Authors: Julia Suzuki
To those who believed –
you gave me the wings.
‘Many great creatures first roamed the earth with us,’ Ma’am Sancy announced to her class, her wings held wide. ‘There were all different types. Some had trunks and tusks as long as their bodies. Others had claws that enabled them to leap through the highest trees in the forests.’ The younglings all gazed at their history teacher, as her words captured their full attention.
‘At first they were happy to share the lands with us. But as the years went by, the earth moved and the seas divided,’ she continued. ‘Some of the dinosaurs sought survival by breeding with our dragon ancestors creating a super-evil species
known as dragsaurs – monsters who were willing do anything to take over the world and destroy us!’ One of the orange Mida dragons gasped in horror at the thought of such beasts.
‘But despite their efforts, and indeed after many great wars, both dragsaurs and dinosaurs became extinct. It was only us dragons who managed to survive the new climates, though we became slaves to man. That is until one great rebellion, when after receiving a special gift we managed to escape and flee to the Land of Dragor, where we now remain hidden below the smoky mists.’
irst came the whispers, then the rumours, and by New Birth’s Eve every dragon was gossiping that Kiara had laid a strange egg.
Some said it was square, like the toffee-nuts gathered by the sweet-toothed Bushki dragons. Whilst other dragons claimed they had heard a strange sound from Kiara and Ketu’s cave as they had flown overhead, as if the egg was singing. And the older dragons said it was the grey colour of a sickly hatchling, that when the shell broke the Hudrah dragon would arrive with her black wicker basket to ferry the infant away.
Each clan had its own Hudrah, who would watch over the births. But as the night darkened on Kiara’s cave there was no sign of her coming.
Then a great crack echoed around the mountain.
The egg was hatching.
Kiara had not left the nest for three seasons. She had sat patiently in the same position day and night, feeding on mouthfuls of powdery quartz whilst hiding her egg from prying eyes. Now she looked on with Ketu by her side as the shell opened.
It split into two, then four, and a determined little pink snout became visible.
Suddenly, a dark shape appeared at the mouth of the cave – Yula, the Nephan clan Hudrah, had arrived.
Some said Hudrahs possessed the sharpest of hearing that could sense the first pecks inside an eggshell from far distances, whilst others thought it was the black stones they wore around their necks that had magical powers to foretell a new birth.
But on this occasion the Hudrah’s powers to predict a birth had not worked soon enough. Yula rushed through the cave entrance, her large red body and silver cape barely squeezing through.
‘Oh horror!’ she exclaimed. ‘It has cracked open already!’
Healthy dragon eggs were a delicate lilac colour, and after birth lay in pretty pieces around the baby-pink
hatchling, which within hours would change into one of the seven dragon clan colours.
This eggshell was very different. It was every colour of the rainbow and jewelled like the contents of a treasure chest. It swirled with yellow, green, blue and violet and shone and sparkled in the firelight.
The pieces of the shell fell away.
Kiara breathed out in relief to see that her hatchling was the same pink as all others. The tiny dragon wiggled to dislodge the last piece of shell.
Kiara moved to help nudge it off with her nose, but Yula stopped her.
‘Let me see the hatchling make his own way,’ she insisted.
The determined little dragon shook off the last piece of shell and Kiara immediately scooped him up in great delight and nuzzled him.
‘Oh, isn’t he perfect?’ she exclaimed, holding him out to the others. ‘See his straight little muzzle, his lovely ears and just look at his big green eyes!’
Ketu looked at the newborn, full of pride. ‘Our beautiful son,’ he said, watching Kiara holding him aloft and then bringing the baby close back against her chest.
Kiara continued to smile. ‘Yoshiko,’ she said. ‘His name shall be Yoshiko,’ and with that she leaned forward to kiss her hatchling.
Then there was a flash of black.
For the first time in her history as a Hudrah, Yula had taken out the black wicker basket. Ketu moved quickly to protect Kiara and the baby hatchling.
‘What do you mean by this, Yula?’ Kiara exclaimed. ‘Our hatchling is a perfectly healthy addition to the Nephan clan!’
Yula shook her head slowly. ‘Step aside, both of you,’ she snarled. ‘Do not obstruct the Hudrah in her work. This hatchling is cursed. It is my duty to protect the clans of our land so I must take him away immediately!’
