During their courtship, Faahvrigüo and Tekneea traveled through almost all of Meganeea, perhaps missing the odd spot here or there, given that the more time they spent together, the less they cared about the landscape or the elves. But there came one morning when Tekneea asked, “Have you been to the land below this one?” and Faahvrigüo said “The what?” and so Tekneea took him there, terribly pleased as she always was to know of something that he somehow didn’t (which invariably made Faahvrigüo slightly disgruntled, for, as you might have gathered, he was rather vain.)
This “Land Below” was quite large, so Tekneea and Faahvrigüo spent a considerable amount of time traveling through it, and I cannot tell you where exactly they went or what they saw, because this book is about the Land Above, and none of the elves in that realm knew of any other place, so for the time being, we all have to pretend we don’t know anything either, since it is neither here nor there.
So I will take you somewhere else in Meganeea, somewhere that Faahvrigüo and Tekneea had not in their travels yet visited.
This was not a small city, but Meganeea was so, so very big, that it should not be all that surprising that the two had not yet come upon the area, especially as it was rather well hidden. This was Lion-Elf City, and other than the odd traveling merchant or entertainer, lion-elves were all that lived within its walls, for they kept to themselves.
Now, lion-elves, they were peculiar among all other Meganeean elves. They knew that they were, too. It was said among them that a very long time ago, when the Earth Dragon had been a hatchling, lion-elves had been her first intelligent creation, and she always tried to recreate this race in its original form whenever she made a new world.
They were not perfect creatures. They were, you could even say, quite ugly compared to other elven species. They had big bulbous noses, thick eyebrows, very furry feet and hands, and lion tails. They were very tall, among the tallest elves in Meganeea, though I suppose average sized in your own world. Their height did not make them more handsome, as they were rather oddly proportioned. They could not shape-shift into lions. But from the very beginning, they’d had a connection with the Earth Dragon that other elves didn’t have. And just between you and I, this connection, while real, was a complete fluke.
There was a lot about her creation that the Earth Dragon couldn’t control or do on purpose —most things, actually. But elves (and other sentient creatures) have a tendency to look for meaning in anything and everything, especially if they can use it to give themselves any level of self-importance over their peers. And no elven species ever thought more of itself than lion-elves.
There was one particular little lion-elf boy living in this city with his mother, who, while good hearted, thought about as much of himself, or more, as most other lion elves did of themselves. Which is: highly, and destined to great things.
His name was Gideon.
Gideon had visions, but this, in and of itself, was nothing so remarkable. You see, the dreams of lion-elves were quite particular, in that they could show the past, or a glimpse into one of the Earth Dragon’s own dreams. This is how lion-elves knew that they’d existed in other worlds that the Earth Dragon had made before Meganeea. They could try to understand the feelings and emotions of the Earth Dragon by some of these visions, or what she feared might happen, or had happened, by her nightmares. Sometimes they were right, and they generally ignored most of the times when things did not come to pass or make sense as expected, since this was an inconvenience.
When thoughts or dreams from the Earth Dragon’s mind bled into a lion-elf’s dream, the result could be as foggy and incomprehensible as any dream of yours or mine, or very vivid, but generally, it was the former. It could be from the point of view of any elf that had lived in an Old World. Or it could be from the point of view of the Earth Dragon herself. Or it could be a figment of that elf’s imagination altogether, a regular dream. There was no way to know, so lion-elves were compelled to write them all down and take them to the Elders and Eldresses at the temple, who would then look for patterns, and record them. Some elves only had a few in their whole lives, and others had them more often.
But Gideon was unusual: he had them every single night.
He had very vivid dreams, with images and events that he couldn’t understand. He would dream of one specific Old World, dreams which were so clear, that they felt as though he were living through them. Sometimes he would laugh in his sleep while he dreamed, or he would punch the air, and very often he would cry, or wake up screaming. And, to be sure, this was distressing, but above all, Gideon was proud in spite of his distress. No one else he knew —none of the elders, seers or priests, none of his friends— had visions like he had. Among an already blessed race, he, Gideon, was special.
Gideon had been five years old when his mother first took him to the temple to see the Head Seer. He told the Head Seer of a dream in which he broke free from a dark place, where he had been hungry and dirty for months, with iron digging into his flesh, chained to a cold wall, and of how he shifted into his animal form and ran, with energy that he didn’t know he had, and ran, and ran, with the body of a rat in his jaws, until they’d both got away.
He told of how later he was standing on something long, very long, and black, something like an enormous metal snake that shook and rattled, and that ran like the wind, faster than any elf or animal could go, and giving off a great smoke and a roar. And the rat was with him too, and also a lady, a very pretty young lady, whom he held in his arms and kissed. And they both laughed and laughed, because they were free. That was one of the good Old World dreams, and Gideon had it often, at first, and every time he told it a little better.
At first, the Head Seer and the elders who worked in the temple were interested. They told Gideon to come see them at the temple whenever he had a new vision, so they could write it down and try to put the history of the Before Times together with them.
The problem, you see, is that Gideon did just that.
So three years later, on a day on which dawn had barely broken and the streets were still fogged in cold, white mist, the fervent little rap that began on the Lion-Elves’ temple door was not welcome by the elders who were still at their studies. The call reverberated on the temple’s cavernous insides, and one could not ignore its persistent echoing. They all sighed at well-known sign of their nearly-daily visitor.
Rap, rap, rap.
“Eldress Aghummin, Elder Erkestenne,” a little voice called. Like the knocking, it was small, but insistent.
Rap, rap, rap, rap.
“Eldress Aghummin, I saw the candle from the window, I know you are all awake. Please, open the doors.”
“How did he reach the windowsill?” one of the elders hissed at the aforementioned lady Aghummin. The latter shrugged helplessly.
Rap, rap, rap. RAP, RAP.
“I had a vision again, Eldress Aghummin. You’re there, aren’t you? Pray open the door, and hear me. I want to study with you.”
Every eye in the room was glaring heavily upon Eldress Aghummin, who had stood up. She had a soft spot for the little voice’s persistent owner.
“Oh, let the child speak,” she said in a tired tone, “We all need our rest, so let him speak and then we can retire for a few hours. Our duties include hearing all visions.”
“It’s all very well to hear visions,” said one of the elders to the others, “but I have no patience nor interest in an infant’s tall tales.”
The iron lock echoed as Eldress Aghummin unlocked it. Promptly, a small child ran in, nearly tripping over his own big feet. He had a spectacular, messy mop of orange hair, and big, blue eyes. His red robe came up to his ankles, unlike the longer, trailing ones that the adults present wore, and he had a little green hood. A leather and blue stone pendant hung at his neck, and his a thick golden cord tied around his stout belly held his robe in place. He was the son of a prominent member of the lion-elf community, and looked it.
“May the Earth Dragon dream of you, Eldress Aghummin,” said the little boy in greeting, with a well-practiced bow.
“And of you, Gideon. Why don’t you come inside?” said the eldress. There was a pointed tone to this, no doubt due to the fact that the little boy had practically burst through the doors.
“Thank you, I am inside,” said he, already walking toward the gathered seers.
“Yes, indeed you are,” said she, with a mix of weariness and amusement. She closed the heavy door behind them.
“Good morning, elders,” said Gideon approaching the wide table where all the elders congregated, among books, scrolls, and many empty cups of coffee. He repeated his little bow, blissfully unaware of the irritation this added to his visit. “May the Earth Dragon —”
“Yes, yes,” one of the elders interrupted, “Forgive us for doing away with pleasantries, but dreaming is something all of us want to be doing soon. So tell your little made-up story, and then be on your way.”
“Oh, Elder Erkestenne, do be kind.”
“It’s not made up,” the little lion-elf said passionately, for it was a sore subject.
“Listen, boy,” said another of the elders, not unkindly, “We don’t know why you are tormented by so many very special visions and dreams, but we cannot hear them all. You have too many, we have not the time, and frankly, we are not sure if they are visions, or figments of your overactive little mind. Listen,” he repeated firmly, raising his hand to silence Gideon’s impending outburst, for his little chest had heaved and his mouth become a perfect circle of indignation, obviously preceding an aggrieved retort. “We shall give you one of our blank volumes —a real record keeping tome. You can write it all there, and once a month, you can come, for two hours and not a minute more, to discuss your records with the Council.”
Gideon did not seem at all delighted at this suggestion, but it was what it was. He was thus given a very heavy volume with thick leather covers, all blank inside, and unceremoniously deposited on the other side of the door.
The book was really quite a fancy thing, and I think he would have been delighted to have it, were it not for the drawback of the situation. It was just like the ones that the elders themselves used to write down their understanding of the Before Times, and their guesses about the Future Times. It was very thick, and an effort for a small child to carry. Gideon sat on the temple steps, with the huge book covering his small lap, and he put his head down on it, and cried. You might think crying about it was a bit much, but, you must remember that Gideon was barely eight years old, and he’d just been told that the one thing he most looked forward to every day was no longer allowed, so he was really rather put off.
But such infantile outbursts are rarely long-lasting. He was soon wiping his nose on his sleeve and admiring the thick leather covers, running his handpaw over them with awe. Then, with newfound determination, he got to his feet and made for home.
He had to stop quite a few times on the way because the book was so heavy. He did not consider this a great inconvenience, as it earned him looks from both adults as well as the similarly aged peers he encountered, filling the little lion-elf with such feelings of importance that he could have burst from the pleasure. So he would wipe his sweat with a very exaggerated flourish and grunt even louder as he picked up his heavy burden once more.
Once home and in his own private chambers, Gideon brought the book to his little desk by the window. It hit the surface with a hard thud, being too bulky for Gideon to put it down with the care it merited. The morning sun was well on its way up now and streaming down the window, and little flecks of white dust displaced by the book danced in the warm rays.
Gideon climbed up his chair, and, having opened the blank volume, took out his ink-pot and quill, ready to write down his last vision, which he had been so keen to share to the Council of Seers earlier. It had been a very unusual vision, because —Gideon knew this instinctively— he’d seen it from different eyes. Simply put, it wasn’t the same viewpoint of all his other visions to date. With it still fresh in his mind, he put pen to paper, slowly at first, but increasing to a frantic pace as he went on:
Gideon, who was remembering details as he wrote, found that his handpaw was trembling. This hadn’t been a good dream. It had filled him with awe, but all throughout he’d felt very afraid. Now, as he remembered, pearls of sweat dotted his forehead and he felt a little sick to his stomach. But he wrote on.
The little boy put down his quill with trembling handpaw. His visions did, quite often, distress him. His mother would tell him that they were not real, they were things that had happened long ago, to someone else, and couldn’t hurt him, so he wasn’t afraid of having them. But once in a while, they were intense enough to make him feel ill. Yet the more deeply emotional or shaken they caused him to feel, the greater his feeling of importance once he’d recovered. And her eyes —he’d seen the Earth Dragon’s eyes! No one he knew had seen them in Meganeea, or at least her eye color had never been written down by anyone. It was terribly exciting, and very frustrating that he wouldn’t be able to share this with the Council for an entire month. But perhaps he’d have had an even more important dream or vision by that time.
Gideon looked down at the pages. Though his writing was on the large side, not even a full page had been filled. He sighed. Would it be okay to write his past dreams? Maybe not. After all, the Council had written those down already.
The day dragged on slowly, endlessly, but finally the sun went down. Gideon went to bed early, eager for his next vision. He lay the book by his side, over the blanket, right in his little bed, “for safekeeping” as he put it, or “in case he wanted to write a vision as soon as it happened” (although his mother refused to allow him to have the quill and ink-pot on his nightstand). In reality, he simply wanted it near, and not long after he’d fallen asleep, his arms were wrapped around it, not unlike the way a less-precocious child would have held on to a teddy bear.
The break of morning found Gideon bleary-eyed after a frustratingly dreamless night. He shut his eyes tightly as he heard his mother moving about in the kitchen, and shut them tighter still when the sun tickled his eyelids, trying his hardest to catch a few more winks of sleep that might grant him a special dream to write about. But no dreams or visions visited him, and so, hungry and annoyed, he washed his face, had his breakfast (the precious, mostly blank volume on a chair next to his own, as his mother would not allow the enormous book at the table) and went to school, book and all.
At school, Gideon hardly heard his lessons. During the midday break, he sat under a tree, with the massive open book resting heavily on his small knees, quill in hand, brow furrowed, desperate for something of value to come to him, something he could write. But nothing came to him.
As the days passed, his schoolmates tried unsuccessfully to coax him into joining their play, but Gideon, stewing with as frustration and with even more self-importance than was the norm for him, brushed them off rather rudely. Couldn’t they see he had serious work to do? Didn’t the book make it obvious? He’d sigh heavily to show his discontent at the interruptions, and soon everyone left him quite alone.
