The Healer and the Dragon
K. A. Williams
I woke up in the crook of the tall oak tree I had climbed last night when it grew dark. From my perch, I could see across the meadow and into the forest where something sparkled.
I climbed down. Red apples were scattered underneath a bunch of nearby trees and I ate several before stuffing as many as I could into my knapsack on top of my few possessions. Then I hooked it over my shoulders and headed toward the forest. I wanted to find out what had sparkled.
When I entered the forest, I heard a splashing sound and hunted the source of the noise. I found a waterfall. After I gazed in wonder at something I’d heard of but never seen, I noticed an opening and stepped cautiously onto slick gray stones until I was behind the sheet of water.
It was a big cave which showed no signs of recent habitation. I took off my knapsack and ate some apples.
Suddenly I heard a male voice shouting, “That’s what you deserve! You came around our village near our children! Dragons will never be welcome where there is man!”
Then there was silence. When I came out from behind the waterfall, I saw a golden form floating in the lake. I jumped in and swam to it. The dragon wasn’t any bigger than me, if you didn’t count the tail, but it was heavy. With a lot of effort, I managed to pull it up onto the grassy bank.
The young dragon’s scales weren’t hard and its leg was cut and bleeding. I went quickly back to the cave to get what I needed, then I chewed the medicinal plant and stuffed it into the wound. I found a few large leaves on a nearby tree and tied them over the wound with vines.
It opened golden eyes when I spoke. “I don’t know if you can understand me or not but I just want to help you. You must be hungry. I’ll try and catch you some fish. In the meantime you can have these.” I put some apples down and it ate them.
I wondered if dragons could talk. It watched me in silence as I gathered some more vines and wove them together into a loose net.
Catching fish was hard. They swam away when I splashed toward them with my net. Finally I managed to get a few. When I climbed out of the lake the dragon was making a chuckling sound.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny. They swim fast. Can you talk?”
“Of course I can talk.” The dragon had a male voice.
“How do you feel?”
“Better, thanks to you. Why did you help me?”
“Because I know what it’s like to be different and feared by humans.”
“But you are human.”
“And a healer. I had discovered the healing properties of certain plants and used my knowledge to help those in my village. I was called a witch behind my back. One night I overheard some men talking about purifying the witch. I packed my things into a knapsack and left. I’ve been sleeping in trees at night, hunting for some shelter, and I’ve found the perfect place.”
“There’s a cave behind that waterfall. If you can walk, it would be safer to hide in there. That man might return with friends to show them the dragon he slayed.”
He snorted. “With your help, I can manage.”
He leaned against me to walk and I helped him over the slippery rocks by holding on to him below the neck. He was delighted with the cave. “It’s perfect.”
“My name is Cyntel. What’s yours?” I asked.
“What did you do to almost get yourself killed?”
“My mother never returned to the nest so I left to search for my mother and food. When I wandered into a village, that man chased me on a horse with his sword. I can’t fly yet and I can’t run fast so he caught up with me here.”
“How awful,” I said. “I’ll help you get better.”
I went to the meadow with a net and my emptied knapsack the next day and picked up all the apples I could carry. When I got back, I tried fishing again and caught some fair sized ones this time by staying still.
Trisan didn’t mind raw fish, however I wanted mine cooked. I had a small pot but no way to start a fire.
I lay down some small branches near the cave’s entrance. “Can you breathe fire yet?”
“Stand back and I’ll see.” He opened his mouth and blew out a tiny flame that caught the twigs on fire.
“Thanks.” I prepared a fish with my knife, caught some water from the spray at the entrance and set my small pot on the fire.
We both enjoyed our meal.
His leg soon healed, his scales hardened, and he grew larger. I was glad the cave was big enough for him.
One day I asked, “Are your wings fully developed? Can you fly?”
He flapped his wings and ran through the waterfall. I watched him fly away.
I was happy when he came back, I thought he might have left me. “How was it?”
“Fun! I flew over the meadow and the apple trees. Bring your knapsack and climb on my back. I’m taking you flying.”
I did as he said and hung on to his neck as he soared up into the sky. I was frightened and cold at first, yet I soon enjoyed it.
We landed at the apple trees and I stuffed the knapsack full of them, then got back on Trisan.
We flew through some of the low clouds and over villages, forests and meadows. In the distance I could see a big hill, and thought it must be the mountain I’d heard about from travelers who had been there. When we reached it, the sun was setting.
