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The Boy and the Dragon

The Boy and the Dragon
by Ann-Marie Martino

There was a house on a lake, high up in emerald-green hills. The house perched on stilts, buried deep into the glimmering water, and the hills surrounded it from all sides but one; that side fell away in a breathtaking cliff, which left the edge of the lake and sprawled downwards into the ocean.

The house was rust-colored, with yellow shutters, and a blue-black pitched roof. It had a wraparound porch, and the only way to and from the house to the ground away from the lake was a little boat tethered to the stilts that held the house in place.

You could jump off from one side of the porch, where it was left open, into the lake—but unless you possessed the daggerheart, like the boy in this story, you would not. For there was a dragon that slept beneath the glittering waves, and only the possessor of the daggerheart could speak to him, and be assured of his safety.

Now, this dragon was a young thing, a fractious male, but he wouldn't bother waking up to eat just anyone, and, in truth, found humans rather tiresome and not all that appetizing. But he liked his sleep—and dragons can catnap for hundreds of years—and would not want to be disturbed by unwelcome swimmers.

So now that I have told you about the dragon, let me tell you about the boy. He was about sixteen years old, fair-haired, like wheat in the sun; his name was Daryn, and he had travelled a great distance to take up residence in the house on the lake. He had had a dream, and in it was the young dragon, and, fancying himself in love, or some such, had hied off to see about his future.

His parents were long gone, as is often the case when a young person inherits the daggerheart. It is like a stone in the shape of the hilt of a sword, that fits in the palm of the hand, with a red pulsing center; its magic is that it lets you speak to dragons—to converse, and to tame them, and to ask one to grant a single wish.

So Daryn had set out on his journey, and at the end of it was the lake house of his dream, and he knew the dragon he fancied he loved was a-slumbering beneath the weathered old frame. The daggerheart in his pocket, he had come to beg a wish from the dragon he'd dreamt about.

And that is where the story really begins.

* * *

"Come out," Daryn said, the daggerheart warm in his hand. He held it out, but not quite over the water. Dropping it would be a disaster.

The water shimmered as if full of a thousand diamonds, and the sunlight washed everything to a pale yellow hue, much like the shutters on the little house.

"I have the one thing you respect," Daryn tried again. "Come out and see me."

There was a whoosh, and water swelled up over the sides of the porch, which was more like a dock in the water, and the great green thing that called itself dragon was suddenly at the lip of the water, his large violet eyes blinking slowly as he flapped his wings to keep himself afloat.

Daryn wanted to ask why a dragon with wings would choose to sleep beneath this lake, but he did not dare. Not yet. First things first.

"Hello," he said respectfully, bowing his head a bit before raising his gaze to meet the dragon's once again. "My name is Daryn. You might know of me, because I am the one who holds the daggerheart, and I am in love with you."

The dragon shifted a little in the water, cocking its head. Daryn held his breath. If it worked as it was supposed to, as his father had said it would, then if the dragon should deign to speak, Daryn would be able to understand him.

"You know not of what you speak," the dragon said. Daryn had the impression of guttural growls and thrumming vibrations, but what his mind processed was words in his own language. He grinned at once.

"Tell me," he said eagerly, sitting down on the porch and dangling his feet above the water. The daggerheart he slipped back into his pocket.

"You are young, to talk of love," the dragon replied. Daryn scoffed.

"I have had a dream, and I know what it meant. It meant I was to come here, and to summon you, and to say this: 'I am Daryn, and I am love with you.' And you are not that much older than me, for a dragon."

"You had a dream?" the dragon asked. Daryn nodded. "It told you all this?"

"Yes," Daryn said. "I have come for my wish." He leaned out a little. "Take a human shape, and share love with me."

The dragon recoiled. "You cannot ask that of me," he snarled, but he did not sound angry so much as worried.

"I can and I do. I wish for you to take human shape and love me." Daryn patted the outside of his pocket, and the daggerheart grew warm.

The dragon wailed, but he turned and twisted and slipped in and through the water, splashing and thrashing, until he was nothing more than a teenage boy, treading water.

His hair was white, like an old man's almost, though it shone in the sun like threads of some metallic fabric. His eyes were still violet, and his body, though young, was toned and muscled. His nose had a patrician bent, and his lips were rounded and full. Daryn had the impression that he was nude beneath the water, and he was lustfully curious.

He was the perfect specimen of male beauty, and Daryn was instantly smitten. He had known he was in love, but now here was proof: they were meant to be together.

"I am yours to command," the dragon said, only now his voice held only fluted vowels and lovely, smooth consonants.

"Tell me your name," Daryn demanded, getting to his feet. "And come out of the water."