Two weeks went by, and three, and then an entire month. It came time to visit the Council of Seers to share any new dreams or visions he might have had, so, though chagrined by the recent lack of progress, Gideon went.
Eldress Aghummin let him in. Gideon took in the empty chamber with surprise.
“No one’s here,” he said to Eldress Aghummin in a somewhat wounded tone. He realized he had been had, so to speak.
Eldress Aghummin opened her mouth, perhaps about to share some prepared explanation for the absence of the entire council. Her expression softened, and she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Gideon,” she said to him as she shut the door, “Duty aside, I suppose the Council doesn’t have much patience for a little boy. I have no idea where they all decided to go, but my guess is that each one of them found something different to occupy themselves with today.”
Gideon’s face showed his contempt for this behavior quite clearly. But he sighed, and sat at the large table usually occupied by the conspicuously absent council. Carefully and with difficulty he lay his heavy book upon it, and nodded when Eldress Aghummin placed a cup of tea in front of him.
“I care about what you have to say, Gideon,” said she, joining him at the table with a cup of her own, “I know you take everything, including yourself, perhaps more seriously than you ought, but I know your visions have value and I want to hear about them.”
Gideon shifted on his seat, uncharacteristically quiet. He was still quite upset, and in spite of Eldress Aghummin’s words, he could not quite shake the feeling that she was humoring him in the way an old woman does with a very small child, rather than as another lion-elf with genuine value to the council.
“Did you write anything in your book?” Eldress Aghummin prompted him, so kindly, that Gideon cringed inwardly and felt even more annoyed. But he opened the book to his first recorded vision, the one in which he’d seen the Earth Dragon’s open eyes, and carefully moved the book towards the Eldress. He didn’t say anything and maintained what he thought was a serious and dour expression, but really, he was just a little boy, and so it came off as nothing but pouting.
Eldress Aghummin was quiet for some time as she read the few paragraphs that Gideon had put to paper. In spite of himself, Gideon stole a curious look towards her face, trying to catch a glimpse of her reaction. To his surprise, she didn’t appear shocked as he had expected. Quite the contrary. She nodded, sighed, and then closed the volume.
“So, you could fly in this dream, I see,” she observed. Gideon nodded. He felt suddenly uncomfortable. “And you saw the Earth Dragon’s eyes, something which no one in the history of this land has yet recorded.”
“I did too see them,” Gideon said. He could not help his defensive tone. He swallowed hard.
Eldress Aghummin stroked his head. “Gideon,” she said, “interpreting visions is very difficult. Sometimes, it’s hard for even us grown-ups to know what is a simple dream and what is a vision of the past. That is why we convene to study different noteworthy visions and decide which have that potential.”
Gideon was quiet, a hard lump at his throat.
“In my experience,” continued Eldress Aghummin, running her handpaw over the tome’s leather cover, “real visions come rarely, often visiting lion-elves who have never had them, who are not necessarily learned or studious, and who do not generally dwell constantly about having them.”
I did too see them, I did too see them! Gideon repeated to himself, feeling hot tears at the corners of his eyes.
“I don’t think you are telling any lies, my dear child,” said the Eldress, “in fact, I don’t think anyone in the Council actually thinks that.”
“Elder Erkestenne does,” mumbled Gideon. He felt absolutely miserable.
Eldress Aghummin waved this comment off, though not unkindly. “He’s just a grumpy old elf, don’t mind him. Listen, Gideon. I fear that, in your zeal, you’re causing yourself to have certain dreams, very vivid dreams, upsetting dreams, that are only that. And we are all very busy. We cannot continually analyze a little boy’s daily dreams. That is not what we do here.”
“Elder Erkestenne said I could have two hours every month, with the whole council,” Gideon protested, but feebly. He was trying so hard not to cry.
“I am a member of the council,” said Eldress Aghummin, “and I am giving you my valuable time. But I do not think this…” Here she trailed off, waving her hand over the tome. “Well, I’m not certain of whether this benefits you. I’m not sure giving you this book was a very good idea, but —here she held up a handpaw to stop Gideon’s tearful protest, as he had raised his head in anguished alarm— I shall not take it from you. However, I think you need to think about other things for a while. Write your dreams if it pleases you, and study them on your own if you must. But please, do try to spend time with your little friends, play outside, take in some sun. You are far too young to be upsetting yourself so much with nightmares. Growing little boys need to be well-rested, and this obsession may come to do you harm if it gets in the way of your a restful night’s sleep. You don’t want to worry your parents, now, do you?”
Gideon was beyond arguing. He mumbled something in agreement and took his book back. He walked towards the door, and Eldress Aghummin, with a concerned look on her face, opened it for him.
“Don’t be so glum, little one,” she said, “I’m sure someday you will be a part of this council yourself —an important part, even. You’re a very precocious child, but you must enjoy being a child while you can.”
As the slumped pair of little shoulders and the wild-haired red head descended the front steps in utter dejection, Eldress Aghummin felt only compassion for the boy. She could not know how prophetic her words of comfort would be.
✨ Here’s warm-up 76 of 100! ✨ This one is for Swimmingintheinkwell.
Please note: sometimes, I may add very simple backgrounds to these warm-ups. This is completely on a whim, not guaranteed, and not likely. Please do not expect anything beyond what is agreed to in the original commission. If it happens, it happens. 😊
After the drawing of Rosemary I did earlier, I wanted to do another of her together with Pip. Rosemary is a fairy, while Pip is a moth-imp. At the start of their story, they are destitute, and she is raising him in spite of being little more than a child herself.
They are both very often hungry, to the point that Pip has gnawed holes in their blankets and even on Rosemary’s wings, in his sleep. For this reason, Rosemary’s wings are quite full of holes and patches and she can no longer fly with them.
✨ Here’s warm-up 67 of 100! ✨ This one was a very kind gift from CrazyNero to myself. He allowed me to draw whatever personal art I wanted for this warm-up, so I used the opportunity to finally design Rosemary.
Rosemary is a fairy; she belongs to one of my stories. It’s a story that has been rolling around in my head for over ten years –in fact, I named my cat Rosemary (Rosie) after giving my character this same name. Yet, I could never see Rosemary in my mind’s eye well enough to draw her. Eventually, I decided to base Rosemary the fairy on some of the aspects of my cat Rosemary, as well as making her a little younger (she’s somewhere between 12 and 14, I have not yet decided.)
Happily, with these changes, Rosemary finally came into view. Thank you Nero for buying me a time slot for myself. I don’t think this has ever happened before and it really was a joy.
All night long the little dragon tossed and turned, and time and time again a snapping branch or far-off growl caused him to start whenever sheer exhaustion overcame him. Shortly before daybreak, Horus all but gave up on trying to sleep. He was sore, worn out, profoundly irritated and most of all, ravenous.
Finding a stick lying on the ground nearby, Horus picked it up and gave the sleeping human child a few tentative, if rather ungentle, pokes.
“Wake up already,” he said to Nib, “I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” said Nib after a pleasant stretch. She was accustomed to sleeping rough, and was well rested. “Let’s start walking, then, and maybe we’ll find something on the way, if we’re lucky.”
“Maybe?” Horus repeated dismally.
“Or maybe something will find us,” said Nib with unsettling cheerfulness. “You never know.”
“Something? Like my parents?”
“Maybe your parents. Or maybe a bear. A lot of things are hungry in the morning and looking for breakfast, just as we are.”
Horus walked faster.
After they’d been trudging along for a while, with Horus apparently leading the way, Nib said, “You seem quite sure of which road to take. Exactly where do you live?”
“In the mountains,” replied Horus, who knew that much.
“That’s all very well,” said Nib dubiously, “but where in the mountains? They go on and on and on, you know. Just like this forest.”
This information unsettled Horus. But he could see part of the mountain range ahead of them, through the tree-tops.
“There,” he said, pointing his fat little finger in its direction, “I live over there.”
Nib squinted her eyes.
“There! Right there! Are you blind? It doesn’t matter anyway—all you have to do is follow me. So don’t be a pest. Remember, I haven’t had my breakfast yet!”
“Neither have I,” said Nib mildly, “and I didn’t have any dinner last night, either.”
She did not say it in a whiny or complaining tone, but it irked Horus nonetheless. Humans were such a hindrance!
Noon came. Horus was so hungry that he was letting out little frustrated sobs without even realizing it. These got more pronounced until he sat down on the ground, and would have thrown a tantrum out of habit. But then he remembered the human child standing behind him, and he covered his face with his paws. He could not, however, stifle his whimpers completely.
Nib knelt by the hatchling’s side and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You know,” she said, “If you can at least tell me what the outside of your lair looks like, maybe I could help you get home.”
