This is the third time I have met the Killer and survived.
The first time was in the forest, just after I was brought down by the weighted ropes. I was tied up, injured, and helpless when he found me. We made eye contact. I knew he was afraid, but determined. In my mind, I named him the Killer at that moment. He raised his sharp steel, and I was powerless to stop him. I closed my eyes and waited for the blow. But it never fell. Instead of striking me down with his sharp steel, he used it to free me. I did not understand why he did that. Every dragon knows that a Viking will always, always go for the kill.
I moved fast, before he could change his mind. I pinned him to a rock and let him feel my rage. I sensed his terror; he was not in the power of some weak forest creature. I am a dragon. I am a dragon! I reared up, undecided whether to flame him or bite him. Instead, I roared out my anger at him, then left him by the rock. I did not understand why I did that.
The second time was in the grotto. I was tired from trying to fly with an injured tail, sore from repeated crash landings, frustrated from being trapped, and hungry. Catching fish from the shore is much harder than snaring them from the air. I heard a twig drop, looked, and there was the Killer, sitting on a rock. He was in easy flaming distance. But we made eye contact again, and I felt no more anger or fear from him, only curiosity. I looked back at him, wondering what he might be thinking, unable to guess. What do Killers think about when they are not killing?
The third time began when I heard a noise from the rocks. Had the Killer returned with more humans to finish me off, now that he knew I was trapped? I hid behind a large rock and waited. I heard only one set of footsteps, so I cautiously looked. It was the Killer; he was alone and unarmed, carrying nothing but a fish. I felt little fear now. I showed myself and stood in front of him.
He offered me the fish. Killers don't feed dragons; they kill dragons. Sure enough, he wore his sharp steel at his waist. I warned him about it. To my surprise, he dropped it and kicked it into the water. He was now as helpless, as totally in my power, as he had been when I pinned him in the forest, but this time he had willingly chosen it. Curiosity and hunger were overpowering my fear and rage.
Again, he offered me the fish. I slowly approached him, then siezed the fish and swallowed it before he could change his mind. It was a good fish, and my hunger made it delicious. The Killer did not run, and he did not strike at me. I did not understand this at all. Well, he had done me a kindness; I would do him one in return. I offered him half of the fish.
He seemed reluctant to take it. Perhaps he wasn't hungry. I encouraged him to take a bite, out of politeness, and he finally did so. Then he wouldn't swallow it. This Killer knew nothing of good manners. I showed him what he should do, and he swallowed at last. Then he made a strange face at me, something like baring the teeth without showing their points. Was this a "thank you" of some kind? I copied him; it was difficult.
His next move startled me. He reached out to touch me! We seemed to have a truce, this Killer and I, but I could never let him touch me. I flew to the other side of the water, flamed the ground to kill any biting creatures, and lay down to rest. For a few seconds, I was distracted by a small bird overhead. It was tiny and helpless, but it could fly and I couldn't. I watched it fly away and wondered if I would ever fly again.
When I looked down, the Killer was sitting near me. Would he give me no peace? I covered my face with the ruins of my tail and tried to rest. A few seconds later, I thought I sensed motion, so I looked, and he was trying to touch me again. I stalked away in disgust. We played out this scene several times before the sun went down, and he finally accepted the fact that he must not touch me.
Still, he had not tried to harm me. As I made myself comfortable for the night, I changed his name. He was not the Killer. He was now the Nuisance.
When the sun came up, he was still there. Yes, he was a Nuisance, all right. He was sitting on a rock, pushing a stick into the ground. He was very focused on it. What could be so special about a stick? I sat next to him and tried to find out.
After a few seconds, I understood – it wasn't the stick that was special, but the marks he was making in the ground with it. They formed a shape of some kind. It seemed familiar, but I knew I had never seen that exact shape before.
Another idea came to me. I could make marks in the ground with a stick, too! I found a small tree, broke it off, and began making my marks. It was like the game young dragons play by dragging their tails on the ground. Surely this Nuisance would know the rules to such a simple game! He stopped making his marks and watched as I made mine. Then he stood up and took a step.
I was beginning to doubt the other dragons' claims that Vikings are intelligent like us. I had to warn him three times not to step on the line. Then he understood, and began playing the game. His style was so different than a dragon's style; he did a lot more turning and spinning than a dragon would do. It was interesting to watch him play, working his way around the pattern until he reached where I was sitting. He was so intent on it, he nearly backed into me. I tried to tell him, "Not bad for a first try," but of course he could not understand me.
Then he reached for me again! Again I warned him off. This time, he just would not take the hint. He turned his face away, but stretched out his hand toward me.
He wasn't even looking at me. Biting his hand off would have been easy. Other dragons had done it to other Killers. I might save another dragon's life if I did it.
But what would it feel like, to touch a Viking? No other dragon had ever done it before. Was his skin cold and slimy, or hard and firm?
What was so important about him touching me?
Why, suddenly, was it so important for me to know?
I leaned forward, hesitated for a moment, then closed my eyes and bent down until my nose touched his hand. His skin was warm and soft, and slightly moist. Not hard and dry like good dragon scales. But somehow there was more to this touching than a mere contact between mortal enemies. We had both left ourselves vulnerable and open, and neither of us had taken advantage.
Dragon society is hard. The strong survive; the weak are bullied until they leave or die. Only the mating flights and the rearing of the young result in any kind of truce between us, and I had never known those delights. A moment like the moment I shared with the Killer, the Nuisance, would have been unthinkable between dragons. Yet I suddenly knew I needed many more moments like this. Those few seconds of contact had altered the core of who I was.
I changed his name again, to a word that dragons rarely use. He was not the Killer or the Nuisance. He was now the Friend.