“Dragon Sayer”

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The tiny green lizard, no longer than her finger, glowed like silver set afire. Its black eyes gazed into hers as she reached down. The reptile scurried onto her open hand, and she carried it out the door, up the garden, and into the rocky steepness beyond. She stopped before a round granite boulder and set the lizard down on its sun-warmed top.

“Medraxen sumata flunt,” she said, and whimpered as she stood back.

The change occurred in less time than it takes to tell it. The tiny lizard grew in big, fat, huge quantum dollops, fast enough to frighten anyone, especially a young mountain girl. Its color changed as it expanded, quickly shifting through half a dozen hues to finally settle on a deep reddish brown, shiny and luminescent as polished metal, glowing in the last rays of the sun. When the creature had grown to thirty feet from snout to tailend and its head had got four times the size of Remissa’s, it turned, looked at her, and spoke.

“Say, Sayer.”

“Whuh-what do you mean?”

“Say my name.”

Its mouth did not move when it spoke, but she heard the words clearly. She understood.

“Raak.”

Massive front legs, covered in shining, leathery scales, bent to lower its forequarters.

“Will you ride, Sayer?”

Remissa swallowed dryness and nodded. Although she had often seen people on horses, she had never ridden anything except a bicycle in her life. Hiking up her skirt, she stepped onto the beast’s knee with her left foot, grabbed hold of his neck with both arms, and slung her right leg across. Amazed at her own audacity, she laughed with delight and clamped her heels into the creature’s sides.

“Let’s go, Raak,” she whispered.

Nothing in her life had prepared her for the thrill she felt at the sudden whoosh of wings when they spread from Raak’s sides. Enormously powerful muscles stretched and contracted beneath her, and she was very happy indeed that there was a ring of extra scales, like a mane, around the dragon’s neck for her to hang on to. The wings flapped once, and they leapt together into the air with no more ado.

Sweeping upward in a smooth arc, they soared over the house, then glided downward, high above the meadows. A few goats and cows that had not returned to the barnyard for the evening bleated and lowed. Remissa laughed as she nudged her airborne steed round to chase the animals in that direction.

Sudden pangs twisted Remissa’s stomach, and she gasped.

“Gawds, why am I so hungry?”

The dragon’s head turned slightly. “Hunger,” it said.

You’re hungry?”

The word came into her head once again, though now she was sure it was not an actual sound.

“Well, go ahead and …”

She squeaked and clung for dear life as the beast half-folded its wings and dropped, like a stooping falcon, spreading them again to brake at the last possible second. It snatched a fat old nanny in long, powerful talons and carried it high into the air. The goat bleated in panic for only a few seconds, then there was a loud crunch of snapping vertebrae that put a sudden stop to the bleating.

“Will we eat now, Sayer?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, sure, just, uh … okay, there’s a flat terrace in the mountainside about half a mile above the house. I’ve had lots of picnics up there.”

“I see it.”

A minute later, Raak dropped the goat to the ground first, then alighted softly in the boulder-strewn bracken. He knelt so that Remissa could get down. She was dizzy with extreme terror and immense joy, and she sat down on a large stone, clasping her hands between her knees to still their trembling.

Raak went to the goat, and she turned away. There was a ripping sound and she grimaced. Suddenly, his huge head was right in front of her, a goat haunch dangling from his lips.

“For you, Sayer.”

“Oh, no, no, that’s all right. I just had supper. I must have been feeling your hunger. When was the last time you ate, anyway?”

“I do not understand.”

“Never mind. Go on, eat up.”

With what might have been a shrug, Raak turned away. Remissa had watched the dogs catch and eat rats in the barn sometimes, but she never much cared for it as a diversion. This was not quite as bad, for some reason, and once the dragon had devoured the goat – hooves, hide, bones, and all – she felt much better. The gnawing hunger had disappeared, and joy and wonder once more washed over her like a warm sea.

“Let’s fly all the way over the mountains, Raak.”

Instantly he knelt, and eagerly she mounted once more. Swiftly and with little effort, they rode the updrafts, higher and higher and higher. The full moon stood at its zenith, and a million million bright stars strewed the velvety blackness of the sky. They climbed until the peaks, many still snow-covered, lay beneath them. Remissa could see the flat blackness of the ocean far to the northwest. However, she was not only freezing, but breathing very fast and very hard.

“Okay, let’s go down now. This is kind of high, even for a rugged mountain girl. Are you all right?”

His huge head turned so he could see her with one coal-black eye. “I am always all right.”

She laughed and patted his scaly head. “I’ll bet you are, big guy. I just bet you are. Let’s go back to the house. Do you like chocolate cake?”

“I do not understand.”

“It’s really good. Aunt Modelia is a wizard with desserts. I’m not sure I should give you any, though. Chocolate might be poisonous to dragons, same as dogs.” She hugged his massive neck. “I am so happy, Raak.” After a moment, she blinked. “Raak, you’re warm. How can you be warm? Lizards aren’t warm. Why are you warm?”

“I do not understand.”

