10 years ago...
Jarid winced as the door slammed behind him. He knew that his father, Simon, didn’t really want to hurt him, but in his drunken state, being kicked out of the house wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.
Jarid wished his father didn’t drink so much, but of course, he also understood why. It was barely six years since his mother Adalinda had died in a dragon attack, and the pain of losing not only her but the entire village where they used to live, weighed heavily on him.
Jarid knew that his father didn’t hate him, but the fact that he was their adopted son didn’t help Simon’s feelings towards him. Simon and Adalinda had taken him in after a strange old man washed ashore in a small rowboat and begged them to take in the baby boy he was carrying. The old man died soon after without revealing anything about where he'd come from or who his biological parents were.
Jarid didn’t remember the old man or anything else that had happened before living with his adopted parents, but it didn’t matter. He loved them both a lot and they loved him. They had lived in a house just outside the fishing village where the old man had washed ashore. Even though they were peasants and could barely afford the small stash of adventure books and journals they owned, it was a good life. Their clothes were nothing special and Adalinda always patched them up when they got torn. It was just poor luck that she had gone to market the night of the attack while Jarid stayed home with Simon to watch him work.
They had heard roars and screams, but by the time they got outside black dragons were already burning down the whole village. Simon tried to go rescue Adelina but by the time he got there nothing was left but ashes.
Not a single person had survived.
After that, they had moved near another nearby village and Simon became the village blacksmith there. During the day he buried himself in work and at night he often buried himself in drink. Jarid felt sad about what had happened too, but over the past 6 years the pain had lessoned into a dull ache in his heart. Seeing his father like this hurt him more than that old pain. Simon didn’t cry but Jarid sometimes cried for him. Hoping, wishing, that Simon would stop drinking and yelling at him every time he did something wrong.
Even so, he still hated being kicked out. Right now, he was too annoyed to feel bad for anyone. On nights like these he usually went to sleep in the shed behind their small house. The tools for his father’s forge were kept there. It wasn’t too comfortable, but it was better than sleeping out in the open. After all, his clothes were little more than rags held together by his mother’s old stitching. His father might have bought him new clothes if he’d asked for them, but even as torn as they were Jarid just couldn’t bring himself to get rid of them.
Jarid considered getting the shed as comfortable as possible for the night but it was much too early to go to sleep yet, and he had a feeling that there was somewhere he had to be. Like a tugging on his heart. With a shrug he decided to go look for wherever it was he was supposed to be. Nobody was there to stop him and he was pretty grown up after all.
It felt exciting to go an adventure at night. Even though he was only 8 he loved adventuring and knew the land around his home like the back of his hand. The small cabin where they lived was just inside the forest of Denbark.
The village where his father worked, and where Jarid went to school, was an hour’s ride north surrounded by grassy plains. To the west there lay a flat plain with a tree line just visible in the distance. He knew that beyond that lay the volcanic mountains. Finally, to the east and south lay the forest of Denbark with the dark, craggy peaks of the dread mountains looming behind it. That was also the direction he felt pulled towards.
Jarid had explored every inch of the forest within half a day’s walk and even found a secret hidden valley not too far away that he called dragon valley. He didn’t know why but even after they killed his mother and destroyed his village, he couldn’t be mad at them. He had always wondered if there was some reason they had to do it. Maybe some bad guys attacked them and hid in the village or maybe the dragons were being controlled like in one of the story books he’d read. The dragons didn’t know any better. They were just animals after all.
So, he named the hidden valley, Dragon Valley because within the wall of trees that encompassed it was a world where everything made sense and he knew all the answers. Where everybody was a good person, and he could make friends with even the most scary-looking monsters. To find the valley you had to follow a small river that ran through the forest. At one point it seemed to disappear into a dense patch of bushes but if you pushed your way through or swam in the river you’d come out into his magical world.
The river ran across the soft grassy floor of the valley and under a rock at the far end. The little valley was surrounded by trees and tall bushes so no one could find it unless they knew where to look and was big enough to fit Jarid’s whole house inside a few times over.
No one else knew about it and Jarid often played there making up stories where he was the hero that saved everyone. Usually with the help of magic a powerful monster or two that he’d tamed.
