A rustle shifts the branches of a small bush, then another. Then they explode in a flurry of sticks and leaves as a small animal launches itself at an unwary deer. But, the lunge falls short by inches and the timid animal turns and bolts away down a game-trail, disappearing in seconds.
While the leaves slowly settle to the forest floor, a shape cuts through one of the many shafts of light that poke their way through the inter-weaved branches overhead. Then an exasperated whoosh of air, followed by a dull snap. A bronze-clawed foot steps into a pool of light between several trees. It is soon followed by a small, violet and blue, serpent-like head. The head turns its shimmering violet eyes to the nearby trees for any hint of its prey. The creature pauses, and stretches to its full height of three feet, straightening its neck, revealing the shimmering, deep violet scales of its underside. Sniffing at the air, it finds a familiar scent, not of prey, but of danger. In the time it takes to blink, the creature disappears. A few minutes later, a soft voice murmurs through the trees.
"Let furl the sail, and man the oar. Duh duh-duh-duh. oop, almost missed that one." Through the trees the creature could see an old man bent over, inspecting a plant. "Yep, it'll do" After a moment the creature recognized the man as being a part of a strange breed that he preferred to keep away from his territory. After a moment, the man stood and began walking again, right towards the creature.
The creature leapt out of the bushes. Even though it was still new to the world, being only one year old, it let loose a roar that belied the size it would eventually become, and expected the man to run in fear as the strange creatures usually did.
Caer instinctively pulled his magical dagger, and readied himself for the coming onslaught. After a moment of hesitation, he realized that there was no onslaught, but that there was just a single, small dragon. The dragon was just standing there, its head slightly cocked, its sharp young eyes staring at him.
The dragon was puzzled, He had never seen one that didn't run, and, in fact, smiled slightly after a moment's pause. Then the smile broadened, and its head fell backwards. A strange, loud noise started bubbling out of it. The dragon looked around nervously, thinking that the human was calling out a signal for help, or attack, but none came. The sound quieted slowly, and the human returned his gaze to the dragon. Then the creature's head drooped and started wagging from side to side, and it's sides began heaving up and down in some sort of convulsion.
Grabbing his chest, Caer placed his hand on a nearby tree and sank to the ground in mirth. After all I've seen in my sixty years of life, I nearly got scared to death by an infant dragon! You are getting too old Caer, too old. Caer sobered as the dragon took a step towards what it must have deemed insane, and was probably at least part right. "I don't suppose you're old enough to have learned to understand people yet." He muttered to himself. Then, in a voice more audible to the youngster, "You have quite the bellow for one as small as yourself," he wagged a finger as if scolding a child, and chuckled as the dragon's head followed its motion exactly, "It will land you in trouble one day."
The dragon only understood his words partially, but enough to piece together the message and feel its sting. The dragon reared at the insult, letting loose another mighty roar, and slammed down onto the path. Even for his diminutive size, he still managed to cause a ruffle in the trees, accompanied by a couple of falling leaves. The desired effect was denied him though, as that sound merely began again. Exasperated, he waited for it to come to a hiccuping stop. Then he tried to form a few of the strange words that he heard floating on the wind from a nearby town. "W. Whydo you no go?"
Now Caer was surprised, He hadn't expected the dragon to be able to speak, even in the muddled, mis-pronounced form it did. "What. What did you say?" It was Caer's turn to stare.
The forming of the words came slowly. "Whydo you. no go?" The dragon gave a sharp nod to himself.
Caer was convinced that the dragon had never come across civilization, or at least not long enough to learn anything...until now.
"Because you don't fright- uh scare me," How do I put this simply enough? "You sound big, but you are small, I would win, so I am not scared." I hope that got through.
The dragon resumed staring at the human as he puzzled out the words. After a few minutes of thought, and a repeat of the sentence, he managed to piece the message together. The dragon took two more slow steps towards Caer, and stretched his long neck towards him. His face was only three feet away now, and still the human remained sitting against the tree, smiling at himself. He then spread his lips, showing his long, needle-sharp rows of teeth. His jaw slowly opened, and once again he tilted his head slightly.
Caer was considering a slow, cautious retreat as the dragon seemed to be changing its mind about the unimposing old man. Just as he attempted to stand, the dragon closed its dagger-filled maw with an audible snap of it's teeth, then it turned and left the path. The last thing the healer saw was the blue-purple glint of its tail as it flicked through a sunbeam, and entered the shadows.
Caer Kingris met with the dragon often over the course of the next two years, and he was one of the few humans privy to witnessing the development of an infant dragon. He was amazed at how quickly the dragon learned to speak during their visits, and the dragon was equally and continually amazed by the man's tales of his travels around the continent. They would walk together around the forest, Caer picking the occasional herb and telling the dragon about how to dry, store, and use each leaf he picked. The dragon received his name after the first year they spent together.
"It's time we figured out what your name should be my friend." Caer said.
"Why? Why do I need a name? You know me good enough-*"
"That's 'well enough'" Caer corrected, "and you need a name because, well, everyone needs a name. It gives you a sense of identity. -- Of who you are." Caer appended at the confused look, which garnered a nod.
