A gust of wind stirred him back to consciousness. Half awake, his eyes still closed, the King’s nose wrinkled in disgust at the horrid smell. He froze. Something very large, with bad breath, was sniffing him. The dragon. Well this was it. His first taste of freedom in a zillion years and it all comes to this: getting eaten by a dragon. He probably should have stayed right where he was.
Debating with himself over what would be worse, starving to death or being gobbled by a dragon, the King suddenly realised the sniffing had stopped. He opened one eye, hoping perhaps he had imagined the entire crazy story and he was back in his warm bed. Nope, as usual, the bad dream seemed to be real and it had just become a whole lot worse- the dragon was definitely still there. To be fair, it hadn’t eaten him yet. In fact, the dragon didn’t look hungry, it just looked amused.
‘Im not going to eat you’, a voice sounded in his mind. The amused-sounding voice seemed to match the amused look on the dragons face. Oh by the Goddess! Now he was imagining that dragons could talk! He slowly pushed himself into an upright sitting position with his back against the wall, wondering if there was a way he get back through it. The dragon in front of him was covered in red and gold scales and he was slightly larger than an elephant. It looked like something come to life from the dragon tapestries hung in his bedroom chamber.
‘I’m here to help you’ said the voice in his head.
Help me?! thought the King to himself incredulously. Eyeing those big teeth, a flood of bloodthirsty dragon legends marched through his mind and the King promptly resumed his search for an escape route. There didn’t seem to be any way back through the wall, and besides, he didn’t really want to think about how he had come through it in the first place. To the left was an orchard. Maybe he could make a run for it and hide in there. He wondered how fast dragons could move and whether his wobbly legs would actually hold him up long enough to get him to safety. He heard a sigh in his mind.
‘Grandpa said it would be like this. Silly human’, thought the dragon a little crossly as he sat back on his haunches to consider his options. It was getting boring sitting in this garden when he would rather be flying. While it was oh so tempting to just pick the man up in a claw and carry him, the fellow would probably just become even more difficult to manage and he might make too much noise. Grandpa had insisted he be discreet. Enchanting the man was another option but how on earth was he going to make friends with the man if he befuddled his mind? No, he would just have to wait, even if it was a bit boring.
The man was getting ready to run.
‘I can hear your thoughts you know. There isn’t much point in running away.’, he told the man, as kindly as he could. The man groaned and slumped back against the wall.
“What do you want from me?” asked the King of the dragon, a slight tremor in his voice.
‘I want to help you. I could feel your loneliness, your longing for the blue sky and freedom. It’s a terrible thing, locking someone up like that’, said the dragon with a frown.
“How do I even know you’re real?”, asked the King suspiciously.
The Dragon stifled his laughter and it came out as a snicker. ‘Me? Real? What about you? You’re in my dream after all!”
A dream? The King was puzzled. How could he be in someone else’s dream? Especially a dragon. Everyone knew dragons weren’t real. Except in stories. In stories they killed people and set fire to villages and stole gold from Kings. Ah, thought the King, Gold! He looked up at the dragon hopefully.
“You can have my gold! Will you set me free if I give you my gold?!”
The dragon sighed in his mind again. ‘I don’t want your gold. Besides. it’s not even yours anymore. And I’ve already set you free, you silly man. How do you think you got out here?’
At that, the King was silent and thoughtful for a while. He even chewed a little on his beard, and he only did that when he was very deep in thought. He thought back over the grand and daring escape he had just executed. First there were the dragon carvings in the ceiling that showed him where the trapdoor was. Then there was that strange pulling sensation in his tummy, which had finally stopped once he got through the wall. He shuddered at the thought. Whether he liked it or not, he had somehow come through the wall, and there were definitely no doors or windows in it. Magic. Dragons, he remembered, were supposed to be magic. He didn’t believe in dragons or magic, so maybe he was dreaming or insane. Either way, he might as well play along until he worked out how to get back to normal reality.
“Did you move me through that wall?” he asked the dragon. The dragon nodded.
“Did you…. pull me, somehow? I had this pulling feeling in my tummy. Was that you?”