Finally, Jarid made up his mind.
“Okay. I’ll just go to dragon valley. If there’s an adventure out here. That’s where it’ll be,” He declared.
Normally the woods would be too dark to see, but tonight two full moons shone in the sky just above the tree line to the east. Their brilliance illuminating land in a wonderous white light. Two full moons didn’t happen very often and there was a big party to celebrate with lots of food and drinks, which might explain why dad had come home drunk so early.
The feeling of adventure and the tug on his heart grew as he neared the forest. The excitement of adventure pushed all thoughts of danger from his mind. The dark, shifting shadows of the leaves in the moonlight made the whole forest seem surreal and dangerous, but that only fueled Jarid’s adventurous spirit. He imagined being a sneaky spy slipping through the forest to spy an enemy camp. The cool night air smelled fresh and earthy as he dashed from tree to tree and scurried under bushes. Their soft leaves wiping dew from the rain that morning over his arms.
But as he got further into the forest, he started remembering all the stories he’d been told about monsters that come out at night. Wolves, goblins, giant cats, blood sucking bats and many other evil things that might just want a midnight snack. He started feeling less and less like a courageous adventurer and more like a foolish child who had wandered far too deep into a dangerous forest at night. Slowing down, Jarid started walking far more cautiously. Listening to every creak of the trees and rustle of the leaves. Every soft whistle of the wind and-
“CRASH! Snap! Thud!”
The sound, like all the branches in a tree snapping at once and ending with a heavy thud, echoed like a gunshot in the near perfect silence of the night.
With a yelp Jarid scrambled to get behind a tree as he franticly scanned the forest for whatever made the sound but saw nothing. His heart was pounding in his small chest and the rough bark of the tree scratched his fingers with how tight he was clutching it.
What was that? He thought. All the possibilities racing through his mind.
It had to be something big. Perhaps a bear or troll? It doesn’t really matter either way. I need to get home right now! I’m dead if that thing catches me!
But his legs felt like jelly and wouldn’t work properly. Jarid took a moment to breath and sto the shaking in his legs, but just as he decided to try taking a step, he heard a groan coming from the direction of the crash. Jarid froze one foot suspended in the cold night air. It didn’t sound like a warning or threat.
It sounded like an animal in pain.
Curious, Jarid carefully lowered his foot and looked around the tree. The sound was coming from a small clearing up ahead. It must have been whatever crashed in the forest just now. They had probably fallen off a cliff or something and got hurt when they landed in a tree.
Instinctively Jarid took a step forward to help the creature but stopped himself.
This is stupid Jarid! You don’t go TOWARDS the sound of a big monster, even if it is hurt. That’s how the stupid person in the story always dies. He berated himself.
He started to take a step back towards his house, but another pained wheeze stopped him. He could feel the tug on his heart pulling him in the direction of the sound, and eventually his curiosity and compassion overcame his caution. With a groan at his own stupidity he snuck through the trees and bushes until he came to the clearing. He peered through the bushes and on the far side of the clearing, he saw the creature.
It was a dragon!
A large black one. Just like the ones who destroyed his village and killed his mom. Still, for some reason he just couldn’t bring himself to hate this creature.
It was black as the night sky and bigger than a horse. It had wings coming out of its back that were longer than he was tall. The scales that covered most of its body shone like obsidian in the moonlight. Its tail was long and strait, there were soft ridges on its back from its tail to the back of its head. It had no horns, although it did have some kind of soft, round, ear-looking things that could have been mistaken for horns. Jarid hardly noticed its sharp teeth and claws. The later looking very similar to a cat’s.
Jarid stared in awe. It was beautiful.
He couldn’t think of any other word to describe the amazing beast before him. The dragon lay on its side curled around something and groaned with each breath. It was bleeding from more than a dozen big cuts that Jarid could see, and a dark pool of blood was forming around it.
Seeing its wounds Jarid couldn’t help but feel sorry for the dragon. He knew everybody in the village would laugh at him for it. Feeling sorry for a monster? And one that had killed his own mother? Ha! How stupid could he be?