The dragon rose from the water, pulling himself up on the edge of the porch, but the question of his name—the demand, rather—he ignored.

In due course the dragon was garbed with some of Daryn's own clothing, his finest in fact, but he had yet to follow the other instruction. His name remained a mystery.

When, over dinner, Daryn demanded it of him again, the dragon shook his head and would say only, "You begged I become human, so I am. You said, 'come out of the water', so I have done. But my name is my own and will remain that way."

"I must call you something!" Daryn pleaded, but the dragon turned his face away, an insult. Daryn was upset by his recalcitrance.

"Call me what you will, human boy. I am not yours to own, though I must obey you."

Daryn had not known he would be required to name his dragon, so he said,

"I will think on it. I will sleep, and when I wake, I will know what to call you."

* * *

There were two bedrooms in the lake house, one decorated in blue with sailboats on the wallpaper and little model sailboats on top of the dresser, and one decorated in yellow with little sprigs of flowers that appeared to have been handpainted on the walls.

Daryn liked the color blue, and he wasn't all that fond of flowers in decorating, so he made up the yellow bedroom with blankets on the bed and pillows and gave it to the dragon to sleep in.

The yellow bedroom had a double bed in it, and while Daryn wanted to sleep next to his dragon, he deemed it too soon as the dragon still appeared to be surly about being summoned. It was okay, Daryn thought; they'd get used to each other, and the dragon would learn to love him.

They had time. Daryn crawled into the bed in the blue bedroom and closed his eyes. His dreams had brought him here, surely they would give him the solution as to what to call his dragon.

But he didn't fall asleep right away. The light from the moon was spread across his pillow like a lover's hair, and he kept thinking the dragon would creep out in the middle of the night—but he reassured himself that that couldn't happen. The dragon was required to adhere to his wish, and would be bound by it all the years Daryn possessed the daggerheart.

Daryn patted it beneath his pillow and tried to sleep. But the dragon was so beautiful, his body cried out for him to go slip into his bed and curl up against him. It ought to be his right, but he knew he had to be patient. The dragon might turn his feelings toward hate if Daryn pushed too hard, and Daryn wanted, more than anything, for his dragon to want to love him.

It was on that thought that Daryn fell asleep.

* * *

Daryn woke with the name of the dragon on his lips.

"I shall call you Alaric," he said at breakfast. He had cooked it himself. The kitchen was well-stocked with food and Daryn probably wouldn't have to leave the lake house to get more for awhile.

He had learned to cook at his mother's knee, and then finished up learning after she had died and he needed to feed himself.

If the dragon appreciated his efforts, he did not say. He simply glanced up with those unnervingly beautiful violet eyes and scowled.

"I do not love you," he said. Daryn smiled as sunnily as the eggs on his plate.

"There is time for that still," he said. "And I love you, which is all that matters, for the present."

His dragon glowered, and Daryn added, "I didn't know dragons were so bad-tempered."

"No one likes to be on a leash," the dragon replied.

"Think of it as more of... a tether," Daryn said. "To keep you grounded to me so you don't one day fly away. I would be inconsolable if that happened."

The dragon picked at his food. "I doubt it," he said. "What you perceive as love is naught more than obsession and a need for control."

"I regret that you feel that way," Daryn replied, "but at least let me try to change your mind?"

The dragon swallowed and put his hands on the table, palms down. "It's not like I have much choice, is it?" He suddenly appeared sad, and Daryn felt the sting of pity, of remorse.

"I don't intend to treat you badly," he said. He leaned forward. "I want us to be friends. Someday, lovers. Will you not give it a chance?"

The dragon breathed out heavily. "I can do that," he said. "If I held onto my prejudice, I would be the same as you."

Daryn clapped his hands. The probability of an insult was lost on him. "After breakfast," he began, but the dragon cut him off.

"It's exhausting being in a human body," he said. "I would like more sleep."

Daryn shrugged. "All right. I'm going to sit out over the lake. Are you sure you don't want to go swimming?"

The dragon's face suffused with a pretty pink color. "I do not know how to swim," he said. Then he shook his head as if to shake away the blush and qualified, "As a human."

"I could teach you," Daryn said. The dragon regarded him, one eyebrow faintly quirked. It was obvious he was thinking, and thinking hard.

"All right," he said finally. "But after my nap."

Daryn dimpled, then paused. "I'm not used to being on my own," he said. "My parents are dead, but my father hasn't been dead that long." Which wasn't entirely the truth.

The dragon glanced down. "I'm sorry," he said. He must have felt badly for the child who'd lost his parents, no matter what else he was.

"Do you mind terribly if I stay in your room while you sleep?" Daryn asked. "I'll be quiet."

The dragon appeared worried. "I don't know..." he said, obviously unsure.

