A Tale of Pirates and Sea Dragons
“My leigh, if you could but consider loaning me the services of your dragon, I can prove to you that my trading vessel will work,” Captain Matt pleaded.
King Alfred shook his head. “I do not doubt that you can do as you say, Captain. I saw your impressive machine pull into the dock belching smoke like Farloft himself. But you see, he is not my dragon, as you put it. Farloft is very much his own commander. You would have to approach him directly.”
Hanging his head slightly and working his hat between his hands, the Captain confessed, “I must admit, though I have sailed the wildest seas, the idea of confronting a dragon seems a bit daunting, Sire.”
“I will send someone with you to make your ordeal a bit smoother.” The King smiled and waved the Captain aside in order for the next of his subjects to come forward with their appeal.
Captain Lea looked down at the boy before him. He couldn’t be more than ten. Obviously, the King had not taken him seriously. He’d have to go back and restate his case.
Thomas had already introduced himself, and had no reply from the ship’s captain. He seemed to be confused by his arrival. “We can leave as soon as you like,” the lad offered.
“You’re going to accompany me to the dragon’s lair?” Captain Lea’s bushy eyebrows raised in question.
“We won’t have to go that far.” Thomas pulled on a chain round his neck and brought a silver whistle embedded with gemstones from under his tunic. “I have a dragon-call. We just need to get to a quiet, open area where Farloft can land and you can make your proposal.”
The lad was serious. “He answers to a whistle, like a dog?” the Captain asked. What sort of a dragon would he be to protect precious cargo if he was that tame?
“You best not let Farloft hear you compare him to a dog,” Thomas said, as he tucked the dragon-call back under his shirt. “Though he likes dogs, he would not take it favorably to be compared to one. He gave me the whistle to make it easier for me to contact him. One of the Kings, long ago, had it crafted for him in time of battle.”
“So he will fight?” Captain Lea asked.
“Depends on the cause, I suppose. You can talk to him about that when you meet.” Thomas handed over the reins of the horse he had brought for the Captain to ride. “We should go. I have chores to finish at the castle before supper time.”
The Captain hauled himself up into the saddle. He was a big man and felt far more comfortable on the deck of a ship then on horseback. He pulled his long coat out from under him and settled his boots in the stirrups. His boots were made for walking a water soaked deck and went well up over his knees. They did not bend comfortably for riding. He pressed his three-cornered hat down hard on his head, as if he were preparing to face a Westerly off the Shoals. When the boy kicked his horse into action, the Captain followed in a bit rockier seat.
They rode out of the village and headed across the fields toward the Westridge mountains.
The Captain adjusted his weight in the saddle. They hadn’t been riding long and he could already feel his legs and butt growing sore. “Have you known this dragon long?”
“All my life,” the lad replied. “You should call him by his name, Farloft. ‘Dragon’ is a bit formal and you want him to like you.” Thomas grinned over his shoulder at the man. He bounced around a lot. Theresa, Thomas’ five year old sister, rode better than the sea captain. “This should do,” he said as he pulled up. “Plenty of room to land and a nice tree to shade us while we visit.”
“There’ll be no visiting, lad.” The Captain stopped his horse under the huge oak and quickly dismounted, almost falling from the saddle. “We need to get back to the ship as soon as possible.”
Thomas slid down, unhooked the blanket behind his saddle, and removed the large burlap bag hanging from the pommel. He started to spread the blanket. “You will find, Farloft moves at his own pace.” Thomas upended the burlap bag, dumping a good half-bushel of apples.
The Captain, his feet placed wide apart and his hands resting on his hips, surveyed the spillage. “I take it he likes apples, or you are a big eater.”
“Apples and anything chocolate,” Thomas confirmed. “Did you bring anything to entice him to do as you asked? He’s very fond of dazzlers.”
“Dazzlers?” the Captain asked. He hadn’t thought to bring anything with him. He thought the beast would just be ordered to obey. He didn’t realize this was a negotiation.
Thomas didn’t see the shocked look on the Captain’s face. He was busy piling up the apples to make room for them to sit. “Dazzlers are bright, shiny things that dragons consider worthy of being kept in their hoard.” Thomas looked up. “Like that brooch on your hat or the signet ring you’re wearing.”
