The Charming Child
The coastline of the Sargonian Sea was an unwelcoming sight with it’s jagged, dark cliffs hugging the coast in ribbons and folds. There were no sandy white beaches, only more jagged, barnacled rocks fallen from the cliffs over eons of time. White-capped crests of crashing waves tried to outdo the sound of gulls as they dipped and soared, searching for a meal. A sharp breeze kicked up sea spray from the choppy waves and with it, a foul, gamy smell akin to rotting meat. The Atranoch made their temporary home within the shallow caves found in the upper part of the cliffs. Filled with bones, sinew and excrement, the caves served their purpose for the time being. Gulls flocked from miles around to scavenge bits of rotting morsels, picking the bones clean of every last bit of flesh and tendon.
Stocky beasts, the Atranoch stood on two powerful legs ending in three-toed, taloned feet. Dark bristles covered their muscular bodies like that of a wild boar and their helmet-like heads sloped back into three backward horns protecting the back of their necks. Like the wild boar, the Atranoch’s skin was tough, nearly impenetrable by tooth or claw. Their jaws were muzzle-like, filled with rows of curved, bone- crushing teeth, easily able to rip through the toughest of hides. What the Atranoch’ lacked in intelligence, they made up for in brute strength, agility and a seething hatred for all living things. Wherever they went they left behind a trail of death and destruction. Feared, hated and exiled by the residents of Kilacomb, the Atranoch vowed to kill every living thing that walked there. But a plan must be in the making; a plan that would succeed in annihilating every last resident of Kilacomb.
Daelyn walked slowly through the night forest with Staryn’s legs tucked neat and warm behind his folded wings. Giggling softly, she rode atop her adoptive brother, her hair flowing like a fiery halo around her shoulders.
“Go faster, Dae!” she commanded through her laughter, “Star wants faster!”
Happily obliging the young child, Daelyn smiled at her squeals of joy. At four years of age, the human child was denied nothing from her dragon family, knowing only love and gentle discipline. She was astonishingly intelligent, surprising her surrogate parents everyday by passing milestones far more advanced by other human children of her age. Fiercely protective of his charge, Daelyn’s eyes were constantly surveying the area and listening for sounds out of place in the forest.
“Dae?” Starlyn asked after her wild ride, “When will I grow a tail?”
“I think I told you before, Star, humans don’t grow tails, my sweet,” he answered patiently, “You won’t have big teeth or claws on your feet and you cannot make dragon’s breath.”
Sliding down the broad expanse of his back, she stamped her tiny foot on the soft, forest floor, sulking prettily.
“It’s not fair!” she whined, “Why do you get all of those things but not Star?”
“I told you, sister, you’re not a dragon. Only dragons get to look like dragons. You are a human, so you will look like a human,” he explained, “Now, come, let’s keep moving. Darius and Olaf are waiting to play with you.”
She sniffed, but walked eagerly forward, happy to be traveling with Daelyn. Every now and then she rooted carefully around the base of trees to find truffles for her mother. She knew they were a delicacy among the dragons and she wanted to surprise her with the creamy-colored fungi. Starlyn loved the forest, especially when she was with her Daelyn. From the moment she laid eyes on him as an baby, he was her hero, mentor and the young dragon made sure she wanted for nothing. It was the kind of friendship that starts from a seed maturing in the warm soil of life, to the grandeur of a tall tree with many ups and downs without spoiling the beauty and brilliance of the tree. An unlikely pair, the two were never seen apart. Accepted by the Shadow dragon clan as one of their own, Starlyn was well loved and incredibly spoiled.
But not all of the dragons loved Starlyn. Daelyn remembered the dragon’s gathering last year when Star was only three-years-old. One dragon in particular, Bruntar of the fire dragons, was adamant in his hatred of humans. He warned the Shadow clan not to let the child out of their sight, making an instant enemy of her young protector. The clan gathering, occurring once a year in Kilacomb Valley, was a happy time for resident dragons. Even the snake-like Wym, who were hardly ever seen, and the smallest of dragons called Dragonlets. It was here the Shadow clan introduced their ward for the first time. Daelyn remembered the collective gasp that went through the dragon community when Starlyn stepped out from behind his wing. Snorting sparks of angry fire, Bruntar came forward in a rush, causing Daelyn to push Starlyn behind him protectively. Shapira and Baylor also stepped forward, daring the young, angry dragon to try and harm her in any way.
“You dare bring a human to our gathering, Daelyn?” he accused, “it should not be here! This is what I call blatant disrespect for Dragon Law!”
There were over one hundred dragons from all over the land of Kilacomb and all looked at the Shadow clan with accusatory stares.
