Speckles glided to a perch on Liken Mountain. The jagged crags gave her a view of the entire valley. The young dragon was pleased with herself. As the first of this year’s hatchlings to master flying, it made up for the embarrassing hatchling name given her. It was her goal to reach maturity before any of the rest and choose her adult name. She also hoped the dark red spots on her otherwise emerald hide would fade away.
A herd of antelope entered the northern valley. They were grazing in a slow motion along the grassy bottom. Speckles craned her neck to view the sky. It was clear; no other dragons flew overhead. The antelope were hers. Her tongue, a delicate pink, flicked out to test the air. The wind brought the scent of the antelope and… something else. What was that?
The young dragon opened her wings and flapped twice to warm the muscles. The antelope could wait. She wanted to investigate this new smell. In a dive from the crag that made it look as though she’d been flying for years, she gained altitude, the better to see both sides of the mountain. She circled to the south, exploring the valley as it widened. A trickle of water cascaded from the nearby ridge. As it flowed south, other streams joined it until it became a small river.
There. What is that? Spread along the north side of the river she spied a herd of… something. Four-legged and two-legged beasts and things, nests? Some of the four-legged beasts were pulling devices that looked like wood but moved. How curious. She circled lower to get a better look, her shadow now visible, racing along the grasslands ahead of her. As she passed over the strange herd, shouts and calls rang out. The four-legged beasts panicked, rearing and screaming. Two-legged creatures fell from the devices or the backs of the others and they ran, too.
This was more fun than the antelopes. Speckles chuckled, a sound like boulders grinding in the spring floods. She came around to fly over again. This time there was less running, and that was disappointing. Some of the two-legs lined up across her flight path. They held something in their front paws. As she passed over them, sticks flew up, one ripping through her left wing. Speckles shrieked—the sound echoing off of the canyon walls behind the herd.
What happened? She flapped to gain altitude but the hole in her wing made it hard to rise. She flew north, away from the herd and back home. It was difficult to gain the height she needed to reach the nest but after a struggle, she made it, collapsing with near exhaustion.
“What happened?” Speckles mother, Fire Queen, a glorious ruby red dragon, nosed her daughter’s wing.
“A strange herd, mother.” Speckles held the wounded wing out. A hole the size of a rabbit gaped in the membrane between her third and fourth digits. “I flew over them twice. The second time sticks flew up and one hit me.”
Fire Queen roared. “Men! You found men. Where?”
“South of Liken Mountain, next to the river. What are they?”
“Killers,” her mother hissed. “They claim everything. They hunt us down. They killed your father.” The dragon roared her wrath and grief. Loose rocks below the nest broke loose and cascaded down the mountain. “Let me fix your wing.”
Fire Queen gently laid her daughter’s wing flat on the floor of the nest and pulled the ripped edges together. With great care, she blew a tiny flame against the edges, sealing them. Speckles cried out with pain, tears rolling from her eyes but she didn’t move. Her mother kissed the young dragon’s eyes. “There. That should hold.”
Speckles sniffed. “Thank you, mother.” She looked down the mountain. “What about the men?”
“We need to destroy them before they destroy us.” Fire Queen wrapped her wing around her daughter. “Have you been trying to breathe fire?”
“I have.” Speckles sighed. “Just a little smoke.”
“Keep trying. We’ll need all of the dragons we can muster to fight the men.”
Fire Queen brought the youth all manner of foods high in sulfur and coached her daughter in breathing techniques. The fourteenth day, Speckles blew a tiny flame. She roared her joy, her mother with her. More boulders tumbled from the mountain. “Good, my daughter. Rest today. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
Speckles barely sleep that night. Her wing was healed and now she could breathe fire. If she could do it again in the morning, she would join the adults and attack the man herd. At first light she was awake, standing on the edge of the nest, watching the sun come up. The clouds turned pink, then red. She roared and a blast of flame appeared.
“Well done, daughter. We fly to the attack tonight.”
The dragons found the men miles north of where Speckles had been hit. They flew high to avoid the men’s sight, but the men were revealed by their campfires. Twenty dragons circled the camp. Fire Queen whistled a signal. The dragons dove. Again, Speckles opened her mouth and blasted the ground in front of her. Tents and wagons burst into flame. Horses ran screaming. Men hacked at them with long knives and shot more sticks at them but the dragons were fast. Soon the light of the fires showed all the men dead. Horses ran through the night. Some even managed to escape the dragon’s hungry jaws.
The next day the dragons met on a high, flat topped mountain. Speckles stood in the center of the ring. “You have three times flamed,” Fire Queen told her daughter. “You may choose your adult name.”
Speckles looked around the ring. She was the first of her year to reach maturity. “I choose to be called Night Flame.”
The dragons roared their approval. They had a new member of the group.
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