The Captain removed his hat and studied the brooch. It had belonged to his wife and had great sentimental value. As for the signet ring, it was his family ring passed down from father to son over generations. He could not part with either one of them.
Thomas could read the worried look on the captain’s face. “You didn’t bring anything, did you?”
The man shook his head. “I guess I really didn’t know what I was getting into. Maybe I still don’t.” He donned his hat and leaned back against the giant oak. “First off, I thought you were a joke. I expected the King to send a knight to guide me. Second, I thought you would just order the dragon to help me, and I would pay the King a portion of the take from the trading mission.”
“No one orders Farloft,” Thomas said. “He makes his own decisions. He is old and wise and, can be helpful when he wants to, but he can also be very stubborn. Since he doesn’t know you, you are at a disadvantage without a dazzler to offer.” Thomas walked over closer to the man. “What do you have in your pouch?”
The Captain lifted his coin purse out of the pocket of his knee length jacket. He went to the blanket and dumped the contents. Thomas sat down cross-legged and started to poke around in the pile. There were quite a few coins, a buckeye rubbed smooth from many years of handling and something else.
“What’s that?” Thomas asked as he flipped over what looked like a dull black, oval stone. He snapped his hand away when he saw it was a beetle with its wings spread. “Yuk! What are you doing with a beetle in your pouch?”
The Captain folded up his long legs to sit down on the blanket across from Thomas. “It’s not just any beetle,” he started to explain. “This is a scarab. A beetle sacred to the people of the east. This one is ancient. It is so old, it’s turned to stone. It is said that a man who carries one in his purse will never see the end of his coins.” The Captain chuckled at the tale, but the lad’s eyes grew large and questioning.
“So it has magic?”
“Some say so.”
“Has you purse ever wanted for coin since it has been in it?”
“No.” The Captain scratched his beard in thought. “Can’t say that it has.”
Thomas picked up the scarab. “This will do nicely.”
“But it’s not bright or shiny,” the Captain pointed out.
“But, it has wings and a history,” Thomas pointed out. “Farloft loves a good story. And he will be interested to know that his hoard will never disappear once this treasure is added.” Thomas handed the fossil back to the man. “Time to call a dragon and make a deal.”
The Captain was more than a little surprised when Farloft arrived. The beast was huge - twice the height of even the largest horse. And his manner was far different from what the Captain had expected. The dragon was articulate and he grinned toothily at the boy. He was obviously fond of the lad.
“So,” the Captain continued, “my ship has trade goods from up the river as far as MiddenHall. We will steam down the river to the ocean, then hug the coastline past Baldar to the market in Norland. We’ll unload most of the goods there, but then we will go further out to the Spar Islands to trade and pick up the nuts and spices your King wants, then back here. The trip will take the full summer provided we do not run into a gale. Even the steam engine cannot surmount a full-on Westerly.”
Farloft speared one of the last apples on the blanket with a claw and popped it into his mouth. He crunched down twice and swallowed.
So far the dragon had made no unwarranted moves, but the chomping of his massive jaws was no comfort to the Captain.
“And the King thinks this is a good idea?” Farloft looked to Thomas, not the Captain.
“He said I was to bring Captain Lea to you. He didn’t say one way or the other whether he thought it was a good idea. He did tell me he thought the captain’s ship was a marvelous invention. He was amazed at how well it propelled itself up river.”
“You say you need protection against pirates along the coast?” the dragon asked for explanation.
“I have encountered them in the past and been boarded, though we fought them off. I hate to lose good men. I thought your being in attendance would dissuade them from even attempting an attack. The steamship has a shallow bow, but she is not as maneuverable. She can’t outrun a clipper, especially when she’s fully loaded.”
“And what are you offering in trade for my services?” Farloft lay his head down on his paws and studied the captain with large golden eyes.
Thomas smiled at the man and nodded. Captain Lea pulled the scarab from his pouch and lay it on the blanket in front of the dragon.
Farloft lifted his wedged head and tilted it from side to side, studying the petrified beetle. “A scarab,” he said with a touch of awe in his voice.
“You know what it is?” Thomas asked. Why he was surprised, he did not know. Farloft knew just about everything there was to know in this world.
“Indeed, I do.” Farloft reached out and poked the stone with one long claw. “It is the servant of kings, the keeper of treasures, the purveyor of good fortune. It is said that those who possesses one shall never go hungry, never be sick and always have wealth to spare.”
“Then you would consider it as payment for your services?” the captain asked.
Farloft shook his head. “No, it is too valuable. I could not in all honesty take it from you. Regardless, I have seen all these places you are bound for. I have no desire to frighten pirates, and the King has not said he necessarily wants me to go.” He rose to his feet as though he were about to leave.
“Please, what can I do to persuade you?” the Captain asked, as he jumped to his feet. He really felt the mission was in jeopardy without the dragon’s assistance.
“Well, there could be one reason to make such a long, arduous journey.”
“And that would be?” Captain Lea was willing to do, or give, just about anything at this point. It wasn’t merely the fact that he wanted to accomplish this trade mission, but also, he wanted to prove the worth of his new steam engine.
“Convince the King, and the Captain of the Guard, that Thomas must go with us.” The old dragon grinned toothily at the boy. “If Thomas goes, I go,” he stated flatly. “I would delight in showing the lad the world beyond our small Kingdom of Kerth.”
“That should do it,” Captain Lea declared. “Hop up and see if it will hold you,” he instructed Farloft.
The Captain and several carpenters had spent the better part of the week reinforcing the roof of the steamship so Farloft could use it as a landing pad and resting place on their month’s long journey.
“Come on,” Farloft offered, extending his wing toward Thomas so the lad could climb on his back, “let’s have a look.”
Thomas pulled himself up. With one downward thrust of his mighty wings the dragon, did, literally hop up on the ship’s roof. The boat rocked and the Captain noted it sat a bit lower in the water, but not dangerously so. In any case, he imagined the dragon would be on board during the evening hours when the ship was anchored. Hugging the coast so close they would not be steaming along other than in daylight.
“How’s she feel?” he called up to Farloft and the lad.
Thomas slid from Farloft’s back. He stomped his booted foot. “Feels sound to me, Captain.”
Farloft thankfully, did not follow the boy’s example, but merely curled up and lay down to test the space. “Plenty of room and it will make for a lovely viewpoint.” He complimented.
“Good… good… Then we will plan on leaving tomorrow morning at daybreak. That should get us to the coast in time for high tide and an easy exit from the mouth of the river.” The Captain brushed the sawdust off his pants. “Let’s get these tools out of the way and finish loading the ship.”
Thomas’ father, mother, brothers, and sister all rose at the crack of dawn to see him off on his adventure. Theresa, his five year old sister, cried because she could not go and had to be consoled with a short dragon ride and the promise of more when Farloft returned. She was still pouting when the ship pulled away from the dock.
Thomas started out the day riding Farloft as he flew over the ship headed downstream to the sea. When the ship approached the ocean he begged to be set down on board so he could ride the waves out into the sea. He had never been in a boat on the open water. The Captain complimented him on his being a good sailor. He did not exhibit any signs of seasickness as the ship tossed about in the estuary.
Captain Lea piloted his vessel out into the depth of the ocean, past the barrier reef that created the natural harbor at the mouth of the river. Once he was clear of the reef he pointed the ship north and hugged the coastline until it began to get dark, then they dropped anchor and Farloft came aboard.
It was a clear spring evening. There was a light breeze, but Thomas was warm with Farloft at his back. He snuggled down on top of the dragon’s hind leg in the curl of his body, pulling up his cloak to keep the warmth in.
“Look.” Farloft pointed with a paw.
The waves crashing against the shore in the distance sparkled as though they were full of tiny candles.
Thomas pulled himself up straighter in order to see. “What is it?” He asked in wonder.
“We dragons call them ‘glow fish,’” Farloft explained. “They only run in the spring and are not large enough for a dragon to bother with other than to enjoy the display they make. But, I have seen humans catch them during these runs. They must taste good even if they are small.”
“How do they catch them?”
“Mostly they just wade out in the water with buckets. As you can see, they are plentiful.” Farloft rested his head on his paws.
“Let’s go catch some,” Thomas said with excitement. “We could get a bucket or two and bring them back to the ship.”
Farloft’s ears pricked up and he grinned at Thomas’ enthusiasm. “Grab the buckets and a burlap bag” This was why the old dragon had decided to go on this trip, so he could share it with his best friend. And after all, he had never tasted glow fish, it might be the treat of a lifetime.
They didn’t make it to the shore. It was far more fun dipping and gliding over the cresting waves as Thomas leaned from his back like some sort of trick rider in a troupe of performers scooping up buckets full of the tiny fish. He would then sit on Farloft’s back, dump the buckets in the bag, where the sea water would all drain out and then scoop some more. They ended up with the whole burlap bag full.
Ship’s cook fried them up head and all. The fish were quite tasty, though nothing more than an appetizer to the large dragon.
“They’re more fun to catch, than to eat,” Thomas said, as he once again snuggled down against Farloft.
“Indeed,” the dragon said, as his large eyes drifted shut.
It was clear sailing up the coast for the next three weeks or so. The ship would pull into each and every port and harbor along its route. At each stop the people were drawn to come and see the unique smoke belching vessel, then drawn in further by the goods it carried for trade.
Farloft would often land on a peak overlooking the bay or sometimes on an uninhabited island off shore. He wasn’t interested in the people. If he had learned anything in all his many years of life, it was that humans could be unpredictable. He might land and find them petting him in adoration, or he could just as easily land and find them running for their pitchforks and blades. He made his presence known, as was his deal with Captain Lea, but he kept his distance. Thomas went ashore with the Captain and his crew.
In the fourth week, they rounded the spit of land that stuck out which defined the southern border of the Kingdom of Baldar. That was when the trouble began.
Captain Eric Vennegoor held his spyglass steady as he watched the dragon deposit the boy on the roof of the trading vessel. The dragon lifted off almost immediately and waved a wing at the lad before departing to rest, or hunt, or whatever the beast did while the ship was in port.
Eric had been observing the slow crawl of the steamer as it went up the coast, port after port, off loading and taking on goods for sale to the next port-of-call at each stop. The vessel sat low in the water, heavy with its treasure of trade goods.
The pirate captain could easily overtake her between ports with his faster clipper ship, board her and strip her bare to the decks, except for the dragon she had protecting her. He leaned his elbow on the railing and guided his glass to watch the dragon. It appeared he was headed to one of the islands off the coast this time. The last two stops he had perched not too far away from the vessel, once on a peak and another time on an ancient castle battlement long gone to ruin.
Today would be the day that Captain Venn would set his two most nibble and light-fingered to the task of kidnapping the boy. He had watched over the past few weeks. He knew the dragon valued the lad as if he were part of his hoard. The dragon would not oppose him if he had the boy, in fact, he might even be made to help him.
The Captain chuckled as he collapsed his glass and stowed it back in the pocket of his thigh length coat.
The coins Captain Lea gave Thomas jingled in his pocket as he hurried from stall to stall in the open market. The captain sent him with the cook to buy fresh produce while he dealt with the buyers of the trade goods on the dock. Cook sent Thomas ahead to check on fresh fruit as he followed slower with his wheel barrel full of produce, onions, potatoes, carrots, and turnips.
Thomas stopped at a stall with apples, pomegranates and pears. The apples would please Farloft and the pomegranates would keep well on board. He handed over some coins and had a burlap sack of each waiting when Cook finally arrived sweaty and a bit out of breath from his efforts pushing the wheel barrel up the slightly sloping thoroughfare.
“That’s a good buy,” he complimented Thomas, “but too much for this wheel barrel or you to carry. I’ll go off-load this lot and come back for the fruit. You stay here and make sure no one makes off with it.” Cook swung the bags over his shoulder and moved them to the side of the street out of the way of foot traffic in the market. “Sit down and wait. I’ll be back quick as a sailor anxious for shore leave.”
Thomas sank to his knees with his back against the apples. It was a warm day and promised to be hotter by later in the afternoon. He wiped his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. He decided cook would not miss one apple and it would quench his thrust until he could get back to the fountain in the town square. He was lazily munching away when someone grabbed him from behind and pulled him up and over the bags, back into the dark alley.
Captain Vennegoor and his men grossly underestimated Thomas. What they saw was a ten year old boy who had been befriended by a dragon. What they really had was the son of the Captain of the Guard for the ruling monarch of one of the most advanced military kingdoms on the continent. And, unbeknownst to them, he had a dragon-call hanging around his neck.
Their first mistake was to underestimate Thomas. Their second mistake was to bind his hands in front of him. Where he could easily reach his whistle. The whistle was so high pitched it would be out of the hearing range of the humans around it.
