Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Legend of Firebelly

Deep in the dimness cast by craggy rocks lay a cavernous expanse filled with smooth pebbles. Nestled in among the warm, sheltered bed of gentle gravel lay three eggs.

They were large eggs, as blue as a robin's.

Within this cavern stood someone who played flippantly with the cords of his life just by being there. Standing beside him, someone who did not want to be there. His servant had done many menial tasks without complaining, but this time he wished to do so now more than he ever had in his life. Great self-restraint kept his lips muzzled and barred the exit of the words that demanded they vacate the place.

It was not for fear alone that Albert wished to be going. Sure, he did not fancy being alit with dragon's flames, nor did he especially treasure the notion of being its lunch. But there was another reason eating at him from the inside.

"Carry two under your arm and let's be going," instructed his superior in clanking gold-plated armor. (Whenever the gold plating scratched in battle, Sir Douglas would simply have it refinished. He would have made the pieces of solid gold if it had not been for the fact that gold is such a very soft metal.)

Albert lay his hand gently on an egg. It was extremely warm, and the gravel held the heat well.

"Might die if we move them?"

"Good," came the reply.

"What good are they to us dead?" said Albert, trying to appeal to the nobleman's greed on behalf of saving these most unusual somethings.

"They will harm no one, and I can display them in my parlor."

A lump rose in Albert's throat.

"No," he said for the first time in his entire life, and because it was the first time, Sir Douglas dropped his jaw in gaping surprise.

"Albert, you are obligated to help me wherever I request it."

"If the Creator didn't want dragons to live he wouldn't have created them," replied Albert.

"I'll pretend you didn't just say that," said the knight generously, scooping an egg out of the ground with his leather gloved hand.

The pebbles below their feet began to tremble and hop.

"C'mon!" said Sir Douglas. "Grab those eggs and run!"

Albert could not bring himself to disturb the remaining two eggs. He sat down in the empty space left by the first egg and put his head in his hands.

"Okay, fine," said Douglas. "You're finished. Don't come back home anymore."

He lifted one leg and then the other arrogantly out the entrance, and was gone.

Screams pierced the air, wild strange animal screams mixed with those of the knight. Albert froze with surprise. The screams bled into quiet, and the egg that Douglas had displaced returned through the opening, followed by his armor, one piece after another. Then a head, a long, narrow head lit by two orange and glowing eyes, looked in. It surveyed the lair with satisfaction, blew fire on the armor one piece at a time, and entered. The long, scaly tail was the last to come in, and took longer than anything else.

Once inside it stowed the armor pieces in an overhead hole that reminded Albert of a cabinet. He noticed a glint of more than just the armor where the lit eyes of the dragon reflected in the hole. Seemingly satisfied, it turned back to its egg, which it now clutched to its heart.

Albert dreaded being noticed but could not wait to get it over with, so he deliberately moved out of the space where the egg belonged, feeling sure this would grab the beast's attention. It seemed not to notice, however, and it carefully replaced the egg into its warm socket of earthy heated pebbles.

"You been here long?" it said.

Albert jumped in surprised, but he promptly recovered and spoke.

"Not long."

"You know how medicine?" it said.

"Yes," he replied.

"Medicine this," it commanded, pointing to a gash beneath its left arm.

The servant removed a clean handkerchief from his pocket and soaked it with wine from a little canteen. He pressed and dabbed very gently at the ooze between the missing scales till he was sure it was quite well disinfected by the alcohol.

"Smells good," it said. "Good medicine."

Albert hesitated.

"You should do this again tomorrow," he said. "Every day for a week."

"You do good medicine tomorrow then," it said. "Stay right here."

With a swish of its tail the dragon turned about and reached inside its storage hole. When it returned it held out a glittering diamond as big as a hickory nut.

"You keep this," it said. "Good pay for good medicine."

It's a test, said a voice from somewhere in Albert's head. He thought he'd heard that voice before, but he couldn't remember where. He began to reach out.

It's a test, came the voice again. Don't take it.

He closed the dragon's scaly hand over the gemstone and gently pushed it away.

"No, thank you," he said. "I don't care much for those."

A curved smile played upon the giant toothsome mouth.

"Me treasure's safe, then," it said, putting it back.

"You sleep," said the dragon, turning itself round about and curling into a ball. It rested its head on its tail, but he couldn't be sure if it was asleep or awake because the glowing eyes remained open.

With the shock of all that had happened, Albert quickly found himself void of energy, and he gradually succumbed to the sleepy warmth of the cave.

He was awakened by a small stirring. Something nearby was pulling at him, pinching him. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and saw two tiny coals glowing up at him. At least, that's what they looked like. The baby dragon had been trying to get his attention. He held out his hand to it, and it climbed up in his lap like a puppy and fell asleep. After a few short blinks Albert dozed again, thinking himself to be in a very strange dream.

Near dawn he was again awakened, this time by all three dragons pulling at his legs and feet. He chuckled and tolerated the pinching, although their teeth felt like pins.

Two years later, tales arose and circulated of a hero who rescued the downtrodden, riding through the sky on the backs of dragons. He was said to breathe the fire himself, although this could not be confirmed. He was known by all simply as, "Firebelly."

He persistently defended the innocent. All the knights said he was evil and pledged to kill him, but he was far too wary to be caught. Whenever he'd been in the vicinity, food somehow showed up on the porches of poor houses. Prisoners who'd been jailed unjustly would be routinely freed. Those who'd put them there were often found to have been placed in their cells instead, alive and mad as hornets.

If you, however, find a large blue egg in a cave surrounded by warm, smooth pebbles, I would suggest that you leave it alone.

1 comment: