes the boy suddenly melted into a completely different shape, that of a fawn, which remained on the spot with the same terrified expression for a split second before bounding away toward the forest at high speed.
Faahvrigüo forgot all about being inconspicuous. He jumped to his feet, greatly alarmed by this turn of events, and as was usually the result, alarmed every other creature in the vicinity in the resulting commotion. Birds scattered noisily away from the trees, squirrels scampered from branch to branch in a panic, and deer —real deer, as he would later think of them— sprinted away disoriented, eyes rolling in their sockets and nostrils flaring. The little girl screamed and then she, too, morphed into a small fawn, and, picking up the basket with her teeth, took off into the woods as clumsily and noisily as before, leaving Faahvrigüo staring after her in dread and disbelief.
“Can all of them do that?”
A sullen, troubled Faahvrigüo posed this question to the flickering little light in the night that was Uricchin.
“As far as Uricchin knows,” answered the shy little voice.
Faahvrigüo shifted his weight. He was lying across the mountain range that was the sleeping Earth Dragon’s back. It was the only way he knew to talk to Uricchin, but the older and bigger he grew, the more self-conscious he felt about it. He wasn’t a little hatchling anymore, and he feared disturbing her sleep. For these reasons, as time passed he visited his only confidante less and less. This time he had been prompted to do so by worry.
“How can I tell which is an elf and which is a, a… decent, honest to goodness animal?”
“There is no sure way, Master. Why, even they cannot always tell for sure if they run into one of their own that has shape-shifted in the wild. Makes for unfortunate hunting accidents, Uricchin hears.”
Faahvrigüo shook his head gravely. “Then I may not trust the animals either. Not if even one of them could turn out to be one of those… those creatures in such treacherous disguise.”
“Dear, grieved Master, they are not so bad, these elves. They too are children of Master’s venerable mother. They are— ”
“Silence! To think that you would put me on equal terms with such murderous, wicked little…” Faahvrigüo noticed that Uricchin was hiding his face behind his blobby hands, and his flame was flickering as though it might go out at any moment.
“Listen — they are not like me. So don’t, please. It makes me ill.”
Uricchin peeked thru his fingers.
“It’s alright. If I must make do with only my own company for the sake of my peace of mind, so be it. Besides,” he added, “Animals live such short lives, anyway. I can’t exactly develop any strong attachments.”
And so saying he departed.
But the truth is that he grew a great deal more lonely, and only disliked the elves more for taking yet another thing from him, as he felt it.
Dragons are not creatures given to long discourse, not even among each other. They think long and deeply, then act decisively, although young dragons are perhaps prone to less thinking and more rash actions.
Faahvrigüo’s mother had never properly spoken to him until that day. Strange as it might seem to you, there had been no need.
After flying all through the night, the young dragon landed on the tip of his mother’s snout and sat there quietly at first, staring at his talons. But when he heard her open her eyes (for when a dragon the size of a mountain range as much as blinks, it makes a sound, believe me) he looked up with defiance, ready to defend his actions.
He relaxed somewhat upon noticing that the look in her eyes had softened. Her gentle booming voice filled his head, though the earthen lips never parted or moved.
“My son,” she said to him, “tell me what happened.”
Faahvrigüo shifted uncomfortably. He was not sure where to begin, and was himself quite confused by his recent experience.
“I… I wanted to see what the land was like,” he began reluctantly, “I only wanted a look. Uricchin told me to stay away from them, and I—”
“Yes… I met him one night when I couldn’t sleep,” answered Faahvrigüo, “Near… my nest.”
(He couldn’t quite bring himself to say, “inside your ear.”)
“He’s all drippy and moves a bit like a slug, and he’s got a little bunch of yellow light growing on top of his head.”
“I know Uricchin well,” answered the gentle, booming voice inside Faahvrigüo’s head. There was a hint of amusement in the Earth Dragon’s soft amber eyes. “What did he say to you?”
“He said to avoid the elves as much as I could,” answered Faahvrigüo sullenly, “I DID.”
“I see.” There was a faint rumble as the Earth Dragon slowly blinked. “What else did he say?”
“He… He said not to frighten or hurt them, but—”
“Then, why did you attack them?”
The voice inside Faahvrigüo’s head had grown stern.
“I didn’t hurt them!”
“They were terrified.”
“I was too! I scared them so they would stop killing each other. They made the water of the lake I was playing in all bloody.”
His voice cracked slightly at the end of this outburst. He felt his motive sounded petty, and he couldn’t find the right words to say what he meant.
“Their blood was in me while I was in the water,” he choked, “It got all mixed up with me.”
“My dear, you cannot scare them into not killing each other. It doesn’t work that way.”
Faahvrigüo sniffled and lay down on his mother’s mossy snout.
“Why do they do that, mother?”
“That is not easily explained, my hatchling, But as you saw, they do themselves enough harm without outside help.”
“You must never, EVER raise your talons against them again.”
“But they attacked me first!”
“They can do you no real harm.”
The young dragon prince got on his feet excitedly. “I will not sit there while they fling their spears at me and do nothing, even if they don’t hurt me!”
“Indeed you should not. This time, and any other, you should have flown away from there.”
Faahvrigüo stared, speechless in his consternation.
“I’ve… I’ve got just as much right,” he began weakly. “Mother, they are everywhere! Uricchin said so. What shall I do?”
“Keep your distance, dear, as best as you can.”
Faahvrigüo sat in silence for a while, deeply troubled. “Why?” he asked finally.
“Faahvrigüo,” answered the Earth Dragon tenderly, “My beloved child, please forgive your mother’s unfairness. You are quite right —you have just as much right— but humor me on my whim. You may understand my motives better when you are older, or you may come to resent me for them, but I must implore you to try to do as I bid you.”
There was sorrow in her eyes, and a bitter lump in Faahvrigüo’s throat. He swallowed it and asked his mother, “Why do you care about them so much?”
“They are my children, just as much as you are.”
A pang of childish jealously stung the dragon prince’s heart.
“Whom do you care for the most?”
The Earth Dragon gazed at him for a silent moment. The enormous earthen lids dropped and rose once with a faint crunch as the Dragon blinked.
“Whom do you love best, then? Mother!”
“I love you the same.”
Faahvrigüo caught his breath and stiffened.
“I don’t understand. Are they not like the grass, or the trees? They are so small. They all look alike. They are noisy and mean-spirited. There are so many of them —or so Uricchin tells me. There is but one of me. How can we matter the same to you?”
“I don’t expect you to understand, little one. You are so very young, and have seen so very little of the world, and of them… Although (and here a grimace flickered across her face) I’m afraid you’ve seen too much of some things, too early. Perhaps…” She seemed to hesitate. “Perhaps you should go forth then, and see more. Go and see the world and let the world see you.”
She sighed —the first sound to come from her lips. Her breath shook the treetops on the valley below her snout.
“They might as well get used to you, and it’s not like I can prevent it for very much longer.”
“I don’t want to!” cried Faahvrigüo, lashing his tail against the ground and making it splash. He felt deeply contrary. He would rather they all went away, and not have to look at them or be looked at.
“Heed me, my beloved hatchling, and pray do not be obstinate,” said the Earth Dragon, soothingly, “Do you not realize how much you’ve grown since the last time I’ve been awake? My son, too soon you will outgrow this part of the land, and me. You cannot nest on mother’s back forever.”
A great sorrow filled the young Dragon Prince’s heart upon hearing these words, and tears filled his eyes. Gaze downcast, he asked in a low, tremulous whisper, “But I don’t have to leave yet, do I? We can still be together for a while longer, can’t we, Mother?”
The great amber eyes were shut. As the minutes passed with no forthcoming reply, Faahvrigüo began to fear that there would be none. But then, with a crumble, the eyes opened and the loving, familiar gaze fell upon him once again.
“Have you wondered yet, my child, why Mother must sleep season after season, for years, so seldom waking while you grow and explore and play all on your own?”
Faahvrigüo lifted his head. He realized that he had wondered this, and for a long time, too. But, as she’d never been awake to ask when the question crossed his mind, he would forget for a while, until some night when he felt rather lonesome and wanted for her.
The gentle booming voice droned on.
“As a species, we dragons are self-sustaining. Some of us, such as myself, can create a world from nothing. Others, such as your Father, can nurture that life and make it grow. The life we create becomes our own source of sustenance. We must feed from it in order to stay alive. However, I could never do that. I grow too fond of it. So I sleep. So long as I sleep, and conserve and regenerate my energy, I’ve found that I can stay alive and life can go on undisturbed. In this manner, I keep you alive as well. If I did not sleep, both you and I would grow weak and hungry. You do not need to eat as long as I stay alive.
I would die first rather than harming this world to keep myself alive, but I could not ask the same of you, and neither could I bear to see you kill to appease your hunger. So I must sleep. I must sleep deep and always, for during my every waking moment, I grow weaker, and so would the land in time grow weaker, since our energy flows as one.”
“I don’t understand,” Faahvrigüo said softly.
“My little prince, I must sleep so deeply, that I could not talk to you for hundreds of years. You would grow lonesome here, long before you grew so big that you could no longer find a nesting place on my back.”
“Oh,” was all that Faahvrigüo said. But something felt broken in his throat, and he struggled not to cry. You must remember that he was, after all, only a little dragon, not much older than a hatchling, and needed his mother very much still.
The Earth Dragon’s eyes had closed again, but her voice still filled Faahvrigüo’s mind, loving and soothing.
“Go out into the world, my love, see it, and let it see you. Though they may not look like you, your brothers and sisters fill this land. Know them, harm them not, and I’m sure that in time you will come to treasure their existence as much as I do. And remember —though I may sleep, I dream of you. I am always with you, and you may count on Uricchin to guide you.”
The Earth Dragon did not speak again.
Faahvrigüo curled up into a tight ball and stayed on her snout a while longer. Then he dried his tears and flew away from there.
The Earth Dragon remained awake for some time after the birth of her hatchling. She moved but little, however, and her offspring, who for the time being would absorb sustenance from his Mother’s life force without the need to eat, was mostly left to his own devices, though under her watchful eyes, most of the time.
In the beginning, he set out to explore the mountain that was The Earth Dragon’s body. He was quite small in comparison to it; enough that it was a place he could get lost in, but not so much that he couldn’t find his way back before nighttime or come to any harm during his wanderings.
There was a sharp mountain ridge going down the Earth Dragon’s back all the way to the tip of her tail, which she kept curled around the side of her body. The tallest of these peaks was as tall as Faahvrigüo could stand when he stood on his hind legs.
Past the southern side of his Mother the land ended sharply. He could explore no further. So he tried to explore the land to the North, but every time she would corral him in her claws, and his attempts were foiled.
The older he grew, the more frustrated he became. He learned to control his liquid essence so well, that he could turn to water that would go between her talons, and regain his shape once on the other side. But then she would pick him up and place him as far from the northern land as she possibly could, forcing him to restart his long trek until he reached her claws and was stopped in his tracks once again, over and over.
Always before night fell he would find his way back to his Mother’s head, where he had his favorite sleeping place, right ahead of the spot where her long, curved horns grew. From here he would watch the sun set over the land to the North with longing, and wonder what was there, beyond the sea of of green treetops that extended as far as his eyes could see.
Little Faahvrigüo grew older and bigger. In time, he got big enough that he had to curl up very tightly in order to be able to fit on top of his Mother’s head. Once in a while one of his legs would slide out of him and he would wake up, startled, scrambling and reaching to hold on to a rock or bush with his claws, lest he slide down her neck all the way down the mountain range that was her back. When that happened, it was a stony, bumpy ride down. And happen it did, several times, until it was one time too many.
On that occasion, when Faahvrigüo managed to grab onto one of his Mother’s scales and stop rolling and bumping and splashing against rocks and trees, he decided to make his way down and find a new sleeping place. But when he turned around to give his old, comfortable nest a last sulking glance, something caught his eye.
There was barely perceptible light coming from a crevice somewhere below his sleeping spot. It flickered and moved around. As Faahvrigüo approached, he noticed that it was in fact a cluster of several very tiny little flames, constantly moving, slowly and jerkily.
This crevice was far too small for him to get in, and that was a good thing, for in the dark he had not noticed that he was peering into his Mother’s ear. The mouth of this tunnel was just big enough for him to peek into.
His eyes were beginning to get accustomed to the dark and make out the little shapes that accompanied the flames when a soft little voice greeted him.
“Young Master, hello!”
So startled was Faahvrigüo, who had never heard a voice other than the rumbling of his Mother’s throat before, that he lost his footing and went rolling and bumping and splashing down the mountain again. This time, however, he managed to stop his fall sooner. Frightened, but curious, he went back to peek into the tunnel and look for the little voice among the dancing flames.
