There weren’t always dragons in the Valley, that much was known. Today Nesrah joined her sisters Iolanthe and Aislinne as they stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the ravaged mountainside watching the fog slowly creep in from the rolling seas nearby, dusting the tops of dewy pine trees before settling into the branches to wait out the storm.
The sun had yet to fully rise. In its absence the salted air chilled their bones. Dozens of townsfolk crowded around to assess the damage, wondering what had happened. From where they stood it was difficult to see just how bad it was. Whole pieces of the mountainside now lay hundreds and thousands of feet beneath them, swallowed by the thick carpet of waterlogged brush, lost to the world below.
Hours before, an unmistakable flurry of a rather large creature loomed overhead, getting closer and louder with each pass before fading away; this went on all night with most of the city falling asleep to the wild, rhythmic gusts that whirled around aimlessly outside their windows. Nesrah sat upright with her two sisters as they looked at each other nervously in their darkened room knowing full well what it was as the moon cut in and out with every swoop of the large creature.
Of course the girls had grown up on stories of faraway dangers—sea monsters that could walk on land, slinking their way into unsuspecting homes before devouring everything in its wake; or the small lantern shaped flies that prey on young children, women and the elderly alike, waiting until they are fast asleep before striking, killing them with one bite. But dragons as it were, were almost unheard of, a childhood story meant to scare kids away from wandering too far into the woods before dark. How likely could it be that one had gotten loose?
Before she could dwell on this any further a horrendous wailing roar echoed from the valley. Nesrah jumped from her bed and ran to the window—“over there,” she whispered, panic filling her voice as she focused on an area towards the side of the mountain where trees swayed and swished violently as the large beast fell below the canopies. Iolanthe and Aislinne barely had time to keep up, their nightgowns trailing behind Nesrah as she made her way down the dark winding tower stairs towards a small tunnel in the castle wall that had been curated for emergencies only.
Breathless, Nesrah stopped, checking to see if any lights had come on in the castle as the girls peered up the still fortress wall. The girls had been using this moss covered passageway since they were young but now, a new kind of fear welled up inside them as they traversed the well-used cobblestones. “We shouldn’t be doing this,” Iolanthe whispered as she begged Nesrah to go back inside. “I agree. Nessie…it isn’t too late, what if this thing kills us or worse, blows fire at us. It will surely burn the whole forest down before we can stop it,” Aislinne exclaimed, her emerald-green eyes glowing in the most persistent manner as if that was the only thing that could go wrong.
Seconds later the girls hopped across the dry moat, jumping nimbly over rocks and softly grazing beds of moss as they ascended the trail nearest the tree line—reaching the clearing where unkempt grass and thick prickly bushes awaited their arrival.
Traversing the uninhabited lands was no easy feat; flowering vines wrapped around trees and twisted overhead catching at their long night gowns as they passed. Nesrah, Iolanthe and Aislinne huddled closely together in a single file while thin scraggly branches pulled their hair and scratched their skin. The woods were silent. Such a strange place to be; no beastly noises filled the air. No chirping of bugs or snapping of twigs—just the beating of their hearts drumming their chests in fear. No one could have braced them for what would happen next.
Nesrah crouched down towards the stump of a tree; obvious signs of trampling were present in the otherwise undisturbed Earth as the girls looked over each other’s shoulders curious of what they might find looking back at them. They neared where the majestic creature had fallen, only the loud grunts of heavily bated breath flared from the beast’s nostrils as hot air wet their skin with each exhale.
“It’s hurt,” Nesrah cried out as she ran towards the slumped beast. Its enormous yellow eyes were heavy with tears that welled up in the soft blue lids. Given its large size overall, the dragon was small, much smaller than Nesrah expected. They had been warned about this, it can be quite dangerous to see a baby dragon by itself and this was no exception—most likely that had been abandoned by its clan. The girls wondered if it had been outcast, banished, or simply lost—hoping no one with bad intentions was looking for it.
“This could be bad, real bad,” Iolanthe warned. It was her turn to have cause for concern and her fears weren’t unfounded by any means. Dragons were funny business, they could bring immense fortune or, in this case as was more likely, they could bring even bigger dragons and other large predators looking for them. It’s exactly how—as Iolanthe recalled—the stories went. “Dragons getting lost, injured, banished. Roaming for miles, finding a safe place like this to land until the other Dragons come and find them, kill them and whoever lives on that land,” she paused nervously before continuing—“that could be us,” Iolanthe whispered, still wringing her hands in her nightgown as she weighed their possibilities; they still had time to go and warn the king, to sound the alarm.
Nesrah said nothing as she ran her fingers along the soft dotted skin that ridged to points where sharp bones had yet to form along its bumpy spine—comforting the beast as best she could. “I think it’s a girl,” Aislinne exclaimed joyfully as she pet the beautiful bright purple scales that glittered in the moonlight. They had come this far, there was nothing left to do but try and save this beautiful creature.
“We shall call her Alina,” Nesrah cooed, “for she is quite lovely.”
Iolanthe stomped around but eventually gave in, slowly petting the top of the dragon’s nose. “Alina, huh,” she whispered as she stared into the dragons face. “We are going to try and help you, but you have to help us too.”
The dragons pained eyes smiled as she lay on her side unable to move. Monstrous webbed wings bent just at the curve, one dangling precariously overhead—broken.
Overall Alina was quite plump, considering. Her claws had long silvery talon-like nails that coiled up into the soft padding of her paws and a row of bright teeth hedged through her stiff rounded cheeks with two small fangs jutting out from the sides of her mouth.
