The Dragon's Egg
Dragons. Where had they all gone? Of the last five, great-horned beasts believed to cast their winged shadows across the land of Chimera, only three were rumoured to actually haunt its forests and grasslands. At least that’s what Stamos, Slevyn’s uncle had told her. And he never lied, at least not to her. Still, Uncle Stamos had said that, for some reason, only one of the three, the ancient Archteryx, had actually been seen. The lack of dragon sightings was a cause for concern. There had always been dragon protectors in Chimera. They kept the dark things lurking at the outer reaches, out.
Slevyn loved the old tales of the mighty serpents. She loved to hear her uncle tell of how they would swoop down from their dens hidden away in mountain crevices to breathe fire on marauding trolls, or to tear goblins limb from limb with razor-sharp talons. There were tales of dragon warriors and dragon riders. Slevyn smiled. Female dragon riders at that! She imagined herself seated on the back of one of them, her knees tucked into its sides and her hands grasping the spines of its cowl. What would the wind feel like against her skin? How magnificent her red hair would look against the blue backdrop of the sky! What would she wear? She looked down at her threadbare, cotton shift dress. No peasant’s attire for her. Instead, she would don a suit of armour made of dragon scales, and a helmet fashioned from a claw. Yes! Drunk with joy, Slevyn giggled and stretched out on the soft grass. The giggles turned to sighs. The serpents no longer came down into the forests and vales when the people called them, and ever since, evil things began to encroach on the land. Slevin pushed those thoughts away. She did not want to think about dark things, not on such a wonderful, fall day. Heaven knew there were few enough of them to go around at this time of year.
Slevyn closed her eyes and let the early-morning rays fall on her like a feather-filled blanket. She checked herself. She did not have a feather blanket so she did not really know for certain whether or not if it would feel as dreamy as the sun’s rays. But if she did have one, the kiss of sunshine on her freckled, brown skin is exactly what she imagined it would feel like.
No, she did not have a feather blanket, or a real bed or even decent shoes. Rude, sewn pieces of dried cow hide, which resembled socks more than shoes, are what the people in her water-front village wore. Legends told, however, of a wonderful place in the far away mountain peaks of Perth, where people lived in villas that shone like crystal in the sun, where the lakes were as still as mirrors and the streets were paved with gold. Slevyn snorted. She may only be an ignorant twelve year old girl, who always dreamed about lands that did not exist instead of focusing on the one that did—her father’s words--but she had eavesdropped enough on his conversations with the village men to know that was not true, or at least not entirely. Still, what if such a place existed? Slevyn pulled up tufts of grass and let them fly away through her fingers in the wind. It did not matter. Any place, even a made up one, was better than this.
Slevyn lifted a land, curled her fingers into her palm, and with one finger, traced the streaks of white clouds in the sky. Next, she moved on to the birds, mere specks to her eye, bobbing up and down in the pale-blue sky. The hawks soared, rising and dipping on the shifting air currents. When she came to the last dot, she moved her arm to the right side of the sky, where a solitary form shot across the blue expanse. Slevyn frowned and sat up a little, resting on her elbows. This was no hawk. For one, it did not release itself to the wind to soar as the others did, and this thing was far, far bigger. She could tell that much even from this distance.
“What--?” she began.
“Oy, Slevyn! Wha’ch’ya doing out here, girl? Don’cha know your da will skin you alive if ‘e finds you’ve ducked yer chores, again?”
“Girl? Who are you calling girl? You’re not much older than I am, Doret Mayorson,” Slevyn shot back. She sat straight up and glared at the intruder.
Doret was the mayor’s son. He stood tall with his shoulders back to emphasise his full five feet six inches, of which he was very proud. He was the tallest boy his age in the village, but Slevyn cared nothing about that. She cared nothing at all for Doret and never would, even if he grew to six feet! Why he had taken it upon himself to be her keeper she would never know. He was like an efficient hound dog, always sniffing her out no matter where she went, always ruining her precious moments of peace and quiet.
“Old enough ta tell ya to get off yar behind and back ta work. Girl.”
Oh, he had a way of getting under her skin. If she’d had a rock, she would have thrown it at him.
“Wha’cha smiling fer?” he demanded. He jammed the butt end of his walking staff into the grass with a dull thud.
Slevyn grinned, knowing it would annoy him further. “Don’t you know your voice cracks when you talk?”