He looked in, and saw a pair of golden, sleepy eyes looking into his own. They appeared large on the face of the friendly little creature to whom they belonged. A bright flame burned merrily atop its head.
Faahvrigüo watched it as it moved slowly toward him. It was smaller even than one of the young dragon’s own eyes. Faahvrigüo could see no feet on it; it dragged the bottom of its body over the rock much like a slug would, leaving a trail behind. It did, however, sport a pair of tiny arms, and rather shapeless hands at the end of each. Every part of its body seemed to be a “suggestion” of the real thing, half formed, partly melted, or melting into waxy little droplets.
“Hello,” it said again, waving a tiny three-fingered hand very shyly. Then a finger melted and dripped to the floor, and there were only two left. Faahvrigüo was astonished.
“Oh, dear,” said the little creature, “don’t be frightened. Look, here it is again.”
He showed Faahvrigüo his hand, with the fingers it had left directed toward the floor, and a new finger was being formed where the other one had melted off. The other two, however, seemed to become longer. So the little hand was now even more shapeless than before, but its owner seemed satisfied.
“There, all better!” he said, wriggling his three fingers so Faahvrigüo could see them.
“This is Uricchin,” he said, placing a hand on his chest. Then he made a respectful little wave with it in Faahvrigüo’s direction. “You are the Earth Dragon’s Son.” His childlike voice was full of devotion. “That makes you Uricchin’s Master.”
Faahvrigüo only stared with bemusement, making no reply. The creature baffled him, rather, but he was glad to have this unexpected companion.
“We grew from the body of Master’s Mother, like everything else here,” explained Uricchin with a motion toward the many other little creatures like him that crawled aimlessly as far inside the tunnel as Faahvrigüo could see. Some were smaller and some were larger, and all were melted to different degrees. Some had no flames on top of their heads, only little wicks, and appeared to be asleep.
“But unlike everything else,” continued Uricchin, “we were here first. And I’ve been here since the Earth Dragon was still in her egg.”
Here Faahvrigüo found his voice.
“You don’t look that old,” he said dubiously. “You shouldn’t tell lies.”
The little flame burned brighter, and Uricchin’s chubby face seemed to glow red under its light. He giggled and looked away and seemed terribly pleased.
“My Young Master is too kind, much too kind!” he squeaked with delight, “It is no lie. Uricchin would never dare lie to his Master, not ever… Uricchin is very old indeed. He is as old as Young Master’s Mother. He has been with her, always… Before this world, and before the world before this one, too.”
“What do you mean? What other world?” the little dragon flicked his ears, puzzled.
“The Earth Dragon made everything in this world,” said Uricchin with a hint of sadness, “She made another world before this one, but it ended badly. That was before my Young Master was born.”
Faahvrigüo shook his head slowly.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“It would be too hard for my Young Master to understand,” said Uricchin, “when He doesn’t know what a world even looks like. This world doesn’t end at the edge of the Earth Dragon’s tail.”
“I know THAT,” said Faahvrigüo, flicking his own tail with annoyance, “She won’t let me see what’s beyond it. I’ve tried and tried.”
Uricchin gave Faahvrigüo a long, thoughtful glance that for a moment almost seemed to betray his age.
“The Earth Dragon’s sleep is more sound with every passing day,” he said. “Soon it will become so deep that almost nothing will rouse her from it. My Young Master must wait for such a time, and then quietly, without disturbing Her, fly over to the side that lies beyond Her. There He shall find the rest of this world.”
So Faahvrigüo waited. He waited days, and months, and weeks and even years while his mother still shifted occasionally around, or sometimes awoke, gave a contented look around, and slept again. Of course, though years were a long time to the rest of Meganeea, they amounted to little for Faahvrigüo, who by the time he’d first met Uricchin was already a two hundred year old hatchling.
He didn’t grow any more than you would between Halloween and Christmas Day, but the wait was just as grueling for him. To pass the time, he would sometimes have a visit with Uricchin, whom he found in equal measures entertaining and grating on his nerves. Other times he would climb up the tallest peak he could find, and there he would concentrate on making himself lighter and less dense, until his body became so light that his feet started to leave the ground, and he was able to cover small distances by letting the wind push him as it would a cloud.
Every day he got a little better at it, and a little stronger, until he was able to push himself around him with his own wings.
“I flew above the tree-tops today,” he said to Uricchin one night. His voice carried a careless note, but he held his head very high.
