I am very excited to share with my blog readers a four-part novelette entitled Dragon Child. This FREE story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! Today features Part 3, so be sure to read part 1 and part 2 to get caught up!
Feedback is always appreciated, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Have any friends or family in the 10-12 year old age bracket? I’d love to hear what they think, too! I hope you enjoy the story.
The kingdom of Spiredale, known for it’s reserves of gold and a nest of dragons, is also home to a little orphan boy named Croft. When his curiosity leads to a life changing encounter, he becomes the endangered kingdom’s only chance for survival. Will Croft lose the only home he’s ever known or is this the beginning of something new? Dragon Child.
Chapter 5 – Flight
Meanwhile, in the foothills
Feeling ill and weak, Croft made slow progress up the rocky path in his bid to climb the mountain and find Rueloo. He would rather have continued on horseback, but the animal would not have been able to maneuver the narrow, winding path. He felt badly for borrowing Nella without permission and hoped she would find her way back home without him. The leather travel bag he carried contained clothing, food, and a water skin; things he would need which the dragons would not have.
He’d awakened in his room, alone and confused, mind filled with thoughts of Rueloo. What he originally believed were just dreams became clear calls for him to join her. While the captain would be angry to find him gone, Croft easily slipped away while he and the soldiers were busy. The throbbing in his head was almost as bad as the pain in his hands, but the desire to reach Rueloo drove him onward and upward.
There was an open flat area ahead where the path formed a switchback and Croft was determined to call his dragon from there. If he could be heard, he could also be seen, and Rueloo would carry him the rest of the way. It wasn’t much of a plan, but Croft didn’t know what else to do and was wearing out fast. If he was sensing the dragon’s thoughts, maybe the dragon could sense his, too. In his mind, he called out in return.
“I’m coming, Rueloo. I’m coming!”
Rueloo heard her human’s call and rose higher in the sky to get a better view. Up ahead was the valley and beyond that the human nest, yet she sensed the young one was in neither of those places. Where could it be? A group of humans riding the large four-leg beasts caught her eye. Amid their shouted mouth noises, they appeared to be searching for something. If they were looking for her little one, too, she would need to find it first.
Rueloo dove lower, making her unique call in the hopes it would bring a response. Amid the sound of rushing wind and fearful noises from the group of humans, arose a feeble cry. There! It was standing on a broad flat rock along the mountain path with a forelimb in the air. Rueloo slowed her approach, intending to land gently and coax it to ride on her back. As she drew near, the hatchling wavered and collapsed in a heap, no longer moving.
There was only one thing to do and Rueloo moved swiftly to scoop the little one up and against her body with her forelimbs. Noticing the bag, she snagged it in her rear talons and leapt into the sky just as some of the large humans reached the rocky shelf. Ignoring their shouts and blades, she made haste to reach the safety of her nest, hoping it wasn’t already too late.
Riddled with guilt, Dane sought refuge in the village tavern, downing drink after drink until his men came to collect him. Beyond caring, he let them take him home and put him to bed. As the night wore on, he rose to vomit more than once, cursing himself all the while for his stupidity. Who left a sick, feverish child all alone? He had proved himself unworthy of fatherhood and failed Croft in every way possible. What a fool!
The boy, obviously delirious with fever, could not be held accountable for his actions, but it made no difference. Dane’s mind was haunted with the image of poor little Croft held in the dragon’s clutches as he was carried off. Was he dead? If not, how would the child ever survive or escape to return home? Dane feared he would spend the rest of his miserable days seeking forgiveness which could never be granted.
Rueloo nervously rearranged the glow-ore nest she’d made for her human, careful to surround the hatchling without preventing movement. She could feel the heat coming from its body and smell the difference in its scent from the night before. It was an odd mixture of her kind and human, yet Rueloo did not know what it might mean.
The small, smoky fire she’d built was meant for the human, as they were not known to be active after the light in the sky disappeared. Perhaps it could not see in the darkness as her kind did easily, and she did not want it to be afraid if it should open its eyes. The animal bag contained human food, water, and more body coverings. She was pleased the human thought to collect them, and they would need to be replenished if it remained in the nest very long.
Rueloo remained awake through the night, tending to her eggs and watching over her human. The fire-colored aura coming from the glow-ore bathed the hatchling’s soft body with its power, and she began to notice small changes. Light bluish lines appeared under the skin on its face and limbs, looking very much like her own scales. The NestMaster said it would become “more like us”, and Rueloo wondered if this is what he meant.
Would the human be afraid? What else might change? She would have to speak to the NestMaster again and find out more. Whatever lay ahead, she was determined to take care of her little one and protect it from harm, just as she would for her own hatchlings.