"How do you get a name?" The dragon asked as Caer bent over to get a closer look at a patch of mushrooms.
"Well." Caer grunted as he straightened with a hand-full of mushroom caps. "These make an excellent reliever of pain," Caer turned to allow the dragon to inspect them, "Just be sure to only use the caps, the stems themselves are poisonous."
"Umm, my name..?" the dragon prompted.
"Uh? Oh, yes, yes.. your name. I've been thinking about that for a long time, and I think I finally have it." Caer brought himself up as tall as his stooped, aged frame would allow. "I believe your name should be Drokaal." After receiving a puzzled look, he explained. "It means 'life calling' in the philosopher's tongue, and it refers to how every being, from dryad to dragon, has a purpose to their life. Always remember that."
"Drokaal, .Drokaal," a slow smile spread across the dragons face, and he stood just a little bit taller." I like it, from now on, I am Drokaal."
Laughing, Caer laid a hand on Drokaal's shoulder, which was a foot higher than the year before. "Pleased to meet you, my friend. Pleased to meet you."
Over the next seven years, Drokaal learned much. He learned of his natural ability to launch balls of ice, much to the disheartening of Caer as one landed in his home, through the roof. And he learned how to fly, with the aid of Caer's healing on occasion. But his happiness was waning, because as he became stronger with each passing year, Caer became weaker. Drokaal was now the one to go to the healer's house with a satchel full of herbs to be dried, and Caer took less and less part in making the remedies. He now only left to treat people who could not come to him, and he had even begun declining those. He was old, there was no way to deny it. Drokaal had learned barely enough of the healing arts to allow Caer to see through one more winter. Drokaal knew it would be his last.
That fall, when the leaves were just beginning to turn, Drokaal lay beside his friends deathbed, his blue and violet scales reflecting the light of the flickering candles across his back like a thousand stars. The head of his now five-foot body hovering over the slumbering, aged form, looking sadly at the care formed wrinkles of his face, listening for his labored, but even breath. The breath caught a moment, then Drokaal felt the dying man's hand against his scaled cheek.
"Why do you stay here, surely you have better things to do than watch an old man sleep."
"You know why." Was the only response.
"Come now, this is so unlike you. What burden are you carrying that could silence such a large mouth?" A chuckle escaped from his aged lips, which quickly turned to a violent cough. After a moment, the cough subsided, and Caer reached for the tea that was already in Drokaal's hand. He sat and stared at the cup for a time, then took a long pull of the tincture.
"It's you, -you're dying" He added, as he returned his gaze to his friend. "It's unjust, to merely disappear, forgotten, with nothing to leave behind and be remembered by! What purpose is there to live a life and be summarily put to the wayside?"
"Remember what I told you when you received your name?" Caer pushed himself up to a sitting position. "From dryad to dragon every life has a purpose. So long as that purpose was fulfilled, there is no waste in life!" The last few words were emphasized with several pokes to Drokaal's chest. "My purpose was to heal, and to teach. I have done both for 52 years, the proudest of those were with you. I have taught you to look on other beings with respect, and I have warned you against people and their fears, and I have taught you my craft." The healer paused for a moment to take a shuddering breath and drink more tea. "If you use what I've taught, and save just a single life with those skills, then all these years of my life have had purpose."
The herbs in the tea were taking effect, and Caer gradually returned to his peaceful slumber. Drokaal stood and gazed at the sleeping form of his friend and mentor. On occasion, he could tell when someone was about to die. He could see it in the air around them as they came in to see the healer, a half-seen shimmer, like heat waves from hot rocks. He saw the same shimmer now around his friend, and he turned away, clamping his eyes shut against the sight. The house was closing in on him, he could smell the sweat of labor unrecognized, of herbs carefully picked and dried, he had to leave. He bolted out of the long-ago widened door, unfurled his wings and took flight. After only a moments pause, he turned to the rocky hill overlooking the small town, a piece of land where life refused to grow that he landed on. His mind was filled with thoughts of betrayal, of misery, and of anger as the image of Caer flooded back to his mind, with that strange shimmer around him. He felt a welling in his throat, he couldn't breathe. He turned towards the heavens, spread his blue wings, opened his mouth and let loose a bellow of rage and anguish that sent the birds from their night-time roosts for a mile around him. In the little home, laying on his back, a small smile appeared on Caer's lips, then his breathing slowed.
Drokaal returned to a silent hut, and sat by his mentor, his friend, his brother, throughout the night, and the first rays of dawn were met with a winged shadow moving towards the horizon. When the villagers went to soothe their woes that day, all they found was an empty hut, and a mound of freshly-turned soil with a block of ice at the head, carved in the likeness of the healer, his hand outstretched to a small, nervous dragon. No one understood the sculpture, no one knew that the ice was made from Drokaal's tears, and carved by his sorrow. But in the place it sat there is now a tall oak tree. The only one for 100 miles.
Copyright by Kenneth Robinson; BC, Canada. Not to be reprinted for sale of any sort without permission of the author.