“How marvelous!” Uricchin praised him dreamily, “How Uricchin wishes he could fly and see everything from above, too.”
“But you have been with Mother when she has flown before, have you not?”
“That isn’t the same, Young Master. Uricchin has spent almost his entire existence in this cave. He cannot look down from above, not from here.”
“Maybe I’ll take you with me one day,” said little Faahvrigüo magnanimously.
“How generous Uricchin’s Master is to his humble servant! He so wants to see the world!”
“So do I,” said Faahvrigüo. “Now tell me —just when will I get to do that? I ask you this every night, and every night you say, ‘Not yet.’ I’m going to lose my mind from boredom, always walking up and down Mother’s back, seeing the same old things.”
Uricchin grew serious. “My Young Master must take care,” he warned, “for beyond the Earth Dragon live Her other children.”
Faahvrigüo’s eyes widened with astonishment, but before he could ask anything, Uricchin went on.
“They are not other young dragons such as my Master is. These children of the Earth Dragon are called elves, and they do not all look alike. But they are all very small, so small that my Young Master could kill one by stepping on it by accident. My Master must take great care not to frighten or hurt them when he is out in their world.”
“What kind of brute do you take me for?” scoffed Faahvrigüo. But then, because Uricchin seemed so earnest and concerned, he added, “I’ll be careful.”
Time went on, as time does, and a day did come when Faahvrigüo perched on his Mother’s talons, looked back, and she did not rouse. In fact he could not recall the last time she’d moved, or even blinked. Her breathing was shallow, though he had been reassured by Uricchin not to worry. All the same, as he took that last look, he was filled with trepidation. He went over her talons to the other side, and she did not move them to corral him back in. It wouldn’t matter now that he could fly, but he felt reassured all the same. Emboldened, he rearranged himself into something that was almost like steam and floated up with little pushes of his still-small wings.
The air was warm, and Faahvrigüo’s steamy body lingered on it with ease. He felt almost weightless, and the slightest movement of his wings pushed him forward and high, high to the sky. For the first time he felt complete confidence as he flew, save for the occasional cold pocket of air, when he would plummet down until he collected his wits and made his body lose enough density to float, or the warm air enveloped him again, doing it for him.
It was still dark out, and drunk in the exhilaration of this first true flight, the sunrise caught the young Dragon Prince by surprise. When the sun spilled color all over the land below, he stopped mid-somersault, first shocked, then delighted, at the vision that presented itself for him. He swooped down to get a closer look.
For miles all around, a carpet of green extended below him. Trees grew thick and tall, more than he had ever seen. But only for an instant did he stand in awe as he beheld the view. Faahvrigüo was young and wild and full of curiosity, and the exhilaration of his flight left him feeling deliciously reckless.
Instinctively (for it was becoming second nature to him now) he rearranged his essence to make his body heavier, and in one fell swoop he dropped down toward the expanse of green below. The speed with which he dropped caught him by surprise, so that he nearly crashed against the thick tree-tops. He composed himself just in time, however, and was soon coasting over the trees regarding the landscape with his best lofty expression, for you see, he was a Prince after all, and it simply won’t do for a prince to appear out of breath while exploring his dominion, even if he is a very young prince.
The vast expanse of green seemed to stretch forever into the distance. To Faahvrigüo they looked little different from the trees he was accustomed to seeing on his Mother’s back, and he found himself growing bored in spite of his earlier excitement, until a faint glimmer in the distance caught his eye. There was something promising and deeply compelling about these far-off dancing lights, and now with a clear destination in sight, Faahvrigüo beat his small wings with added vigor and moved toward it at greater speed.
It was far, far away.
Morning gave way to noon and Faahvrigüo still found himself coasting on the warm currents of air, flapping his wings only occasionally so as not to tire himself out too much, and yet the glimmer seemed as distant as ever. Still, the landscape was changing. Slowly but surely trees began to grow sparse, and soft sloping hills gave way to mountains. He came upon a sharp cluster of peaks that reminded him of something —alarmed him, even.
“Mother!” he cried out, immediately aware that it was not, could not, be her, but wondering for the first time since he’d left whether she had noticed he’d gone off, and whether she would be cross when he got back.
Faahvrigüo looked back, indeed for the first time yet, and was quite astonished, not for the first —or last— time that day.
