he dragon soared effortlessly on the thermal, a huge bubble of warm air carrying him high into the cool reaches of the sky. He relaxed and looked at the ground a thousand feet below. He could not remember the last time he had enjoyed flying like this so he let the feelings wash through him. He laughed happily to the empty sky.
Deep in his body, his stomach rumbled. He was hungry. He studied the green plain far below until he saw them, a heard of wild white kine. He circled lower until he could make out their black ears and noses, tiny black spots at one end of the white bodies. He licked his lips eagerly and flexed his hands. Talons, each an inch long, extended from the tips of his fingers.
He picked out his target then twisted his wings slightly and hunched his back to push into a dive. The wind noise grew in his ears until it blotted all other sounds. He aimed at a point a hundred yards away from the cattle, and pulled in his wings to drop like a stone. At the last moment he pushed his wings into the airflow and performed a long pull until his belly skimmed the tops of the long grasses. He saw his target, lifted a little higher and pulled his arm back for a killing blow. The animal saw its danger and turned to run. Too late! His right arm shot forwards and tore out the throat, and he crashed into the beast with all his weight. The herd scattered.
Blood gushed onto the green grass. He stared at it while he sucked the blood from his fingers and considered which bit to bite into. When he was satisfied his fingers and talons were clean, he took a huge mouthful from the haunch. The meat rolled around inside his mouth and tasted very sweet. When had he hunted last? He couldn't remember. He looked up from the carcass and saw another dragon. The stranger was almost black, with dark grey stripes across his back.
"Hello," said the stranger.
He swallowed the meat. "Who are you?"
"My name is Mavrik. What is your name?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I expect it'll come to me." He frowned at Mavrik and asked, "Do you know my name?"
"Yes," said Mavrik quietly. "You are Pen Mithdae."
"Don't be silly!" he laughed. "That name belongs to a human wizard!" As he spoke his heart went cold. "No! No, no, no! I'm a dragon. Look!" He spread his wing wide and reared back on his hind feet, using his tail to balance there. "See?"
Mavrik shook his head. "Pen, you're sick and delirious! Come back with me."
"No!" he shouted. "It's not possible!" With that, he turned and fled.
avrik opened his eyes and sighed. "He is really lost," he said sadly as he looked at the stricken figure before him. Pen lay silently on a pile of sleeping skins. Mavrik stared at the wizard's pale face and sweat-soaked hair, sighed again and looked at his family gathered in the main chamber of his lair. They all came as soon as word went out that their human friend was gravely ill. "In his dreams he is living as a dragon."
The dragons looked at each other. "What's wrong with that?" asked Cyclone.
"He's a human! That's what's wrong," snapped Mavrik. He rubbed his eyes. "Sorry. I think he has more dragon friends than human friends," he said softly.
"Being alienated from your own kind like that can't be healthy," said Fremantle. As a Healer, she was frustrated by her inability to help. Her healing powers only extended to dragons.
"I don't think he is alienated," said Stormfront. "We don't know much about him. When Mav and I were at Princess Arianne's mating ceremony-"
"Marriage," corrected Mavrik.
"-Marriage, the humans at Dragon Keep spoke of him with great fondness."
The noise of a struggle came from the sleeping chamber. Everyone turned to see Ilyrin, Kehvarl and Aurani struggling with a rolled up sheepskin. They brought it to Pen's bed and carefully spread it over him. Kehvarl turned and ran outside. Striker followed him.
Ilyrin looked at his father and pointed at the skin. "When I was sick this made me feel better," he said.
"Will it help Pen?" asked Aurani. She leaned forward and peered at Pen.
Mavrik smiled at them. "I hope so," he said. I need all the help I can get, he added to himself.
Kehvarl ran from the lair and skidded to a stop at the feet of an ancient dragon. "You came!" he shouted.
Watcher smiled at the little yearling. "I'm just visiting my friends."
Kehvarl frowned. "But you are going to help Dad bring Pen back," he stated.
Watcher gaped at him, surprised for the first time in many years. "Er, yeah." He leaned down and whispered, "Don't tell anyone why I'm here. Okay Kevie?" Kehvarl nodded. "Here comes your Grand-dad. Hello Striker!" he called.
"Watcher!" said Striker happily. "Have you heard about the wizard?"
"Only that he is ill and up here. Is it bad?"
Striker nodded. "Do you know anything about human illnesses? Freo can't help, and Mav has to do his magic thing."