“Maybe it’s cause you’re not a lizard anymore, you’re something else.” She giggled. “Oh, yeah. You’re something else, all right. And you’re mine, all mine!”

Shrieking maniacally, she nudged him to fly in loops and swirls, zooming toward home. Soon the house was in sight, and Remissa frowned.

“Why are all the lights on? It must be almost midnight.” She patted Raak’s head. “Slow down, okay? And don’t land until I see what my idiot relatives are up to.”

The dragon spread his wings wider, holding the air and slowing as he veered to and fro across the mountain’s slope.

“Gawds, the whole tribe is out in the garden. What are they doing? Can you just circle above them, Raak?”

“Yes.”

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

A powerful electric torch, then another and another, dazzled her eyes and she held up her hands to block the light as Raak glided in a slow circle thirty feet above the crowd in the garden.

“There, there! I told you I saw it, Uncle Clade! It’s a dragon and it’s got Remmy!”

Remissa rolled her eyes at Colb’s shrill, annoying tones and leaned over Raak’s neck.

“Hey! Shut off those stupid torches, okay? You’re blinding me.”

“Jump, Remmy! We’ll catch you!”

“Uncle Neril, I am not going to jump, now just settle down. He doesn’t have me, I have him. This is my dragon. Isn’t he beautiful?”

“She’s gone mad – stark, staring mad, I tell you!” Aunt Gissil’s penetrating shriek rent the night air. “Shoot the monster, Clade!”

“Don’t you dare, Uncle Clade! Have you morons got guns? Put them away! And turn off those torches! If he can’t see where he’s going, he might knock the house down without realizing it.”

“Remmy, if you have any control over that beast, make him put you down! It’s all right! I won’t let anyone shoot it!”

“Thanks all the same, Grampa, but you guys are way too wound up for me to trust you right now.”

“Shut off those lights, everyone! The torches, turn them off!”

Finally, Remissa could see, though she was not that happy about what she saw as she floated above the wide-eyed, upraised faces. Most of the men and a few of the women had rifles or shotguns. Even Colb had his four-ten rabbit gun and he held it butted against his shoulder, the muzzle following her.

“Make it come down and let you go, Remmy!” Aunt Modelia called. “We’ll take care of you!”

“Yes, yes, we will!” Aunt Gissil shouted. “Get off of it, then we can kill the monster!”

Remissa frowned for a moment, then laughed out loud. “You really have no clue at all, do you?” She pushed and turned Raak with her mind as much as with her hands and feet, making him swoop upward suddenly. His taloned feet knocked down half a dozen chimneys, ripped out huge swaths of the roof, raining bricks and tiles into the garden. “My family! Bah! You people don’t know the first thing about taking care of me, and now I can take care of myself!”

Screaming, the crowd dispersed, dodging debris, women hustling children inside. The dragon dropped closer to the ground, wings churning, hovering like a great, scaly helicopter. He stayed between ten and twenty feet above the few remaining hardy souls, most of them armed and gathered in a knot on the terrace. Remissa saw her father, standing off by himself, glowering, holding a shotgun at his waist with both hands.

“What about it, Fedor?” she called. “Do you want to take care of me, too? What do you think of your last-born now? Isn’t this what you always wanted from a seventh son?”

“You were a mistake, girl! You never should have happened! I should have had another son, after you or instead of you, but a son that I could love and trust and teach. Now you have taken the power and soiled it.”

Tears of frustration filled her eyes. “How can you say that? The power is my birthright! My gender has nothing to do with it!”

“You will corrupt that power. I told Edrin this would happen, that you would turn against the family, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Her blood boiled at his use of her great-grandfather’s given name. “Of course Ompah wouldn’t listen to you, because you are an addle-pated simpleton with no more sense than the goats I feed my dragon! So how about I feed him you?”

She nudged Raak forward, and the dragon darted in quickly when Fedor brought his gun to bear, knocking the weapon from the man’s hands with a swipe of his talons and spinning him around.

“Kill it, kill it!” Colb shrieked and fired his rabbit gun.

His shot went wide, but a half dozen other guns went off in the ensuing confusion. Raak backed off quickly, but a few lead pellets smacked into his flank and bounced off his leathery armor. Remissa felt the sting right above her hipbone, just as if she had been shot, and lashed out on impulse.

Conflagien!

Raak’s mouth gaped, gaseous fumes spewed from his stomach, and a cloud of fire billowed over the garden. Men screamed and fell on their faces. Singed but not actually in flames, her uncles and cousins scrambled to their feet, leaving their guns in the grass as they scampered, crouching, inside. There were scorch marks on the walls and windows, and a few pine boughs next to the house blazed brightly.

“Can you put the fire out, Raak? I like that tree.” With a few smothering beats of its great wing, the dragon snuffed the flames. “That’s great, thanks. Put me down, please.”

He alighted and Remissa dismounted. She stood for a moment looking up at the windows. Several of them were open, and shadows darted back and forth within.

“If a single gun barrel pokes out a window,” she shouted, “my dragon will burn this wretched pile to the ground with all of you in it. Is that clear?”

“Take what you want and go away!”