There lay the Earth Dragon, fast asleep. For an instant Faahvrigüo did not “see” her, for truly she was as if one with the Southern Meganeean landscape; a long range of sharp peaks surrounded by thick green life. But the pattern of those peaks was unmistakable, as were the vine-wrapped horns. The misty cloud of her breath that always hung thick and warm near her snout was visible even at this distance.
To that day, Faahvrigüo had never seen his Mother’s body from end to end. Now, even after hours of flight, she still loomed so vast and imposing! Faahvrigüo felt strangely afraid and very, very small.
He did not fear rousing his mother’s anger, not truly. But seeing her so large on the horizon that she was the horizon herself, reminded him of just how tiny he was by comparison. And this world —just how big was it? Uricchin hadn’t said. Perhaps he should turn back. What if he flew so far he no longer could see his Mother, and became lost? What if…?
He turned around. The glimmer trembled and danced on the other side, calling to him. Suddenly Faahvrigüo knew what it was.
Now, don’t ask me how Faahvrigüo knew that it was water, when he had never seen a lake, river or even a pond in his short life. In fact, the largest body of water he had ever beheld was his very own. Perhaps this is how he could tell. He had seen small puddles across his Mother’s back, and found that he could control the shape and density of the water in them just like he was able to do with that of his own body.
And what fun it was! Just imagine the potential that a whole lot of this liquid plaything could have. For it was a lot: this much, too, he could tell. At this enticing prospect he wavered no longer, and flew onward.
By the time he arrived, it was late afternoon, but the sun still danced with blinding beauty over the water. It was the biggest “puddle” that the young dragon had ever seen; a lake so vast indeed that Faahvrigüo could not see the shore on the other side at first approach. Jagged, great rocks and misshapen islands poked randomly throughout its calm surface.
Flying over this great expanse of sparkling blue made the Dragon Prince drunk with delight, and he dove straight into it with a delightful crash. He found that he could breathe underwater as easily as he could out of it. Not only that, but almost as soon as he hit the water he was overcome by the feeling of becoming one with it.
Faahvrigüo did not feel small anymore! In fact, he could not tell where his own body ended and where the lake began. He laughed when fish swam right through his skin, tickling him. Vaguely he could “feel” the massive reach of the lake itself. He felt the soil that surrounded the water, and felt its great depth, the reach of both being much farther that he would have dared to explore. The lake was absolutely teeming with life.
Although the place where Faahvrigüo swam was peaceful and quiet, the energy of this ebullient life made a “noise” that coursed through Faahvrigüo’s body in a deliciously confusing fashion.
He was distracted from his pleasure by an odd, somewhat alarming feeling, the sensation of an unknown presence on the lake’s surface —and by extension on his own body— that had not been there before. Or maybe it had been there all along, nearby, and he had only noticed it now?
Deciding to investigate, he swam up and poked his head out of the water only just enough to be able to take a quick, safe peek.
Looking around, he saw nothing peculiar at first. Dusk was falling, and mist was settling over the lake’s surface. But then, out of the corner of his eye, Faahvrigüo spotted two shapes coming into view. To him, however, they were completely unrecognizable.
He dove back in so as to swim closer to them undetected, and after a fruitless inspection of the objects’ smooth, curved bottoms, he peeked out again.
Two tall, very peculiar structures were floating on the water. They smelled like they might be made out of trees, or something that had been a tree before, yet they looked unlike any tree that the young dragon had ever seen, with only a few gigantic white leaves billowing in the breeze.
These floating contraptions were made even more disquieting by the fact that they were crawling all over with angry-looking little people, most of which sported pointy ears and furry tails —some longer, some shorter. They were causing a great din.
Faahvrigüo told himself that these must be the elves Uricchin had described to him, and the puzzling structures must be their dwellings. He had not expected to find them drifting along in the middle of a lake.
Inconspicuous as the young dragon may have been trying to appear, he would have been the cause of great and immediate alarm for these elves under ordinary circumstances. As it turned out, they were much too preoccupied with one another to notice him at all.
Faahvrigüo watched in fascination as the structures drifted dangerously closer together until they ran into each other with a loud bump.
Shortly thereafter, great excitement ensued!
