The Heartless Dragon
Man, it's been a while since I wrote anything for the Gundam Wing fandom, but I really like this idea. As usual, I don't own Gundam Wing or any of the characters, or the folktale that this is based on. I do own a rather impressive collection of handbags though. Shounen ai 3x4.
Once upon a time, there was a dragon and a king. Well, not together, of course. That would be dreadfully strange. They did exist at roughly the same time, and rather near each other. But they were quite separate entities who happened to clash over a number of issues. As it happens, the dragon had less to do with the king and more to do with the king's son.
Dragons are, by all accounts, fairly pleasant creatures. Most are wise, chivalrous and downright friendly. That is, unless the dragon is devoid of a heart. The dragon of this tale was one of those unfortunate individuals. He was a handsome dragon, with flame red scales speckled with dots of ebony black. He lived high on the top of a mountain peak covered by clouds, a peaceful place that allowed him space to ponder profound things. It was at this mountain summit that the dragon lost his heart, in circumstances that were never quite explained to anyone. Whatever those circumstances were, the result was that the dragon became miserable and morose. The space in his chest meant to hold his heart held instead a hive of wasps, which buzzed and stung him without mercy and made him very short-tempered indeed. He was forced off of his mountain and into a kingdom several thousand miles away, where he built a giant house for himself on the outskirts of the city.
Now, although the people of this particular kingdom were quite amiable, they still managed to irritate the bad-tempered dragon, and he responded by flashing his sharp claws and whipping his large tail. Some even irritated him to a point whereby he used his massive teeth. The dragon was possessed of a small amount of magic, only enough to turn a single person into a block of stone. He often used it on the local farmers, just to get them to shut the hell up. How dare they wake him up at four in the morning with their incessant jabbering about what liquids worked best at warming cow's teats!
There was only so much of this behaviour that the locals could take, and so this is where the king comes in. He was a good man, wise and clement, with a lovely wife and three sons. He was fair to the middle classes, just to the nobles and generous to the poor, all of which made him and his young family rather popular. So it was that upon hearing of the heartless dragon's shenanigans, he became very distressed. He was unfortunate enough to have had a lot on his plate at the time of the disturbance. His beloved wife had taken ill after giving birth to their youngest son, the baby himself was devoid of a carer other than a quite dotty old lady, the oldest son had fallen in love with some uninterested peasant girl and was threatening to throw himself into the moat and his second son seemed quite keen on starting a war with the neighbouring kingdom over some stolen toy soldiers. Under most circumstances, the king would have tried to bargain with the dragon, or at least offered a virgin sacrifice (killing two birds with one stone as he would have sacrificed that peasant girl his son was besotted with.) But with such worries plaguing his mind, he did something completely out of character.
He tricked the dragon.
Yes, that's right. He tricked the dragon. It wasn't even a very good trick, which may be the reason the dragon fell for it. The king promised his reptilian nemesis a cellar full of beef and shoved him down the stairs, locking the door afterwards. The room was reinforced with iron walls and the door locked with a steel padlock. The dragon roared and bellowed and used terrible swear words, but to no avail. The only opening in the room was a tiny chink that peeked out into the music room, which nobody ever used. So it was that the dragon remained in that cellar for years, until he could find a way out.
But this story is not about the dragon's capture, oh no. It's about his escape and the aftermath, and to tell this part of the story another introduction must be made.
The king's youngest son was named Quatre, and for all the joy that followed his christening what happened afterwards was rather strange. The queen came down with a terrible fever in the days following the birth and was unable to nurse her child. The king was so terribly preoccupied with the dragon affair that he quite forgot about the baby. And the two older boys were teenagers, who can really only afford to think about themselves. The servants all had their jobs to do, and so the only person that Quatre had any contact with for several years was an old woman named Bella, his nursemaid. Poor Bella was old and her wits had quite departed, but she loved her little charge deeply and that was the most important thing. However, old Bella was no teacher, nor was she a preacher. All she knew were her old stories of good and virtuous behaviour rewarded, which she related to the prince all day and all night. By the time Quatre reached an age whereby most of his peers were in school, he still had only Bella and her stories.
It is a known fact about fairy tales that although the heroes and heroines are good and virtuous, common sense rarely features highly. In fact, it often seems that the sensible characters are portrayed as vile, backstabbing villains. This bears no resemblance to real life, of course, but this being Quatre's only knowledge of the ways of life he took it all very seriously. The young prince grew up with a complete lack of common sense. To Quatre, life was all rather simple. Good manners and grace could defeat any villain, every good deed reaped a reward in the nick of time and no creature was truly bad, provided they had a heart.
