She hated camping. It was the bugs. She shuddered at the thought of them. Yes, it was definately the bugs...and the lack of restrooms. Now that she thought about it, she didn't like the way grass made her legs itch either, or the way the wind whipped her long brown hair across her face forcing her to spit it out of her mouth. To make matters worse, their tent was always drafty, and far too small, and the food always seemed to have bugs in it.
She really hated the bugs.
Cassie's parents had forced her to take this camping trip since she was five years old, and she had hated it then. At sixteen, she had finally had enough. Two weeks of this bug-infested ritual was more than she could take. She had talked with them, and they had agreed that if she didn't want to go camping the following year, they wouldn't make her. The only stipulation was that she couldn't complain about the trip for the rest of their vacation. Three more days and she could go back to civilization. She bit her tongue to keep from voicing her objections as they reached the top of the gently sloping cliff her father had decided to climb today.
"Ah, what a beautiful view!" he said contentedly. His eyes darted all around the valley that stretched out below, his arm unconciously reaching to wrap itself around her mother's waist.
"Oh, Paul, isn't it delightful?" she asked smiling down at the valley. "Cassie, come and see how pretty everything looks from here." she called over her shoulder.
"Pretty, pretty, pretty...It would be a lot prettier in the rearview mirror." Cassie mumbled under her breath as she wiped the sweat from her face. There was nothing pretty about climbing. She just wanted to go home. She stopped to pull a burr off of her sock, and grimaced as it clung to her finger. Shaking the offending thing off, she continued to trudge the rest of the way up the cliffside, grumbling under her breath.
Finally she reached the top, and stood next to her parents who were still gazing in wonder at the pastoral scene below. She spared a quick glance, and was very glad she had. For once, she had to agree with her parents. The view was spectacular!
The valley unfolded magnificently from the rocky cliffs that surrounded it. It's soft green grass and fields of wildflowers blended in so well that it appeared as if someone had painted them. There was a sparkling brook that meandered lazily through the fields, and wound playfully around a small picturesque town nestled near the valley floor. No, town wasn't the right word. She searched her mind for the elusive name, and finally found it. Village! Yes, village was more like it. Did people even use that term anymore, she wondered? With it's whitwashed buildings and deep red roofs, it couldn't be called anything else. There wasn't a single car to be seen, and there was no evidence of a road. She couldn't believe that they had driven through this same town on their way to the campsite just a little over a week ago. She had never noticed how magical a place it really was.
"It certainly doesn't look like the place where we picked up the sandwich meats, does it?" her father asked smiling down at her.
"No. No it doesn't." she whispered quietly, quite taken with the scene.
Cassie immediately sat down on the rock she had been standing on, and pulled off her backpack. In no time at all, she had her sketch pad out, and was feverishly trying to capture the timeless beauty laid out before her. Her parents smiled down at their daughter, and wandered off to give her a little time to herself. She was so busy, she never even noticed that they had gone.
She was reaching for the pencil that most resembled the soft purple colors of the wildflowers, when she saw movement off to the right of the valley. Sure it had to be a deer, she held perfectly still. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a whole family of deer came out of the woods right now? It would make her picture just that much more magical! She held her breath, hoping they would wander out so that she could see them. It didn't take long, and when the creature finally did appear, she had to rub her eyes to be sure she wasn't seeing things.
The sunlight shimmered off forest green scales, and it's wings fluttered gently in the soft breeze that played along the valley floor. It was at least fifteen feet long from the tip of it's snout to the end of it's tail, and Cassie found herself unable to tear her eyes away as it turned it's great horned head to look right at her.
She was frozen to the spot, unable to believe what she was seeing. The dragon watched her for another moment, and then quite casually launched into the air and flew right towards her in a sort of half pumping, half gliding motion unlike anything she had ever seen before.
Now she became afraid. This was no myth or fairy tale. This was a living, breathing dragon, quite capable of making an easy meal of her. Forgetting her sketch pad and pencils, she jumped up and began to run down the cliff towards the campsite. She was far too frightened even to scream. Her breath came in ragged gasps, as she tried to escape the dangerous beast, but the way was treacherous. She had to slow down slightly so she didn't fall to the valley floor below.
Unaware of the deadly speed of dragons, Cassie was shocked when she looked behind her and found the dragon less then six feet away! In another moment, it had reached out with a huge, taloned claw and knocked her to the ground.
Cassie lay sobbing on the forest floor, too frightened to run anymore, and waited for the dragon to begin it's meal. Her shoulder ached where the dragon's claw had caught her. She could feel the warm wetness that meant she had been scratched by the beast, though not as badly as she would have thought. Where were her parents? Why couldn't she scream?
*I'm sorry that I frightened you, I hope I didn't hurt you too badly,* said a silken voice from out of nowhere. Her ears didn't actually hear it, she just sort of felt it in her head. It was a strange sensation, though not unpleasant.