There were yells and shrieks and waving of pointy things and shaking of fists. Some pointy things flew with a whizz! from one structure over to the other. There was a powerful blast, which caused Faahvrigüo to hide underwater completely. He was greatly frightened and confused. When he dared to reemerge just enough to see, there was thick, foul smelling smoke which stung his eyes and obstructed his view. He had to draw closer to better see the hulking vessels, one of which was now badly marred. Both structures were in flames. Something resembling vines was thrown between the two, and by their use, most of the elves were now on the same one. The ones that weren’t, Faahvrigüo noticed with a sickening feeling, were floating in the lake, not moving. The water around some had a faint red tinge. Faahvrigüo felt it pollute his own body, which was then mixed with the lake’s waters. He felt ill.
One need not have the horror of death explained to them to recognize it. Even in his fear and confusion, Faahvrigüo knew it when he beheld it.
What stupid little creatures, to thoughtlessly do such horribly things to one another! And for what reason? The young Dragon Prince’s first excursion was ruined, his special new place most grossly violated. Faahvrigüo could not stand to be in the bloodied waters any longer.
He dove down and under the structures, where the muffled screaming could still reach his ears. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he shot up and burst through the surface right between them with his fiercest roar.
To be sure, this made a strong impression on his bickering audience, as he would have —roar or no roar. For you see, Faahvrigüo felt quite small next to his mother, and he had felt small when first surveying the vast unknown world that morning. The endless lake, too, had made him feel quite insignificant, yet in reality he was anything but. In fact, he quite underestimated his size, and when he emerged so violently the waves his body created caused the wrecked structure to capsize, and the other to nearly do the same. He had not meant to cause this to happen, and was taken aback along with the elves.
They stared, and Faahvrigüo stared back, regaining enough of his composure to glare at them, feeling large and imposing and very terrible indeed. No one said anything or moved, and after a minute or so, the silence began to turn rather awkward.
Then someone —someone not very bright— decided to seize the distraction as an opportunity to club someone else on the head, and to the young dragon’s dismay and disbelief, pandemonium broke loose once again.
The battle resumed as if he had not been there at all. Indignant, Faahvrigüo roared again and with one hard swat sent the now sinking wreck bouncing a little way across the water, like a skipping stone.
Then the elves on the remaining ship paid attention to him, and how! This attention they expressed with spears and harpoons and cannon balls, all of which naturally went right through Faahvrigüo’s liquid body, causing little more than a good deal of splashing. Such things could not hurt him, nor any other means available to common ruffians such as these elves were.
They did however serve to greatly frighten and anger our Dragon Prince, and in a second his talons might have clawed those rickety wooden things to pieces, the elves along with them. This would have been a terrible thing, so I am glad to tell you it did not happen.
Both dragon and elves were stopped in their tracks by a deafening, ear-splitting roar that got into the core of every living and non-living thing so thoroughly, that by the time it was over —and it lasted a good while— every blade of grass shook and every rock reverberated with its might.
The elves, their bodies flat against the deck and their hands over their heads, shook as well, though for different motives. Faahvrigüo gave them a scornful glance and looked up in the direction of his mother, where she, with her body half-risen, lay looking back at him.
It took one confusing, painful instant for Faahvrigüo to come to the shocking realization that the wrath he read in her eyes was not directed toward these insolent, foolhardy creatures that would try to hurt her precious young, but at Faahvrigüo himself. Even though he probably ought not to have strayed so far, the burning fury in her eyes hurt him deeply. It scared him, too.
He did not look back at the elves again, but took flight and made for home. He was not eager to arrive, yet he pressed on, for the way back resulted in a very uncomfortable experience. Elves were everywhere now, out in droves and in small groups, with torches and lanterns. Every window was yellow with light in every farmhouse, village and town that Faahvrigüo flew over, for the Earth Dragon’s roar had carried very, very far.
All eyes and pointing fingers were on Faahvrigüo, and various sorts of exclamations, the nature of which he could not understand, followed him all the way.
He did not have to bear the terribly look in his Mother’s eyes for long, at least. When she saw him take off in her direction, she laid down again and shut her eyes. Even from far away it was evident that the effort of rising had exhausted her. For the first time the young Dragon Prince wondered why she spent so much time sleeping, and why she tired so easily. Had it always been so? Why hadn’t he noticed?
His mind heavy with many worries, Faahvrigüo flew higher, over the clouds, away from the gaping faces and pointing fingers of the pesky little beings on the ground, and he did not begin his descent until he reached his Mother.