Yet he couldn’t help it. When he saw a creature in pain it was like an instinct. Jarid crept closer to the edge of the clearing to get a better look, but froze as the dragon’s head snapped up, searching around the clearing.
“ʀ̥tæ ɛɛɪɪ nnɹɹɹɯ. Hd͡ʒʧɹɹɪɪ, tɹɹɹʧd͡ʒ ŋŋɹɹ!” The dragon growled fiercely, causing the hairs on the back of Jarid’s neck to stand on end.
The dragon slowly scanned the clearing, then it spotted him and paused. It cocked its head to the side for a moment as if puzzled or confused.
"ʀ̥o͡ʊ huən. Hʧɹɹɹɖ ŋŋɹɹ ɪɹɹ ɛɛi ɛ lʌŋ ɖɯəəəɪɖ ɔæ," it hissed softly. Then it gazed intently into Jarid’s eyes.
As Jarid stared back, he felt confused. In its eyes saw pain, fear and sadness, but he also saw intelligence, curiosity and hope. It felt strange to see those emotions in the eyes of a creature other than human, and slowly, the fear that had griped him faded.
The dragon seemed to be searching for something in his gaze, and after a few minutes it took a deep shuddering breath and relaxed. Resting its head on the ground. Jarid was about to cautiously creep forward when a voice suddenly spoke in Jared’s head causing him to jump in surprise.
“Hello small one. Don’t be alarmed, I won’t hurt you.”
The voice was gentle and slightly feminine. Jarid was shocked but didn’t run. In fact, he felt rooted in place as he tried to comprehend what had just happened. He had never heard of a dragon talking in someone’s head before. The dragon’s voice sounded trustworthy and it didn’t look like she wanted to hurt him. Besides, the dragon may have been big, but it was also wounded so Jarid decided that he could trust her. Enough to not eat him at least. He was about to speak when she interrupted him.
“I’m sorry small one but I’m afraid my time is almost up. There are others coming for me and my dragonet. It’s too late for me, but I need to make sure my baby is safe.”
The dragon uncurled her wings to revel an egg clutched in her talons.
“Will you please care for him until he is old enough to survive on his own? I know I am asking much of you small one when we have only just met, but I have no other choice.”
Jarid could not believe what was happening. This kind of thing only happened in fairy tales. He was momentarily overwhelmed by what it would mean for him to raise a dragon and honestly, he had no idea. It would be a lot of responsibility (he knew that much from the time he’d asked his father for a pet and got an hour long lecture on the subject), but he also knew the beginning of a real adventure when he saw one and there was no way he was going to pass up this opportunity.
“O-ok miss dragon.” He stammered, nodding nervously.
Then he slowly approached the dragon, trembling with excitement and fear. She was still big enough to make him nervous even if she seemed gentle and trustworthy. Leaving the bushes at the edge of the clearing made him feel very exposed as he approached her. He could hear her labored breathing and as he came right up to her, he felt her warm breath on his face as she continued to gaze at him. He hadn’t really noticed the color of her eyes before but they were probably the most beautiful shade of violet he had ever seen. He didn’t see even the slightest hint of malice or anger in them as he reach out for her precious egg.
The dragon allowed him to gently take the egg from her claws. It was warm, smooth, and surprisingly heavy, but Jarid found he could carry it without too much difficulty. The shell was black and sparkled like the night sky strewn with stars.
“You are my only hope now.” The dragon whispered. “I know he will be a great dragon one day. Be sure to care for him well. His name is Shadow.”
Then she looked up as if hearing something in the distance.
“They will be here soon. Go! Quickly! Keep him safe.”
Jarid could feel the fear and hope in her words as they entered his mind. Then, as he carried the egg to the edge of the clearing, he could feel her relief as well. He hid in some bushes at the edge of the clearing and soon after he heard feint wingbeats overhead. Peering through the bushes he saw three dragons the same color as the mother dragon descending. Jarid gasped.
They had been right overhead, and he had barely heard a thing!
The three dark dragons landed and began to circle her.
“Hdəəəŋŋ ʧɛɛɪɪɤd.” The first snapped at her.