"I won't hurt you," Daryn said, with a little half-smile. "I love you, remember? I'd never hurt you."

The dragon looked dubious, but finally he gave a one-shoulder shrug.

"I suppose," he said. He suddenly had a queer-looking glint in his eye. "Where is the daggerheart? Could you leave it in your own room while you're in mine?"

"I can't," Daryn said. He pointed. "How would I understand you?"

The dragon laughed and gestured to his form, that of the teenage boy. "I'm speaking your language now," he said.

"Oh. Right." Daryn flushed. "I'm sorry. I'm a foolish boy."

"It's no issue," the dragon replied. He set down his fork. "I'll be in my room sleeping. Try not to wake me when you come in."

He got up and left the kitchen, and Daryn fingered the daggerheart in his pocket. He hadn't agreed to leave it somewhere else, and he didn't think that it was a good idea.

He finished up his breakfast and followed the dragon out of the room.

He had been lonely, but now he had his love; he sat on the floor of the dragon's assigned bedroom and watched him sleep, the waves of his hair caressing his brow, those glorious, unusual eyes closed.

* * *

Daryn taught the dragon how to swim later that afternoon, after his nap was finished. The dragon seemed unconcerned about stripping down and jumping into the water, and Daryn had to work hard not to stare.

"It's mostly about floating," Daryn said, but he wasn't very good at explaining, so he demonstrated.

The first time the dragon went under, he came up immediately, spluttering, face burned red.

"I cannot breathe!" he exclaimed, and Daryn fought not to laugh.

"Alaric," he said, "you're human now. I don't think you can breathe underwater anymore."

The dragon gave him a dark look. "These human bodies are so fragile. I miss my proper form."

Daryn frowned. "I am sorry about that, but you and I are meant to be together."

The dragon gave a gusty sigh. "I disagree," he said.

"You promised," Daryn reminded him, and then he dove back into the water. "Come on. It's a hot day. Come over to me."

The dragon showed off what he'd learned and swam over to Daryn. Above them, the sky was a fluted blue, the sun high and bright. It was hot on their heads.

Daryn held out his arms. "This is a hug," he said, and embraced the dragon.

He stiffened at first, but everyone knows a hug can feel so good, and the dragon soon felt no different. He obviously relished the hug, even though he was still bitter about things; Daryn, for his part, held him in the water for a long time, treading water, his head on the dragon's shoulder.

By the time the sun was sinking down, Daryn and the dragon were lying on the deck, staring up at the sky as it drifted into a darker blue, night beginning to fall.

The swimming lesson was over, and it had been a success.

* * *

Gradually, the dragon began to trust Daryn. They spent their days together, swimming and then sprawling on the deck and talking. Daryn told stories that the dragon had never heard.

"And the princess was beautiful," Daryn said, on his side, leaning on one elbow and watching the dragon. "She had flowing golden tresses that all the women in the kingdom were envious of, and the biggest, most beautiful blue eyes, and everyone in the kingdom wanted to marry her.

"But she had chosen someone, a lowly servant, the man who brought the coal to her room for the scullery maid to rake in the fireplace. Even though he always smelled of coal-fire, she had given her heart to him utterly."

"But why?" the dragon asked. "Couldn't she have had the most handsome prince in the land?"

"She could," confirmed Daryn. "But that's just the thing. Her father had found out about the servant, and condemned him to his daughter. 'No, you may not have him,' he said, and she took to her room for eleven days and nights and refused to come out.

"She didn't cry, and the man she loved was refused entrance to the palace. The lovely princess was staring, dry-eyed at the night table, when there was a knock at her window. Before she could even do anything, it slipped open.

"A crone entered the room. She pointed a gnarled finger at the princess and said, 'what would you do for your love?'"

"And then what happened?" the dragon said eagerly.

"The princess swore she would do anything for her love, and the crone considered her. 'The king is having your love executed this day at noon,' she said. 'If you wish to save him, you must give up your envied hair. Cut it off. And your eyes,' the crone added cagily. 'Can you live without your eyesight?'

“'Anything!' cried the princess. And the crone snapped her fingers. At once, the most beautiful princess in the land was transformed. Her hair was ragged and short. Her eyes weren't just blind, but scarred closed. Her fingers were plagued with arthritic pain and curled in on themselves.

"When her love found her, she had been banished from the palace—it was thought she'd kidnapped the princess, and the king was loathe to cut off her head just yet; not before he could find his beloved daughter.

"But the coal-man found her outside the castle, wandering blindly. He recognized her at once, and cried, 'You've gotten so ugly, princess!'"

"This is a terrible story," the dragon said gleefully. "It doesn't have a happy ending, does it?"