Thomas struggled when they first took him. He kicked, clawed and snarled until the sailors wondered if they had snared a wildcat rather than a boy. When he bit the bigger man’s hand the blow he received in return knocked him out. He awoke on the deck, chained to the mast of Captain Venn’s ship.
The Captain stood over him with the empty bucket. Thomas gasped at the shock of cold water he had been drenched in.
“Time to wake up, lad. We need to talk.” The Captain tossed the bucket to one of his crew and squatted down beside Thomas. “I need some information and you are going to provide it. We can do this painlessly, or I can have Cur beat it out of you. I would consider giving it up willingly if I were you. Cur is still a bit upset with you for biting him.”
The sailor named Cur leaned against the railing and held his bandaged hand close to his chest. Thomas knew he had bit him hard. At the time, he felt bone scrape his teeth and tasted blood in his mouth. The man sneered at him in contempt.
The rest of the crew were all circled around Thomas. They were a sorry looking lot. A ragtag group of men ranging in age from their mid-teens to men twice his father’s age with scraggily beards laced with grey. They appeared to be from many different cultures, some light of skin, others tanned on into the dark brown and black of the islanders.
“Get him up,” the Captain said, as he stood.
A tall thin black man with several rings in his ears, and the smaller mulatto with leather armbands that had been one of his initial captors, lifted Thomas to his feet. They stepped aside then. The lad wasn’t going anywhere. He was chained to the mast.
“I am Captain Eric Vennegoor. This is my ship, and I and my crew, have our hearts set on taking that new-fangled steamship you’re on as our own and all she has aboard her.”
There was a general round of agreement among the crew. They grinned displaying missing and broken teeth and shouted their enthusiasm at the idea of possessing Captain Lea’s ship.
“I want to know what she has on board now as cargo and what she intends to pick up in the future.” The Captain stood with his hands on his hips. “I want to know how many she has on board as crew and what part the dragon plays in all this.”
Now that Thomas was standing he could see that they were off the coast, perhaps a bit above or below the harbor where Captain Lea had anchored. They were not in sight of the steamer, but Thomas did recognize the peak of the volcanic island Farloft told him he intended to hunt on today. He could feel the wind blowing past him toward the island. He was pretty sure the sound of the whistle would drift that far. Farloft had heard it from the castle to his home, which seemed a similar distance. And, over the past few weeks the dragon had shown him how sound carried over the water much better than over land.
Thomas didn’t want to reveal he had the dragon-call, in case it didn’t work the first time, he would then have a chance to use it again when the ship moved. He thought about the best way to conceal his first effort. It seemed to him that taking a blow would be the most effective. If knocked to the ground he could quickly pull it from his shirt, blow it and tuck it back before he was hauled to his feet again.
“I don’t think I am at liberty to divulge that information,” Thomas said in as steady a voice as he could master. The last time Cur hit him, it knocked him out. He hoped because the Captain wanted information, he wouldn’t hit him that hard again.
“I don’t abide by torturing children, but you’re as old as Dane here.” The captain pointed to what must have been his cabin boy. “And I happen to know Dane is a stubborn and strong lad, but we came to an understanding not too long ago.” Dane looked a bit apprehensive as if he were frightened the Captain might demonstrate his point. “Didn’t we, lad?” Dane didn’t say a word – he just nodded his head and looked at his booted feet. “Cur?” the captain called.
The big man stepped forward. He pushed his sleeves up, which revealed a wealth of colorful tattoos. Thomas saw Dane cringe and fade back into the crew members behind the captain. Cur reached down and unhooked a coiled cat-of-nine-tails from his belt. The crew moved a bit further away from Thomas.
Bile came up in Thomas’ throat at the sight of the whip. He had witnessed a man punished with a whip by his father for raping a woman. It had been something he was not supposed to see, but he and his older brother had peeked through the crowd to watch until they were sickened enough they ran off to puke in private. Thomas was reconsidering his plan. Surely there would be time to call Farloft later, but still prior to the pirates boarding the steamer.
“Wait!” he cried. “I’ll tell you what you want.”
Captain Vennegoor placed a restraining hand on Cur’s shoulder. The man frowned, but stepped back. “Go ahead.”
