She flew on and on until there was an ache across the base of her leathery wings. However, that was as nothing compared to the ache in her heart. At last, she saw a black shape winding between the trees. She was nearing her destination. She felt it in her bones. While still small in the hatchery, her mother told her she would leave. It was her destiny to carry out great deeds, her destiny to save her kind.
None of it made any sense to her. There were at least twenty young dragons of all colours and ages. The adult dragons also numbered about twenty, so saving her kind seemed far-fetched. As for great deeds, what about her brothers? All five were fine specimens. They were at least twice her size and their colours dazzling, red, blue, green, purple and yellow. She was from the most recent hatching so still small compared to them and she thought she looked dull, black with a lighter stripe down her sides. Oh, and her eyes were yellow while the others had glinting green eyes, well except for her hatching sister who was a soft marbled pink and had frilled edges on her wings and azure blue eyes.
She could not stand the noise at feeding time, the snapping jaws, the growling and flapping of great wings. It was her habit to grab something, then retire into the lower levels of the cavern system to eat and sleep in peace. That saved her.
The silence penetrated her sleep. She opened her eyes and listened. Not a sound. Something was fearfully wrong. Heart pounding, she slowly made her way up to the hatching cavern. The stench made her retch, but it was the scene that seared into her brain. There were bodies piled on top of each other or lying at strange angles. These were her family. No one lived. Their congealed green blood lay in pools over the floor. The adult’s chests had gaping holes where their hearts once nestled. When a dragon’s heart turns to stone, a gemstone matching the colour of their scales, then they are adults.
Quivering with terror, she picked her way up the slope. Ahead should have been the King’s palace. Her mother spoke of it, saying it was a place of delights. She described the wide-open courtyards within the building complex. She spoke of the tinkling fountains and the scent from banks of flowers everywhere. Now only a few blackened beams remained. Smoke still curled lazily up into the blue sky, the only movement around.
Fear blotted out any thought as she leaped into the air. Her, as yet untested, wings drove her upward. Smoke tendrils accompanied her. Then she turned her head to the west, where the sun was floating like a golden dome in a sea of blue sky. Why this direction? She did not know. She only knew she had to get away as quickly as possible. Whoever had done this unspeakable deed might return and find her. The only living witness to this disaster.
Her wings carried her high into the sky, her birthplace now a tiny blot on the landscape. She flew on and on. Soon it was far behind her. All she had ever known was behind her. Maybe this is what her mother had meant about saving her kind. But what could she do? Where could she go? It mattered not now. Getting away was necessary. The rest was not for now.
She looked down again. She could see an open space within the forest. She was so tired she knew she had to land. She knew somehow this was where she needed to be, she also knew whatever was there good or bad she had to stop.
As she came down ready to land, she saw a tall man stride out of the entrance to a cave. His long, black flowing robes and staff marked him as a magician. He held his hand out towards her. “Hello, little dragon, you look exhausted. Come over here and drink from the Healing Well. I’ll call my friend, and we’ll get you something to eat while you rest. When we get back, you can tell me your name.”
She drank before curling up with her head under her wing. Moments later, she was asleep.
That is where she was hours later when Ozymandias, the magician who had come out of the cave, returned with his magnificent horse Zimri. They dragged the carcass of a goat and laid it in front of the fire pit. “You know Zimri this poor dragon is still young, I’ve never heard of one flying far from their hatching cave until they are heart is hard enough. Look at her, poor thing, she is twitching and pulling faces in her sleep. I think something terrible has happened.”
Zimri looked down his long black face and nodded, sending his mane flapping. “You could be right. That means she will need a new home. What about that massive cave complex at the top of the cliff?”
“Yes, I think you might be right, but we will have to wait until she wakes to find out more. I think we should roast this meat. I’m sure young dragons need their food cooked or softened.” He lit a fire in the fire pit, and soon the smell of roasting flesh drifted its way through her dreams.
The horse went off to his stable while the magician returned to his workroom to continue making stuff. Was it magic or medicine?
