“They’re all staring.”
Nyah looked at her emerald mate, whose nostrils still flared with wisps of smoke. “You sneezed on their dwellings.”
“Their fire is pungent and unnatural.”
“Even so, Gerthort," said Nyah, her crimson wings fluttering as she tried to remain composed, "you razed their home and now they’re staring.”
Gerthort bayed to clear his irritated dewlap, making the gawping crowd of humans flinch and edge backwards.
“Careful,” Nyah scolded. “Our hatchling remains their prisoner.”
Resigned to being unable to breathe, Gerthort narrowed his inner eyelids and looked towards the two-legs, each of whom feared his wrath. “And their youngling remains ours,” he said, drawing his tail closer to the small human clutching their stolen hatchling.
They’d found the thief a short distance from Nyah’s birthing place, the thicket of trees sparse enough for them to surround the youngling until it returned their egg, which was at the most precarious stage of its development.
First-hatch dragon eggs, aka hatchlings, were too small and fragile to stay outside their mother’s pouch for long, so Nyah and Gerthort first tried to prise it from the youngling’s grasp with their tongues, only to trigger the piercing screams of a human without fear or mercy. Its face turned red, its eyes shone with the witchcraft of its forebearers, and its grip on their hatchling intensified, leaving Gerthort and Nyah with little choice but to wait until the demon quietened before they tried again.
They waited for some time before realising silence wasn’t forthcoming, and out of desperation, Gerthort flew to the nearby human habitation to alert the elders of their lost member. Unfortunately, their fire burned with herbs and deceit, which resulted in the accidental razing of their village. Although the humans did follow Gerthort back to the clearing with sharp tools and cries of supportive outrage, Nyah soon realised their intent wasn’t to free their hatchling from the demon.
“Humans are stupid, Gerthort,” she assured him. “We need only outsmart them.”
“You were supposed to keep an eye on him!”
“How did I know you were preparing for the blood moon?”
“I’ve been telling you about the festival for weeks now. Perhaps if you listened or cared about anyone but yourself, our son wouldn’t have wandered off and stolen a goddamn dragon egg!”
“Perhaps if you didn’t care so much about being the village matriarch, our son wouldn’t need me to keep an eye on him.”
“You chose this life, Glen. No one forced you to leave your tribe and join—”
“Enough,” said the village elder and current matriarch, Amma. “Our predicament will not resolve itself through blame.”
Truth be told, Amma didn’t know how to solve their predicament. Be it through fire or steel, dragon and human conflicts were usually over in a matter of seconds.
As the forest diminished and competition for its resources grew, cross-species conflicts happened more frequently. Even so, she’d only encountered one dragon before. It was smaller than the six-horse specimens she stood before now, and it flew away the moment she locked eyes with it.
However, their meeting taught her a valuable lesson: dragons only attacked if threatened.
“Dragons aren’t stupid,” Amma said. “We need only respect them.”
“Shall we trade the youngling or eat it to send a message?” said Gerthort.
“You’ve destroyed their village,” Nyah replied. “If we give their youngling back, they’ll kill us and our hatchlings, just like they did with Strombor and Killax’s eggs all those years ago.”
“Killax did eat their elders,” Gerthort reminded his mate, “for fun.”
“Yes,” Nyah said. “Just like they hunt us and our hatchlings, for fun.”
“They also eat us.”
“Like we do them.”
Gerthort knew Nyah’s hormones were at their peak post-birth, clouding her usually passivist outlook, so he decided not to push the issue. Mother dragons were forged in fire and blood and fiercely defended their young. The humans were lucky his mate came from a regal line of dragons; otherwise, they might discover a force that rivalled the gods who first lit the dragon flame.
“How about we leave the hatchling, Nyah?” Gerthort suggested. “Fly away with the other four and cut our—”
Nyah arched her back and swung her head to snap at her mate. “I pushed for hours to lay her in the pile of lint and sand you called a nest," she hissed, her white-tipped spikes bright and warlike. "If it wasn’t for your absence, the youngling wouldn’t have stolen from us and we’d have a meal to celebrate.”
