Edward and the Dragon
Summary: The reward? One hundred pieces of gold and the hand of the King's daughter in marriage. The quest? Slay the dragon and bring the Princess home. Edward stared at the drawing of the dragon on the posting, then turned away. Dragons, he knew, were far more beautiful.
Disclaimer: Neither Twilight nor the Grimm Brothers tales belong to me - I'm just twisting them into something a little different. Originally written for the "Twisted Twilight Tales" O/S Contest.
One hundred pieces of gold.
Edward stared at the piece of parchment tacked to the post in the center of the town square, the ink slightly worn and smeared from the many hands that had touched the almost unimaginable sum. He read the posting again.
Hear ye, all men of valor and strength.
Knights and hunters alike, the King offers the sum of
one hundred pieces of gold,
permanent residence in the King's Court,
and the hand of his daughter
to whoever may slay the dragon and rescue her.
The etching below was almost laughable, a creature that looked like an oversized version of the lizards that sunned themselves beside the river at noon, but with the wings of a sparrow, the teeth of a bear, and a jet of fire issuing from its mouth.
Dragons didn't look like that, Edward knew. Dragons were far more beautiful.
It was the summer of his eighth year when Edward first met the dragon. His mother and father lived on the outskirts of the village then, nestled at the edge of the forest, and his father, a revered huntsman, kept them well-fed and secure. Their home was small, but a place of warmth and love that his mother tended to with care.
Edward would not realize how rare that security and love was until the next year, when it was gone.
But that summer, things were as they had always been, as he had always known them. Their village was quiet and small, and the most excitement since the spring thaw was the arrival of a stranger just as the first blooms of summer appeared. The man bore the seal of the King, and had tacked up a notice in the village square on his arrival, forbidding hunting and exploration in a certain portion of the forest.
As he lay in bed, Edward heard his mother and father discussing the stranger, how fine his garments were and how he stayed in an old hunting lodge that had been nearly abandoned far into the forest, rather than at the keep that housed the lord who ruled their village. The tavern gossip had been that the man was sent by the King to look for a rare bird said to nest in the forest outside the village. But no one had ever seen the oddly plumed creature the man described. Edward's father was little concerned at the ban, for it was not the prime hunting grounds he frequented, but he warned Edward to stay away from that section of the forest.
Such a warning was a necessity, as Edward loved to wander the forest and by his eighth birthday had learned from his father how to navigate among the tall trees and lush foliage that carpeted the woods surrounding their home. He'd all but forgotten the decree until one afternoon, weeks later, when walking deep in the forest he noticed a small plume of smoke rising above the treetops and realized that he must be near the royal hunting lodge where the man stayed. He turned quickly, knowing his father would be angry at him if he were caught where he'd been told not to go. Veering off the path, he heard rustling in the bushes behind him.
After a few moments frantic run, dodging and weaving his small body among the foliage that screened him, he burst into a clearing. He stopped still, for it was like nothing he had ever seen. The trees circled the space, filled with tall grass and the bluebells that his village was known for, as though protecting such a beautiful area. He stepped forward into the stalks nearly waist high, his fingers catching on the green bits that waved in the wind, and laughed with delight until he noticed across the opening a swaying of the grass that moved deliberately closer towards him.
And then Edward saw the dragon.
It was small, barely larger than the pup his father had brought home for him the past winter, and it gamboled about the clearing much like the dog when it wished to play. Edward found himself transfixed by the creature that was unlike anything he'd ever seen. Lithe, its delicate neck rose gracefully above a compact body covered in scales that seemed to glow like a thousand jewels. Once, when his father had taken him to the Capitol to sell a stock of furs, Edward had seen a strange bird in the market with feathers of deep blues and greens and purples that his father had called a peacock. He'd never forgotten those vivid hues, but the dragon before him put even those shades to shame as it glistened in the sunlight. Its wings were small, tucked along its back and only fluttering open now and again as it stretched itself in the warmth of the meadow.
Perhaps if he'd been older, he'd have known to be afraid. But the dragons he'd been told about were always painted as massive creatures, enormous, deadly, and frightening. Not a small, funny, beautiful thing that caught his eye, its mouth edging up in something that resembled a smile as it watched him frozen at the edge of the clearing. With a flick of its tail, it cocked its head and raced away, glancing over its shoulder as though in invitation to play, before turning and waiting.
