The Girl and the Leaf Dragon
By Mara A.
I got the inspiration for this story from something that happened a long time ago, when I was a kid at my first Renaissance Faire. There was a storyteller there, and she wove a tale about orphan dragon eggs and how they needed to be adopted (for a low price of $25). Being the dragon-crazy, imaginative child that I was, I desperately wanted to "adopt" one of the dragon eggs she was selling (the fact that they came in fancy, awesome boxes did not factor into this desire whatsoever). But of course, I knew I wouldn't be allowed to have one, so I dreamed of all that could have been if things had been different.
The girl has never known such splendor. It has been a long day of endless color and light and sound. Jesters have tried to make her laugh; skeleton men have startled her; the queen and her handmaidens invited her to the knighting ceremony. But best of all was the royal joust and the gypsy horse acrobats that came after. The girl had been swept away by the thunder of hooves, the thunderous shout of the crowd. She had been moved by the lulling, exotic music, the bright costumes, the astonishing skill of the acrobats.
It had been a day filled with wonder indeed.
But now the girl was tired. The sun beat down mercilessly and she could not consume one more ice cream cone from the kind friars even if she had wanted to. Her ears were deadened to the shouts of the pickle lady, her eyes could not take in one single more bizarre site. She was simply overwhelmed - and yet, not at all ready to leave this place and return to the mundane world.
With tired feet, she made her way to a single shady tree, but it was of course occupied. A sizable crowd of other children were gathered around a woman in a dress made of earth-tone patches. Her thick black hair was braided simply down her shoulder with gold and green glass and fine bone beads. Compared to many of the strange inhabitants of the faire, she was nothing remarkable in her worn leather boots and dark blue cloak. And yet her careful, quiet posture; her dark, fathomless eyes; her gentle, mysterious beckoned the girl to draw closer. And she did, settling herself on the ground with the other children until they formed a small circle around the woman.
There was an expectant hush. The girl didn't know what would happen next. But soon the woman began to speak; her voice low and soft and melodious. Gentle and captivating. She asked them to listen; to hear her words as she wove a tale of magic and sorrow. From her the girl learned that there was a place - a distant, magical place - where creatures she only dreamed of lived. Unicorns and faeries and little fire imps - and yes, dragons. Dragons of every sort and every size. Great, majestic ice dragons whom the northern lords claimed as their steeds for battle; gentle, shy coral dragons who dwelt deep in the sea and played among the merfolk; dragons the color of midnight, dragons as bright as jewels; dragons that spat acid and lived deep in swamps or high in the mountains; dragons the size of cathedrals and dragons the size of the girl's thumb.
But this was long ago, the woman said. Now, the world had changed; kings had turned against dragonkind. Knights hunted them for sport; merchants sold their scales as adornment, leather-workers as armor. Healers imbued their potions with choice pieces and emperors devoured their hearts to gain the strength of a hundred men and the wisdom of a thousand. What led to such a travesty was unknown, but it had caused great destruction and the dragons were now a dying breed. No more did the northern lords command the respect and power they once had with their mighty mounts; no more did sea captains pray for favorable voyages as the coral dragons hid instead of protecting them from misfortune. The luck dragons had disappeared long ago into the clouds, the Nightwings into their caves and mountaintops.
She, the woman said, was one of very few who still hoped for the return of dragonkind. It was her sworn duty to protect them and take them away to other lands, in the hopes that they might thrive and humans could once again live with them as they once did. But fledgling dragons needed careful tending and only a very few were courageous enough to undertake such a task. She felt that maybe some among them were up to it.
With care, the woman took from behind her a large ebony box engraved with intricate filigree and inlayed with goldleaf. The girl would have given anything to study the box closer, but the other children blocked her view as they crowded forward to peer inside. Nestled among the blackest velvet were small, delicate eggs, ranging from the deepest bronze to the lightest of rose. Leaf dragons, the woman said; orphaned and in need of care. But she could not give them over for nothing, though she wished she could.
The girl sad back sadly when the woman declared the price. She knew that they were not real, of course, but still she would have liked to have had one. She watched sadly as eagerly the children sought their parents and wheedled and pled until they were given what they asked. The woman carefully placed the claimed eggs in smaller, less intricate boxes, also lined with black velvet. These she locked with a small key and gave that and a small scroll over to eager hands. It was not long before all of the eggs were claimed and the girl was the only child remaining, watching the scene with a yearning heart.
With sadness, she turned away, trying at least to feel glad that the draclings had been claimed at all. But the woman called to her and beckoned her over with a hand clad in a curious leather armband. Hesitantly, the girl drew forward. With a secret smile, the woman drew from behind her one last box. It was honey-blonde and simple, with a single intricate star burned on the lid. The woman removed a key on a gold chain from a pocket and handed it to the girl. Carefully, the girl unlocked the box and stared in wonder. Amid a bed of sapphire-blue velvet was a slightly green-tinged egg veined with gold. It was no bigger than the girl's hand and it thrummed with heat in a way none of the other eggs had.
A dragon, the woman said with a serious stare, needs much tending. And it takes a very courageous sort of person to do it. And she gave the box to the girl.
She did not know what to say, and so she said nothing. But the woman understood. She smiled a secret smile and turned away. Happily, deliriously, the girl tucked the box close to her chest and walked away to find her parents. They were not far off, watching a smithy craft a buckle. They asked if she was ready to leave; if she had had fun. The girl nodded mutely, tucking the box closer. They asked about it; she said a woman had given them to children who listened to her story. She did not say what was inside. It didn't matter. Her parents would nod knowingly and exchange a look she did not like. She knew it was not real, but she wanted to believe that it was.
When they returned home to the mundane world, the girl placed the box carefully on her nightstand. She opened it, rearranging the velvet around the egg so it was snugger, warmer. Then she burrowed under the covers and stared at it until her eyes became heavy, never turning the bedside light off. It wasn't real, she told herself. She would entertain the fantasy for a little longer, and a dragon egg should have warmth, shouldn't it? Her eyes grew heavier. And then they were shut.
At the witching hour, the egg chirped. It rustled. It rocked as much as it could in its bed of velvet. Then a tiny hole appeared at the top. And then it widened. Finally, a small horn was soon followed by a persistent arrow-shaped head. With a determined trill, the egg was shattered open and the girl woke. Sitting admit the ruins was a small creature mottled green and gold like a leaf turning to autumn. Its delicate wings were tattered and veined like an oak leaf, its body narrow and flat as if to blend in with foliage. The creature trilled at the girl, expectant.
Was she still asleep, she wondered? Had her imagination finally gone too far? She rubbed her eyes, pinched herself, but the little leaf dracling did not disappear. Instead, it had turned from her and started sniffing at her strawberry-shaped clock. It took an experimental bite, then huffed angrily when it turned out to be inedible.
The girl slid from her bed and removed the scroll the woman had given her from the nightstand drawer. She had been too tired to look at it earlier. In beautiful, looping script the care of her dracling was described. Bundling the dracling in the velvet, the girl crept on silent feet outside and to her father's greenhouse. The dracling chirped excitedly when it saw the rows and rows of tomato plants, heavy with round, ripe fruit. It wriggled out of the velvet and glided to the nearest plant, snatching a tomato and devouring it.
The girl watched in wonder. She turned the scroll around in her hands, marveling, until small, neat script on the other side caught her attention: "Legend exists for the ones willing to believe. And it will bring you luck."
The girl looked over at the leaf dracling again, its snout dripping tomato juice and seeds. She smiled.
Copyright© 2015 Mara A.
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