“This forest aggravates my gullet—”
“Do not insult me, Gerthort. Even the heavens heard your slumbering wheeze.”
“Forgive me, my crimson queen,” Gerthort conceded, head bowed low. “Of course we won’t abandon her.”
Nyah grunted and returned her gaze to the humans. “I’m going to try blowing smoke,” she said, her restlessness a shiver across her spine. “See if I can scare them.”
Standing on her hind legs, the humans each scurrying for cover, Nyah roared with the fury of a mother denied her right to peace.
Cinder and ash poured from her blood-red throat as she barked her demands, and the youngling trapped behind Gerthort’s tail matched her pitch as they both wailed with righteous indignation and rage. And when she was done, the mighty she-dragon – Nyah of the Alundela Mountains – placed her front paws back on the ground and shook the debris from her scales, left by the quivering forest.
“Well, you scared them all right,” Gerthort said.
“I merely singed their brows.”
“The youngling’s clothes are on fire.”
Nyah flapped her wings so air pulsed from her membranes and bounced against the tiny human's back, rolling it along the cooling mud.
“There, fixed it.”
Amma never liked her eyebrows anyway, and unlike most of the villagers, who all hid behind trees and sobbed, she remained on her feet — as did the mother of the toddler who’d just been set on fire by an angry she-dragon.
“She put him out,” the mother gasped, her hands to her throat.
“She means him no harm,” Amma said, at least half sure of her own words. “And look, he’s already smiling again.”
Having regained his composure, the toddler rocked the egg backwards and forwards on the scorched ground, all the while squealing with delight.
“He’s a strange boy…” the mother murmured.
“We need to work out how to communicate a trade,” Amma decided. "Long enough to grab your son and leave the egg. Then they'll know we mean no harm."
The mother nodded. “I could offer my bracelet? Dragons like gold, don't they?”
“It's worth a shot,” Amma said. “But I doubt she’ll understand your intentions. We need to make sure you’re not sending the wrong signals.”
The mother nodded. “Do I look her in the eye? No… that’s confrontational…”
“You’re talking about dogs,” Amma said, glancing towards the various shepherd breeds sitting amongst the frightened villagers. “Looking a dragon in the eye is a sign of respect, same as cats.”
“Okay,” said the mother, her time to shine before her, “let me try.”
“Would you like your husb—”
Amma nodded her understanding. “The sun is setting and dragons can’t see our true faces in the dark. Remain steadfast and hurry!”
“What’s it doing?” Nyah snapped, half an eye on the youngling torturing her hatchling. “Why is that human coming towards us?”
Gerthort crouched against the earth and conjured a flame in his throat. His green and yellow scales vibrated so fast they blurred, but it was threatening enough that the human stopped in its tracks. Looking past Gerthort to stare directly at Nyah, its wide eyes remained fixed and unwavering as it brandished a flimsy piece of ore.
“IT DARES CHALLENGE ME!” Nyah barked. Smoke billowed from her nostrils and twisted into the failing light of the forest.
“If it dares, it may be dangerous,” Gerthort warned.
Nyah lowered her long neck and flattened her body so it was proud-oak-straight. From the tip of her snout to the point in her tail, she was ready to face what came next.
Another human yelled something and the challenger immediately lowered its gaze and dropped to its knees, the ore lost to the dirt.
“NOW IT INSULTS ME!” Nyah roared, startling the birds who dared return to the trees.
Gerthort loosed a flame – a warning – and the audacious human looked up with a watery gaze and clasped its hands together, strange noises spilling from its no-flame hole.
“IT CASTS A SPELL!” Nyah screeched, steadying her feet and swaying her hind from side to side in a readying pounce.
Prepared to defend his mate and hatchlings, Gerthort dug his claws into the forest floor and flattened himself in the same way as Nyah. Together they’d fight the horde of evil sorcerers, and together they’d prevail or meet the afterflame in glory.