Kiara stared at Yula defiantly. ‘There is nothing wrong with my hatchling,’ she said. ‘Any who look at him would know he is a blessed creature. There is no need for him to be …’ But she could not even bring herself to say the words.
‘The black wicker basket is for the good of all,’ insisted Yula boldly. ‘Give me your son, or I shall use my Hudrah powers to take him from you. Once the basket has emerged there is no hope for this dragon.’
Ketu stepped forward quickly to intervene, taking
Yula calmly by the shoulder. ‘It has been too long a night for you, ma’am,’ he said. ‘Thirteen births so far and this your fourteenth.’
Yula nodded with uncertainty.
‘Our dragon is as normal as any young hatchling, who all come in different shapes and sizes!’ continued Ketu. ‘As for the shell, please look again. It is only the reflection of the flames that makes it glint strangely. Besides,’ he added, ‘you must be tired and I have not yet paid you for your services.’
Taking out a purse he counted out twenty glass stones and pressed them into Yula’s hand.
The old dragon’s claws held open as she looked down in wonder at the generous offering. It was ten times more than she had expected to be paid for the whole night. Her breath slowed as she carefully reconsidered the situation before finally replying.
‘True enough, Ketu, there is nothing physically wrong with your dragon.’
One by one her yellowed talons closed around the stones.
Ketu breathed a sigh of relief as Yula slid the black wicker basket away under her cape and pulled out instead the large birthing book. She turned to a new page.
‘Name of hatchling?’ she asked, holding a thick charcoal pen in her claw.
‘Yoshiko,’ Ketu replied.
‘None,’ said Ketu firmly.
Yula carefully recorded the details of the newborn into her book. ‘He will be either a curse or a blessing,’ she murmured, looking to where Yoshiko’s tiny snout was sniffing the warm air of the cave. But Kiara wasn’t listening. She was far too busy stroking his tiny scales in delight.
‘Yoshiko,’ said Kiara as Yula stood to leave. ‘Yoshiko.’
s seasons passed, the talk about the egg and Yoshiko’s birth faded amongst the clans. Yoshiko was now the vibrant red colour of his clan, but in the daylight Kiara noticed something different. His scales would sometimes take on a different tone. Like a hint of pink, or a violet haze, but the change would be so tiny that no other dragon paid attention. New Birth’s Eve turned to Green Earth Night, Red Seventh Moon became Yellow Harvest, and before Kiara and Ketu knew it Yoshiko had weathered ten winters.
* * *
Yoshiko was up and pestering his elders hours before school was due to start, and eventually it was a tired Ketu who dropped down from his perch to calm his excitable son.
‘I don’t feel like any breakfast!’ announced Yoshiko. But Ketu had already drawn out the heavy pan and was filling it with salt-rock and herbs. He blew a little spurt of fire into the mixture and stirred in some dark peat.
‘First day at Fire School and you will need the maximum energy to make flames,’ he announced, heaping ladles of the porridge into a large wooden bowl and placing it on the stone table where the family ate their meals.
Kiara flopped down from her perch and Yoshiko eyed her hopefully.
‘Your elder is right,’ she agreed as she handed him a wire net. ‘And, here, you’ll need this for today.’
Yoshiko took it gladly. He’d seen other young dragons using the copper nets to carry their equipment to school and envied the casual way in which they hooked them over their wings to hold items securely whilst in flight.
‘It has your midday meal in it and lots of snacks, plus all the other equipment you will need,’ explained Kiara.
She stuck her snout into the net and retrieved a heavy glass jar in her teeth.
‘You will need to put this whale-fruit on,’ she added, nudging the pot towards him. ‘Make sure you cover yourself completely, and don’t forget your ears.’
Yoshiko opened the jar and grimaced at the smell of the jelly substance.
Kiara snatched it up and began smearing it thickly on his chest as Yoshiko pulled away. ‘Be still! Be still!’ she insisted. ‘It will stop you getting scale-ache from the intense heat of the Fire Pit. You will need it until your scales harden up. Be sure to smear it on again after you’ve eaten at midday.’
The whale-fruit hadn’t dimmed Yoshiko’s mood as he eagerly hooked the wire school-net through his wing. He and all the other younglings of his age could fly short distances but none of them were quite ready to journey the distance of the land. Yoshiko climbed on to his elder’s back, ready to take the journey to the far side of Dragor.
