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The Orphan’s Tale

 

The egg cracked and chipped as the little dragon pushed its way out of its shell, mewing and squeaking with the effort. Its snout was the color of the mallow flower, mauve with pink about its nostrils, and its large eyes were squeezed shut as it strained to break free. Bits of speckled purple shell broke loose and littered the table, making the young man jerk back in mild surprise. No one else at the Mystic College had seen anything like this! He scrawled in his notebook as the evening darkened outside the old school’s library tower.

Robben Thortensban had intended to do his wizard’s dissertation on the elusive species known as Dweedragons, and he had journeyed for nearly a month to reach their alleged breeding grounds, far to the north in the province of Shylith-Dromah. His destination was in the forested heights that overlooked the sea cliffs of the Eshlin Bay, where some said the small dragon-kin nested among the jagged rocks.

The tiny creature wiggled and pushed for several moments, aided but a little by Robben’s careful fingers, and finally broke free of its shell to tumble onto the soft cloak that he had bundled about the egg. Robben stared in wonder as the rare specimen righted itself, stretching and unfolding its bat-like wings. The dweedragon’s hide was made of smooth shimmering scales that even now changed color, deepening from mauve to purple. It had vestigial horns over its brow ridges, with thick scales running down its neck and back to the end of a slender tail. The dragonling was not much larger than a newborn kitten, and about as coordinated. Robben gave a little laugh of wonder and the dweedragon turned its head towards the sound, opening its large yellow eyes for the first time. It examined the young wizard with a thoughtful expression; an odd wisdom apparent in those amber orbs. The slitted pupils widened to take in its surroundings.

It had been a miracle that he had found this egg at all, half buried in the mud under the root of a large tree. Robben had slipped while trying to reach a likely nesting spot and slid down an embankment, tripping as he tried to right himself. There, nestled under the protruding root, had been the egg. Cleaning off the speckled shell, he wondered if he had found a nest. He had searched for more specimens, but the egg was alone, seemingly abandoned and unprotected, hidden only by a cascade of wet earth and fallen leaves. Perhaps it had rolled down the embankment? Robben had wondered. Placing the egg in his pack, he had climbed up the ridge to the rocky summit, pausing as the land dropped away beyond the peak, exposing the vastness of the bay beneath. There had been some evidence of a nest among the rocks; bits of speckled purple shell and a broken mass of seashells which had once been cemented into a bowl shape with clay and straw. There were also scorch marks on the stones about the nest, small patches darkened the bedrock, glittering at the center with a glassy sheen. Making sure of his footing, Robben had retrieved his notebook from his pack and sketched the scene with charcoal, recording his find as thoroughly as possible before his return trip.

The hatchling blinked at the magical glow from the wizard lamp that hung above the table, craning his neck upward and making a curious noise.

“Mmmewm?” it said, and it looked at Robben with expectant eyes.

Robben smiled at the creature, moving his hand forward a bit to see if the dweedragon would sniff him.

“Mmmewn?” it said again, looking at the glowing orb above the table. “Mmmmmewn?”

Robben cocked his head, an odd thought forming behind his eyes. The creature pointed up with a tiny fore claw, blinking at the light.

Robben’s eyes rose to the white crystal sphere. “It almost sounds like… like you are trying to say ‘moon’.”

The dweedragon chirped as its scales turned a bluish hue, and repeated happily, “Mooooon!”

Robben gaped in amazement.

 

The following months were the most rewarding and enlightening of Robben’s time at the Mystic College. Learning to use magic had long been his childhood dream, so his lord father, having two elder heirs, had consented to send him to the college in Aldrig. But no academic pursuit could compare with rearing a genuine dweedragon, and Robben was the envy of the academy. His schoolmasters had grudgingly allowed him to oversee the care of the creature, since he had found it and it had bonded with him, but he knew most of them would give their beards and eyeteeth for the chance. He was likely the only wizard ever in the entire kingdom of Calilon to have a dweedragon hatchling for his very own.

The little dragon’s vocabulary had greatly increased over the first week after hatching, replacing its throaty, rumbling attempts at words with high, squeaky Calilesh. What amazed him most was the creature’s ability to form sentences, learning the structure of the language just by listening. Furthermore, it had picked up some Calilesh by listening to Robben while it was still in the shell. Robben had the habit of talking to himself on the road, and the un-hatched dweedragon had heard it all on the journey back to the Mystic College at Aldrig. It even memorized some of his bawdy songs, much to Robben’s embarrassment.

The dweedragon’s appetite for knowledge seemed matched only by its appetite for food, and it grew by an inch every week. Goat’s milk and cheese were its favorites, along with pork, stewed carrots, radishes, fish, chicken, biscuits, and just about anything else they had to eat around the school. The students loved to share their meals with the dweedragon, letting it sample whatever they had, but the creature never took anything from their plates that hadn’t been offered. It also supplemented its diet with pigeons that nested upon the college towers, and claimed the entire school for its territory. The dweedragon would daintily wreck their befouled nests, muttering “Filthy cweatures.”