He stepped forward into the clearing, just a step, and the creature cocked its head again, eyes bright and tail whipping from side to side as it watched him. He took another, and it threw back its head, bouncing to its feet and scampering in a circle of excitement before trotting towards him. And before he knew it, he was laughing and playing with the tiny dragon, racing it about the field, chuckling at its attempts to balance on its two back legs, then collapsing beside it as the sun began to dip low. The dragon sat and looked at him with large honey brown eyes tinged at the edges with gold, so alive and alert he almost felt as though it could read his mind.
That day marked the first of many that summer when he would slip off through the woods, feet quiet on paths few knew of as he hurried towards the clearing. There were days when he'd emerge to find it empty, with only the sounds of the forest breaking the silence. On others, he'd find the dragon waiting, perched at the edge of the clearing as though biding its time until he arrived and greeting him with a soft chirping noise that seemed too soft and quiet for such a creature.
He told no one of the dragon that summer, not even his mother or father. Dragons had not been seen in the kingdom for many years, but stories of them were the stuff used to strike fear into the hearts of wayward children. He'd heard the tales of how the dragons would come, breathing fire as they swooped overhead of a village, snatching up those unlucky enough to be in their path in fearsome claws to carry back to dank lairs and devour.
But the small thing he played with in the meadow seemed so harmless and so lonely, so unlike the stories. Despite the small wings it would flutter from time to time creating a soft breeze, the little dragon was unable to fly, although Edward had concocted the less than brilliant solution of trying to teach it to do so and spent many afternoons flapping his arms and racing the dragon through the grass. And there were no flames from the dragon's mouth, only teeth that were less frightening than those found in any hound in the village.
Edward knew what would happen if he told someone. They would hunt the small creature and kill it, regardless of how defenseless and beautiful it was. He couldn't bear the thought, for that summer, the small dragon had become his friend.
When fall came that year, things began to change in the village. The man who'd come from the King's Court to unsuccessfully hunt for the mysterious bird took down the edict forbidding the villagers from roaming in that certain portion of the forest. Departing the hunting camp deep within the woods shortly after the first frost, his large coach trundled away with all of the paraphernalia he'd brought with him. Shortly thereafter, the old lord, who'd ruled the village with benign neglect for all of Edward's life, died in his sleep, leaving the keep empty as the old lord's son, Sir Carlisle, remained away in the service of the King's Guard.
And worst of all, that fall was when the hordes to the west began the Great Uprising, and his father, despite his previous years of service and age, was called upon again to fight for the King. The image of his father, tall and strong, his bow strapped to his back and his sword sheathed at his side as he pulled his weeping mother in for a kiss was forever burned into his memory, just as were the words he'd whispered to Edward when he'd pulled him in for one final embrace. "Care for your mother, son, until I return. You are my brave, strong boy."
Edward tried to heed those words throughout that endless winter. The snows piled high and the wind swept cold around the small house, but Edward diligently carried the small bow his father had made for him and hunted for what little game still roamed the forest. From time to time he'd gone back to the clearing, now desolate and dead without the tall grasses that filled it in the summer, but there was never a sign of the dragon.
As the first signs of spring emerged and the warming rays of the sun grew longer, thawing the banks of snow and flooding the rivers with torrents of water, a lightness settled over the village. News came of success at the front of the far away war that hardly seemed real, but for the men absent from home. Edward knew that for his mother, however, even the blossoming of the first green shoots in her garden could not lift her spirits. She moved about the house as if in a dream, starting each time someone came to the door to buy cheese or milk, and spending long hours each evening staring into the firelight as she rocked by the fire. Edward knew that she longed for the return of his father, as did he.
Then one day, there was a knock on the door that his mother did not rush to answer.
From the window, he could see the lone horse that bore the insignia of Sir Carlisle, and even for a boy so young, he understood. Leaving his mother weeping in her chair, he silently answered the door to find the lord standing before him, his father's sword and bow in his hands.
The loss of his father settled over their house that had once seemed so snug and warm tucked away beside the forest. Edward spent days roaming the woods, longing to feel his father's firm hand on his shoulder as he showed him how to find the tracks of game, or why the leaves of the tree turned just so into the sunlight. His mother grew quieter and more withdrawn, the light that had always been in her eyes slowly slipping away. It was with a heavy heart, but little surprise, that Edward went to wake his mother one morning and found her stiff and cold to his touch. The village physician simply shook his head and said that she'd died of a broken heart.
With no other family in the village, he'd been unsure where he would go or what he would do, until Sir Carlisle had knocked on the door of the small house after his mother's burial and directed Edward to pack his belongings and come with him.
