Chapter 1

The cub didn't seem to be alive at a first glance; there was quite a lot of blood. Krim carefully extended a talon to nudge the small figure. It didn't move. It saddened him to see it dead. Krim was not very familiar with the race of humans, since he tended to keep to the eastern part of the mountains, but he knew enough to be certain this was not a very old one. He had seen its kind several times when he flew over the rivers roaring down the mountainsides in spring. They had built themselves rather funny-looking shells of wood, in which they travelled the thunderous waters of the mountain rivers. Since the cub was lying on the shore of the river, some short distance away from the worst part of it, he could only assume he had been travelling the river in a shell, and the shell had broken. It did not surprise the dragon. The very notion of travelling down the river in so small a craft seemed to him nothing short of idiotic, especially since the humans themselves were so small. He could not say he was particularly fond of the two-legged noisy creatures, but neither did it give him any joy to see a creature dead, no matter what kind. Especially such a young one. He sighed.

The faint rumble of a small rock scattering down the shore into the dark water made the large dragon turn back. A small hand made a grasping motion at the hard rock shore. Lowering a head as large as the cub's body, he eyed the lump suspiciously. The blood seemed to come from the head, and ever so carefully, he turned the small cub onto its back. The body washed clean by the water, the surprisingly small cut showed, just above its eyes. Krim wondered if the movement perhaps had only been one of these after-death twitches he sometimes noticed in his kills. Once again extending the talon, he poked the cub in the chest carefully, as if he was afraid it might awake and attack him. Of course that was not the case, but he was not dumber than that he realised one had to be careful with such a fragile creature.

The poking seemed to have an effect, as the cub made the sound of a hatchling that had drunk his water too quickly. Krim poked again. Through some miracle, he happened to be poking exactly on the breast bone, and with the exact amount of force needed to help the cub get the water out. What he did would much later be called CPR, but at the moment, Krim only knew that the poking seemed to revive the cub. Suddenly coughing so hard the little body shook, a gush of water poured from its mouth. Startled, Krim sat back on his haunches, warily waiting for the cub to stop. It did, eventually, but then instead started making a low wailing noise, reminding him of a cat he had once seen stuck with its foot under a rock. It was a noise of something in pain. Tilting his head worriedly, he bent closer again, then stopped for a moment. Why would he be worried? It was just a strange cub of the humans, not really his problem. But then again, what else did he have to do? Perhaps this cub could become a project of his, just as the wounded wolf he had found once. Krim didn't know precisely why, but for some reason it pained him to see something hurt without helping, either by giving it a quick death or taking it to his cave to rest and perhaps regain its health. If nothing else, it gave him something interesting to do all day.

The dragons did not usually eat the humans unless there was no other choice, just as they didn't eat the other carnivores co-existing with them in the mountains. There was no point in killing the cub. It might even live, if that wound in the forehead was its most serious injury. Krim decided to bring the cub to his cave. If nothing else, he could at least get a closer look at a human cub, something he had never managed before. With infinite care, he collected the bundle of wet textiles and cub into one forepaw, where the cub was able to rest comfortably in all its length. Unfolding a large pair of bright orange wings, he leapt of the ground and started the flight back to the cave.

While in some countries, the dragons intermingled with the humans, fighting in their armies or trading with their merchants, the relationship in the large mountains of what would later become Schweiz was more distant. Both parties accepted each others' presence, but seldom developed any closer bonds. At least not in these parts, even by most dragon communities considered rather desolate. The nearest cave group was a few days worth of flying west. Krim rarely visited except for the summer meetings.

He knew of some dragons which traded with the humans in the north, exchanging glistening pieces of stone for some piece of shiny jewellery, but the thought had never occurred to him. He did not much like the thought of outfitting himself with anything which might draw more attention than necessary to his strange colouring.

As he had done thousands of times, he looked down at himself, scowling, and wondered why on earth he had been made orange. It was a bright, shining sort of orange, not the brownish kind which might be useful for hiding in the plain grasses when hunting, had he been of a smaller breed. In fact, he had never seen anything quite as orange as himself anywhere near his home. All the other dragons he had met in the area had a colouring in tone with the mountains they lived in, dark grey spotted with black spots along its sides, pale gray to match the colour of the sky or even pale blue for the rare sunny days. He did see the pattern, and the only conclusion he had been able to draw was that he came from somewhere very orange. He recalled his mother telling him that he had not hatched from her egg, but from an egg she had found lying on the large plains to the south. Since she had brought his egg with her, he could only assume that he had gotten his strange inclination to help all things helpless from her.

To be truthful though, he did not know what else to do with his long days. There was not much socializing going on between the other dragons close by, only the occasional greeting when they happened to cross paths. The only other dragon with whom he had enjoyed an occasional conversation had been killed in a avalanche last winter. It had made the season even more dull and gray than it usually was.

He had entertained himself by collecting a large heap of the glittering stone and arranged it in a nice pattern in the back of his cave, but that had taken him no more than a week or two. He had then found the wolf, which was by far a more interesting project, and lasted for another three weeks. It was really too bad that the wolf couldn't talk. Krim knew two languages, one he had learnt in the egg at the supposedly orange place, and one which was commonly spoken by the dragons in the mountains. He had never met anyone who spoke the first. The wolf didn't speak either of them.

Krim had a lot of time to think about things, this being his fourth spring alone since he found his cave. Sometimes he thought about moving to another cave farther north, or travelling north of the plains, but something always came in between.

When the mood struck him, he often thought about different animals, even the ones so small he hadn't seen one clearly since he himself was a hatchling. He had never heard an animal speak. Did they all speak their own language? The wolf spoke wolf, and the goats spoke goat? Or did all of them have a language which only the dragons couldn't understand? And talking about not understanding, why did the sun spin as it did? During summer it was high up the sky, during winter much farther down, even midday. Was it winter because the sun was lower, or was the sun lower because it was winter? Krim shook his head as he flew. He didn't know why he thought about such things, and he knew for sure he would never get a satisfying answer to his questions from any of the dragons at the summer meetings.

He flew in a wide arc and aimed for the outcrop outside his cave, the perfect landing place. That was another reason he was less inclined to leave. Where could he possibly hope to find a cave more perfect than this? Very carefully, he put the cub down in the front part of the cave so that it may get some sunlight. When he was tired and drowsy, he always enjoyed the warm sun. There was something strange, unusual about the cub, although he couldn't quite put his talon on it. He inspected the cub critically. He had seldom seen a human so close and couldn't say for sure that there was anything off about the small face. It was dressed in close fitting textiles with leather covering its hind paws, but not the front.

The dark hair didn't any longer lie slicked to its head; the flight had dried it and caused it to stand almost straight up from the scalp in small curls. The hair! Krim made a satisfied rumble. Of course it was the hair. He had never seen a human with quite so dark hair as this cub. When he thought about it he noticed that the tone of its skin too was perhaps darker than he was used to seeing. He grew slightly worried. Had someone left it in the sun for too long? Perhaps it shouldn't be lying in the sunlight. But it did seem to need the warmth. He considered the problem for a moment, then laid down beside the cub, coiling himself about it so that it might be warm, but not in the sun.

"No... Mama! Help! Help..." the little voice trailed off, and it was sleeping again. Krim stared down at the cub in amazement. It spoke his language. His orange language.

"Sleep now", he said, unnecessarily, his pronunciation a little off after so long time of only speaking the common dragon tongue. The cub curled up into a ball, just as Krim curled about him. Krim slowly lowered his head to rest on his forepaws, angling it slightly so that he may keep it under supervision. If the cub could speak the language, small as it was, perhaps this would turn out to be his most interesting project so far.