"I'm afraid not," Daryn said. "For though the princess had given up her beauty, had given up everything in her life to save his, he was repulsed by her. He took her hands and told her that he loved her, but since she couldn't see the lie on his face, she believed him. He brought her to the king and said she had killed the princess.

"The king was devastated. He ordered her death. And as the executioner took her head, the man was set upon by the crone, who transformed before his eyes into the image of the beautiful princess.

"She told him he was hers for all time, and she punished him for eternity; wearing the face of his beloved, she made him a slave, and she never once let him forget what he'd done." Daryn took a deep breath. "The end."

The dragon sat up and clapped his hands together. "I'm glad he got what was coming to him," he said.

Daryn sat up too and reached out, clasping his hands together with the dragon's. "I would never forsake you," he said seriously, staring into those violet eyes.

The dragon met his gaze steadily, then slowly, they leaned toward each other. In the weeks they'd been together—it had been about three—the dragon had come to care for the boy.

Daryn reached around the dragon and cupped the back of his head, drawing him in. Their lips met like a benediction, a velvety press together, and Daryn closed his eyes and taught the dragon how to kiss, as well.

He didn't notice, what with the kiss and the beauty of the sunset wreathing them, that the dragon had not made the same promise.

* * *

Daryn taught the dragon many things over the next months. He showed him how to fish, and how to cook. He took him out in the little boat when they needed to get more food. They fell into kisses like drowning, and after a while, Daryn and the dragon would retire together, sleep in the double bed in the yellow bedroom.

But even though nights were filled with furtive touches and declarations of Daryn's love, the dragon was growing restless, and Daryn could tell.

So late one night, he kissed the curve of the dragon's neck and held his lips there for a long time, before whispering into the beautiful skin,

"I am so glad I dreamt of you. Will you sleep with me? Will you love me?" he asked.

The dragon breathed out, and his muscles rippled.

Daryn kissed his skin again. "Please," he said, "tell me your name. Surely you love me enough by now."

The dragon took another breath, and then in a voice barely more than a whisper, he said,

"My name is Jaron."

Emboldened by the confession, Daryn shivered and spread kisses over Jaron like spreading honey on bread.

The night breathed around them like a living thing, dark and terrible and wonderful, and full of the scent of their bodies, the sound of their breaths, the softness of their skin.

Jaron never pulled back, and Daryn never had to press too far forward, and when Daryn finally fell asleep, sticky and sweaty and sated, Jaron lay awake.

His body was alive in ways it had never been, and it made him miss his dragon-form acutely.

He stared hard at Daryn as if he could memorize him, then kissed his wheat blond hair and murmured,

"I'm sorry."

* * *

Daryn woke up alone. Yawning, he figured that Jaron had gone to the bathroom, or gone outside to sit and watch the sunrise, and he wasn't worried.

Not at first.

Not until he went to take a shower and discovered the daggerheart was missing. Gone! Daryn practically flipped the house upside down looking for it—and for Jaron.

He found neither.

Soon the awful truth dawned on him. Jaron had taken the daggerheart and left him.

Daryn sat down hard on the deck, the lovely sunlight not even making an impression. After the night they had spent together, it felt like the worst betrayal ever to be left alone, no longer special, no longer the possessor of the daggerheart. He hadn't even known that the dragon could take it from him.

"Why?" he asked the bright morning air. It was crisp and cool. Sometime in their idyll, summer had turned, and autumn was creeping in.

He understood, thinking back, that the dragon had never once said he loved Daryn. He'd never promised not to forsake him.

How long had Jaron been planning to leave him?

He remembered the story he'd told Jaron, about the tragically beautiful princess.

He realised he'd been cast as the villain in his own fairytale, and it didn't have a happy ending, just like the one he'd told Jaron.

Though the boy stayed in the lake house until he'd grown into an old man, without the daggerheart, he couldn't summon the dragon back to him.

But it was late one night, the old man's eyes closed, his mind slowly fading away, when the softest caress ever slipped across his forehead.

"I do love you," came the quietest whisper in the world. "I'm sorry."

* * *

Eventually, the lake house was empty again, and the dragon slept beneath it for many more years.

And that is the story of a boy—and the dragon who loved him.

* * *

* * *

Ann-Marie Martino attended Emerson College and graduated with a B.F.A. in Creative Writing. She lives alone in Connecticut and enjoys writing both poetry and fiction. She is currently at work revising her first novel.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

I write because sometimes, I have a really great idea and I just have to be able to put it down on paper (or in this case, screen). I keep writing because of the sense of accomplishment every time I finish something. It's important to me to have a portfolio of stories that I can point to and say, "I did that." The feeling that I've made something--that's a great feeling. There aren't many that compare to it.

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