He gripped the staff in one hand and took a step towards her. While she had been talking, as inconspicuously as possible, Slevyn had reached for the brown blob of soap in the unused wash bucket beside her. She tucked it into the palm of her hand, ready to launch it at Doret, if need be. It wouldn’t hurt as much as a rock, but it would do.
He retaliated the only way he knew how. “I’m going ta tell tha mayor ya was lazing off again instead a helping tha women with tha washing.”
She lifted her chin. “So? And what are you supposed to be doing at this hour? I don’t remember the mayor giving you the job of watching over stray wash girls. Go find your sheep. They’ve probably been eaten by trolls by now.”
Doret’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not allowed to talk to me like that. I’m an elderboy. Since last week.”
Slenyn rolled her eyes. “Maybe when you start leaving me alone I’ll be more pleasant with you.”
Satisfied, Doret stepped back and relaxed his grip on his staff. A moment later, he took it up again and pointed the crooked end at her. “Tha’ doesn’ make any sense!”
Slevyn was laughing now. “You only now just figured that out? Get going, Doret. You’ve already ruined my morning.”
He shook with anger. Brown freckles stood out on his paling face and his dark eyes seemed to darken even further. “I don’t ‘ave ta put up wi’ this! I’m telling yer da.”
That stopped Slevyn cold. Of all the things Doret could have said to hurt her, this was the worst. There was no way, however, she would let him know of the fear his threat stirred in the pit of her stomach.
“It’s just a thrashing,” she said with what she hoped was a nonchalant shrug. “I’ve had my share.”
“More’n yer share. It’s like ya like ta get in trouble.” Doret shook his head. “Silly girl.”
The sun warming her back soothed the tender skin that still smarted from the last thrashing. Silly girl. It irked her that he was right about that particular thing. No matter the number of beatings she suffered, Slevyn could not seem to stop herself from getting into trouble. But women’s work galled her, made her hands sore and her back ache. And when the sweet smell of the wild flowers rolled down from the meadow through the trees to swathe the village in a blanket of perfume, how could she ignore their call? She remembered the tears glistening on her mother’s cheeks when she lurched through the front door from the wood shed, the back of her dress glistening with red stripes. Somehow, she had crossed the dirt floor and pulled herself up the ladder to her room in the loft. Her mother’s eyes pleaded with her, Why? Slevyn could only look back, her own tear-rimmed eyes answering, I don’t know.
“No one likes to get caught, Doret.”
“So why can‘cha listen? Is it so hard ta do what yer supposed ta?”
“Why do you even care? All you do is tell on me.”
Doret closed his mouth, cutting off whatever he had been preparing to say. He broke off his gaze and dug his toe into the ground. “I…I--”
“Nothin‘. Slevyn, I won’ say anything, this time. If ya promise ta get ta work, like yer supposed ta.”
Slevyn considered answering with a cutting remark, but in the end, grateful he decided to spare her, she nodded. “Alright.”
He did not leave then as she had hoped he would. How could someone go from being so irritating, to decent back to irritating so quickly? Slevyn took her time gathering her things. As she bent to pick up her bucket, she felt the wind rustling the reddish hairs on her arms and tugging at the braids running down her back to her waist. From above, birds called to one another.
When she looked away from the sky to the path leading back to the village, Doret was already headed for it. For the moment, she was alone again, just the way she liked it. For these last precious seconds, she was free.
As Slevyn put on her cotton hat and tugged at the front until it rested properly on her brow, a noise, like the croak of a gigantic frog, blasted through the meadow. Slevyn cast her eyes all about her, looking for its source, while her mind tried to conceive of what kind of a creature could have made such a sound.
There it came again! This time, from above.
Lifting her face into the sunrays, Slevyn’s eyes widened when she saw a black shape swooping and dipping in the sky. Massive wings bent and stretched, lifting the bloated body into the air while a forked whip of a tail sliced through the air behind it. It was too far to see more of it, and though Slevyn had never actually seen one, she knew that what she was seeing was a real, live dragon. With a last croaking whoop, it sliced the air with its wings and in the time it took for her to catch her breath, it shot through the air and disappeared into the distance.
The air left Slevyn’s lungs in a great whoosh. Her knees bent and she dropped to the ground like a stone. And for a reason she could not understand, she began to weep.