Cassie stayed curled up in a ball, her sobs slowing only slightly as she watched the dragon land just inches away from her. It was amazing how something so large could move so gracefully. She was still terrified, but not nearly as bad as she had been moments before. Her hand slowly reached up to grab her bleeding shoulder and check the damage. It was a small scratch that would bleed for a while, but would probably heal up just fine...if she lived long enough for that.
*Come now, it isn't all that bad is it?*
The strange voice had asked so gently, with such real concern, that she couldn't help feeling less afraid. Cassie looked up into the face of the dragon, and realized that it wasn't attacking. She also realized with a shock that the voice in her head was the dragon.
"A...are you t-t-talking t-t-to m-m-me?" she asked timidly, forgetting her shoulder in her amazement. She felt silly talking to the dragon, but what else could she do?
*No, I am telepathically linking with you. It is different,* said the voice softly. The dragon began preening it's left wing as though this sort of thing happened every day.
"Oh." It was all she could think of to say. If she wasn't going to be eaten, what could the dragon possibly want with her then?
*That is easy,* replied the dragon gently in her head. *You don't think every human can see us, do you?*
"I hadn't really thought about it," Cassie whispered as she sat up slowly. She was fast losing her fear of the wonderous thing before her. If only she could have her sketch pad now! What a magnificent picture this dragon would make.
The dragon continued casually, now preening the right wing. *Only certain humans with a touch of the 'wild' can see us. You are one of those humans, Cassie.*
She nearly jumped when it said her name! This couldn't be happening. She must have dozed off while making her sketch, and the magical village scene had bred this crazy dream. Touch of the 'wild'? She hated to be outside so how could she have a touch of the 'wild'?
*It's no dream, Cassie. In fact, I had to come after you so that I could explain.* The dragon sat down and wrapped it's tail casually around it's feet. She found herself unable to speak as she watched the dragon prepare to relate it's story.
*You see, long ago we moved freely among the humans. We had our hunting grounds, and they had their's.* Here the great beast paused, and gazed sorrowfully towards the forest around them. Then it returned to the story. *Unfortunately, humans breed faster than we do, and soon their hunting grounds became too small for the amount of people they had to feed.* The dragon paused in it's story, and Cassie could feel the dragon's embarassment as it continued. *I must admit,* it said sadly, *we dragons weren't very sympathetic to the human's plight.*
*The humans were starving so they began hunting where they could, even outside their own territory. Unfortunately, the dragons did not care that the people were going hungry, and punished anyone who infringed on their territory. It didn't take long for war to begin. At first, the dragons were winning, but as I said, humans breed faster then we. The few losses we sustained began to take their toll. For each human we killed, three more entered the fray. We were unable to replace our losses at the same rate the humans could. It takes years to hatch a nest full of younglings, and many more years for them to reach their maturity. We began to dwindle more each day.* The dragon sighed deeply, and a single tear rolled down it's scaled face. It obviously needed a moment before it could continue.
Cassie was moved by the story. She didn't want the dragon to stop, but she didn't want it to hurt either. She found herself reaching a hand to wipe the tear as it trickled slowly down the dragon's snout. She was completely unaware of the tears that were flowing down her own cheeks. The dragon's mode of talking was through feelings and pictures, and what she saw and felt when the dragon spoke was very intense to a mind unused to the sharing of such powerful emotions. All those lives lost on both sides...
The dragon closed it's eyes, and made a soft sound in it's throat as she touched it. Something magical was happening here, and Cassie didn't want to lose the feeling. She moved closer to the great beast, and rested her head on it's heavily muscled chest. The sound of it's heart was loud and steady, and the soft sound it had been making was much louder now that she was so close. The scales were warm, not cold as she had thought they would be. She found that she was quite comfortable curled up next to the beautiful creature; her fear completely drained away. Now, all she felt was compassion for a fellow being.
*Where was I? Oh, yes. Well, eventually our elders got together and decided that the only way to put an end to this was to disappear from the Earth altogether. Our greed and selfish ways had caused us to be hunted down in almost every land, and many of our nests had been crushed or stolen making things even more dire. The humans wouldn't stop, and the dragons were too few to continue. By this time, the humans were no longer fighting for food. They had forgotten over the years what it was they had been fighting about. Now it was the humans' own greed and mistaken lust for power that urged them on.*
*In desperation, we gathered those that we could still find and worked an ancient spell that sent us to another dimension not unlike Earth. Though it mimics your dimension in many ways, however, it is not the same. We still long for the things of this plane. We miss the feel of the grass beneath our feet, the warmth of the sun on our wings...* Here the dragon stopped, it's eyes closed as it thought of it's longing. *Only a very few humans can see us, and those few that we find we must tell this story to. It is taught to us at a very young age so that we may learn from it, and for this very moment that all dragons both yearn for...and dread.*
The dragon arched it's neck, and turned so it could see the small, brown haired, human child curled up next to it. This was the part of the story it hated the most.
*Child,* It began softly, treading carefully over this most precarious news.*Here is why we tell this tale. It would never do if other humans found out about us. You must understand that.*
Cassie sat up excitedly, her eyes shining with hope. "No! The people today are different. Really! There are animal rights groups who would protect you, and with your intelligence, people would be sure to listen to your story and feel just like I do. If I told my parents..."