When Quatre turned seven, his father finally put all the stress of his short reign behind him and remembered he had three sons, not two. The king's response to his absent-minded neglect was to spoil the child rotten. Luckily for him, and for the rest of the kingdom for that matter, the prince's mind was so full of Bella's moral tales that he proved impossible to spoil entirely. He could have become selfish, cruel, spiteful or any other number of unpleasant things. Instead, he was kind, mild mannered, cheerful and incredibly, incredibly naïve.
Now, when I say naïve I mean naïve. You could tell the poor child anything and he would believe you. You could tell him that his mother really didn't like those priceless sapphires she kept on her nightstand (as his older brother once did) and wanted to give them to that Duchess she hated, and Quatre would hand them over as soon as he came across said duchess. You could tell him that the angry letter the king had written to that neighbouring king when blinding drunk was mislaid before it could be posted, and the prince would hand it to the courier and ask politely for it to be delivered. He was subject to every hoax, every trick, every prank that went on in the palace, and the word soon spread that if you needed to get back at someone, the prince was the perfect patsy. Poor Quatre was always in trouble over something, but didn't seem to care. He was only doing what other people told him, how was he to know they were liars? For naïveté is not stupidity, and Quatre was smart enough to know that pleading ignorance is often one's best defence, and that if you appear stupid you can remain blameless. In most situations, the king simply sighed at his son's lack of wits, sent him to bed without supper, then later changed his mind and had supper sent up. Such was the boy's life until he turned ten.
To avoid being suckered into any more of his brother's distraction pranks (the idea being that when said brother did something stupid, he could convince his younger brother to do something even worse to distract their parents) Quatre took to spending his time in the previously unoccupied music room, teaching himself to play the violin. For a long time, the screeching wail of the little used instrument drowned out any noise that could have filtered in. Finally, the element of raw skill that he possessed was refined and the violin produced sweet melodies instead of shrill shrieks. And with this introduction of proper music, the prince was able to hear a gruff voice trickle in from the next room.
"Thank God! If I had ears, they'd be bleeding! Get yourself a teacher, brat!"
Quatre blinked in confusion. The room next door was the abandoned cellar, which was abandoned because of a structural problem in the roof (or so he'd been told.) He walked over to the chink in the wall and called to the person inside.
"You shouldn't be in there! There's a problem with the roof, it could collapse on you!"
"What the hell are you talking about, brat? Who told you there was something wrong with the roof?"
"Who's your father?"
"That explains it. It figures he'd put me in a room with a bad roof, the bastard."
Quatre was very confused now. Why would his father put anyone in a room with a bad roof?
"Why are you in there?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know. Stealing a few sheep, knocking over a few houses, singing too loudly in the shower, it could be anything. Why don't you ask your father? Personally, I think it's blatant prejudice against dragons."
"Dragons? Are you a dragon?"
"Of course I am, brat! Didn't you know your father was keeping a dragon captive in the cellar?"
"Surely you've heard someone talking about me?"
"I thought I heard someone mention a dragon once, but he had a speech impediment. He meant to say tarragon."
"Tarragon? How stupid are you?"
"Very stupid. Everyone knows that."
"Oh…" The dragon didn't quite know how to respond to that. Of course, Quatre wasn't stupid, but his mother had told him he was once and who was he to contradict the woman who nearly died giving birth to him?
"So you're a dragon," the prince piped up, "Why did my father have to lock you up?"
"Oh, I did lots of terrible things. I don't have a heart, you see."
Now that idea was utterly preposterous to Quatre. One of the stories that mad Bella had drummed into his head with the most ardent zeal was a story about a soldier who travelled around the country with Saint Peter. There was a moment in the story in which the pair had a lamb to roast over a spit. Saint Peter told the soldier he could eat as much as he wanted, but he was to leave the heart for the Saint. Of course, the soldier ate the heart as soon as the Saint's back was turned, and when Peter returned he could not find a heart. When he asked the soldier about the heart, the soldier responded by saying that the lamb had no heart. Saint Peter knew the soldier had lied, for no creature is born without a heart. They parted ways, and sooner or later the soldier found himself in trouble. Saint Peter turned up to lend a hand, but first the soldier had to admit that he had lied. So you see, the idea that a creature had no heart was impossible for the prince to comprehend, no matter how naïve he was.