“No, you couldn’t,” said Horus. “You have been lost here your whole life and I will be, too!”
“I have not been lost here my whole life,” said Nib, just a little bit defensively, “But I have been lost for a few months at a time. I always find my way home eventually.”
“You won’t lose anything by telling me,” Nib encouraged him.
“I can’t,” Horus murmured, ashamed. “I don’t know what it looks like. I’ve never even been outside before. I don’t know how I came to be outside. I woke up and I was in the woods. I don’t know what happened.”
“Listen,” said Nib, “Don’t cry.”
“But I’m hungry!”
“Crying won’t fix that.”
“It always does for me,” mumbled Horus. He was beginning to regret his outburst. Now the bothersome little human knew that he didn’t actually hunt dinner for his parents every night, and would fear him even less.
“Well, it won’t do you any good here,” retorted Nib pulling Horus up as she, too, got on her feet. “We’d better keep walking toward the mountains and hope we find something to eat. Your parents are probably looking for you, and will spot you from above or smell you out soon enough.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Probably,” answered Nib, “although I don’t know that it will bode very well for me if they do.”
“They might assume I’m the one who took you away, and—hello, what’s this?”
Nib had stopped walking, and was looking down at the ground.
“Tracks,” said the girl, pointing down at the dirt, “Look.”
Horus sniffed the small footprints, and Nib knelt down to study them more closely.
“Three toes,” Nib observed, “That’s a cyclops.”
“Oh,” said Horus faintly. Cyclopes liked to hunt dragons. A horde of them would even dare attack an adult dragon, especially one that had been grounded by some accident or misfortune. And Horus was only a baby. What would a cyclops to do him?
With growing dread the hatchling imagined his small bones being sucked clean by a foul-smelling, hairy brute with a single glowering eye. He saw his own small, red knotted horn hanging from a string tied around the cyclops’ fat neck as a makeshift pendant, and his blue, red-stripped hide stretched on a rack to dry—oh! Horus let out a pitiful whimper at the thought of these ghastly possibilities.
“It’s okay,” Nib reassured him. She had taken a small, rusty dagger from a little pouch on the side of her remaining boot. “I’ll take care of it. I’m not scared of any cyclopes —and it looks like this is only a little one, by the size of its tracks.”
“Aren’t even little cyclopes dangerous?” asked Horus. He was trailing behind Nib now, meekly.
“Well, yes,” answered Nib, but I’m going to be a squire one day, and later on a knight, and knights can’t ever be cowards.”
“I’ve eaten knights,” Horus observed after a thoughtful pause.
“And cyclopes eat little dragons,” said Nib, just as thoughtfully, “That’s how the world goes.”
Horus did not bring up the subject of eating knights any more that day.
Not far from where they had first come upon the cyclops’ footprints, the trail came to an abrupt end. This made Nib uneasy.
“Watch where you step,” she warned Horus, “Cyclopes are known to dig—”
Then there was a swish, and Nib disappeared. Horus froze on the spot, terrified by how suddenly he found himself alone again, and certain that a tribe of whooping cyclopes would descend upon him at any moment. He dared not move a muscle, or blink, or breathe.
Down in the pit just a few steps ahead of Horus, Nib was quiet as a mouse, too. Watchful as she knew herself to be, she had missed the trap, even as she was warning the hatchling to look out for them. The hole was deep, but the same brush and twigs that had hidden the pit from her view had provided her with a relatively soft landing, so Nib was only a little bruised. Now she lay as she had fallen, careful not to move and wondering what she should do next.
Above, Horus was wondering the same thing. Since nothing awful had immediately happened, he was breathing again. He had begun to inch forward ever so slightly in the direction of the spot where his human companion had disappeared, when something sharp poked him in the back and a voice cried all in one breath, “Whoyou?”
Well, Horus gave a magnificent jump accompanied by a fittingly shrill shriek of terror, and in his fright he managed to trip and fall into the same pit where Nib was trapped (to Nib’s great discomfort).
Now a small head was looking down at them from above the hole. It had one enormous copper-colored eye that stared at them without blinking. A short blunt horn poked out of its forehead among a few tufts of straw-like yellow hair, and a single tooth protruded over its lower lip.
“Whoyou?” he demanded. His face was expressionless, but there was a clear note of annoyance in the question, which became more pronounced when he proceeded to answer it for them. “Mizz’rubul lookin’, no-good prey. You ruin Saffron’s good dragg’n catchin’ pit. Get out of it.”