Amma almost couldn’t watch. While the mother sobbed and begged for her life – her son somehow remaining preoccupied with the dragon egg – the mated pair prepared to kill everyone.
Amma wondered if it was a small mercy. With supplies scarce enough as it was and the hunting parties requiring more daring to feed their village, perhaps two fewer mouths to satiate was a good thing. The hare-sized hatchling the toddler played with would feed their tribe for a few days, while dragons themselves could keep a village full for weeks, despite being tough to cut and hard to cure.
However, one dragon was hard enough to take down, let alone two parents defending their brood; and ever the pragmatist, Amma resigned herself to the fate unfolding before her.
“Run!” she yelled to her people, using as much gusto as she could conjure. “Do not return until dawn!”
The responding rustles told her that most of the tribe had abandoned them after the eyebrow incident, and she silently cursed their cowardice. The few who’d stayed sheepishly revealed their hiding places, each backing away as she shooed them onwards and rolled her eyes.
“Cassie!” she called, following it with a whistle and a smile as her shepherd and only loyal companion ran from the brush she was told to wait in.
Bending down to receive her, she let out a cry of surprise when the mutt bolted past her and into the path of imminent dragon flames.
“No, Cassie!” Amma cried out, her hands to her mouth as her dog leapt in front of the mother and bowed before the dragons, rump in the air, tail wagging, and front paws flat on the ground. It was the same stance she adopted with the other shepherds of the village when they…
It couldn’t be…
Was her dog really trying to play with the dragons?
“Cassie!” she yelled, all the hours of recall training going to waste.
Her dog paid her no attention, and when she realised the dragons weren’t going to play, she moved on to the toddler, who screeched with delight and rolled the egg towards her.
“No!” Amma cried, tears flowing down her face as Cassie closed her jaws around the hatchling, which took some doing, and carried it over to the dragons.
Placing it in front of them, she repeated her invitation to play; and at that moment, Amma knew it was all over.
“The creature honours us, Nyah,” Gerthort said, a tickle in his throat intensifying the more he tried to contain it.
“It bows like a noble creature.”
“Its line must be regal too.”
Nyah leaned forward and nudged the creature with her snout, a gesture that invited it to lick her nostril. “What a delight,” she mused. “I see why the humans keep them close.”
Taking back her dragon egg, which was thankfully hard enough to withstand the creature’s canines, she buried it in her stomach pouch with the others. When she and Gerthort made it to a safer locale and he’d built her a nest more befitting of her worth, she’d tend to them for five cycles, helping them expand and harden until their breakday.
“What shall we do with their youngling?” her mate asked.
Nyah looked at the howling demon, now bereft without one of her hatchlings to torment, and then shifted her gaze to the two remaining humans. One was rigid and open-mouthed while the other was leaking from her face, likely in response to her failure to produce even a flicker of magic.
“I see no threat,” she said, stretching her wings to their fullest extent. “Thankfully, they keep wiser company.”
With a final acknowledgement of the enchanting four-legged creature and a cursory glance at the dim-witted two-legs, Nyah beat her wings to lift herself from the forest floor, dirt and debris scattering until she broke through the canopy. Gerthort soon joined his mate, their crimson and emerald scales dancing off the sky where night greeted day.
Far below them, Amma and the mother watched the dragon’s shadows shrink to nothing, unable to breathe until the air stopped spinning, the sound of wings faded, and the he-dragon’s furious flames stopped lighting up the dusk.
Stood astride the toddler, Cassie wagged her tail and waited for her companions to compose themselves. Humans weren’t stupid, not really; but they weren’t dragons, and they certainly weren’t dogs.
I hope you enjoyed my short story about language and cultural barriers! If you like my work, please do support me with a subscribe or share so I can spend more time writing about dragons. :) x
About the Creator
As a freelance content writer, fantasy author, and reluctant minion of darkness, I spend my days devouring words and teaching my cats boundaries (which is relentless, unforgiving work...)
Escapism is life. Find me on Insta: @j.l.nicholls 😊