"What happened to your heart?" he asked curiously.
"Never you mind, brat! The point is that I'm stuck in here because my bloody heart's gone!"
"That's terrible," Quatre sympathised, "Can't you get it back?"
"How can I get it back when I'm locked up here? How stupid are you?"
"Very stupid. I told you earlier, remember?"
"Oh, yes." A plan began to form in the dragon's mind. He could use the boy's stupidity to his benefit. His voice took on a badly-acted mournful tone. "Oh, if only I could get out of this cellar, I could find my heart and become a good dragon again."
"I'll let you out if you like."
The dragon blinked. He hadn't expected his plan to work that quickly.
"Oh, that would be wonderful!" he simpered.
"I'll just go ask my Dad for the keys."
"You can't tell your father you're letting me out!"
Time was ticking by, and the dragon felt little beads of sweat collect under his neck. He picked the most ridiculous, most unlikely excuse his brain could come up with.
"It's… a surprise!"
"A surprise? Oh, good. I like surprises."
The real surprise was that the prince actually believed the dragon's pathetic excuse. The dragon would have hopped up and down in an uncharacteristic display of glee if the ceiling hadn't been so low.
"Right. Well, go to your father's room and find the key to the cellar, then come down here and let me out. And make sure nobody sees you!"
"Okay!" The dragon heard the faint sounds of the prince's feet skipping away. His many teeth glinted in the darkness as a wide grin split his face.
The prince, as always, believed exactly what he had been told. He truly did think that if the dragon had the opportunity to go out there and find his heart that he would stop doing bad things. If mad Bella's stories had told him anything, it was that villains will redeem themselves if given the chance. He took the largest set of keys from his father's room and skipped back down to the cellar.
"Mr. Dragon?" he chirped at the door. "I have the keys. I'm opening the door."
The heavy keys made a clinking, rattling sound as the rusty lock opened. Quatre stood back as the dragon pushed his way through the door. The reptile stretched his long, slender neck, opened his wings and lifted himself into the air to fly away. The little prince watched and waved goodbye.
"Oh, dear God!"
The king suddenly appeared on the balcony beside his son, watching the dragon fly away. The prince tugged on his long purple robes and pointed.
"Look, Dad! The dragon's flying away!"
The king was paralysed with rage until the dragon's mighty tail lashed out and knocked down one of the castle towers. Then he picked up his son and ran into the main hall.
Three hours later, the king was consulting with his advisors over the best course of action to take regarding the dragon.
"We found these keys in the lock, your majesty," one of the guards said, holding up the huge keys, "Someone let the dragon out!"
"What?" the king blustered, as his advisors gasped in horror. "What kind of madman would release a heartless dragon?"
Quatre, who was seated at the back of the hall with his brothers, was feeling an impending sense of doom. He couldn't understand why everyone was so annoyed. So the dragon had knocked over a tower, surely it was an accident?
"Jeez, Dad's really mad," the oldest prince whispered to the second.
"Can you blame him? He had that thing locked up for ten whole years," the second son replied.
"What's going to happen now?" asked Quatre. He'd never been to a grand conference before.
"Oh, they'll find out who let the dragon out of the cellar, and then they'll cut his head off and burn his remains," replied his older brother casually.
Now, my dear, you and I know that would not be the case. Most likely if the king had found out that it was his youngest son that released the dragon he would have screamed and cursed and grounded the poor child, but forgiven him within less than a week. After all, children make mistakes and learn from them. And anyway, the oldest prince liked to scare his impressionable little brother. Quatre knew none of this, so he took the statement very seriously. He sat through the rest of the conference with his face a ghastly shade of white.
After much thought, Quatre decided to keep his part in the dragon's escape a secret. Not that he condoned lying, but he knew the value of keeping his mouth shut. There was a story from mad Bella's collection in which a princess was forced to stay utterly silent for three years, three months and three weeks to save her brothers from a lifetime spent in the form of ravens. She managed it, even when threatened with burning on the stake, and all Quatre had to do was keep certain details to himself. This is what he told himself, but the guilt and fear ate at him and turned him into a very nervous child.
