The Kingdom of the Dragons
By Joy Newbold, The Story Godmother
It had been a bad day. In fact it had been a bad week, a bad month and a very bad year. “What do you mean the men will not go out again?” Basil could hear his father bellow even from his bedchamber. “I am the king. They will do as I say.”
He couldn’t hear the Captain of the Guard’s answer and he didn’t need to. With his own eyes he had seen the charred and mangled bodies of the soldiers carried back to the castle. The battle against the she dragon, Drusella had gone badly.
“You are the Captain of the Guard. Can you not control your own men?”
Basil knew the answer to that question, all to well. Just this morning he had seen a dozen men slinking away from the castle through the corn. They were deserting. No amount of threatening could make them stay. Soon there would be no army left to protect the kingdom. It was a dark time, indeed.
He lifted his crown from the shelf and placed it on his head. It was smaller than his father’s, but fashioned of pure gold and ornamented with rubies. Dragons were said to like jewels. Perhaps it would be of some use. He removed it from his head and tucked it inside his tunic.
For one last time he threw open his window and surveyed the kingdom that would someday be his. The forests, the hills, the villages. Even at thirteen Basil felt the heavy weight of responsibility.
The army had failed and would fail again but a voice within him whispered that the she dragon Drusella was his to slay and no other’s. It was time to face his destiny. Basil swung out of the window and dropped to the ground. No one must see him leave.
He approached the dragon’s lair as soundlessly as a fox and prayed that she would not be able to hear the thumping of his heart. What are you doing, a voice in his head screamed? You do not even have a plan. How can one defenseless boy defeat a dragon that has decimated an entire army?
Basil cast the questions aside and pulled himself to his full height. I am the crown prince I will do this thing. Then he crept into the sultry darkness of the cave, feeling his way along the rock wall with his fingers. It was cold and damp.
Within minutes, he could no longer see his hand out-stretched before his face. A putrid smell filled his nostrils and the whirr of winged creatures circled about him.
“Do not fear,” he told himself,” but when an echoing screech assaulted his ears, he whipped about and attempted to run back in the direction from which he had come as if his legs had a mind of their own. In a moment, he realized there was no earth beneath his feet. He plunged like a stone dropping from a ledge. Mid-fall, his leg collided with the rock wall causing him to scream in agony. At last he landed with a thud into a pile of sticks and leaves. The young prince curled himself into a ball and sobbed. Every inch of his body was bruised and his left ankle was surely broken.
When, at last, he was able to push himself up, Basil pulled his crown from his tunic and placed it on his auburn curls. If he was to end his life as bait for a dragon, he would at least do it as the prince he was.
But as the minutes ticked by and no dragon came to end his earthly existence, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he realized that he had fallen into a huge nest. A nest in which five eggs, almost as large as himself, lay one next to another. He imagined the young dragons hatching eating him alive.
Soon, scraping and scratching sounds echoed from the cave entrance. Drusella was entering her lair. Despite his aching body, Basil darted to the eggs and hid himself between them.
Within minutes, a set of amber eyes leered down into the nest. Basil burrowed into the sticks and leaves as Drusella’s huge nose touched the eggs one by one.
Seeming to find nothing amiss, the dragon settled her huge body beside the nest and covering it with one gigantic wing, closed her eyes in sleep.
It must have been past mid-night when he felt the egg beside him move. At first he thought he had been dreaming but when the leathery surface of the egg began to rip, he knew it was no dream.
He was about to share the nest with a baby dragon.
Before the egg beside him was fully hatched, Basil became aware that the other eggs were also in motion. The clawed feet of dragon infants began tearing at their leathery prisons as they wiggled and squirmed their way into the world. Basil did the only thing he could think to do. He pulled a piece of egg shell over himself and lay very still.
Hours later, he awoke to the squawking of baby dragons and felt them scrambling about the nest. Peering through a crack in his shell, he could see Drusella’s amber eyes and knew that she was awake. Tenderly, she nudged each baby with her nose, clucking softly to them. The hatchlings responded with squawks of their own.
But when the huge nose and amber eyes aimed straight for his egg, Basil curled into a ball and closed his eyes. The egg shell flew off leaving him completely exposed to Drusella’s gaze. He dared not move.
Drusella stared and Basil held his breath. Then, to his amazement she touched his crown gently with her nose and clucked. Soon she began to nuzzle him in exactly the same way she had done to the hatchlings. She thinks I’m one of her babies, Basil thought.
The moment Drusella left the cave, Basil crawled to the edge of the nest and searched for a way to escape. Perhaps when his ankle healed he could climb out.
But what could he do until then? Pretend to be a baby dragon?
It was not long until Drusella returned with their breakfast. His siblings devoured the scrapes of raw meat she fed them without even swallowing, but Basil could only stare at his. Drusella cocked one eye then nudged him softly. He pretended for her sake, but when she looked away he gave it to a grateful sibling. After several missed meals however, he began to devour his dinner as greedily as the hatchlings.
By the third day, Basil realized that he was beginning to understand the dragon’s speech. What had at first seemed nothing but snorts, clucks and squawks was in fact a simple language. A language he quickly learned to imitate.
His ankle was growing stronger and He knew he would soon find a way to escape. But what would he tell his father? He had come here to kill this dragon but he could not do it now. And what of his innocent nest mates? Would not the men in his father’s guard kill them if they knew of their existence?
He had been in the nest for almost a week when he made a difficult decision. It may well cost him his life, but he must speak honestly with Drusella. She may, indeed, turn him to charcoal, in less than an instant, but if he could talk with her, perhaps they could find some solution together.
When Drusella brought breakfast the next morning, Basil did not eat with the others. Instead, he approached her, looking deeply into her amber eyes and using the
simple language he had learned from the hatchlings, he asked, “Mother dragon, may I speak with you.”
Drusella cocked her head to the side and said, “Speak on, my son.”
“I must tell you,” he said, “That I am not your child.”
Drusella seemed to smile and answered, “Do you think that I do not know this?”
Basil’s mouth opened in shock, “But you have cared for me and brought me food. Why?”
“I liked the shine on your head. It speaks of royalty, I think. And you were young and injured. I am a mother, so I cared for you.”
“But my people are at war with your kind and many of them have died.”
“My kind has not always warred with your kind. Once we lived in peace. But the peace is gone. Now your soldiers kill us to hang our heads in their castles. We can no longer hunt in peace. We do what we must.”
“But if the soldiers did not hunt you, would you leave the people in peace?”
“Yes, go to your father human hatchling. Tell him the Dragon Drusella does not wish for war. If his soldiers will hunt me no more and allow my hatchlings to mature in peace, I will protect your kingdom from all adversaries. Tell him.”
Basil returned home to announce an astounding account of his days spend in a dragon’s nest. He told of Drucella who had cared for him along with her own hatchling, and of the bargain she proposed. A bargain the king was overjoyed to accept.
A great feast was proclaimed throughout the kingdom. The Day of the Dragon, it was called – complete with dancing and merrymaking of every kind. As the day drew to a close and the sky turned to purple and crimson, royal trumpeters sounded a call from every hilltop. And then she came – winging her iridescent body across the scarlet sky.
Three times she circled before landing, at last, on the top most pinnacle of the castle. Then amidst the cheering of the crowd, she flapped her purple wings and spat fire high into the night sky.
From that day to this dragons and humans have lived at peace in the little kingdom protected by the huge reptilian beasts. A land that came to be known far and wide as The Kingdom of the Dragons.