Thomas wanted to give himself enough time to call Farloft. “There are textiles and pottery onboard now…” he paused as though hesitant to go on.
Captain Venn released his hand from Cur’s shoulder and the man quickly stepped back up, thumping his coiled cat against his leg in warning.
“Some tools,” Thomas blurted out. “And grain…”
The Captain once more retrained the sailor. “And…?” he asked.
“And a dozen in the crew.” Thomas confessed.
“And the dragon?” the Captained eyed Thomas suspiciously. “He’s not along to protect pottery and grain.”
Thomas set his jaw and refused to speak.
The Captain stepped forward and grabbed Thomas by the front of his shirt. “What sort of game are you playing, boy?” He shoved Thomas so hard he fell down and the chains at his wrists bit into his flesh. “I think you lie, dragon rider. What is the true cargo?” he demanded. He followed the question with a boot to Thomas’ hip.
Thomas yelped, but used the opportunity to curl up on himself. He quickly pulled the dragon-call from around his neck and blew with gusto, then dropped it back under his shirt before he rolled over to face the pirate.
He must have had a defiant look on his face that the Captain found unacceptable. “Up with him,” he ordered. “Strip him to the waist.”
The same two men lifted Thomas back to his feet. ‘Armband’ pulled a knife from his belt and within moments the lad’s shirt was hanging at his waist in shreds. No one seemed to recognize the significance of the whistle around his neck.
“Cur…” the Captain said, “I want the truth.”
The big man flicked out his whip. He licked his lips in anticipation. His good fist tightened on the handle. He was going to enjoy stripping a bit of flesh off this one.
“The Captain is planning to pick up spices and gems in the island after Norland,” Thomas said hastily. “That’s the truth,” he added.
Captain Vennegoor frowned at him. “Give him five lashes so he won’t hesitate to answer my questions quicker in the future.”
Thomas heard the whistle of the whip as it came down toward his back. He felt the bite of the leather as it cut and he screamed out in pain, but his scream turned into a roar in his ears as Farloft landed on the deck.
The dragon grabbed men with tooth and claw. He sent them flying overboard, sailing into bulkheads and railing. He crushed them with a paw or the swipe of his tail. Farloft was so angry when he saw Thomas’ back he set Cur aflame along with the rigging and main mast behind him.
Men fled the ship – jumping overboard and swimming for their lives.
Farloft turned and ripped the bolt which held Thomas’ chains to the foremast from its anchor. “Come,” he ordered.
Thomas turned just in time to see Captain Vennegoor raise the whaler’s harpoon and launch it at Farloft. “Duck!” He screamed.
Farloft moved without thinking. The harpoon sailed over his head, barely missing him. The captain had a good arm and had it not been for Thomas’ warning the spear would have hit Farloft’s eye. He laid back his ears and roaring in anger, turning on the Captain.
Vennegoor ran for another harpoon in the holder on the deck. Farloft leaped forward and pounced like a huge cat on the tiniest of mice. The captain’s back was broken before he hit the deck.
Burning rigging fell from above setting everything on fire. Wood crackled and split. The bridge threatened to give way under the dragon’s weight, as Farloft hesitated. He ground the captain with his paw, as though he thought he needed to kill him a second time, or at least make him suffer more for what he had done to Thomas. He had not been so angry in centuries.
“Come,” Thomas coaxed. He came up beside the dragon and patted him on the shoulder. “We need to get off before she sinks and catches you in her rigging.”
The boy was right. Farloft knew he was, but his anger burned so very hot. He lowered his wing and Thomas climbed up on his back. He launched himself into the air. The dragon made a wide slow circle of the ship and as he did, he shot dragon fire at the vessel until it was a raging inferno.
The dragon snorted and smoke curled out of his nostrils.
Thomas leaned out over the dragon’s neck and stroked his scales. His body was hot to the touch. “Let’s go home, Farloft.”
The dragon tilted his wings and headed back toward the steamship anchored in the harbor.
Farloft nuzzled Thomas as they lay on the roof of the steamer under the evening stars. The boy yawned and reached up to stroke the old dragon’s muzzle.
“How is it now?” the dragon asked.
“Much better.” Thomas leaned forward and raised his shirt up off his back to show Farloft. “You have the magic touch, my friend.”