Days became weeks, weeks became months, the little prince became more and more agitated as time went by. Try as he might, he could not shake the feeling that what he was doing was lying, and he abhorred lying. The search for the malevolent rogue who had let the dragon loose continued, and Quatre's brothers invented new and horrible punishments to scare their sibling with.
Finally, the strain was all too much for the prince. He wanted to confess, but he wanted to live as well. The only option open to him was to run away. He packed up a few clothes, left a short note explaining what he'd done on his pillow, and set out in the dead of night on an old cart horse.
His plan was badly thought out and poorly executed. He had no friends to stay with outside the palace; in fact he hadn't been out of the palace since his birth. The only person, of sorts, he knew on the outside was the heartless dragon. Somehow, he got it into his head that the dragon would take him in and he could keep his head. Being so naïve, he was oblivious to the myriad of dangers that he could encounter along his way. It may be the case that mad Bella's stories had an aspect of truth in them, for one would expect the prince to have been robbed, beaten, accosted and otherwise attacked if the tales of the world's highways and byways are to be believed. But virtue is a saving grace; any people that the prince encountered on his travels were downright charmed by the polite little traveller. And anyway, how much money could you expect to steal from a ten year old?
Time passed, until a year had gone by since the dragon's escape. Quatre's eleventh birthday came and went. The path he was taking was easy to trace; there were destroyed buildings and crushed trees and farmers screaming about missing sheep all the way through the country. He begged food from the local villagers and slept alongside his horse under the open sky.
Quatre was halfway through his second year on the road when he came across a terribly loud rustling in a clump of bushes. He climbed down off of his horse to investigate, and found an enormous bird tangled in the thorny branches. The bird was an eagle, and he had been stuck in that bush for a month. He was desperately starving, and most people know to stay away from a hungry wild beast. Not Quatre though. He was taught that a beast in peril needs help.
"Are you okay?" the prince asked, looking this way and that to see what the problem was.
"I'm trapped in these branches," the eagle rasped, "Help me please!"
Now, the eagle was starving and had been for quite some time, so it was no surprise that he was contemplating something rather dreadful. The prince was about the size of a healthy sheep, the eagle's favourite food, and he didn't look like he'd put up much of a fight. The eagle's stomach growled in anticipation as the prince pulled the branches away from his mighty wings.
"How did you get stuck like this?" the prince chirruped.
"A dragon flew by here; bloody sky hog knocked me to the ground."
"That's terrible. How long ago was that?"
"A month ago." The eagle readied his wings to pounce on the child. He was nearly free.
"He must not be far away then. Could you tell me where his house is?"
"What? What business do you have with a heartless dragon?"
"I was the one who set him free," the prince answered in a matter-of-fact manner, "I thought he could find his heart and become a good dragon again if he was free. My father wasn't happy about it though. They would have cut off my head if I'd stayed at home."
The eagle found himself feeling sorry for the prince, but he pushed it back. He was really hungry! But still, how could one good deed be responsible for driving someone's child away from home?
"You're really caught up here," the prince gasped as he stopped to catch his breath. He reached into his clothes bundle and took out a loaf of bread and some dried meat, which he held under the eagle's beak.
"The farmer's wife gave me this, but I'm not hungry. Do you want it?"
The eagle didn't answer, just dipped his neck and gulped down the food. His dangerous designs towards the boy disappeared with his hunger, and he felt naught but gratitude. Quatre managed to tear away the last of the branches. The eagle flopped out into the dirt in a satisfying manner, before struggling to his feet and stretching out his wings.
"You're free now, and I should get going. Goodbye!" the prince called as he clambered onto his old horse.
"Where are you going?" the eagle asked, just out of curiosity.
"I'm going to the dragon's house. He might let me stay with him, if he has his heart back."
"What? The dragon's house is thousands of miles away! Can't you stay with someone else?"
"I don't know anyone outside the palace, except for the dragon. Anyway, I'm halfway there."
The eagle was oddly touched by the prince's optimism, and by his willingness to help another at the possible cost of his life. After the warm feeling that filled his chest had dissipated it was filled with a sudden chill. The prince was a beautiful child, and would become more beautiful as he grew older. He travelled alone and trusted everyone immediately. The poor boy was practically a walking target for every thief, brigand, pirate or pervert walking the roads.
"Be careful!" the eagle called somewhat weakly after the retreating prince.
"I will!" Quatre yelled back. The eagle wasn't convinced. However, life must go on, and so the eagle flew into the sky for the first time in a month.