"An old hermit from the plains like me only knows enough to get by," said Watcher. He winked at Kehvarl who giggled.
e flew like the wind. Details on the ground became a blur. He flew until his back ached from the exertion and a pain burned in his lungs. He tried gliding for a while but he could not hold his wings steady enough. A circular clearing caught his attention. He banked to kill the speed, then landed. Five figures were waiting for him, an elfin woman, a man, two dragons, and a woman whose race he couldn't place. One dragon he recognized as Mavrik.
"How did you get here?" he panted.
"We waited and you came," said the elfin woman. Her gown of gold and silver glittered in the sun, dazzling him.
"Pen, these are some friends of mine," said Mavrik. "They're here to help."
"Help?" snarled Pen. "You mean turn me into a human."
"Yes, help," said the other dragon. His scales were so black they looked like they were made of shadows. "As you have helped the speaking peoples of our world."
"You can't live like this," said the man. He sighed and sat on the grass. Pen wondered if the man would get the green stains out of the white breeches. "It will be your death. You are not a dragon."
The Elf stepped forward and placed a hand on Pen's arm, causing a shiver to run along his spine. "You must return to the world. It has need of you."
Pen looked at the fifth one who had not spoken. She was dressed in greens and browns and had long brown hair. Pen could not make out her race. She seemed to look like an Elf, a Human and a Dwarf all rolled into one. "And you? Are you going to ask me to return?" he asked.
"No. I care not," she said with a shrug. "I am here to watch, nothing more. If you live or die makes no difference to me."
The Elf turned to look at the other woman. "He is one of the few who would spend so much time raising orphaned young animals, Wild One," she said. "Remember the possums?"
"And that nest of magpies," added the Man.
"And a dragon with a broken wing," said Mavrik.
"Dragons can look after themselves," snorted the Wild One.
Pen turned and stared at the striped dragon. Something tugged at his memory. "I remember a flying-fox." he said suddenly. He blinked at Mavrik, then sagged to the ground. "I'm not a dragon?"
"No," said Mavrik quietly.
Pen turned his head and looked at his body, then opened his wings and examined them in silence. He peered at his hands, rubbing the fingers of his right hand over the fine scales in the palm of his left hand. Finally he sighed loudly. "I wish I was."
Mavrik and Watcher smiled at him. "You have a unique place in this world," said Watcher, reaching out to place his hands on Pen's shoulder. "But you are human and there is nothing we can do to change that."
Pen felt dizzy and closed his eyes. "But I want to change."
"That is something we cannot do," said the Man.
"Even if we wanted to," added the Elf.
"I'm sorry you lost yourself like this," said Mavrik.
"You'll feel restless from now on and nothing will lessen the feelings," said Watcher. He leaned forward and whispered "You have a dragon's heart. Let it take you where it will. Open your eyes," he commanded.
Pen opened his eyes and looked up at the two dragons towering above. He realized with a shock that he was no longer a dragon, and sat heavily. "I don't feel well," he muttered, and fell backwards onto the warm grass.
Something soft pressed on his chest. He frowned and felt it with a hand then opened his eyes. He was lying on a pile of skins with a sheepskin covering the lower part of his body. Dragons surrounded him, their concerned looks turning to relief as he blinked at them. Something touched the right side of his face. He turned and saw Mavrik's three young ones. Kehvarl leant forward and touched his face again.
"Are you back now?" he asked.
Pen smiled. "I think so." He reached out and clasped the little hand. "I see we have another magic user."
He heard Mavrik groan and the other dragons burst out laughing.
atcher hummed tunelessly and waited. The four watchers had remained in the sunlit world created by Pen's fever. It was now empty of all but them.
The Elf could not contain herself. "Say it, Dreo!"
The dragon turned and smiled. "Say what?"
"Tell us how you were right about Mavrik."
"I don't want to gloat, Ileura."
"So tell us we were wrong," added the Man.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Kehvarl." Watcher smiled at them. "But, I was right about him and you were wrong. Without Mav today we would have lost Pen Mithdae."
"What is another human, wizard or no?" said the Wild One.
"Pen cares for this world more than you, my friends," said Watcher softly. "That burden of care will never leave him." The ancient dragon stood. "Well, I'll be off."
"Dreo? Did you know Mavrik and Stormfront named two of their young ones after Khev and me?" said Ileura.
Watcher smiled at his colleagues. "Of course I knew."