She opened her eyes. Everything was peaceful, and she smelt food. For a moment, she forgot the horror. Then she saw the magician was humming as he poked a stick at the fire. The meat sizzled, a drop of fat fell in the fire, blaring momentarily.
He turned towards her, “Ah, so you are awake. How do you feel now? Ready for something to eat? Afterward, we can talk.”
She nodded and opened her mouth to reply when another animal dashed into the clearing. It sounded peeved. “You said you would call me when the dragon woke!”
The magician smiled. “You do make an issue out of nothing, Zimri. The poor creature has only just woken up.” The magician turned to the dragon, “I’m sorry for my companion's rudeness, he is Zimri and my name is Ozymandias. Do you have a name yet?”
She looked longingly at the sizzling meat, what did she care about names when she was so hungry. Then shook her head.
His kindly eyes crinkled as he said, “Well, the first thing we need is to do is give you a name.”
She shook her head and looked at the meat.
“Oh, pardon me, food is much more important isn’t it?” He cut chunks off and gently fed her, occasionally taking a bite himself. “After a meal, I expect you will want to sleep again, but I think it’s dangerous for you to sleep in the open. I’m sure you wouldn’t fit in my cave and Zimri’s stable is not suitable either, but there is a cave up in the cliff. Would you like to check it out?”
She stood up and flapped her wings. They were still stiff and sore, but she felt sure she could fly. She sprang up into the air, flapped her wings and was airborne, heading straight for the cave, gliding onto the ledge and walked into her new home. In her heart, she knew this was where she had to be. Whatever happened, this was home now. It even had a spring that flowed into a little depression in the floor, making it a perfect drinking spot. She returned to the ledge to look down and nodded her head, then turned back to find her ideal sleeping spot.
Zimri snorted, “Well, is that what we get for all our work?”
The magician patted his horse’s muzzle. “She will talk when she’s ready. It’s my guess she’s had some kind of shock. She needs to feel safe and get some sleep. Leave her be. We’ll hear her story soon enough.”
Zimri pawed the ground, rearing up threateningly and neighed loudly. None of his theatrical behaviour affected the magician who calmly suggested he went back to his stable. “I’ll go now, but I’ll listen out. When I hear her stirring, I’ll be back.”
The next day at about midday, she woke from her slumbers, had a drink from the spring then looked out at the clearing from the ledge. The magician, she could not remember his name, was busy with some plant, as she watched the horse galloped into the clearing. For an animal with no wings, she had to admit he was impressive, huge with a glossy black coat, long streaming tail and an equally long mane. He pulled up sharply in front of the magician and looked up at the ledge. Their eyes met. She knew they would be friends.
“Look who has just awoken. Does that mean we have to go hunting again?”
The magician shook his head, “No, I don’t think so, at least not yet. Maybe she will come down and talk. Then we can make a plan.”
She did and they all talked for hours before Ozymandias offered to get her more food. While they were out she went exploring, she found the river and had fun letting the water run over her feet. She chased after a squirrel and it surprised her by running up a tree to escape her. She thought there was so much she needed to learn and now she had no mother to teach her. Two big tears rolled down her face at the same moment the hunters returned.
Zimri dropped off the carcass of a deer, ready for Ozymandias to prepare it for cooking. In the meantime, the magician had noticed her tears. “I know it is all strange, but this is your home now. We will look after you. There is no need to cry about the future. Whatever terrible things have happened, they’re over, so don’t cry about that either.”
She looked and smiled, “Can you help me find a name, please?”
He glanced at Zimri, “What sort of name would suit a beautiful black and gold dragon with golden eyes?”
She shook her head. “How can I be beautiful? I’m a dull black and I have yellow eyes, not like the others with sparkling green eyes.”
Ozymandias smiled, “I think you don’t know what gold looks like. Your colouring makes me think you might be an Imperator dragon.”
She sniffed then said, “It does not matter. I think I’m the only dragon left alive.”