For being a dragon Alina seemed rather sweet, shy, timid even; nothing like the fire breathing stories that had been harped upon them since birth—‘beware of dragons swooping down and snatching you off to a nested lair high up in the highest mountain,”—it was always the same tales—painful fiery deaths or being ripped apart and eaten. Which was worse?
It took a while but the three girls worked tirelessly to help Alina to her feet, ducking as they narrowly missed the sweeping grasp of her curled tail as she readied herself, unable to fly away. Nesrah jumped on Alina’s back, nudging herself between the curved ridges as she guided her towards to the safety of the castle walls with Iolanthe and Aislinne taking the lead. Inside she knew she could keep Alina safe from prying eyes but she wasn’t sure if she could keep Alina quiet. After all, she was just a baby.
As the hours progressed, half the castle and townsfolk were still preoccupied with the fear of dragons in the valley—though none had been seen. The girls had successfully managed to sneak Alina right under their noses as they quickly led her to an abandoned church on the southernmost side of the castle property. It was a place no one ever ventured to for fear of what might lurk inside so it was only fitting they tuck their little friend inside until it was safe to move her.
“Her wing is definitely broken,” Aislinne said as she wrapped a bandage tightly around the frayed pieces, using spare sticks for splints. It was nearing dinnertime and the girls couldn’t be seen in the woods. They motioned for Alina to keep quiet, shushing her as they slowly backed out the large door, locking it behind them as they looked back blowing a kiss to their dragon as they left. Alina’s large face appeared in the cathedral windows, glowing as she watched them saunter off into the woods, her grunts sending dust and dirt scattering into small poofs from under the door frames as she whined. It wouldn’t be easy to keep a dragon.
“That was close,” Nesrah said as the girls shut the door to their bedroom behind them to change. The smell of roasting chicken wafted up through the floorboards as they readied themselves. “We have to make it quick; we need to find something to feed Alina. It will be dark soon and she’ll surely be hungry,” Iolanthe urged as Aislinne agreed. “I knew you would come around,” Nesrah smiled, “maybe pocket a few extra scraps on the way out, grab as much as we can carry,” she added.
The girls had dressed in far more clothes than usual while still trying their best to seem inconspicuous, thankfully the weather was still chilly and the great dining hall was humming with the roaring conversations of the day. Everything from dragon repellent to the best way to slay the horned and winged beasts. The girls huddled at a table by themselves as they filled small sacks of food with remnants of what they could sneak away. From the table they could hear the low ambling roar of what sounded like their beloved Alina howling in the distance. Maybe it was paranoia but they couldn’t take any chances. Before anyone else caught on the three girls were dashing across the overlook that stretched between their tower and the guards tower—a narrow walkway that connected each of the castle walls and kept people from getting inside.
With food in tow they shimmied along the outer walls just as the looming gates were pulled up. They neared the abandoned church and found Alina curled up on the floor inside. A look of sadness in her eyes as she nudged Nesrah’s body with her face. Alina had just begun to feast on the pieces of chicken and braised carrots when a shrill cry was heard in the distance. It was enough to steal the air right from their lungs.
Alina tensed as she sniffed the air a few times, letting out an exasperated grunt as she picked at the food with her snout, the tendrils of her nose flaring as she did so. It was as though Alina knew what would happen next.
Overhead the singing sound of fireballs whirled through the air as Nesrah, Iolanthe and Aislinne grew stiff with fear and Alina recoiled frightfully towards the back of the church where an oversized polished stone step lie, remnants of a sacred altar; the dust scattering around them as Alina tried with all her might to make herself small. It was clear the roaring fire balls had scared her.
“Shh….its okay,” Nesrah said in as comforting a voice as she could before gently cradling the baby dragon’s oversized head in her arms. The dragons head practically took up Nesrah’s whole body but Nesrah didn’t care. Hot tears rolled down the dragon’s scaly skin and dropped onto the floor in massive puddles as the girls did their best to keep quiet and darken the church. More fireballs flew overhead no doubt from the castle, but this time, they were met with the unmistakable flurry of wings, it was a louder noise than she had heard with Alina. This dragon would be huge.
The trees around them swayed, bending from side to side as they felt strong gusts of wind that seemed to shake the church from the ground up as they watched helplessly as another large creature hovered dangerously close to them above; each flap of its mighty wings sending waves of dusty wind their direction, knocking them down as they each huddled behind Alina, holding onto her for dear life.
It was then a wailing roar was heard, blowing the broken pews into the walls with enough force to deafen cities for miles. Alina sat up curiously as she tilted her head to the side in knowing wonder. Nesrah held her arm up in a quiet effort to stop the little one from leaving but it was no use.
There was a soft purple glow in the windows ahead. Something colossal was waiting for them. Nesrah instinctively walked in front of Alina as she slowly opened the large wooden doors and stepped out into the darkened clearing to await her fate.
She couldn’t believe her eyes; she was met with something unlike any creature she had ever imagined. This was no doubt the mother of Alina; they had the same plump features, soft flowing bodies and large billowy wings that webbed out in several directions from the larger dragons shoulders. She felt Iolanthe and Aislinne join her, holding hands with each other as they tried their best to keep a brave face.
The looming dragon bowed resting her snake-like face on the Earth before them as Alina crawled out of what was left of the abandoned church. As they all stood silent, Mother and baby dragon exchanged looks, nuzzling as more fireballs soared overhead.
It was then Nesrah realized why. The roaring wind wasn’t from the fireballs or Alina’s mom, it was from Dragons. As Alina and her mom ascended atop the trees, thousands of dragons circled them—for as far as the eye could see.
Nesrah, Iolanthe and Aislinne scurried back towards the castle and through their secret passageway as they scrambled to the King; there was still time. All Nesrah knew for sure was that no one would believe her if she had told them the truth, for one week, Nesrah had been a dragon keeper.