Chapter 6 – Change
Three days passed while Croft slept and changed. He woke only to eat, drink, and void; seemingly unaware of his surroundings or circumstances. Gradually, he was able to understand Rueloo’s thoughts, though he believed he was dreaming. By the time the fever disappeared on the fourth day, Croft’s transformation was complete and he woke to find himself utterly changed and badly frightened.
The first clue was when he opened his eyes. Not only did they feel strange, he saw things in a totally new way. He sat up to find Rueloo watching him closely as he looked around the cavern, noticing the soft glow emanating from the gold and the unique scents which he instantly knew to be either human or dragon. He reached up to rub his nose and gasped when he saw the blue scale pattern on his hand and arm. Not only that, his nose was now broad and flat like Rueloo’s and both his hands ended in short sharp claws. He did not understand.
Out of habit he spoke out loud, for some reason having difficulty with the words.
“What iss happening Rueloo?”
Rueloo made a grumbling noise he now knew to be laughter, and using his name for the first time, spoke directly to his mind.
“I am happy you are awake, Croft. There is much to explain, and I am still learning your words. When you wrapped my injured leg, the blood caused changes to your body. You have become more like me… a dragon.”
Croft stood up carefully and examined what he could see of his body more thoroughly. While he did not have actual scales, the blue ridges were raised, leaving his skin with a similar look and feel. His clawed feet meant he would need a different kind of shoe, if he wore them at all. Without a mirror he was uncertain what else might have changed, suddenly realizing he could never go home looking this way and started to cry.
Rueloo gestured with her forelimb and Croft ran to wrap his arms around her long neck, showering her with his tears. She crooned to him while he sobbed, following his thoughts without saying anything. When he finally settled down, she pulled him to her broad, warm chest and explained what the NestMaster told her.
“I did not know this would happen when you touched my blood. I am sorry, Croft. Your appearance cannot be changed, but you have new abilities which the other humans do not. The nest has agreed to let you remain here with us and there is much about your kind we do not understand. You can become our teacher, and when my eggs hatch, they will be your nestmates.”
Croft thought about this for a few moments before asking the next question. This time, he did so with his mind and not his mouth.
“Why can’t I talk like I used to? What else is has changed?”
“Your mouth sounds are different because your tongue has changed. Your eyes are now like mine and are the color of the grass, as are all male dragons. Since I am female, my eyes are the color of the glow-ore; the gold. If you wish, I can take you to a still pond where you can see for yourself. Then we must go to the NestMaster; the one who leads us. He is curious about you.”
Croft ate some of the food he’d brought and followed Rueloo to the cavern’s opening, high up on the mountain’s side. He could see the valley and a part of the village from here, but it was an awfully long way down. Rueloo lay on the rock and instructed Croft to climb up and sit at the base of her neck, using a pair of small horns to hold onto. When he was ready, she lifted her wings and leapt into the air.
Croft was terrified at first and the rush of wind hurt his eyes until he realized he had an additional eyelid which protected them. His new eyesight was much clearer and reached farther than ever before. The scent of many things reached his altered nose and he asked Rueloo about them as they flew. In turn, she asked him about her name, explaining that dragons did not have names the way humans did. He thought it was silly, insisting he would name all of them so he could remember who was who.
Croft dismounted on shaky legs when they arrived at the small clear pond, and he gasped at his new appearance. The vertical iris and green coloring were different enough, but his ears were gone, replaced by small nubs. The only familiar features remaining were his hair, lips, and teeth and it would take time to get used to the way he looked. Unlike the villagers, the dragons would not be bothered by it.
Before they left, Rueloo encouraged him to wash himself, since the NestMaster would find his odor… unpleasant. When he complained about the temperature, she blasted the shallow water near the shore with flames to warm it, allowing him to wash himself and his clothes quickly.
His interview with the NestMaster went very well and Croft decided to name him “Wheet”, based on the sound of his call. When the boy declared the ancient beast to be a splendid dragon, and especially handsome, the NestMaster laughed so hard gouts of flame shot out of his nostrils. Before he and Rueloo returned to her nest, they were instructed to come and see him to learn more about the history of dragons; something Croft was very eager to do.
Chapter 7 – Reunion
By the next morning, it finally occurred to Croft that the captain might be worried about him. The village was the last place he wanted to go, but he needed food, blankets, and a new pair of shoes. If he could talk to the captain alone he would probably be willing to help, though the man would surely be frightened by Rueloo and Croft’s altered appearance. After some discussion, they settled on a plan and left the nest.
Normally, it was unheard of for a dragon to be seen in or around the village in broad daylight – except for today. Rueloo swept down from the mountain, broadcasting her musical call and glided beyond the valley until she reached the barracks. She circled several times while Croft waved to the frightened people below who dropped what they were doing and ran inside. Once the warning trumpet sounded, Croft knew the soldiers would come and Rueloo took them back to the valley to wait.