Again, the dragon nodded. The King wasn’t sure how he felt about that. His great and daring escape had been assisted. Every step of the way, he had been guided, and now this dragon was claiming to be his guide.
“That hurt, that pulling. I didn’t like it.”, he said a little sulkily to the Dragon.
The corner of the dragons mouth twitched up a little, as though he was trying not to smile.
‘My apologies, I was trying to help you.’
The King chewed on his beard again. The dragon waited, patiently, it seemed, but the tip of his tail was tapping ever so slightly up and down as though to say ‘hurry up, hurry up’. The King couldn’t see it though, which is all that really mattered. The dragon was feeling rather pleased with himself because the man was finally listening to him, and soon they would be on their way.
“Why are you trying to help me?”, demanded the King, with his arms crossed firmly across his chest. The dragon stifled yet another sigh and settled himself down to explain. He had been hoping to talk while they flew, but obviously this earthbound creature wasn’t going to budge until he had talked himself senseless.
‘Because I don’t like dreaming about you being lonely. It makes me feel lonely too. And my Grandpa says I have to help you because, supposedly, we are old friends, and it’s the only way to put things right.’, concluded the dragon, as though it were all quite obvious and could-we-please-just-get-on-with-it?
The king looked confused. “Old friends? Who? You and I?”
The dragon shrugged. ‘Apparently. I don’t remember. Do you remember?’
Shaking his head slowly the King replied “No, I think I’d remember you if we’d met before.”
‘That’s what I said to Grandpa but he said we all forget when the gateway closes. Except for really, really old people. Like Grandpa. They remember.’
The dragon peered at him impatiently. ‘You know, we could talk about all of this while we fly. My wings are getting cramped and stiff and its boring down here. It’s much nicer up there. And why do you keep talking with your mouth when you could just talk to me with your mind?’
“Fly?!”, squeaked the King in alarm. He tried to push himself back through the wall but it wouldn’t co-operate.
Slumping into an exasperated sprawl on the ground, the dragon groaned unreservedly.
‘Do you have to be so difficult!? I can’t understand what you are getting yourself all worked up about. It’s perfectly safe. Grandpa said humans and dragons used to fly all the time before Mum and your grandma had that big fight. It’s easy. He showed me what to do. Can’t we just go now, pleeeease?’, pleaded the dragon.
The poor old King felt quite panicky for a moment and he couldn’t make sense of anything the dragon was saying to him. Until he remembered that he was either dreaming or crazy. And in either case, none of this was real, so what harm could possible come from flying on a dragon? It might even be fun.
“Okay”, said the King, trying to sound braver and more nonchalant than he felt.
The Dragon perked up immediately. He leapt up off the ground. Dragons could move very quickly when they wanted to.
‘Here, I’ll stretch my wing out like this, so it’s kind of like a ramp, and you walk up the bony bit. See? It’s a bit like a ladder’
With a gulp, the King stood on shaky legs and started to climb up the dragons outstretched wing. Once he reached the top of the wing, the Dragon showed him how to climb on to his back using bony protrusions as foot and hand holds. It was slow going with the King’s shaky muscles, but now that the dragon had what he wanted, he was patience personified and between the two of them, they soon had the King perched nervously, high up on the dragon’s back.
‘Oh, Grandpa said before we take off, we need to mind meld.’
‘Nothing complicated. You just need to talk back to me with your mind instead of your voice so we can link in properly together. That way, you won’t fall off.’
Not falling off sounded like a perfectly good reason to talk to a dragon in his mind. ‘Hello Dragon’, he thought towards the dragon.
The dragon pulled a face. ‘That wasn’t very good, you know. Try believing it a bit more. Put a bit more oomph into it!’
The King gathered his oomph and tried again, ‘Hello Dragon!!!’
‘Well you don’t need to shout, but yes, that was much better. By the way, my name is Jackson. What is yours?’
“My name is….”, started the King, and then he remembered to mind-talk. ‘My name is George!’
And with that, the Dragon crouched into a bunched coil of muscle, spread his wings and launched into flight.