This was a bad idea.
Father would be furious when—if he found out. But it was worth it. His anger was worth it. Then there was of course Mother, who constantly pestered me about how the forest was no place for a seven year old girl, but today was no time to listen to her warnings. As it were, I had a dragon to find.
The hill I was running along suddenly dipped down. It was not until I was at the crest of it that I noticed the colossal landslide that had happened hours earlier. My father’s hunters had shot the creature down after tracking him nonstop for days. They had used a poisoned arrow and had boasted of their genius for hours afterward.
Fortunately, they had failed to find the injured beast. Even as they mocked him for his stupidity, they did not care to notice that they themselves were not able to find his body afterward. I only vaguely knew of where he had ended up after scouring the forest long after the hunters gave up. Tomorrow they would begin searching again.
Which meant I had to find him before then. If this landslide had anything to do with him, I was close.
I rushed down the hill and sprinted toward where the crash led. A cave hidden by vines and trees laid just beyond the crash site. Dirt was scattered everywhere and fallen branches entangled with the path leading to him. There was a crimson red liquid staining the grass, growing in quantity as the trail continued on. I’ve never seen so much blood, I thought. Only a being of immense size could produce so much blood and still be alive.
Crickets chirped and the wind softly hummed as I clutched the package to my chest tighter. The cave I headed toward loomed closer, drawing me in. A shiver of fear crawled up my spine. The opening to the cavern was cold and dark but that was not what kept me from stepping forward.
It was what lies within that frightened me.
There was no logical reason for my obsession with this injured dragon. My father’s tales, while enchantingly captivating, were gruesome in the details. When I first heard of the young dragon’s downfall, there had been an intense urge to help it. My mother would surely throw a fit if she were to learn I was trying to help the very dragon father had shot down, but I couldn’t help myself. I was infatuated with the idea of rescuing him.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I took a deep breath before reopening them and slowly tip-toeing past the entrance. The cave was made entirely out of rock, and water dripped from the spiked ceiling to the uneven floors. The further I walked, the chillier it got. I was extremely aware of the loss of light and the fact that I was miles from home. From safety. This was a bad idea . . .
My hand stuck to the walls of the rocky cavern, using it as a guide to navigate the narrow tunnels. My breaths came in quick gasps as I tried not to panic. I had never done well with the dark or tight spaces. However, a few more trembling paces yielded to a hallow opening in the cave. I carefully crept to a stop in front of it, peeking my head out to look inside the natural chamber.
The moonlight lit up the open space, streaming in through one tiny hole in the ceiling. The cavern was spacious, making room for smooth rock ledges and chipped walls. Colorful crystals embedded the rough terrain and lined the walls.
None of that seemed special in comparison to the rippling pond in the center. With the moonlight reflecting off it’s clear blue waters, the small pool shined prettily throughout the chambers and made the cave feel less like a cage, and more like a safe haven. .
I slinked forward, gripping the leather satchel bag in my hands as if it were a lifeline. Calling out softly, I said, “Hello?”
Deep within the cave, I heard a low growl rumble in response. The baritone sound shook the ground and caused every nerve within my body to launch into panic mode. The fear in my chest felt like a tangible thing, and I wished desperately that I had had the sense to at least bring a rock or some other weapon to throw at the dragon if it decided that it did not want my help.
The monster was curled up in the corner when I finally spotted him. Only a bit of the moonlight managed to touch him, catching the end of his long, midnight blue tail. Even though I had a hard time seeing him, I knew that he was staring at me. I could feel the heat of his gaze burning holes into the forefront of my head. The fear churning in my stomach only heightened, but I still found the will to draw closer.
Another growl emitted from his throat as I approached. One of warning. His intentions were clear. Back off.
Instead of angering him further, I decided to halt where I was and simply sit cross-legged on the rock ledge I was balancing precariously on top of. His eyes tracked my movements, but he made no move to stop me. Once I was settled, I simply stared at his distant figure in the dark.
“You know,” I spoke gingerly after a moment of our stare down. “If I wanted to hurt you, I would’ve come armed with a knife instead of medicine.”
His growl this time was a mix between irritation and cruel amusement. As if the thought of me hurting him was something to laugh at.
Not that I disagreed. He was a small dragon but his danger was potent. It seeped into the air and filled the cave with the promise of power and pain.
“I brought something for you.” Sticking my hand within the contents of my bag, I pulled out a flimsily wrapped piece of meat. It was small and probably not the size he was accustomed to but it was all I could gather before rushing out of the house to go and find him. “I’m going to come closer now, okay?”
I rose and made it all of three steps before he was snarling again.
Huffing out an annoyed breath, I consented to throwing the meager amount of meat onto the ground a couple of feet from where he laid on his stomach. He watched as I gradually backed up and seated myself once more on the ledge. When he did not immediately jump at the offering, I nudged my head at the raw meat in earnest. “Eat. It’s not poisoned.”
The dragon exhaled a breath of hot air, which sounded a lot like a scoff. Raising his ginormous head from where it rested on his paws, he leaned his head forward to delicately sniff the meat.
The moonlight caught the tip of his snout, highlighting the many scales that cloaked his body. After a minute of examination, he turned away from the food and went back to lying on the ground, carefully watching me.
“Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad. It was killed fresh today.”
Lie. The deer had been butchered yesterday but I felt oddly offended that he had rejected my offering, and now wanted to prove its worth. For gosh sakes, it was heavy to carry all the way here! “You’ll die down here if you don’t eat something.”
He scoffed again, but the movement made him flinch. No matter how much he tried to hide it, I could still spot the trickle of blood that puddled on the ground below his neck. A broken arrow was sticking out of his throat at an odd angle, covered in a dull green paste. Whatever it was must have been mighty strong to bring something like him down.
“Look, if you’re not going to eat, that’s fine. But at least let me fix up your wound so that you don’t die of infection.” My shaking voice didn’t seem to reach his ears. All he did was narrow his serpent eyes on me and bare his teeth.
Each fang glistened with dried blood from a recent kill. Whoever had hurt him had paid the price for shooting him down from the sky. If I had to guess, I would say it had been one of the humans in my father’s hunting troop. There was no other reason why he was being so violent towards me.
“I promise I won’t hurt you.”
The dragon only hissed between his teeth, showing me the sharp, crude tips of his canines. Despite his tough act, there was still a horrible pain in his eyes. He was hurting bad. And if the growing panic in his wild gaze was any indication, he knew that if he did not get help soon, he would surely die down here. Alone.
Ignoring him for the time being, I dumped out the rest of the things I had brought with me, scattering the contents on the rock ledge to analyze what I had on hand. There were a few gauze wraps, some medical herbs to lessen the pain, pins to keep the bandages in place, a needle, some white yarn, and a stolen bottle of brandy. It was father’s favorite, but my brother had once told me that soldiers drink it when they were about to get fixed up.
I look up at the dragon to find him staring hard at the supplies I had brought with me. As soon as he saw my wandering gaze however, he snapped his eyes away from the bag to deliver another half-hearted growl.
Rolling my eyes, I gathered my things and stood back up, meeting his stare head on. “May I please fix you now? My father is in the army. I’ve seen him do it before.”
Another angry snarl was tossed my way. Whatever I had said seemed to displease him. Frowning slightly, I stepped forward a little more and off the ledge. “I don’t know if I can fix you in that form, though. I think you’re going to have to shift.”
The dragon’s reply was a long time coming. He glared at me with unblinking eyes, assessing the situation. If I did not help him now, no one would, and he would mostly likely die from fever or some other terrible sickness.
However, it was easy to see that he was reluctant to trust me. His hostile eyes spoke more than words ever could as he slowly—oh, so slowly—leaned his neck back, exposing himself to me.
I couldn’t help but grin in victory. My grin did not last long though, as he snarled his displeasure, obviously ordering for me to get a move on. I skipped forward, and only slowed after seeing the uneasiness in his eyes.
Thinking to myself that it was ridiculous to be scared of a seven year old, I dropped down onto my knees before his enormous form.
Now that I was close, I could see his wound all the better. His wings were tucked in tight to his body, but if he were to stretch them out, they would probably extend to each end of the cave. His scales were hard but flexible, able to shift and bend as he moved about. And his eyes - they were purple. Purple like the sky above.
“Your eyes are pretty,” I said after a moment, rubbing my hands on my tattered breaches in preparation of touching him, trying in vain to get the dirt off my palms so that I would not ruin the shininess of his scales.
My compliment had his eyes softening a touch. I did not really notice however, as I was too focused on uncapping the bottle of the brandy. He watched my willful attempts to open it. The cork was content to stay where it was, and refused to pop off the lid. My cheeks flared red in embarrassment when I failed to uncork the stubborn bottle.
The dragon, who was still watching with suspicious eyes, leaned forward. My body stilled completely as he neared. Every alarm in my body was going off with his close proximity, but the dragon simply placed one long, menacing fang on top of the cork and punctured the bottle in one fluid motion. Immediately, a gush of liquid started to flow from the top and drench my shaking hands.
“T-Thanks.” Trying my best not to flee the cave, I scooted forward until the dragon was only a foot or so away from me. I took the bottle and lifted it high in the air. “I’m going to pour it on the wound now, alright? Just don’t eat me.”
He snorted in amusement, and watched as I gradually began to pour the alcohol on his wound. I expected him to hiss or snap his teeth but he remained unfeeling. Every time I had watched father do it for other soldiers, they had always yelped in pain or pleaded with my father to stop. The dragon did not seem to care or notice the hard liquor seeping into his cut though.
After that, things progressed rather smoothly. He let me stitch up his neck, even though some of the stitches were crooked and uneven in places. I tried wrapping the gauze around the wound as well but he was just too big. I ended up just packing the wound with the herbs and leaving it at that.
When I finished, I paused before immediately running out of the cave. I had never been this close to a dragon before and it was . . . magical. Being near this creature felt like looking and seeing magic. Before I could stop myself, I lifted a tentative hand and stroked his scales.
The muscles in his back contracted immediately as he tensed. His eyes had snapped open to fixate on my hand, which now ran over his serpent-like skin in fascination. The dark azul scales were smooth and hard as diamonds. I gently tapped against one of them, testing its strength. I was so consumed by my examination that I did not see him moving until it was too late.
All of a sudden, his eyes were in front of me. His jaws and sharp teeth were so close to my face that I literally locked up in apprehension and terror. He’s going to eat me. The thought sent my heart hammering thunderously in my chest. He drew closer until all that stood between his muzzle and me was the space of a butterfly’s wing.
I’m going to die.
Too terrified to cry out, I clenched my eyes shut and waited for him to bite me. A second ticked past. Then another. I debated opening my eyes but before I could, I felt him move closer.
His scale-ridden cheek brushed against the side of my face, slowly caressing the flesh there. It was over as soon as it began but it left me stunned nonetheless. Opening my eyes, I saw that he was already back in his corner, curled up on himself with his eyes narrowed on me, as if daring me to speak.
Smiling shyly, I gathered my supplies before standing up and hopping from ledge to ledge until I was at the cave’s entrance. I paused and turned around. Low and behold, he still had his gaze trained on me. Raising a hand in farewell, I said, “I’ll come back and check on you tomorrow?”
It came out more of like a question than a statement. The young dragon only grumbled before closing his eyes, going to sleep. I grinned and scampered out of the cavern, already planning tomorrow’s trip.