*If you told your parents, I would have to kill you!* Roared the dragon sternly, all thoughts of gentleness leaving in it's fear for the girl.
Cassie was shocked both by the dragon's sudden violence and it's declaration. Kill her? But this dragon was her friend, her soulmate. It wouldn't really...
*Yes, I would.* said the dragon shaking it's head sadly. *I would have to. You see I am the dragon you saw, so it falls to me, and me alone, to be sure that you never speak of our meeting to another living soul. If you break your silence I shall be forced by my oath to hunt you. It is the only way we are allowed to visit this dimension. We must uphold that oath...at all costs.*
"No!" gasped Cassie. Her face was pale, and her heart felt like it had stopped beating. "But it wasn't my fault I saw you. It's not fair!" She buried her face in the dragon's chest, her sobs loud in the stillness of the forest. Even now, she held no true fear of the dragon towering over her.
*I know dear. I know. This is the only way we can be truly safe from humans if we return to this dimension. We cannot possibly exist if they find out we are still here. They would never allow it. Scientists would come with their dissecting machines, and private collectors would pay large amounts of gold to get one of us either alive or dead. It has all happened before...It would happen again.* The dragon tilted it's head and gazed at the soft creature sobbing gently into it's chest. *You wouldn't want that for us, would you Cassie?* asked the dragon earnestly.
"No." came the muffled reply.
*Dearest, I would never harm you as long as you kept the secret. I will even promise to come here every year to visit with you. Every day your family vacations here I will come to the glade and tell you the wondrous stories of dragonkind, and you can tell me all about your beautiful Earth. All about it's flowers, and it's mountains, and the warmth you feel as you walk beneath a summer sun. I ask only that you keep this between us, and no one else. Is that so much?* The dragon's thoughts had become murky. It was becoming very hard for Cassie to understand the jumbled images and emotions that she was receiving. Sensing this, the dragon tried to project it's longings and feelings about the Earth to her, and Cassie was overwhelmed by the dragon's love of the world that she lived in. She no longer saw the bugs as horrible creatures, nor did she feel the same way about being outdoors! The Earth was a blessing, and she felt terrible that she had hated it for so long. Oh, the things she had missed!
"Don't cry," Cassie pleaded. "I promise. No one shall ever know! I promise to tell you all about everything, but I won't tell anyone else about it. Please, don't cry anymore." The young girl hugged the dragon as tightly as she could without hurting herself. The relieved dragon wrapped it's wings around her, and gently hugged her back. It was wonderful...magical! Cassie could have stayed there forever in the cocoon of it's leathery wings.
*I will make you a promise now,* said the dragon smiling at her with it's great jaws. *I said you could not tell anyone else about me, but you are an artist. I don't think anyone would think it was strange if you drew pictures of me, or others of my kind. Just don't tell anyone where you got the ideas.* Cassie cheered at the sudden thought, and a broad smile appeared on her face. It wouldn't be so hard to keep the secret if she could still show people the beauty of the dragons around her. The dragon hugged her once more, and stepped away gently. The sudden chill she felt was more than the loss of warmth from it's body. Unconciously she took a step forward.
*Your parents are coming. I must go,* the dragon said gazing in the direction of her parents distant voices. Cassie hadn't heard them at all. She was impressed with the dragon's ability to hear things at such a distance. *I am truly sorry for your wound. I will see you in the glade tomorrow if you wish it.* The dragon gazed at her hopefully as it began stretching and fanning it's wings in a pre-flight warm up.
"Oh, yes, please! My shoulder barelly hurts anymore...really." She exclaimed breathlessly. For the first time, Cassie truly enjoyed the feel of her hair wrapping itself around her face as the force of it's wing thrusts played gently around her.
*Then until tomorrow. Know that the dragons are glad to call you friend, and know that I am the female called Sa'Mara.* With that, Sa'Mara took a great leap, and launched into the air again. Cassie watched tearfully with a beautific smile lighting her face as the dragon soared through the sky. Sa'Mara banked, dipped a leathery wing in farewell, then abruptly disappeared.
Now that the dragon was gone, she could hear her parents' worried voices calling for her quite clearly. They were much closer than she had thought. There would barely be enough time to think of a story about her scratched shoulder. She quickly ran back and retrieved her sketch pad. She couldn't leave without that! It was the only way she could share her wondrous secret, and she swore that for the rest of her life she would never be found without it. For the first time, she noticed the beauty of a caterpillar as it crawled along the stem of a wildflower, and the wonderful feeling of grass as she slipped off her shoes to feel it soft against her feet. She could hardly wait for tomorrow, and wouldn't her parents be surprised when she told them she was coming back here every year, without fail? Yes, today was amazing, and more than one life would be changed forever by a young girl with a sketch pad...and a touch of the 'wild'!
Copyright 2001 by Tamrin Badget-Skyberg (a.k.a. Illiana the Golden Dragon). Not to be reprinted for sale of any sort without permission of the author.