Perhaps the most interesting moment was when Robben attempted to name his little charge. He had thought long and hard about a proper dragon name, drawing inspiration from all the old myths and legends, and even some of the more popular stories of the present day. Finally, he bestowed his chosen name on the dweedragon when it was but three weeks old.

“I shall call you Vellthogor,” he said.

The little dragon blinked at him. “Drahnizhlomazhith,” it said in a throaty, sibilant growl.

“Vell-tho-gor,” he said again, gently tapping the creature’s chest.

The little dragon shook its head, tapping its own chest, “I am Drahnizhlomazhith.”

“You already have a name?” Robben asked, bewildered. The dweedragon nodded.

“Well!” exclaimed Robben, “I don’t think I can pronounce that… what if I called you Drahn? Would that do?”

The creature considered for a moment and finally nodded. “That will do,” Drahn said.

“How did you decide on that name?” Robben asked.

“My mother named me,” said Drahn. “I wemember…” The little dragon lowered its head and looked troubled, wrapping its tail about its feet as its scales reddened. “I wemember… she gave us names.”

Drahn had not elaborated and Robben had not pursued it, since it made the little dragon upset and confused.

 

It was many months before Drahn had asked about his presence at the college. He (for it was a ‘he’ as it turned out) knew that his mother’s nest was far away by the sea, but he did not broach the subject with Robben until he was fully grown. Winter had come and the snow was thick upon the rooftops. Drahn was not as keen to go flying in the blinding white flurries, so they had spent much time in the library. Robben had begun reading books to Drahn at an early age, but by his sixth month out of the shell the dweedragon was able to read on his own, asking only after pronunciations and odd spellings. His body was now a bit longer than a house cat’s, and he could turn pages on his own, but he still needed help getting the books on and off the shelves.

“There is not vewy much here on dweedwagons,” said Drahn, muddling his ‘R’s when he didn’t concentrate on them. “In fact, much of the stowies about dwagons are… lacking.”

“Well, it was my intention to learn more about your species for my chosen dissertation,” Robben said, “But I never expected to do more than sketch a nest from a distance, or hopefully observe behavior.”

After a pause, Drahn asked, “Where did you find me? Did you take me fwom my nest?” He looked worried as his scales shimmered.

Robben decided to be strictly factual, offering no theories on what he had found. “It was the southern tip of Shylith-Dromah on a cliff overlooking the bay. I found a damaged nest and pieces of broken eggs, but your egg seemed to have tumbled away under a tree root. I have drawings…” he opened his ever-present notebook and showed Drahn the sketches.

Drahn spoke as he studied the charcoal pictures, “I wemember my mother telling us stowies of the Age of Dwagons and the Gweat Sleep. I wemember her giving us our names and telling of the land and water awound the nest… Then one day something happened.” He began fiddling with his tail as he did when he was nervous or upset. His scales shifted from purple to red, which Robben recognized as a sign of agitation. “There were voices of men, speaking what I now know to be Calilesh, but also another language I do not know. They spoke of dwagons and eggs, and then there was noise and shaking…” His scales turned from red to dark purple. “I heard a roar… I think it was our mother. There were loud noises like the cwack of a whip, and scweaming, then I was tumbling over and over, fwightened and confused. I could hear voices and angwy sounds…” He lowered his head and sniffed back tears.

Robben felt his heart break at the revelation, but as Drahn wept, the dispassionate academic in him noted the cold fact: Dweedragons can cry. He reached out to touch Drahn’s shoulder and the creature’s wings twitched reflexively.

“I would give anything to know what happened to them,” Drahn said as he wiped away the tears with the tip of his tail. “I don’t know if my mother or clutch-mates are alive or not.”

 

After winter had given way to spring, Robben Thortensban and Drahn undertook a journey back to Shylith-Dromah and the nesting site, hoping to find some answers and possibly others of his kind. Robben did not blame Drahn for being so upset about his memories, for they pointed to something horrible, something that Robben was ashamed of. Not because he was directly involved, but because those that disturbed the nest were humans.

Their baggage was packed on a mule and Drahn rode in Robben’s backpack, so they could speak more easily on the month-long trek to the town of Cantra in Shylith-Dromah. Their conversations were scholarly and engaging, except when the talk turned to dweedragons. It soon became apparent that Drahn knew little of his own kind, though he was well-versed in the ancient stories of the great dragons from the first age of the world. The glaring gaps in his knowledge upset Drahn terribly, though at first he tried to answer with conjecture. Later he sadly admitted that he did not know enough to satisfy Robben’s simplest inquiries, so the wizard learned not to ask.