The whiplashes were almost healed and it had only been three days. Captain Lea had been appalled when Farloft insisted on licking Thomas’ wounds, but the boy was adamant about the dragon’s healing powers and insisted. Sure enough, the pain was immediately half of what it had been, and by nightfall the first day the wounds were already scabbed over. They had off-loaded the majority of their cargo today at Norland. By the time they reached the islands the lad’s wounds would be healed, and by the time they reached home Farloft didn’t think Thomas would even have any scars to show his brothers.
Thomas lowered his shirt and snuggled back down against the dragon’s side. “I just don’t see how Captain Vennegoor thought he could use me against you. Didn’t he consider what you were capable of?”
“Obviously not.” Farloft snorted in derision.
Farloft’s reply was followed by a deep resonate sound that rolled toward the ship from further out at sea and washed over it like a wave.
“What was that?” Thomas asked. He had heard whale calls. This was like it, but then again not so much so that you would say it was a whale.
“A dragon.” Farloft rose to his feet and tilted his head in the direction of the sound. His head spikes laid back as he concentrated on the sound.
“It didn’t sound like a dragon.” Thomas stood too and placed his hand on Farloft’s shoulder. “It didn’t sound like a roar at all.”
“It wasn’t,” Farloft said. He was straining to see when another of the deep moan-type calls came their way. “She’s crying.”
“Crying?” Thomas listened, as yet another of the sounds floated across the water. It appeared to be getting louder… Closer.
“It’s a sea dragon.”
Farloft stuck his neck out over the edge of the ship and made a soft churring sound. It was a sound Thomas had heard him use when comforting his little sister, Theresa. The boy had always thought it was a sound associated with children, youngsters, but now he took it to be a calming call to this dragoness, wherever she was.
There was a full moon and the stars were out, so the night was not totally dark. The first Thomas saw was a large ripple in the water, a swell that was approaching the ship at a slow speed. When Farloft churred again, there was what looked like a dorsal fin which rose out of the water to perhaps two feet. It had glowing green stripes. Twenty feet behind the dorsal, another fin stuck up, but it waved slowly back and forth like the rudder on a sailing vessel.
Because of their position on top of the ship, Thomas could see so much more than if he had been level with the water. As she approached he could see her outline. She glowed under the water, as if her body contained a lantern. She flapped her wings - it was as if it were a dragon flying under water. He could see her wings moving up and down propelling her along with her tail fin steering her toward the ship. She was huge. Easily as long as the ship itself and with her wingspan, probably three times as wide as the steamer.
Her head rose when Farloft churred a third time. Her nostrils flared in a round, blunt muzzle with four, long trailing whiskers, two on each side, which made her face look a bit like a catfish’s. Her eyes were huge and opalescent. And, even though she was slick with water, you could see she was crying, her tears were an aquamarine color that clung to her cheeks like moss to a rock.
She slowed to a stop with her nose barely a tall man’s height from the hull. Bubbles rose around her head and the eerie sounds she made floated up and fell bursting around them.
The two dragons began to churr, gargle and even growl softly at one another.
Thomas could hear the crew waking and coming on deck below. A man shouted, ‘Sea Monster!’ Thomas saw a harpoon in someone’s hand when he looked down over the side. The sea dragon saw it too. She dove. Farloft roared and dropped from the roof to put himself between the dragoness and the harpoon.
It was the second time in less than a week that Farloft had faced a harpoon wielding human. It did not set well with the old dragon. He grasp the side of the ship and rocked it until all the humans were brought to their knees or sat spread eagled on their butts.
“What is with you all?” He demanded with a roar. His neck spikes flared in anger. “Some idiot has just recently killed her mate and now you turn on her. What has she done to you?”
“Their fins are worth a fortune on the mainland,” the sailor with the harpoon shouted. “And, the oil in their skulls would light a hundred lanterns for months.”
“You’d murder the sea dragon for the coin she would put in your pocket?” Farloft asked, still perched and feeling ready to strike down the fools. “Did you know they are the creatures that drive the glow fish to the shore for your families to eat? That it is her kind that keep the man eaters from overpopulating the oceans, so when some fool falls overboard he is not instantly torn to shreds. She eats the seaweed that clogs your canals and if left unmolested she would scrape your hull clean of barnacle crusters so you wouldn’t have the anguish of pulling your ship aground to do it yourself.” Farloft ruffled his wings in agitation. “You humans are so short sighted. Just because you do not live very long does not give you the right to spoil the planet for the rest of us. Now, put that damned harpoon away before I decide you can protect your own goods and just take Thomas and fly home.”