"Hnnɒ huən ŋŋo͡ʊɔɔ jsssŋɖɪ sssʧ ɹɹɹɔɔk tʌɖnɛɛɲ ɖɒŋɛɖ. Hnnɹɹɹŋ ɬəəɤ dɹɹʧ jɛɛʧ wɹɹ lɒŋŋd͡ʒʧɹɹɖ." The second one snarled.
"Hɔæ jɛɛʧ ŋɬɖ ɹɹɹɪlo͡ʊd͡ʒ nnɒ lɛɛɲc sssɯdɤk." The last and largest one hissed menacingly.
Jarid thought they were clearly angry about something. The most monstrous one was almost as big as his house and the smallest was about the same size as the mother dragon.
Jarid was frozen with fear as he watched. Then he felt the dragon mother’s presence in his head again.
A warm calm washed over him, chasing the fear away. Jarid stared at her in wonder. She was sharing her courage with him, even though she must have been terrified herself.
As the other dragons continued growling, images, memories and feelings began appearing in Jarid’s mind. The dragon mother was somehow sending him her memories.
Memories from when she was a dragonet and how she was cared for by her mother. Memories of flying lessons and fire breathing lessons. Memories of dragons laughing and joking in the dragon language. Even as all this flashed through Jarid’s mind, the one thing overshadowing and encompassing all of it was her overwhelming love for Shadow.
It filled Jarid with determination to fulfill his promise to her and at the same time made him long for his own mother. Warm tears flowed freely down his face as he accepted her gift.
It would take Jarid months to sort out all the information she had given him in that moment but the first thing he noticed was that he could suddenly understand the dragons who were talking.
“I’ll ask you one more time. Where is your egg?” The biggest dragon growled.
“Does it really matter?” The smallest one asked.
“She will be dead soon, and the hatchling will die of starvation or be eaten by some forest predator. There is no way it could survive out here on its own and there is no smell of a dragon she could have handed it off to. Just a fox, some deer, and a human. All of which would ignore or destroy any dragon egg they came across.”
“True,” sighed the largest dragon. “But I would prefer to see a dead hatchling than to have it come back and cause us trouble later.”
“Well, I for one am not going to search this entire forest for some broken eggshells that may have ended up in a foxhole,” hissed the medium sized dragon.
“You can deal with this one. We’re going home,” the small dragon growled as he and the medium sized dragon leaped into the sky.
“Hmph. Lazy lard wings. I have to do everything myself nowadays.”
The large dragon sighed and stopped circling. “If only you had simply given up your egg, none of this would have happened.”
The dragon mother simply hissed at him in defiance. With another bored sigh the large dragon raised his claw to deliver the finishing blow.
Jarid couldn’t bear to watch anymore. It felt like he was watching his own mother die again. He pushed the egg deeper into the bush and ran in between the dragon mother and the large dragon. The large dragon, who Jarid now realised towered over him, looked down in surprise.
“What’s this? A puny human would stand in my way? Ha! How amusing. Run along now.”
He backhanded Jarid so quickly and casually that Jarid barely had time to bring his arms up to block. He flew back and slammed into the dragon mother’s side before falling to his knees.
His arms screamed in pain and his head felt fuzzy and bruised. He saw blood pouring down his face from a gash on his forehead. The blood joined the growing pool of the mother’s blood which was almost shin deep where he stood. His body told him to run but his heart thrust him forward as he tried to stagger back to protect the dragon mother.
“These humans truly are a stupid, pitiful race.” The big dragon huffed.
He leaned down and blew a small stream of flames at Jarid who threw up his arms to protect his face. The flames seared his arms, face, and chest. His clothes caught fire and he fell back into the pool of blood at the dragon’s feet with a small cry of agony. The blood extinguished the fire, but the pain stayed. It seemed to fill his entire world and he could see black spots swiming in his vision.
Just as the world began to fade. he heard a distant roar and saw the dragon mother use all her remaining strength to leap at the large dragon slicing his snout, leaving two deep cuts along the left side of his face from his eyebrow all the way to the tip of his nose. He roared in pain and sliced her throat. Then leaped into the night sky clutching his face as the world faded to black.
