Daniel moves to get clear of the brush and see this miracle properly, but like a tripwire Jashe immediately pulls him back when he moves not more than a foot in front of the trapper, planting his pants into the dirt.

“Sit yer rump down, boy,” the old man growls softly, both his eyes locked tight on the beast and it’s meal up ahead.

“But, but it’s…  it’s…!  How can, how can it be…  alive, they’re, not supposed to be…!”  The boy’s heart clogs his throat, making words difficult if not impossible.  His little world struggles to keep its balance, but it is no easy thing to balance a boulder on the steeple of a church.  History, biology, folklore, all turned upon their head at this one sight, this one dragon, which to his mind and the minds of everyone in his life has no right to exist.

“’Cause your folk ain’t ne’er come to the Border and see it fer your own selfs,” he replies, one hand still gripping Daniel’s thigh as the other thumbs the fletching of an arrow at his side.

Daniel shakes his head, trying desperately to make sense of it all.  “It’s, it’s not possible.  Th-they went, they went extinct!  Two thousand, three thousand years ago!  If they even existed to begin with!  It’s, it’s not possible!”

Jashe moves his hand from the boy’s thigh to the boy’s mouth.  “Keep yer voice down, land sakes, boy!  She already knows we’re here; don’t let’s make ‘er wanna have reason to come after us.”

“She, she know—Wait, she, how do you know?”

He motions vaguely to the upper half of the creature.  “Ridge pattern on the skull up there; females got them smooth scales, males got little bumpily bits like gravel or som’in.  They say’n you can sometime tell by the color a’ hide, too, but I ain’t never seen how.”

“Oh, well, well that’s good, right?  Females are, are smaller, right?” the kid asks blindly, momentarily placated by the man’s explanation.

“Bad, kid; you sure as heckfire are from the inside, ain’ch’ya?  Yeah, males’re bigger, but they’n don’t much care for men.  They only go after the big stuff that’s a threat.  Girlies, though, they’ll take anything.  ‘Specially now they’ve figured out we take better than deer or wolf or any-a that.”

Daniel swallows, his childlike wonder still eclipsing the dour reality this old man is recounting.  “So, s-so why doesn’t she?”

Jashe looks the boy in the eye, like a grandfather to his grandchild.  “Let’s say you on an island, boy.  You ain’t ate nothin’ for a month.  Suddenly, sky opens up, and there’s be a pig, and there’s be another man, and there’s be a knife in your hand.  Now you starving, kid; you don’t much care anymore ‘bout killin’ a man.  All you know is you gotta eat, and you gotta kill one’a them to do it.  Which one you kill?”

The boy blinks and tilts his head to the side, completely confused with this nonsensical question.  “Wait… what?  What is that supposed to mean?  Why am I on an island?”

“Gaah, fer the love of…!”  The trapper wipes his face in consternation, then emits a gruff sigh.  “You go after the hog, kid.  Because that man can fight back.  That man know you tryin’ to kill him, and if you go after him, he ain’t just gonna try to get away, he gonna try and kill you.”

“I don’t understand, sir…”

“Son, listen to me…  Dragon know that too.  Dragons, they smart.  Lot smarter than you are right now.  Smart enough to ain’t never go within a thousand miles of men what ran ‘em into the ground ever again, even a thousand years ago.  Smart enough not to try an’ eat folk what got pointy bits on ‘em.  And if you—“

Jashe’s explanation cuts off mid-sentence as he notices from the corner of his eye that the dragon is no longer calmly disemboweling its deer, and instead is tromping over towards them.  His expression is grim, but Daniel’s is full of intrigue as he watches the way it moves towards them.  For a creature the size of a pony, it looks surprisingly light on its feet, like a cat or a dog, and yet unlike either it keeps its head and long neck held high as looks down upon the humans.  He can’t be sure, but he thinks that maybe the beast really is looking at them, rather than just staring.