She landed near the gates where the grass was short and she could be easily seen. At Rueloo’s insistence, Croft remained where he was so she could escape quickly if there was trouble. Soon, the sound of many horses could be heard on the road, and Croft watched the dust cloud which accompanied them grow closer. His anxiety increased as the soldiers appeared, led by the Captain. The man looked both weary and nervous, his eyes focused not on Rueloo, but on him – as though looking at a ghost.
Dane ordered his men to halt while he dismounted and walked slowly forward, stopping when he could see the rider more clearly. Eyes wide with surprise, he gasped at the odd looking creature which from a distance looked like Croft. Who was this? Why was he riding a dragon? What did all of this mean? Dane jumped when the stranger spoke.
“It iss me, Captain. Croft.”
A mixture of disbelief and fear clouded Dane’s features.
“Croft? How can it be you? What has happened?”
“We came to exssplain and assk for your help. You musst tell the men not to attack before Rueloo will let me down.”
Croft stroked Rueloo’s neck while Dane told his men to stand down. It was clear they were unhappy with the order but obeyed him by sheathing weapons and backing away. Satisfied, Rueloo lowered her head to scent Dane thoroughly. The captain stood still, stiff with fear and legs shaking, while the great beast looked him over. Her rumble of laughter startled the soldiers, afraid it meant the dragon was about to dispatch their brave Captain. Instead, she lowered herself to the ground, allowing Croft to dismount.
He approached Dane slowly, allowing the man more time to get used to his appearance. Though Croft’s overall size and mop of dark curls were the same, everything else was altered, and he knew the man was having a hard time believing. Croft didn’t blame him. The captain got down on one knee and reached out to stroke the boy’s hair in a tentative caress.
“Croft? Son, is it really you?”
Before the boy could answer, Dane pulled him into a fierce hug, tears falling freely.
“I feared you were dead. I should never have left you alone that day. Please, forgive me. Please.”
They cried together for a while and then Dane pulled away to get a closer look. He gently traced the blue pseudo-scales on the boy’s skin, examined his clawed hands and feet, and noted the altered nose, ears, and forked tongue. Croft explained how the changes came to be, allowing Dane to ask questions and relying on Rueloo’s input when he did not know the answer. Dane was shocked to learn Croft was able to speak directly with the dragons and stood to address the mighty beast.
“I understand why you took Croft away, but how will he live? I am ashamed to say our people may no longer accept him.”
Through Croft, Rueloo responded.
“Croft and I are now blood-bound. It is my duty to teach, provide and protect. He will live in the nest with us, but there are some things we cannot provide. Will you help?”
Croft explained what he needed and Dane readily agreed to take care of it. While they spoke, the captain instructed one of his men to fill a saddlebag with rations and wrap it up in a blanket so Croft could take it with him. Since tomorrow was gifting day, they decided to meet each week here after the dragons were done feeding. Croft hugged the captain and gave him several small nuggets of gold which had lost its power. The dragons had no use for the spent metal, but to humans it was still very valuable and would more than pay for the needed supplies.
Though Dane fervently wished Croft could return home with him, he was overjoyed the child was alive and being cared for by the powerful dragons. He rejoined his men and waved as Rueloo launched herself up into the clear blue sky with a smiling dragon-eyed passenger. His report to Commander Kersen, and the king, would surely be met with the same astonishment and wonder he’d felt. What it might mean for the kingdom remained unknown.
In the weeks which followed, Croft, Rueloo and Dane fell into a comfortable routine. While everyone now knew about Croft, the only ones who saw the boy were Dane and the soldiers – and then only after dark. To give them more time together, Rueloo began leaving the boy with Dane while she fed. Croft sat with the captain on horseback, pointing out various dragons as they flew by.
“The black one iss Wheet, the NesstMasster.”
It took a while for Dane to correctly match the garbled names with the right dragon, and eventually he came to recognize several. In the darkness they all looked the same to him, but since Croft named them based on their unique musical calls, he figured out who Scree, Echo, Lute, Cymbal, and Bell were, among others. While they waited for Rueloo to return, they exchanged stories about life in the nest and in the village.
Croft shared everything he was learning about the dragons with Dane, and knew that Commander Kersen, who usually sat next to them, dutifully reported the information to the king. Twice now, Rueloo had flown him all the way to the gold mines in the north to see for herself where the precious ore came from. It caused quite a stir when the pair arrived the first time, as dragon riders were unheard of, and the miners shook their heads in amazement. Only Commander Kersen knew who it was, and he remained silent when asked.
To make it easier for Croft to mount and dismount his dragon during visits, a small platform was constructed on the valley side of the fence. Once Rueloo returned from feeding, she would find both Croft and the weekly bundle of supplies waiting for her there. With a wave and an excited whoop, the great dragon would take off with Croft on her back and a bundle gripped in her fore-claws. Dane’s love for the boy only grew more intense each time he said goodbye, but he was grateful the poor waif finally found some happiness.