He spoke clumsily, but quickly. Cyclopes were very intelligent, speaking the language of multiple other creatures in the Deep Dark Woods. Even this little one could speak well enough in the Common Tongue, if a little brokenly still.
“We can’t,” answered Nib, who had understood the last request, at least. “Isn’t that the point of a trap?”
The little cyclops looked at her hard, frowned with his single eye, and disappeared from view, though he could be heard grumbling to himself.
It was not long before a vine was thrown into the pit. Horus followed Nib’s instruction to take hold of it, since he was the stronger and heavier of the two, and, after losing his grip and falling back into the pit twice, he finally surfaced, with his bruised human companion clinging to his back.
Upon emerging from the hole, they saw that the other end of the vine had been tied to the thick trunk of a nearby tree, and a very small, harassed-looking cyclops stood beside it, spear in hand, waiting for them. He wore a sort of loincloth made of some animal’s furry pelt as his only garment, and there were little bones as well as colorful beads and feathers hanging from the handle of his weapon and around his neck. There was even one going through his nose. All around, he looked extraordinarily fierce for such a small creature.
“We’re, um… Sorry we ruined your trap,” ventured Nib.
“Sorry!” cried an outraged Horus, “Maybe you are! I am all black and blue, was frightened out of my wits, and got my back nearly torn open by this… This little one-eyed freak’s stick, and for no reason at all! Sorry! I like that!”
“Hush!” Nib hissed. She spoke again to the cyclops as politely as she knew how. “Please don’t listen to him, um, um…,” she struggled to remember the creature’s name.
“Saffron,” said the little cyclops, giving himself a firm thump on the chest with his fist.
“Right. Are you all alone here in the woods, Saffron?”
“Nevva alone in The Woods,” was the sober reply, “Prey all ‘round. Big things out huntin’ all day ’n all night long.” “That’s true enough,” said Nib, uncomfortably.
“Me too. Imma huntin’,” added Saffron. “My first dragg’n hunt.”
Horus felt the his heart sink to his feet, despite the fact that Saffron was slightly shorter than himself. He shot Nib a desperate look, which did not escape the young cyclops’ eye.
“Notta worry,” he said to Nib, “This dragg’n too little. Baby. Tribe laff at me. Li’l dragg’n no good for first hunt. Is “ha-ha” prey. Not “whoa-lookit-that” prey. You, same thing. Stringy and puny like worm. Not worth my time.”
“Ha-ha prey?!” shouted Horus, whose vanity and lack of courage were in such equal measure so as to overlap regularly.
“Will you be quiet!” Nib scolded him in a whisper. Then she asked Saffron, “You must be very brave, to be out hunting for dragons all by yourself.”
To her surprise, the little cyclops gave the dirt a kick and seemed embarrassed. He tried to hide the faintest hint of a smile.
“Not really. Cyclopes hunt anythin’. ‘Fraid of nuttin’.”
It was true. The Cyclops tribes were feared especially because they would hunt and eat anything and everything except for their own kind. They were known for wasting nothing and running away from no prey regardless of the odds of becoming prey themselves. It was their nature, rather than bravery. They were born fearless and raised to stay fearless —or so it was said.
“I’m not ha-ha prey,” Horus mumbled bitterly.
He was pouting. Nib gave him a black look.
“Anyone ought to be proud of hunting down a rare beast like me, with so fine a hide and such a bright red knotted horn!”
The little cyclops scratched an itch behind his ear with the tip of his spear. He looked puzzled.
“I kill’n roast baby dragg’n, if he wants me to,” he offered helpfully.
“He doesn’t!” Nib hurried to assure him. But now Saffron was eyeing Horus more carefully.
“Is nice ’n fat. I can make good breakfast of him. Give you a leg.”
Nib politely declined, and the little cyclops shrugged. But then all of a sudden his face lighted up, and he exclaimed, “I hassa better idea! Little baby dragg’n makes good bait for great big dragg’n. Maybe even two come for him!”
He clapped his hands and danced around a little, very pleased with himself.
“I should like to see you try to poke my Momma with that stick,” said Horus indignantly. “She’ll use it to pick your fat off her teeth when she’s done with you!”
The little cyclops became sober at once and glared at Horus with his intense yellow eye.