The Captain stood and put a restraining hand on the shoulder of the man with the harpoon. “We will not be harming the sea dragon,” he said in a voice of authority.
“Good!” Farloft huffed and smoke curled from his nostrils.
The sailors all took note and remembering what the dragon has done just a few days ago to the pirate’s vessel, they mutually agreed to go back to their bunks and let the dragon deal with his new sea-bound friend.
Farloft went back to perch on the roof of the ship. He churred and called to the dragoness. Eventually, she responded and surfaced, but several ship lengths away.
“So, she lost her mate?” Thomas asked from his seat on the edge of the roof. She was a beautiful creature. Like an underwater butterfly.
“Yes.” Farloft nodded his wedged head. “She needs to find her clan. She was almost driven ashore when the humans attacked. The rest of her clan fled. It was lucky she survived, though she does not consider herself so.”
“We can help her find them,” Thomas said as he came to his feet. “If they all glow like her we could spot them from the air.”
The sea dragon trailed along in the wake of the ship for three days until finally on the fourth night, under a waning moon Thomas spotted her clan in the cove of one of the smaller uninhabited islands.
“There!” Thomas crowed triumphantly. They had been searching until his eyes were sore.
“I see them,” Farloft responded.
He dipped his wing and they were soon standing on the sandy beach of the island. He waded out until he was belly deep in the surf where he began to converse with the other members of the sea dragon’s clan. They expressed their joy of hearing she was still alive by vaulting up into the air, wrapping their wings tightly around them and then diving back into the sea, only to do it over again and again.
Farloft explained that he would go get her and led her back, which they did that same night. She was as happy to see them as they were to see her. The water in the cove churned with glowing light. Her song and theirs rolled over the sea and it wasn’t melancholy anymore. It was light and spoke of hope and home.
She made her way into the shallows, raised up on four short legs with webbed feet, and give Farloft a ‘thank you’ nuzzle. Thomas leaned over, from his place on Farloft’s back, and patted her on her head. She churred at him and then slipped back into the ocean.
“Will they be okay here?” Thomas asked.
“For now.” Farloft waded back out of the surf and stood for a time watching the sea dragons singing and frolicking in the cove.
The trip home was not nearly as eventful as the trip to the islands. There were no more sightings of sea dragons. Pirates were nonexistent. There was less need for pulling into port since their hull was loaded with the spices and gems the King of Kerth commissioned and they had little to trade. Fresh water and produce were their only needs.
Farloft and Thomas spent a lot of time in the sky keeping an eye on the ship, but also playing in the clouds. Thomas got very good at netting fish, from dragon back, for the dinner table. Cook was never at a loss for something to boil, fry or bake.
It was late summer with a bit of a nip in the air, which quietly announced that fall was close at hand, when they arrived back home. The King was pleased with his merchandise. Thomas’ family members were happy to have him home and even happier to have him in one piece when he told the tale of the pirates. As predicted, the impact of Thomas’ story was not as gruesome without scars to show off, but Farloft could see his mother was happy to have him whole and unmarked.
Theresa cried and hugged Farloft’s leg when he told the story of the sad dragoness and her lost mate. And, she clapped her tiny hands in joy when he vividly described the spectacle of the sea dragons dancing and singing with glee at her return.
Thomas walked with Farloft to the castle gate as the evening grew dark around them.
“You could stay the night,” Thomas suggested. “I could pitch some hay out here in the courtyard for you to sleep on.”
Farloft leaned down and nuzzled his friend. “Thank you, Thomas, but these old bones have been longing for a soak in my thermal pool.” He huffed into the boy’s hair.
The warm air cleared Thomas’ thoughts and made him feel refreshed and calm.
“Thank you for a wonderful summer,” he said patting the old dragon on his neck.
“Even considering pirates and sea dragons?” Farloft asked with a wide toothy grin.
Thomas pushed his hair out of his eyes. “In particularly, because of the pirates and the sea dragons. Who else in the whole of this kingdom can say they have been kidnapped by pirates and heard a sea dragon sing?”