Life at the keep had been an excellent distraction for a boy with a grieving heart. Sir Carlisle was a kind man, who seemed to understand that Edward needed something to occupy his time. So his training as a squire began, despite his humble roots. His father, for all his skills, had not been a knight, and Edward knew that the lord was supposed to take the son of another knight as his squire, rather than some orphan boy. So he threw himself into his work wholeheartedly, determined that Sir Carlisle's armor would shine, and that he would never regret his decision to take him in.
As the years passed, Edward's life developed a sameness. Carlisle insisted that he be educated along with some of the other village children whose families had the means to employ a tutor, and he soon shared a fondness for the written word with Carlisle. As he grew taller and stronger, Carlisle began to show him how to handle his father's sword and shield. He had his daily tasks and duties that he carried out with an eye to perfection, hoping to never displease the benefactor who had become almost a father to him.
But life in the keep was lonely. Carlisle had neither a wife nor a family, and apart from the few long-standing servants who remained from the old lord's rule, kept little staff. Edward wondered if he missed the hustle and bustle of the life at the Court, where he'd had such a prominent position as a member of the King's Guard, and if he would return there one day, leaving their small village where there was little of interest.
Except for the dragon.
In the spring after his mother's death, when Carlisle first took him in, the woods became a refuge. Fearing that Carlisle would think him ungrateful, he held back the sorrows that welled within until he could run deep into the forest. There he let the sobs take him, mourning for the mother who would never again smooth back his unruly hair and the father who would never toss him high in his arms as though he weighed nothing.
The clearing where he'd met the dragon became his favorite place of solace. Remote and deep within the forest, he never encountered other hunters near it, for he knew then that it was well within the grounds of the King's little used hunting lodge, and thus forbidden to those without royal permission. As the flowers that ringed the clearing began to unfurl, and the green stalks of grass that filled the little meadow grew, he waited for the small dragon to reappear. Dragons hated cold, but he hoped that the warmth of the spring sun might coax the little creature to return.
But it wasn't until summer began, when the sun was bright and high in the sky for long hours and a new King's man came to look for the elusive bird, trundling into the village in an even larger carriage to continue the search, that Edward saw the dragon again.
His studies and work for Sir Carlisle kept his days busier. But from time to time he still slipped away to sit in the comfort of the meadow, and one day he was delighted to emerge from the forest and see it lying in the center of the field, lolling in the warmth of the sun. At the rustle of the grass, the dragon's head popped up, graceful and long, and he was surprised to find that it was bigger. Still not as large as many of the dogs in the village, but its limbs were longer now, and when it unfurled its wings and flapped them, the breeze was stronger.
But the little dragon was as beautiful and playful as ever, its scales shimmering in the sunlight as it romped towards him, caramel eyes blinking as it cocked its head to the side, almost as if to ask if he remembered. He touched the dragon, placing one hand on its graceful neck in greeting as he grinned and then began to run, calling over his shoulder for the dragon to chase him.
In the next few years that followed, as his body grew taller and his limbs became gangly with the awkwardness of adolescence, he relished the days each summer when he could slip away to the meadow. The thought of reporting the dragon, now as large as a small pony with wings that could create a powerful wind when it unfurled them, was something he could not bear to do. He listened in the village for reports of the horrors that dragons had brought in the past, stolen sheep or missing children, but no one else ever reported seeing the beautiful creature.
And neither did he. Although he'd spent most of his life hunting things found plentifully in the forest that were needed for food and warmth, the beautiful dragon, rare and unique and surprisingly defenseless, seemed worthy of protection.
But the summer that Edward was nearly as tall as Sir Carlisle, and strong enough to lift full sacks of meal on his own, the dragon did not return. He wandered the meadow and surrounding area, returning day after day when he had a moment free, but it appeared as though the dragon were gone for good. He even went so far as to check the barns around the King's hunting lodge, now that the search for the elusive bird had been abandoned and no King's men returned to the village for the summer. But he found no trace.
After that summer, he occasionally thought that perhaps he'd merely dreamed the dragon. For no one else to have seen something so unique seemed impossible.
He listened to the conversations in winter for even a hint or a whisper of the creature as he sat by the fire in the tavern, slowly sipping a pint in an attempt to find some place where he could fit, suspended as he was between the keep and the village, not truly a part of one or the other. Blood chilling stories were told of past hunts, of the few battles one or two of the older men recalled from the days before the current King, when the hordes to the south seemed to be constantly uprising. Surely among such talk of oddities and adventures an encounter with a dragon, no matter how small, would warrant a mention. But no one ever breathed a word of the creature that Edward had played with in the meadow on long summer days.