Despite the heat of the day, the forest was cool. It was truly the only place to be, if one had any choice in the matter. Kevesh waded through the shallow stream, his great taloned feet sinking in the soft mud and sending out eddies of cloudy water behind him. Although he was one of the largest creatures in the forest, he watched where he walked. He carefully stepped over a painted turtle peering up at him with some concern.
“I see you, little shell-friend,” he called softly, not wishing to disturb the forest with his usual booming voice.
Though most of the water in the slowly moving stream was stagnant, it was cool. Kevesh held his wings flat against his back as he pushed headlong between two pines at the water’s edge. His scales protected him from the worst of the prickly branches, but it hurt to catch a wing that way. Yes, there it was. The hollow he’d dug into the side of the hill had grown thick with moss since his last visit. It would be a comfortable place to wait out the heat of the day. As he took a deep breath, nearby branches and fronds wafted toward him. He loved the smell of the forest in the summer. The only way he’d ever been able to describe it was ‘green,’ like wet ferns. But then, dragons weren’t fond of fancy descriptions and gold-plated words.
As he settled himself on his bed of politrichum moss, he recognized the distinctive rounded leaves of wild mint. He grinned, then rubbed the side of his muzzle through the plants, smearing himself with the juice. It was turning out to be a perfect day.
He’d chosen this particular place because it was comfortable, yet it provided him with a variety of things to watch. At a hundred and fifty, he was too young to sleep a whole day through the way older dragons might. Water bugs skated across the surface of the stream and small pools of standing water. The thick full plants shook from the passage of a muskrat who occasionally stopped to snack on the varied flora. Every once in a while a bird would sing out, or squawk in protest, but this appeared to be a time of inactivity for them. A low bridge connected the well-worn dirt path that reached the stream on both sides. In the past he’d gotten to watch, unseen, as humans used the little bridge in their travels through the forest. He couldn’t see the two frogs carrying on a conversation on the other side of the bridge; it was as well he wasn’t a gossip. A red squirrel, chirping in alarm, ran partway up a nearby birch, turning to continue his harangue at an unseen opponent below.
Kevesh had just settled his head on his forearms when he heard the approaching hoof-beats of a horse. He grinned again. Humans were peculiar and fascinating creatures, and he’d spent a great deal of time trying to figure out just what they were all about. How he’d love to write a paper on their culture. He sighed. They spooked easily, making them difficult to research.
“Let me down!”
The sharp voice pulled Kevesh out of his contemplation. A delectable looking white steed paused at the edge of the bridge. Naturally, his master was a knight in shining plate armor. The protest had come from a young maiden squirming in the knight’s arms.
“I said, let me go!” she shrieked, struggling against his hold. Most of her sandy hair was pulled back in a braid, although some had come free to hang about her oval face.
The man laughed. “Do you think I care one way or the other what you say?” He tightened his arms around her. “You belong to me now, Mirabelle. The sooner you accept it the easier it will be.”
“Belong to you?” she demanded. “I don’t belong to anyone!” She pounded on his hands.
He laughed again.
Kevesh watched the man dismount, pulling the maiden with him. He’d never seen anything like this, but he’d always known that knights were despicable sorts and not to be trusted for an instant. There was a dull clank as the knight pulled off his helmet and dropped it nearby. His beard and mustache were blond, as was his cropped hair, and a ring of sweat circled his face. Holding Mirabelle by the back of her head, he kissed her. Although for a moment, Kevesh thought the man was trying to eat her face.
Mirabelle started to cry. “Leave me alone.”
“You’re mine, Mira. And you’re far too fine to leave alone.” He ran his dagger through the laces of her bodice, and with a swift jerk, the blade cut through.
“But, you’re a knight,” she protested tearfully.
He grinned at her, the kind of grin that raised the spines on Kevesh’s back. “Of course I’m a knight.” He kissed her again. “What did you expect?”
“You’re supposed to help people,” she insisted, pushing at his armor-clad chest.
“And I am.” There was that grin again. “I’m helping myself.”
She managed to get a hold of her emotions for a moment. “I’ve no wish to marry you, Sir Lavine,” she said, managing to sound very formal and self-assured.
He laughed, and Kevesh had to stifle the low growl he wanted to let out. “I’m not going to marry you Mira. But if I like you enough, I may keep you a while.”
“My father will kill you!” She batted at his hands as he worked the fastenings of her light blue skirt.
“He’ll do no such thing,” Sir Lavine corrected her quietly. “I resolved his little sheep theft problem and he owes me. He knows it.” He chuckled at his success, and her skirt slipped to the ground. He placed a heavy foot on it, preventing her from pulling it back on.
Her face was twisted in anger. “The thieves were a couple of starving children.”
The knight shrugged. “That doesn’t matter. I caught them, and when he finds you gone, he’ll know I’ve taken my reward.” He took advantage of her shock to loosen the tie of her full-length chemise, which slipped to her waist as the sleeves caught on her hands.
She belatedly tried to cover herself as Sir Lavine fought her quick hands. In the struggle, Mirabelle lost her chemise, but Sir Lavine lost his hold on her, and she scrambled toward Kevesh’s forest resting place.
“You can’t run away from me Mira. Where will you hide in the big dark forest?” He followed, not quite at a run.
Mirabelle nearly ran into Kevesh before she saw him, and he abruptly sat up. She stood frozen with fear.
“I won’t hurt you,” Kevesh whispered.
“But you’re a dragon,” she protested in a whisper, her earlier plight momentarily forgotten.