She stands maybe fifteen feet away from the pair, blood still staining her mouth and front legs, just radiating authority by her presence.  The boy realizes that, this close up, a dragon doesn’t look nearly as big as he would have imagined it being, which makes it all the more unnerving that it simply feels gigantic.

Reaching her left paw forward, she scrapes her claws across the wet morning dirt, and it’s only now that Daniel realizes it’s not just a paw but a hand, with an honest-to-goodness opposable thumb.  His gut tells him the hand doesn’t “look” right—perhaps too many fingers, or too long—but his brain is too focused on the circles it’s carving in the ground.  Because they’re not circles.  They’re letters.

G  O

“Boy,” Jashe says suddenly, not taking his eyes off the dragon for a millisecond, “Do what she says.”

“I, what—“

“I want you, to turn around, and walk back the way you done came, right this second.  I’ll be righ’ behind ya.”  His voice is as flat as the grave, with an expression to match.

Daniel’s sweat turns cold and prickly on his brow, lack of comprehension piling upon lack of comprehension until he doesn’t know what he should be doing anymore, yet still clinging to his societal assumption that these “side-woods Boderlander types” couldn’t possibly have any common sense, or else their population would be higher.  He wants to stay; he wants to learn.  This dragon, he thinks to himself; it seems calm enough, and this close he thinks that its face looks fairly kind, or as kind as his judgment of a reptilian snout could look.  There’s so many questions he still wants to ask; to give up such an opportunity when it’s staring him in the face…

The opportunity, however, is not awarded to him, as Jashe ceases waiting for Daniel’s common sense to kick in and uses his own, grabbing the young boy by the shoulder and dragging him to his feet.  The pair of humans awkwardly pushes and pulls each other away from the great creature, with a tumult of snapping twigs and rustling leaves that in another circumstance would have been in danger of attracting some kind of bear or wolf, if a clearly-superior beast had not already laid her claim upon them.

“Confound, boy, don’t look back at ‘er,” the man growls, removing his calloused hand from Daniel’s shoulder long enough to plant it against the boy’s temple instead and turn it straight ahead.  “Do that, she’ll think we’re plannin’ something and come after us.”

“But, but we’re not, are we sir?” the kid asks naively.

“No, ya little runt, but you don’t take no chances ‘round these folks.  When you out here son, you’d best learn the rules, and quick.  Rule Two is when a dragon writes something, you sure as the sun shines do what it says, you do it now, and you don’t think twice about not.”

Daniel nods, finding it easy to commit that rule to memory after what just transpired.  “And, and what’s rule number one then, sir?”

“Don’t you ever make fun of them.  See, dragons, they’re as smart as a man, prolly smarter.  And they got heart, they got SOUL.  Problem is, they don’t talk; they can’t, any more than your puppy dog at home can talk.  And that’s usually enough for a king or a village to just call ’em a monster, chop off their head, and run ’em outta town.

“I’m sure they got SOME kinda language, but hot day in the cold Hell before we figure out what it is.  Some’a the nicer ones, though, they found out WE got a language, and that we use writin’, too.  And some’a the ones that actually care learned a bit of it.

“Now, they don’ like us.  They don’ HATE us, but they don’ like us.  An’ they don’ exactly like communicatin’ with us neither.  They REAL uppity folk, think they’re better than us, and y’know what, I can’t say they be wrong.  So when one of ’em write to you outta the blue, it mean it’s lowering itself to your level, an’ it HATE doin’ that, an’ it don’t do that any more than it have to.  An’ if you don’ do what that writin’ be saying, what that means to IT, is that you know exactly what she wants you to do, and you’re not gonna do it, because you think you’re better than she is.

“And son, you don’t EVER do that to their face, ’cause if you do that means someone’s gonna have to choke a bitch, and that bitch don’t exactly like being choked.”

{Finished this little thing up.  Didn’t bother visually describing the dragon, because I didn’t want to, and this is just a miscellaneous scrap, after all.}


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