“I’m notta ‘fraid,” he said darkly, as he began to walk toward the hatchling, spear at the ready. “Call your momma.”
Horus felt sick with fear to see the pointed weapon so close to his soft belly, but for once he was ashamed to cry for his mother, who was unlikely to hear him anyway.
“I’m… I’m… I’m not afraid, either!”
Nib came between them.
“He is too afraid,” she said to Saffron, “Do spare him, please—he is so little.”
“I’m li’l, too, but notta chick’n,” was Saffron’s ruthless answer. “Call your momma,” he said again to Horus, this time punctuating the command with a sharp poke of the spear. Horus let out a squeal and broke down in tears, all pretense of bravery gone.
“Whatta chick’n,” scoffed the little cyclops, “I thought all dragg’ns brave, even li’l ones. If cyclops is chick’n, he get kicked outta tribe. You get kicked out, li’l dragg’n?”
Horus felt his heart drop. He had never considered this. Could his Momma and Poppa have kicked him out of the nest for being so lazy and eating all of their food?
Nib was glancing at him sideways. Horus swallowed, feeling his face grow hot.
“No,” he quavered, “No—I… I don’t know…”
The idea that his parents may not be out looking for him, may not even want him back home, was more frightening than anything Horus had experienced so far. He forgot all about Nib and the cyclops, and about being hungry, or tired, or bruised. He stood still and stared down at his talons.
He made such a pitiful picture that, although cyclopes were renowned for their seeming inability to feel compassion for anything which could be considered viable prey, this one lowered his spear with a gesture of confusion and appeared very uncomfortable.
“Go,” he said to Nib with a shrug, “Take li’l dragg’n with you. He too salty from boohoo’ing to eat now, anyway.”
Nib did not wait to be told twice. She thanked Saffron profusely and grabbed Horus by the paw, hurriedly pulling him along the path.
She had not gone far, however, when a thought occurred to her.
“Wait here,” she said to Horus before running back to where the young cyclops still stood watching them. But Horus was too sad and stunned to pay any attention to her.
“Do you know,” Nib asked Saffron once she had reached him, “the way to the dragon nesting grounds?”
“Uppa mountain,” said Saffron, pointing in said direction with his spear.
“Yes, but do you know how to get there?”
The little cyclops nodded.
“Could you… Well, could you guide us there? Please? If you are hunting for dragons, you’re probably going that way anyhow, aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” said Saffron. “What you gimme?”
“Oh,” said Nib, taken aback, “I—well, I have this knife.”
And she presented her little dagger, which she treasured. But the little cyclops shook his head.
“Blunt ’n puny, like you. No good,” he said, not unkindly, but decidedly.
“I don’t have anything else,” said Nib.
Suddenly Horus, who had been listening, spoke up. “I’ll give you my bearskin,” he said in a strangled voice.
“It’s in my lair,” said Horus. “On my bed. My Momma hunted the bear down, and my Poppa skinned it. They used it to wrap the egg I was inside of. I’ve had it since the day I was hatched.”
He thought of his nest, and how good the blanket smelled, of fur and of home.
“It’s… It’s very warm and thick,” he added softly. “It’s a good bearskin blanket.”
The little cyclops considered the offer. The bears that lived in the Deep Dark Woods were very big, bigger than any bear you’ve ever seen or heard of. The pelt from one of them was a good, useful thing to have.
“The bearskin,” he said, “and your horn.”
Horus’ hands flew up to the aforementioned appendage.
“Your knotta-horn. Makes good drinkin’ cup.”
“But—but—it’s stuck to my head!”
“I chop it off.”
“Won’t that hurt a lot?”
“Dunno. Maybe,” was the phlegmatic reply.
“Oh, oh,” moaned Horus, with his hands still protectively over his horn. “What kind of knotted-horn dragon will I be, with no knotted horn on my head?”
Both Nib and Saffron were looking intently at him, waiting. Nib seemed concerned, but she did not say anything that helped Horus. The poor hatchling heaved one deep, shuddering sigh, and grimly nodded his head.
“Horus, are you sure?” said Nib.
“I will give you my knotted-horn, and my bearskin blanket too,” said Horus to the little cyclops, “but you won’t get my horn until after you get me home!”
“Notta worry,” Saffron assured him cheerfully, “I no chop off horn until then. You havva deal.”
He held out his grubby, callused little hand for Horus to shake. And Horus did.