“I suppose you think dragons eat people,” he said. “That’s about as accurate as knights in shining armor rescuing the weak and downtrodden out of the goodness of their hearts.” He got to all four feet and pulled her toward him. It was to her credit that she didn’t scream or faint. “Stand behind me, and I’ll see what I can do about this knight of yours.”
Sir Lavine pushed through the trees and stared at Kevesh for a moment, completely stunned. “Run Mira!” he shouted. Trained reflexes springing to action, he jerked his sword from it’s scabbard. “It’ll eat you!”
Kevesh let out a deafening roar, and the entire forest seemed to go silent. Sometimes it was nice to be a dragon. “The lady Mirabelle will not be taking any more of your advice, Sir whatever you call yourself.” He casually batted the sword out of the knight’s hand. As the knight ran toward his horse, equally panicked by the sight of a dragon, Kevesh followed, stomping his feet in an excess of draconic glee. Yes indeed, these were the times when it was terrific to be a dragon.
Once he was sure the man was gone, and not likely to come back with one of those stupid poking sticks, which could be quite a problem if one wasn’t careful, Kevesh carefully picked up the discarded clothes. He brushed them off as gently as his claws would permit, and turned back toward his hollow. Mirabelle was peeking out from behind the trees, watching him. Her eyes were a lovely green, and he was surprised to see the color in a human face. Perhaps they weren’t so different after all.
“I imagine you’ll want these back,” he said, holding out her clothes. Humans were exceedingly odd about concealing their bodies. Kevesh had often wondered if it was a necessary adaption to protect what appeared to be very thin skin, or if it was the result of one of their bizarre religions.
She stepped forward, still timid, and took her clothes. She quickly pulled on her white chemise, all the while thanking him profusely for his assistance. “I don’t know what I would have done if not for you…” she paused suddenly. “You do have a name, don’t you?”
“I’m Kevesh,” he said with a nod.
“Well, Kevesh, I don’t know that a dragon has any use for the aid of a human, but is there anything I can do for you?”
“You mean that?” he asked. On his few close encounters with humans, most couldn’t wait to get as far from him as possible.
She nodded, smiling.
Kevesh thought about his paper. “Would you come home with me? I’ve a research project I could really use your help with.”
“Go home with you?” she asked hesitantly. “You mean, to live with you?”
“Oh yes. For a little while at least.”
“I don’t know. It isn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“We could have lots of fun, and I’d get to do my research. The elders have been telling me for years that there’s no way I’ll finish my project. If you’ll help me…” Just considering the implications made him shake his head. “I have some very good ideas, and I suspect it could be beneficial to people too.” He refrained from using his normal persuasive expression. She might just run off to find that stupid knight, thinking him less frightening.
She thought about it “I can’t really go home. After the way I disappeared, what would they think?”
“Please come with me, lady Mirabelle?”
Swallowing the last of her hesitation, she gave him a low curtsey. “It would be an honor to assist you in your research.”
“Well then, why don’t you hop on?” He looked pointedly to his back.
She stared at him a moment. “You mean, ride you?”
“It would take a long time to get to my home if you were to try it on foot. The mountain would surely be impossible.” He crouched down. “Flying’s fun, Mirabelle. You’ll like it.” He let his enthusiasm creep into his voice. Flying was another great thing about being a dragon.
He directed her to use his front leg as a step up to his back, just to the front of his wings. Although she seemed a bit unsure of the concept, she was very cooperative. He was a little more than twice the size of a good war horse and he suspected she was used to riding horses.
“What do you eat?” Kevesh asked, wondering if they would need to stop somewhere on the way. “I’ve never had an occasion to dine with a person before.”
“Oh, I’ll eat most any vegetables, fish or meat…” She paused. “What do you eat?” her voice was uncertain.
His graceful neck allowed him to look at her even as she sat astride him. “Certainly not people.” He made a face. “Too many small bones to get stuck in your throat. And it’s a long throat to have things stuck in. Besides, I hear humans cause bloating, and it’s a bad idea for a fire breather to get gas.”
“Oh,” she looked surprised.
“I eat a lot of meat though. I’m a pretty good hunter,” he said with a bit of pride. He began walking them out of the forest then.
“So you don’t eat people, but you do breathe fire,” she said, as if trying to reconcile fact with myth.
“Can you really see halfway across the planet?”
He hadn’t heard that one before. “Oh no. Dragons are actually quite nearsighted.”
“But… I thought flying predators had to have good eyes for hunting.”
He paused and flashed her a look. “You think I could make a meal out of a mouse?” He twitched his tail, a good length away, to indicate his size. “I just need to be able to spot a cow, or a sheep, and they’re plenty big enough for me to see.” He smiled.. “I think we have a lot to learn about each other. I hope you’re up for the task.”
“Oh, I am,” she insisted quickly.
He brought them out of the forest then. “Hang on Mirabelle. Time for your first flying lesson.” He could hardly wait to show her his home, and he was glad he’d tidied up earlier. He wasn’t sure what humans were used to, and he hoped they could make some sensible compromises. The chance to have a human room-mate was just too fabulous to pass up. His neighbors would be so jealous.
“Are all knights like Sir Lavine?” she asked as they took to the air.
It was the perfect time to dispel myths. “Trust me. I’ve seen my share of knights, and they’re no good.”
“Dragon Tale” appeared in the DragonCon chapbook Do Virgins Taste Better, edited by Celia L. Badon and published by 7-Realms Publishing Corp in August 2000. This was my first sale.
This story was written while sitting on a wooden bridge over a stream in the north-woods of Wisconsin, which ended up giving me the setting. It shows my penchant for both fractured fairy tales and turning the traditional hero into the villain