Eventually they reached the site of the old nest, guided a bit by Robben’s memory but more by his careful notes. Drahn sniffed about the rocks, examining the remaining seashells that once cradled his family and flapping about the area to search for signs. Though they had started out early, the day was fading and Robben decided to make camp rather than return north to Cantra. After gathering wood and starting the fire with a spell, he and Drahn shared a meal of salted beef, bread and ale.

“I… I want to stay here for a while,” Drahn said suddenly.

“Oh?” Robben asked, “For how long?”

Drahn climbed into the backpack he used as a bedroll and said, “Until I am satisfied that there is no one here. Perhaps you should go back to Cantwa tomowwow.”

Robben sat by the fire, conflicted. He could understand the dweedragon’s desire to search for his family, but the selfish, scholarly part of him almost wished that Drahn discovered nothing so the little dragon would return home with him. Finally he muttered, “Very well, Drahn, very well.”

Weeks passed and Robben felt he was wearing out his welcome at Cantra Keep, but the lord and lady had been fascinated by the dweedragon and were content to await his return. So it was that early one morning Drahn came flapping into the tower where Robben had been lodged. His scales were a deep purple and his head drooped.

“I am weady to go home,” he sniffed.

 

Drahn lived among the wizards of the Mystic College for fifteen more years, becoming a legend among the student body and faculty alike. He could remember everything he committed to memory with perfect clarity, recalling the contents of entire books on many different subjects, as well as songs, maps and diagrams, and even gossip. He was a gifted story-teller as well, having a flare for the dramatic as he recounted the tales of the Age of Dragons for captive audiences at dinner time. He helped the resident scholars assemble new books on the subject of dragon lore, and got credit for his contributions in ink, making his mark with a paw print under the scribe’s best approximation of his draconic name.

He kept the towers and buildings free of pigeons, removing the filthy nests that they made when he wasn’t looking. On occasion he could be heard wheezing until he was hoarse; when Robben had asked after his health, Drahn explained that he was only trying to breath fire, but sadly to no avail. Whenever his lack of knowledge about his own kind upset him, he dove further into his studies on other subjects.

Robben, for his part, took up the study of Divination, but for all his mastery he was unable to learn more about Drahn’s missing family. Professor Robben Thortensban was now the foremost authority on dweedragons, and his dissertation was famous among his peers, but there were gaping holes in the lore, and in Drahn’s heart, that could not be filled.

It was because of his failure to help his friend that he decided to make certain inquiries. News had reached the Mystic College of a young wizard from far-away Portshia who had discovered a legendary artifact imbued with amazing powers of divination. This wizard, one Ildric Finnael, had paid the price of his right hand in acquiring the object, so great was his dedication to the art. Robben had been allowed to send Mathugul, the school’s Ember Swallow messenger, to deliver a proposition to Ildric. Robben asked Drahn to join him in his quarters a few days later when the fiery bird returned with Ildric’s answer, spoken in the wizard’s own voice.

“I would be delighted to assist this dweedragon in any way I can,” said the bird, ruffling her bright orange feathers and warming the air. “I cannot guarantee success in locating his family, but perhaps we can make some progress. The Eye of Omithys is much more than I hoped for, though in gaining an eye I lost a hand.” The bird mimicked the man’s hearty chuckle. “I shall await Drahn’s arrival with great anticipation. I have taken up residence in the white observatory tower near the city’s market square. Regards, Ildric Finnael.” Mathugul then chirped and ate the offered strip of meat that was her reward for a job well done.

Drahn did not know what to say. He had not asked to leave the school and Robben had not told him about his correspondence. “Do you twuly wish me to leave?” he asked uncertainly.

Robben took the dweedragon in his arms. “My dear Drahn, it is the last thing I would wish. But that, I fear, is why you should go. Your studies here have gone as far as they can. There is nothing more I can do to help you on your quest, and I know it still drives you.”

Drahn sniffled and nodded his head, “I would like to learn as much as I can about my family… but I would miss you tewwibly. I would miss everyone, and… I am afwaid.”

“If I have learned anything from my divinations,” Robben said, “it is that your destiny lies elsewhere. I have been selfish to keep you here for so long. If you are ever to truly know yourself, you must leave this place.” Just saying it aloud made him choke with emotion.

Drahn said, “I-I know you are wight. There is so much missing, so much I need to learn… But you have made me stwong, Wobben Thortensban, and I can never wepay you for what you have done for me.”

“Nor I you,” he said, “Drahn, my dearest friend.”

 

It was a tearful day for the entire school as Drahn bade them farewell. They were his family, but not his true family, the one he desperately wished to find. As the dweedragon took to the air and flew towards the distant Cassel Mountains and the city of Portshia, he realized that for the first time in fifteen years, he had found something to fill the emptiness in his heart. For the first time in years, Drahn had found hope.

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Mark Rude

All rights reserved.