by Jonny Hyams
So it turns out that dragons are pretty big.
|The dragon was big. Naturally, of course, but Alex was still surprised by just how much it towered over her, a fortress of scales rhythmically pulsing in time with deep breaths. Alex quivered.|
‘Tell me…’ the dragon said, its voice the slow rumble of thunder, ‘explain to me why I should not just eat you.’
‘Well, I probably don’t taste very nice.’
The dragon regarded her. ‘Humans rarely do. Humans very rarely do. But it stops them stealing from me.’
Alex was not there to steal from the dragon. She was not a knight looking for glory, or a bandit looking for riches, or a princess wanting to prove she’s just as good as any man. Alex was there because she drank too much ale and got lost on the way home from the tavern. She wasn’t sure the dragon would accept this as an excuse, however. ‘There are other ways to stop people stealing from you,’ she offered, trying to ignore the wisps of smoke that drifted from the creature’s maw. ‘You don’t need to eat them. Maybe you could just scare them off.’
‘They would return, and return with allies. Eating is a far more permanent solution.’
‘Okay, true, but I’m still sure there’s a better solution. Maybe if we think real hard together we’ll figure something out.’
The dragon gave a puff and acrid smoke bellowed over Alex. Her eyes watered, but she resisted the urge to cough. The dragon rested its head on its crossed forelegs. ‘You are an … odd individual.’
‘I think I’m still a bit drunk,’ Alex admitted.
‘Humans.’ A clicking noise emanated from the dragon, a noise that sounded suspiciously like tutting. ‘You are the only species that intentionally makes itself less intelligent for fun.’
The lair glowed gold around them, the sum result of thousands of coins piled in heaps around the dragon. Most were congregated beneath and around it, almost like the straw-bedding that a pet dog would sleep in.
A thought occurred to Alex.
‘If you let me live, you could be my pet.’
There was an empty silence for a moment as the sparkling refuse absorbed her voice — and then the dragon unfurled and stood and rose to its full height, its serpentine head held high. ‘I am over six thousand years old.’ Its already thundering voice increased even further in volume and the booming noise shook Alex’s insides. ‘I have seen civilisations rise and fall. I have consumed countless thousands of souls. I have spoken words with the Almighty Himself, and found Him to my contempt.’ To Alex, nothing existed — no lair, no gold, no outside world — except for that voice; it was all encompassing. ‘I am Behemoth, and I am no thing’s pet.’
‘Okay. Well — I could be your pet, then?’
Another moment of silence, and then this time the dragon — Behemoth, it’d said its name was — lowered itself, its body coiling back in on itself. Amber eyes peered in close. ‘I have never had a pet before.’ For the first time, its voice was quiet.
‘You’ve been missing out.’
‘What does one do with a pet?’
‘Not eat it, for a start.’
Behemoth was thoughtful, its grey scales flashing in the golden glow with each deep breath it sucked in. The smoke had stopped drifting from its mouth. Wings — huge, black canvases that awed Alex — slowly unfolded and stretched as far as they could in the cramped lair. ‘Very well. I shall adopt you as my pet. And I shall name you Fluffy.’
‘I already have a name,’ Alex said. ‘It’s Alex.’
‘And now it is Fluffy. I believe it suits you.’
Alex looked down at herself in alarm. ‘It does?’
‘I can place some gold in the corner for you to sleep on. I will catch a cow or a horse or a farmer each day for you to eat.’ Behemoth spoke fast, each word edged with excitement. ‘You will be quite comfortable, I think.’
‘Behemoth, that’s real sweet of you, but I don’t think I can live like that. I can’t sleep on gold, or eat farmers. I need human food, and water, and a human home…’
Behemoth hesitated, and then seemed to shrink into himself. ‘Of course. How presumptuous of me.’ His wings drooped. ‘I am not sure I could fit a human home in here.’
‘The pet thing was just a suggestion. Maybe it wouldn’t work. It’s okay.’
‘No. I am sorry. I should have realised humans cannot live like an Immortal. I got … caught up with myself.’
Alex shuffled her feet in the ensuing awkward silence, bit her lip, and then said, ‘Are you going to eat me now?’
Behemoth had gone back to resting his head on his front legs. He let out a smokey sigh. ‘No.’
‘So, I can go?’
‘You may go, if it pleases you.’
Alex turned to go, guilt sitting in her stomach like a pebble. It was a silly feeling, she knew, and maybe it was being fuelled by alcohol more than anything, so best she didn’t do anything rash about-
‘Want to come with me?’ she found herself saying.
Behemoth looked up.
‘I mean,’ she continued, ‘I don’t know where you’d stay, or what you’d eat, or how I’d stop people from trying to kill you, or anything like that. So maybe it’s just another silly idea.’
‘It may possible. I have methods by which to pass about without much notice.’
Alex looked up at the dragon. ‘Not to be offensive, but you have … big bones. You really are rather noticeable.’
‘Behold.’ And white light burst from Behemoth’s eyes, and then his mouth, and then from between the thousands of scales that covered his body. He became a blazing star, fierce and radiant. Even with her eyes shut and face covered, Alex released a gasp of pain.
And then it was all over and Behemoth was gone, replaced by a sudden void.
Alex shook her head, trying to return her distorted eyesight to normal.
‘I apologise,’ a voice said, ‘I should have warned you.’ The voice had the same baritone as Behemoth, but lacked the intense volume. And, interestingly, it came from lower down.
‘That’s okay,’ Alex said and shook her head again. As her eyesight fizzled back into existence she could see that although, yes, the massive bulk of Behemoth was gone, perched on the gold was — no bigger than the average rat — a tiny dragon looking up at her.
‘As I said, I have my methods.’
‘You need to teach me how to do that,’ Alex said.
‘If you give up alcohol, I will consider it.’
Alex nodded, and then realised this was truly happening. A dragon — a miniature dragon — was going to follow her home.
Behemoth gave a squeak, and then took to the air. ‘Aaaah, it feels good to fly again. I have missed this.’ He did a quick few laps around Alex’s head.
‘What about your gold? Who’s going to look after it whilst you’re away?’
‘I have methods by which to hide it.’
Alex decided not to doubt him. ‘So then,’ she said, ‘time to go home. To my home. You know, I think you’ll like it there.’
Behemoth perched on her shoulder and nodded his head. He barely weighed anything. His little voice rung in her ear:
‘Right then, lead the way, Fluffy. Lead the way.’