Jarid woke to a dull pain seemingly everywhere at once. He rolled over to get up, but a strange, heavy, and slimy liquid suddenly filled his mouth as he tried to breathe in. He lunged out of the pool of blood coughing, sputtering, and spitting to get the half-congealed blood out of his mouth. He wiped the blood out of his eyes and looked around.
The moons were just reaching their highest point. Slowly he remembered what had happened. He checked himself to see how bad he was hurt. His arms had burn scars, but the cuts had already nearly healed. His mouth tasted like copper and raw meat and his face felt funny. Almost like it was really bumpy and it hurt just like his arms.
Thankfully the flames were only able to burn a little bit deeper than the skin before the dragon mother’s blood put them out, but the heat had fused her blood into his arms, face and most of his upper body. Causing it to harden over top like a scab.
He looked around spotting the dragon mother, her body limp and slightly pale in the moonlight. Now he had lost another person he cared about. Even if they had only known each other for a short time, he felt as though she had been a second mother to him. And now that little dragon had lost its mother just like he had. It wasn’t fair.
Jarid could feel the sadness and anger building up inside him until it couldn’t be contained any longer. He cried, yelled, and roared his anger and sadness into the night sky. Tears streaming down his face until he collapsed, exhausted, to the soft dirt and grass of the clearing.
It must have been hours until a cry from just outside the clearing woke him once more. The blood had dried and flaked off him as he moved to the side of the clearing to see what was making the noise. He peered into the bushes to find that the egg had hatched and there was a little black dragonet curled up inside crying. Even though both full moons were still shining brightly overhead it was dark inside the trees. Dark enough, hopefully, for then to remain unnoticed for a while.
Jarid gently scooped up the baby dragon and sat down with his back to a tree petting it slowly and gently. He was still sore from his burns, but the pain was now a dull ache. Far more concerning to him was the tiny, fragile, and helplessly crying baby dragon in his arms.
You’re just like me now. Jarid thought to himself smiling sadly. An orphan who doesn’t know where he came from. With a mother who was killed by evil dragons.
He now knew for certain that there were bad dragons. Just like there were bad humans. Now it all made sense. The ones who burned down his old village must have been bad dragons. Maybe the three he’d seen tonight had helped do it. If so, he felt some small amount of satisfaction for the cut on the big dragon’s face.
But that also meant there were good dragons too.
The baby dragon calmed down and began gurgling and cooing while he pet it. Then it curled up and snuggled into his chest before falling asleep in his arms. Jarid began rocking it back and forth while running his hands over its soft, smooth scales.
“Don’t worry little guy. We’re goanna be alright. I’m goanna take good care of you,” Jarid whispered soothingly. Then, he turned to the dragon mother’s limp form. “I will keep your dragonet safe. I promise.”
Then Jarid got up and carried the little dragon to his secret valley.
“Well, this truly is Dragon Valley now,” He chuckled sadly to himself as he entered the valley. He found a bush along the side of the clearing and tucked the little dragon into it. Hoping it would sleep there until Jarid got back.
Jarid rushed home. He took a quick dip in the stream to wash all the remaining blood off and checked on his father. Simon was still passed out on his bed and probably wouldn’t wake no matter how loud he was. He then quickly grabbed some straw from the donkey’s stable, packed up the leftovers from dinner and hurried back to the forest.
When he got back, he was relieved to see that the little dragon was still asleep. As he sat down next to the baby dragon, the smell of food caused it to stir. The little dragon opened its eyes with a mew of curiosity. Jarid noticed that its eyes were dark red, the color of blood, but full of curiosity and innocence. Then its eyes lit up at the sight of the leftovers Jarid had brought and quickly dug in. Jarid wasn’t sure what kinds of things dragons ate but the memories of the dragon mother told him that they were omnivores. They could eat the same things as humans but usually had a lot more meat in their diet.
After the little dragon had eaten its fill, it stumbled over to Jarid, curled up on his lap and went straight back to sleep.
“Don’t worry little guy. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. We are family now little brother.” Jarid chuckled to himself as he pet the baby dragon’s soft scales. “Heh. Yeah. That’s what you are, I guess. My little, dragon brother. Shadow.”