Ketu took off gracefully as Kiara waved from the cave entrance. Yoshiko stared down in wonder as they swept across the sky. He gazed down at the steaming mud pools next to the Fire Which Must Never Go Out and then across the Great Waters to the view of the tallest of all their mountains.
The dragons banked east, and Yoshiko looked across curiously. ‘Why are we flying this way?’ he asked. ‘It looks quickest to fly west over the mountains.’
‘Well spotted, Yoshiko,’ replied Ketu. ‘However, if we flew that way we would pass over Cattlewick Cave and we are all forbidden to do so.’
‘What’s Cattlewick Cave?’ asked Yoshiko.
‘It is a very mysterious cave that no one knows much about,’ replied Ketu. ‘An old dragon called Guya has lived alone there for many years and Kinga our great leader ordered that no dragon should disturb him. We must keep away from his mountain.’
Yoshiko tried to imagine why any dragon would want to live in complete seclusion as Ketu flew east over the flowery Mida meadows. They swept through a cloud of blue butterflies that were hovering over the grassy hills and then fell into the thick flock of elders also taking their younglings for their first day at Fire School.
* * *
A huge dragon was on his haunches with his wings wide in welcome as the dragons came to land at the foot of
Dragor’s largest mountain. His scales were a deep rusty red and were raised into thick leathery ridges.
‘That’s the head of Fire School, his name is Ayo,’ said Ketu. ‘He is also head of the elite Guard Dragon.’
Yoshiko looked on in awe.
‘The Guard Dragon train in special fire pits,’ Ketu continued. ‘Their scales are so thick that it would be hard for a spear to pierce them and they can resist most flames.’
Yoshiko’s eyes dropped to his own skin, which was still so soft that the scales were barely visible.
‘When can younglings like me walk into the Fire Pit?’ he asked Ketu.
‘No particular time, whenever you are ready,’ said his elder. ‘At first, even standing at the hot stone-wall entrance will be unbearable. But you will soon adjust to the heat. After a few weeks you shouldn’t need the whale-fruit for protection,’ he continued, ‘and after a season you should be able to brave the walk through the outside of the Pit, although most dragons never get good enough to walk right into the centre.
‘Anyway,’ he added. ‘Before then you must learn to blow fire and to fly properly.’
* * *
Yoshiko soaked up the image that was in front of him. The depths of the school Fire Pit was glowing the brightest shade of orange and the sides were stacked high with rocks to prevent any fire escaping. Behind it stood the Fire School cave entrance and two large torches burned on each side. To the right of this a large stack of rocks had been constructed to make a crescent-shaped wall. Metal targets of various sizes had been built into it. Dragons who had reached seventeen winters were aiming at these silver pennant-shapes, belching out mighty columns of flame that struck in a dizzying flash of light.
Behind the Fire Pit was the largest cave Yoshiko had ever seen. It looked like it had taken a hundred moons to carve out and from his position near the entrance he could see inside that many dark paths led from it deeply into the mountain.
Outside the entrance was a mighty stone tablet, on which were etched the words:
THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOADAH.
Yoshiko read the notice.
1. ALWAYS KEEP ALIGHT THE FIRE WHICH MUST NEVER GO OUT
This great fire must be kept smoking at all times to keep the Land of Dragor hidden. It is the honorary role of the Guard Dragons to keep the fire burning day and night.
2. NEVER LEAVE DRAGOR
No dragon must ever leave Dragor. To do so is to put all the clans in danger of being discovered again by humans who will destroy all dragons.
3. NEVER FLY ABOVE SURION MOUNTAIN
Here stands the tallest mountain in Dragor, named after the dragon hero Surion. It serves as a marker that no dragon is ever to fly above.
4. RESPECT THE LEADER
Honour the leader of Dragor and obey his rules at all times.
‘Reading up on your Commandments, I see!’ Ketu commented as he looked over Yoshiko’s shoulder. ‘These rules were made when dragons first came to live in Dragor and we consider them sacred!’
‘What happens if the Commandments are broken?’ asked Yoshiko.
‘Any dragon who does not obey the four rules has to go to our prison,’ replied Ketu. ‘It is a dark and damp cave that no dragon can tunnel his way out of, and it has the thickest gate made of iron.’