“Why is she here, Baylor?” roared Diamedes, the matriarch of all dragons, “She is a human! Bruntar is correct in his accusations.”
Baylor stepped forward, his face a mask of calmness. He knew this would happen and was prepared for the moment.
“Your Highness,” he implored the elder dragon, “There are circumstances involved in how we came to have a human in our midst if you’d be so kind as to let me explain.”
“There is no explaining this, Baylor!” Bruntar growled, “Kill the human child before more humans come looking!”
Diamedes, a fair leader, held out green-scaled claw, silencing the impatient dragon. Her golden eyes, so dazzling with her emerald and magenta colored scales, sought out the human hiding behind Daelyn of the Shadow clan. She was a beautiful dragon with three horns pointing forward on top of her large head. Her belly was pure white and in the sun, her scales caught the light like living green crystals. At one hundred, she was younger than the Elders, but wise beyond her years. Her mother, the last matriarch, was known for her gentle, fair ways. Although Diamedes had many of those same attributes, she was also notoriously swift in delivering punishment to those who broke Dragon Law.
“Silence, Bruntar, I would hear Baylor’s story,” she commanded, “Baylor, bring her to me and let me hear your side with no interruptions.”
Shooting an deadly glare at Bruntar, Baylor stepped forward, motioning for Starlyn to come with him. Not shy in the least, Starlyn smiled her dazzling smile and skipped forward, her enthusiasm widening the dragon’s eyes.
“Starlyn, be respectful,” Baylor growled at her under his breath.
She nodded, slowing the skip down to a bouncy walk, much to Diamedes amusement.
“Hello,” Starlyn greeted the large green dragon before her, “Can I touch your scales?”
Diamedes looked up at Baylor in shock, for the child seemed to fear nothing.
“What is your name, little one?” she asked, “Why do you want to touch me?”
“My name is Starlyn,” the little girl said in her high voice, “Dae gave me that name cause it means ‘Star-child’. I love Dae because he gave me a pretty name. You are a very pretty dragon and I want to touch your scales because they sparkle and I like things that sparkle, don’t you? What’s your name?”
As with all who met Starlyn for the very first time, Diamedes was charmed by her waif-like features and forthright personality. Fascinated by the bright-red mound of curls tumbling over the girl’s shoulders, the rosebud mouth and her stunning, bright green eyes, Diamedes gave the small human a toothy smile worthy of a dragon.
“Well. Well, now,” the elder dragon exclaimed, “You’re a very pretty child and charming as well, I’ll give you that. How long have you been with dragons, my dear?”
“Always,” Starlyn answered, “That dragon over there,” she pointed at Saphira, “is my mommy, and
that dragon right here,” She hugged Baylor’s leg, “is my daddy. I love them.”
“Is that what they told you to say?” Diamedes asked, wondering if she had been coached.
“Oh, no,” Starlyn shook her head vehemently, “no one told me. They just are. Can I look at your eyes?”
Diamedes lowered her head indulgently whereas the child walked right up and with her tiny hands on either side of the female dragon’s muzzle, pulled the matriarch’s head down closer. She peered into each golden eye and satisfied, kissed the end of Diamedes nose, leaving the matriarch’s heart melting with pleasure at her gentle, feather-like touch.
Baylor explained how they came to find the child and how they couldn’t leave her to wild animals and the elements to die. He was honest and his words were full of emotion as he pulled Starlyn close to the him protectively. Diamedes could see the bond between the Shadow clan and the child and it intrigued her. The little human was indeed very likable and adorable, but did she belong with dragons? On the other hand, what could it hurt? She was just one harmless orphaned human. No one was looking for her, no humans would come. Dragon law was certainly not written in stone. With that in mind, Diamedes made her decision. What turned her around was the fact that it was the Atranoch who killed her human parents. Detestable creatures, she hated them with every fiber of her being.
“I’ve listened to both sides and have taken into account the all the facts,” she announced to the gathering, loud enough for all to hear, “This child is an orphan, no humans will come with weapons to harm us. My proposal is this: We will carry on with gathering activities as normal. In the meantime, the child, Starlyn, with mingle among you, but you are not to harm her. On the contrary, you will introduce yourselves and get to know her. If by the end of the gathering you feel like you still want to exile her, we’ll take a vote. For now, let the festivities begin!”
Turning to Baylor and Bruntar, she said, “I hope that my decision is to both of your liking?”
“Personally, If I were leader, there would have been no talking about it or voting. She’s human, she doesn’t belong with dragons!” he snarled nastily.
“That’s exactly why you’re not a leader, Bruntar,” Diamedes shot back, “You have no mercy, not a good trait in a leader. You’d do best to pick your battles, my dear.”
Head down, but seething inside, Bruntar stalked away and melted into the crowd.