“Can you find us a cave for the night!” I yelled over the constant sound of rushing air and beating wings. “We’ll never make it back before nightfall!”
He flew into a big cave and landed. I had just gotten off him when a golden dragon flew inside. I moved quickly into the shadows.
The dragon was a little bigger than him and spoke in a female voice. “What are you doing in our cave?”
Trisan said, “We’re sorry, we didn’t know it was your cave. We’re far from home and looking for somewhere to spend the night. We’ll find another cave.”
“We?” echoed a male voice. The dragon lowered her head and I could see a man upon her back. He slid off and looked around. “You seem to be alone.”
I came out of the shadows. “Don’t be angry with us. We can find somewhere else to spend the night.”
The man stepped quickly in front of Trisan and stared at me. “No! That’s okay. They can spend the night, can’t they, Chakla?”
“I guess so,” said the female dragon.
“I’m Pavra,” said the man. “What’s your name?”
“Cyntel, and this is Trisan.”
“It’s nice to meet you both, isn’t it, Chakla?”
“Only if they’ve brought food.”
I opened my knapsack, which was full of apples, and handed them out, giving more to the dragons.
“Thank you,” Pavra said.
“Where did you get them?” Chakla asked after her third one. “We never find apples around here.”
“We live in a cave behind a waterfall. There are a lot of fish in the lake it makes and the apple trees are not far away,” Trisan said.
“I would like to see it,” she said. “You can show it to us tomorrow. Tonight, you may spend the night here.”
Pavra led me to the back of the cave and got me a blanket to sit on. “How did you meet your dragon?” he asked.
I told him.
“They called you a witch just because you’re a healer?”
“How did you meet your dragon?” I asked.
“My father mistreated me so I ran away. I could fend for myself but one day I was attacked by a bear. Chakla killed it.”
“Why would she do that?”
“Her mother was hunting while she was taking care of her baby brother. He wandered off and got killed by a bear. Her mother blamed her for her brother’s death and she left. Chakla now kills every bear she sees.”
“Weren’t you afraid of her?”
“I was at first. Then she told me she was lonely and carried me to a deserted village where I found shelter, clothes, and even some food. She needed shelter too so we looked for a place and found this cave. We go back to the village sometimes to gather things they left behind.”
I yawned and he said, “Time for bed.” Then he added, “I meant time to sleep. But first, I have something for you.”
He rummaged through some things in the rear of the cave and came back with clothes and shoes. “I know they’re men’s clothes but try them on, I won’t look.”
I took them from him and he turned around. Tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes as I took off my ragged clothes and tried on the new ones. They fit fine and so did the shoes. “Thank you very much. You can turn around now.”
He did. “You look nice.”
I hugged him. He was motionless at first, then put his arms around me, and held me close.
“What are you two doing back there?” Chakla called in a teasing tone.
“Nothing.” Pavra let go of me and looked embarrassed.
He got another blanket and we lay side by side. The dragons lit the wood pile at the front of the cave and the firelight made shadows on the walls. I didn’t remember ever being so comfortable and happy.
Pavra sat astride Chakla and they followed us to the apple trees. I hadn’t picked up all the ones off the ground yesterday and there were plenty left.
“Show us your cave,” Chakla said, after we had all eaten several.
They followed us to the waterfall and through it into the cave.
Chakla looked through the curtain of water. “It’s beautiful here.”
“And the lake is full of fish,” Trisan said.
“Let’s go fishing. Fish are tastier than apples.”
Pavra watched them splashing around awhile. “Chakla was right, it is beautiful here.”
“And always damp because of the waterfall.”
He looked around the cave and didn’t say anything, but I knew he was feeling sorry for me.
The dragons came back in, laughing together.
“You got that big fish I was after,” Trisan complained.
“You should have been faster if you’d wanted it.”
They looked at us.
“What’s wrong?” asked Chakla.
“She has nothing. No extra clothes, no blanket, and no frying pan, only a small pot.”
“You’re right. All I noticed before was the waterfall.”
Pavra went over to her and they whispered together, then he said, “We can always return here to gather apples and fish, but why don’t you both live with us in our cave?”
Trisan looked at me. “I’d like to. What about you?”
I thought about their warm cave and how nice Pavra had been to me, and nodded.