Saturday Shorts: The Dragon’s Christmas

Long ago I played a game of raising pixel dragons. At one point, I was rather active on the forums, and even joined in some of the festivities at times. Once, I participated in a Secret Santa for which people wrote stories or poems as gifts. The following is the tale I wrote for this exchange–you can still find the original online, though only in the forum archives, for the site sadly shut down after five years. I lost contact with all of my friends from that site, but perhaps some day we will meet again.

I made some minor edits for spelling, but otherwise this story is identical to the one I posted all those years ago. I hope you find it enjoyable–I certainly found it nostalgic, as it brings back many forgotten memories.

dragon

The Dragon’s Christmas

Dawn came bright and clear that wintry morning, bringing a cold wind from the northern mountains that swept past the entrance to Hyruu’s cavern home. A small slip of the breeze trickled in around the door and made its way to the bedchamber, where Hyruu lay curled, tail tucked under chin, nose tucked under wing. When the chill air touched his silvery scales, Hyruu raised his head and yawned, a few wisps of smoke trickling from his mouth and nose.

“Cold today,” he observed, getting to his feet and stretching out his long, slender body, gold-tipped claws almost reaching from one side of the chamber to the next. Golden horns curving up and back from his head brushed the top of the doorway as Hyruu left his bedchamber and headed deeper into the honeycomb of caves that served as his home.

His gold eyes gleamed in the half-light of the kitchen, where a round pool of slightly fluorescent water held Hyruu’s favorite breakfast—cave fish. Standing poised at the edge of the pool, he waited for a fish to swim into view. Like a hawk from above he struck, catching his breakfast with a neat snap of his jaws.

Once his meal was roasted to perfection and consumed, Hyruu shook out his wings and inspected their soft violet undersides. Scratches had marred them a few days ago when he flew too close to the treetops of the nearby forest, but those wounds had healed and Hyruu felt ready to greet the new day in the dragon way, with a nice long flight through the crisp morning air. Even the bite of the chill wind could not dampen his enthusiasm as he launched himself from the cliff-face entrance and swooped down over the valley.

He did not expect screams from the valley inhabitants, the humans knew of his presence and rarely flinched at the sight anymore, but their behavior seemed erratic even for them. Running about with pots and bowls full of steaming food, smoke gushing from chimneys as though vast fires roared below, and everywhere a tinkling sound he had trouble placing until he realized they all wore strands and bracelets and circlets of bells. Circling the village for a second time, Hyruu caught the sweet scent of burning apple wood and the savory smell of roasting meat, mixed with the spice of evergreen, a tree that did not grow in the village.

Banking for a third time, Hyruu caught sight through windowpanes of evergreens standing decked out in strands of gold and silver. He shivered with pleasure, imagining what kind of addition that would make to his hoard, but stayed where he was, knowing that the villagers tolerated his presence because he did not disturb their peace further than flying by now and then. An unprovoked attack would lead to a horde of knights and princes looking to make a name for themselves all bearing down on his home and Hyruu liked his caves too much to give them up in exchange for a paltry amount of treasure.

Singing reached his ears as he drifted even lower, and after a brief listen Hyruu chuckled, coughing a small fireball that faded to smoke long before it reached the houses below. “Christmas! Of course!” Humans were so amusing with their need to celebrate all the time. It came from their short lives; they wanted to enjoy every moment of life they had. Hyruu smiled down at the scurrying villagers, all smiling and happy, then took off toward the forest.

Several hours later, the body of a great elk thudded into the snow in the village square, narrowly missing a group of carolers. They gulped in unison, watching a dragon’s sinuous grey body follow the elk’s into the snow.

One man standing nearby had the guts to stand up and say, “What are you doing?”

Hyruu attempted a smile, but the sight of so many ivory teeth caused the humans to stumble over each other in their rush to get away, so he abandoned the idea and pushed the elk forward. It had been killed with a blow just behind the head, and no blood marred the white snow. If it hadn’t been for the blank, open eyes, the animal might have seemed asleep.

“I brought a gift,” Hyruu said with a gentle snort. “For your Christmas Day.”

Blank stares turned cautious as surprise filtered through. The man from before managed a weak smile. “Thank you…?”

That was better. Hyruu tried to smile again, but the man began to break out in sweat, pinned in place by the gold eyes watching him, and the dragon turned his gaze toward the elk again. “It is fresh and should feed your village well.” Hyruu stepped back, spreading his wings. Even in the large square he had trouble finding room to take off, and as he collected himself for the initial leap, he was startled by a sudden touch on his leg. Looking down, he found a small human child resting a hand on his silvery scales.

“You’re tho pretty,” she lisped with a smile, revealing a gap in her teeth. Hyruu almost recoiled in horror before remembering humans, like dragons, could regrow their teeth to some extent, especially when they were young. He tried his smile a third time and must have succeeded because the girl’s own grin grew bigger.

“Thank you,” she said, throwing arms around his leg just before a woman rushed up, panting, to snatch the child up.

“Emily, you must be careful! Dragons are dangerous.” The woman glared at Hyruu like she had expected him to snap the child up the second she was in range.

“I do not eat humans,” Hyruu said calmly, and fluttered his wings in preparation for taking off. He had to forestall the movement again when Emily wriggled from her mother’s grasp and ran back to his side, tugging something from her hair. It was a circlet woven of strands of bells, a miniature version of the one her mother wore. Smiling, Emily held it out.

“For you,” she said.

Hyruu blinked, then reached out a paw and let the girl place the circle of bells on its palm. He curled claws over the tiny present and gave her a grave nod. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” she repeated back, waving as her mother pulled her away again. “Come again thoon, dragon!”

“My name is Hyruu,” he replied, then crouched and leapt forward, taking to the air just in time to miss striking down the strange tower on the building before him. He could not stop his tail from brushing the object that hung inside the enclosure, and startled when a loud boom came from behind. Climbing higher in the air, he glanced down once more at the village, where people were slowly approaching the elk, resting hands on the fur and antlers of the giant beast. Yes, it would serve them well enough, and Hyruu felt pleased.

Another boom shook the air and Hyruu chuckled at himself, realizing it was nothing more than the village bell, which tolled every day. He curled through the air in a loop, taking one last glance down, to find little Emily waving after him with all her might.

Her bright blue eyes caught his golden gaze for a second, and she cupped both hands around her mouth and shouted, “Merry Chrithtmath, Hyruu!”

Hyruu took a deep breath and let out a sharp spout of flame straight up, the fire dissolving into sparks that twinkled briefly before winking out of existence. Flipping backwards, Hyruu did a barrel roll and headed home, his body beginning to protest against the exposure to the cold air.

The little circlet of bells was given a prized position in his hoard, and whenever Hyruu touched it to hear that gentle tinkling sound again, he remembered the sight of the tiny human who seemed so fearless, and a smile would twitch at the corners of his mouth. “Someday,” he murmured, moving to the entrance of his caves and peering down at the little village. Yes, someday they would meet again.

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