Living thousands of miles away from any human being, except an old curmudgeon of a wizard, was not by accident.
So, when the squawks of a human infant reached my ears, I thought I was having a nightmare. They echoed through my cave like a bad melody.
I thought perhaps the wizard was to blame, but his tower remained a silent sentry over the land.
What I found confused me. A female baby, only a pink rosebud in the damp deadfall of the forest, waved her fists at the sky and screamed until she was red in the face.
I tested the air with my flame. I could not sense any strangers, and the wizard would not do this to a helpless. He was endlessly bringing in the hurting. Had he not heard her cries?
Perhaps she was cold. I piled ferns gently around her.
She continued to scream.
She rejected the ferns with a few swift kicks of her tiny feet.
I breathed some warm air at her, careful to be gentle with my molten heat. She screamed harder.
My ears rung with the failure.
Did the light hurt her eyes? Instinct told me an infant dragon would despise the light, perhaps a human would too.
I used the tip of my tail to pick her up. I took her to my cave.
The dark of my cave didn’t help.
She cried more.
Humans needed water to survive, didn’t they? Perhaps she needed water.
I leapt from my echoing cave and down to a nearby lake. I scooped some water into the hollow of my front paw. When I returned to the cave, I was sure the child’s voice sounded raspy. She needed water.
I poured the water over her face and reveled in three seconds of blissful silence. She screwed up her mouth, eyes, and nose.
When the water ran out, she opened her eyes. A deep sapphire gaze sparkled at me.
Then she glared at me and resumed screaming.
My talons gouged the cave floor. Tracing the line of my jaw with a now jagged talon, I considered what else she might need. I snapped my fingers.
Hunger, she was probably hungry.
I darted from the cave and cast about for something a human might find palatable. I had seen villagers a few mountains away that enjoyed mutton.
Seeing that they ate the beasts anyway years before, I thought they wouldn’t mind if I tested one or two dozen. Turns out humans are possessive of their food sources.
Instead of making the flight to the domestic sheep herds, I scoured the mountainside for a bighorn. When I found one I grabbed it, and shook it until it died, to put it out of its suffering you see.
When I returned to the cave, the child had quieted to whimpers. It was not a relief. Her screaming told me she had life in her, but now I worried she was weakening.
I plopped the sheep carcass beside her. The stench of the unkempt animal must have been offensive to her small nose because it crinkled, and she gagged.
How foolish of me. Humans always cooked their sheep before they ate them. I grabbed the sheep and turned my back on the child. It took only a small spit of fire to singe the hair and cook the muscle. I cracked open the charred hide to expose the delicious meal to the baby.
The gagging sound came back, then the tendons in her neck clenched and her back arched as she screamed again.
I bit back a tear. My scales shifted from their usual tawny bronze to blue and then red. The desperate need to appease this child was infuriating.
As I wracked my brain for a solution, the child quieted. She was shivering; the water clinging to her raven curls.
She was naked, without scales or fur.
Didn’t humans wear synthetic hides?
I delved into the shadows of my cave where I kept my horde.
My talons landed on a beautiful forest-green velvet. The edges singed, reducing it to char cloth in places. A remnant from my first meeting with the wizard. We had both been a lot younger than. I’d tried to introduce myself and got my wings tangled in his drapes.
Wait, would he know how to help a baby? I would have to be careful approaching his tower. He didn’t welcome company, especially not mine.
I wrapped the child in the velvet and left my cliff-side cave.
A dragon was not qualified to care for a human infant.
Copernicus was not a curmudgeon, despite what anyone might say of him. He was, however, tired of people. Such a thing happened when one is a wizard who has seen generations of humans born, grown, and killed by mortality. He had tired of the cycle and chosen solitude and privacy long ago.
Sipping on his pipe, he fixed his gaze on the looming mountain range. Bronze flashed in the sky and he slammed his pipe into its cradle. Wisteria had left him alone since their last chat, but that had been a century ago. He did not need her landing on his tower and shaking dust into everything again.
He climbed stone steps to the top of his tower and grumbled at the cold mountain breeze. The warmth that wafted from Wisteria’s russet wings made him grumble even more.
She was carrying a bundle of familiar green velvet. The tender way she set it down caught him off guard. Even stranger was how she retreated and disappeared into the sky without a word.
The pink fist that poked out turned his grumbling into a groan.
No, not a baby. He was not qualified to take care of a baby.
Yet, despite the pounding of his heart…
Despite the twisting knots in his stomach…
Despite the memories of laughing children that became leaning crosses in a forgotten cemetery…
He bent and picked up the velvet-swaddled infant.
She was weak with hunger and dehydration. Dried tears matted her crow-black curls in a crust against her scalp.
He wiped away an errant tear. Her wobbling lower lip sucked in a gasp. Her small fingers caught his in a decisive grip.
“Let’s get you some goat milk. Nice and warm, right from the udder. What more could a baby and an old wizard ask for?”
I’d never seen the curmudgeon smile before. Caused by an instinctual connection between himself and another of his own kind, perhaps?
I thought of her cries. They were his problem now.
I thought of her sapphire eyes sparkling at me. He could keep them.
I thought of how she caught his finger in her tiny grip. They belonged together.
As they should. What was it to me? I wanted solitude. I’d gone to great lengths to get it.
Really, what more could I ask for?
I was a dragon, after all.
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