An adventuring elf returns home after many years; a dragon warns that much has changed.
| Simfer whistled an off-beat tune as he marched along the dirt path to Bington, kicking his toes up with each merry step. The pack tied to a stick bounced on his back, all of the elf’s worldly possessions wrapped within the patch of green leather. Shadow and sunlight mottled Simfer’s cheery features as heavy summer foliage shielded most of the sun’s rays.
“Bington, my bonnie lass,” Simfer exclaimed with sing-song exuberance, “soon I will see thee, my true-born home, at last!” A gleeful little jig escaped his feet, and the elf’s joyful laugh pierced the forest’s canopy.
A harsh chuckle from deep in the brush stilled Simfer’s merriment. He peered into the shadowy woods beyond the path.
“Haloo,” he called, his free hand straying to the long tooth dagger sheathed on his belt, next to the drinking horn given to him by a friend. “Who’s there? Come out and show yourself, friend.”
“Friend?” the voice in the shadows grated like a great iron gate that had been ill used for some time. “Do I know you, little one?”
Twin moons appeared in the deeply shadowed undergrowth, two glowing orbs that were joined by a row of ivory stalagmites that were the dragon’s teeth. The great beast’s head rose out of the foliage as it peered down at Simfer.
“Don’t ye, Steelhead? If ye do not, then answer me this: who was that gave ye that silver scar below yer eye there?”
Black soot poofed out of the dragon’s nostrils as the beast exhaled an angry breath, putting the scent of sulfur in the air.
“Can this be the same, puny, overzealous, obnoxious rodent? Simfer,” Steelhead hissed. “After all this time, how shocking to see you, elf. I was quite sure you were dead.”
Simfer set his pack-pole in the ground and leaned into it. “Would have suited ye just fine, I have nary a doubt, but even your toothsome, mountainous excuse for a face gladdens my heart to see, Steelhead. Why, I’m minded to pass ye by without adding to that scar.”
A raiment of leaves came fluttering down from the forest canopy as the dragon arched his back and bristled his silver spikes. “Try it, little morsel. You’ll find that while the years have done nothing to improve your size, my magnificence has only increased.”
The elf whipped out another hearty chuckle, then set his pack upon his back again. “And yer great ego has not been left behind in the transformation, has it, beastie? I’ll leave ye for better company now, Steelhead, and leave ye to enjoy yer own.”
“Before you go,” the dragon set his head on the path to block Simfer’s departure, “I must wonder if you’ve heard of the changes to your fair city since you left all those years ago.”
“Aye, changes,” Steelhead mimicked the elf’s speech. Simfer was forced to crane his neck upward as the dragon lifted his head above the road. “When you last set your silly pointed shoes upon the soil of Bington the city fairly reeked of cheer and modest prosperity, but there is a pallor come over it in recent days. Bington has lost her shine, I’m afraid.”
Simfer’s brows furrowed to form a bush over his eyes. “What are ye about?” he asked skeptically. “What has happened in Bington?” The elf could see the rooftops beyond the hill. Sunlight painted green spires and red gables golden, gilding the gutters and pennants; if Simfer could have framed the memory of his last sight of Bington – a glance over his shoulder before the town disappeared behind the hill as the young elf set off on the path of adventure – it would have been a mirror to the image before his eyes now.
As Simfer opened his mouth to ask Steelhead what mischief he was concocting, a cloud moved to obscure the sun. The glare gone, the world dimmed and a haze was washed from the elf’s vision. He saw those red gables faded, pink and shabby, the golden-green spires dulled like pieces of tarnished jewelry. The cloud moved on and the sun reappeared, and Simfer blinked, hoping that his eyes had been deceived by the shadows of the previous moment, that the pure light of day would show his home as pristine as he had left it.
But the sun’s light had turned harsh. Bington’s pennants flew ragged over the city.
“It looks . . . shabby.” Simfer said to the dragon. The elf shook off the gray mood that lurked above him and shot a look up at Steelhead. “What, did ye make yerself a buffet of Bington’s painters and roofers?”
A puff of smoke blew out of Steelhead’s nostrils. “I don’t eat painters. Unless I’ve caught cold. They are a marvelous decongestant.” The silver dragon drew his head back into the foliage until it was out of sight. His grating voice floated out from the trees: “I hope your years in the wide world have sated your taste for adventure. I do not fancy being woken one moonlit night to find some fool pebble making an attempt to slay me. Welcome back, little Simfer.”