Monday, 3 August 2020

Little Dragon

   Through the glittering surface of the dark, azure water, down past the constant tug of the current, beneath the reach of shimmering shafts of light, where the pebbles twitched and the green fronds swayed. The roar from the mountains penetrated even here.
   The tiny wyrm froze in fright at the vibration, before a gentle hum softened the water around it.
   "Do not panic, my little dragon. It is not a sound you will hear often."
   The wyrm turned back towards its mother as she coiled her long, serpentine body tighter into her rocky nook, and lay her great head down beside him among the waving stems of reeds. The same current that tried to pull him away merely tugged at the fronds on her chin. The duckweed didn't stir far above them.
   "Their story is your story. It is time I tell you, and you shall heed it well. For the good of all of us."
   The wyrm settled and watched as the light played over her scales.
   "Eons ago, dragons were abundant. We ranged through swamps, caves, deserts, seas, forests, jungles and ice. There was nowhere we could not live and adapt to, and the world was our kingdom for millennia. We saw the rise and fall of many creatures, and few of those who survive today are anything like they used to be. But we dragons have not changed so much. We have always been the kings and queens. We fit the world perfectly. It was made for us.
   "But in time, deep time, another creature - a wingless, puny creature - arrived and took offence. A creature that cannot adapt, and instead changes the world to adapt to them. In their eyes, our perfection made us a threat, and they began to hunt us. First, because they feared us. Then because they wanted our scales to wear, as if they could become like us, and be perfect like us. Then, for nothing but sport. Hundreds upon thousands of us have fallen for the sake of their glory."
   The wyrm jolted at a splash from the bank. The serpent lifted her heavy head and watched the beaver swim past. She didn't bother even to snap at it, and lay her chin back down.
   "And they learned. They hunted us in mating season, the most dangerous time they could - that was the thrill. The excuse. But we were then also our most vulnerable. We dragons are tied to our nests." Another hum rumbled through the water, and she twitched her fronds in amusement. "But this is how we river wyrms survived where others fell.
   "Dragons are ancient, as I have said, and we have never had reason to hide. Many make spectacles of themselves in the skies for mates and territory. Water dragons, however, do not. Nor do we breathe fire or fumes. And so few have thought to look for dragons by the water, and we in turn keep away from where along the rivers the creatures make their homes.
   "But one of our kind could see what the rest could not. She knew the creatures would expand their territory, just as we did, and we would either be seen, or cut off from one another, unable to breed. Our species would die out either way. And we could not fly away to safer waters like others could to mountains, nor survive on so little in the drowned caverns.
   "Suryū knew all of this, and when they were seen along the banks of her river, she acted.
   "But she did not kill them like others did. She stalked, and she learned. And when breeding season came with the rains, she made her nest among the reeds, and she laid - sooner than anyone else."
   A glint of silver caught the serpent's eye. Stretching her small, paddle-shaped wings, she adjusted the current passing over her, raised her head, bowed her neck, snapped, and struck. The fish was gone in an instant.
   The little wyrm snatched at one far smaller. She rumbled in pride again.
   "Suryū's eggs were small, and the water she breathed over them, warmed in her belly, was a puff rather than a jet. She knew they might well not survive with such treatment. But it was a calculated risk, and, ten days later, those small eggs, tangled in algae, did indeed hatch. The small, stiff little things were nothing like dragons, and jerked about in the water, tiny and helpless. They did not survive. They could not. They were nothing familiar, and were eaten by other clutches.
   "Suryū tried again the following season, and though these grew bigger, they did not survive, either. Many were caught in fishing nets instead. But she did not tire." She turned her head, and peered at him a little closer with one great turquoise eye. "You, little dragon, are a product of much toil.
   "It was in the seventh season that Suryū perfected her clutch, with hatchlings familiar enough to go uneaten, big enough to defend themselves, small enough to slip through nets, and fast enough to catch their own prey. This seventh clutch survived, and she passed her success on to the rest of us to follow her lead for the good of our kind. Many did not, believing we should not sully our lineage, that our 'kind' would not be our kind anymore. But there is a good reason that there are so many more of you today than there are of them.
   "But the deception alone was still not enough. The waters were still not safe. River wyrms had been discovered, and our numbers shrank rapidly. This clutch still looked nothing like their mother, but how long would it be before the deception was discovered, and the puny, offended creatures imagined a new threat?
   "So Suryū taught her hatchlings to weave wings of water and spider silk where their paddles should have been. She taught them to break through the water and move across its surface on six tiny legs. She taught them to fly, thrown up by small jets of water until those delicate wings took over. Then, one day, when they had learned all she could teach them, they perched on grass and reed and looked down at her through the water, and with a final bow of her great head, she sent them flying off downstream."
   She chuckled once more. "You might well wonder. Why fly when it was the downfall of the other dragons? Because they, like you, were small enough to slip through nets. No arrow could hit them, and they cast no shadows when they flew. If eyes were looking in the water, far better to be above it.
   "You will be too, one day. And when you do, my little dragonfly, make for the vast ocean. Lay and breed your young in the streams and rivers along the way, and tell them this story. And when you, or they, or their young, reach at last the endless sea, land yourself amid the rising coils of steam and bubbles." She closed her eyes and nudged him softly with her snout, humming softly into the current. "Our cousins await your return."


Words copyright © Kim Wedlock
No part is to be reproduced without my permission.



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