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Roger the Pocket Dragon


malign

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I couldn't help myself: I had to write a spinoff of the ongoing group fairy tale, because I just love the possibilities of one of the new characters. I've set it in the "past", so that I don't interfere with the continuation of the group story.

Roger the Pocket Dragon

A Fairy Godfather Story

Roger had not always been a pocket dragon. In fact, for many years, he was quite a respectable size, bigger than a cottage and smaller than a mansion. He did pretty much what any other full-sized dragon would do: kidnap fair maidens, munch on their rescuers, and just generally be a really large flying fire-breathing lizard. In fact, perhaps the most unusual thing about him was his name.

However, one day he was double-crossed by an unscrupulous wizard, and his life changed forever. The wizard had used a shrinking spell on him, trying to make him disappear. He had barely escaped with his height. However, that height was now about six inches, which meant that his days of terrorizing the villagers were over, unless he wanted to scare them one at a time. Oh, his flame still burned just as hot; only, now, it was a proximity weapon, at best.

This is the story of how he survived.

The first few days were filled mostly with fleeing. The wizard who had shrunk him would presumably want an opportunity to finish the job. Fleeing took quite a bit of time, as well, because although, on one hand, Roger could now fly for longer periods than he could before (because he was lighter), on the other hand, he could not cover nearly as much ground. So, the first few days were filled with long heedless flights through the forest, followed by trying to find something to eat, and some uneasy sleep.

At first, finding food was not easy. Dragons in the wild are accustomed to their food coming to them. They would start by kidnapping a fair maiden, and then they would just lie around (sitting does not come easily to dragons) waiting for would-be rescuers, who were usually coated in that thin layer of crunchy steel that dragons love so much. It was much like roasting marshmallows, only without the sticky mess.

Sadly, that option no longer existed. About all he could kidnap now were mice maidens, and boy mice are not as chivalrous, or crunchy, as human ones. He tried watching wild animals, like cats and foxes, hunt for their food. It seemed like a lot of trouble for a very small return. Too, even a small winged fire-breathing lizard has a hard time being inconspicuous. Stealth simply is not in their natures.

Worse yet, he found that he himself was attracting some attention from predators. When he slept on the ground the first night, using the roots of a tree as a pillow, a cat tried to sneak up on him. Fortunately for Roger, dragons have excellent senses of hearing and smell, and even better means of self-defense. And cats are not stupid. Once it got a good look at him, this one simply turned and ran.

However, being potential prey did interfere with his sleep, so he tried something else, the next night. At dusk, he followed the pigeons to roost on a branch high in the forest canopy. They looked at him in alarm, but tolerated him, though they made him perch closest to the trunk, because he was the heaviest. This arrangement worked to his advantage, however, when in the light of the full moon, a hawk swooped into the crowd of pigeons, snatched one off its branch, and flew away. Clearly, it was not safe for him up there, either.

One night, he tried a badger warren. However, it was unpleasantly full of badger scent, not to mention badger. Unfortunately, badgers are one kind of animal that is just stupid enough to charge a white-hot flame and just mean enough to survive it and still do some harm. So, he left them alone and went elsewhere. Another night he tried to borrow a squirrel's nest, high in a hollow tree, but the squirrels pelted him with acorns and he could not get close enough to flame at them.

Roger was beginning to see that perhaps the most important thing that a six-inch dragon needed was a new habitat. Something with fewer predators and easier food. He still had talents and tools; now what he needed most was the right place to use them.

His wanderings eventually brought him to the outskirts of the human village where, before his shrinking, he had gone when he needed a fair maiden. Now, though, he found it more useful as a place where he could scrounge some shelter and scraps of food, with only stray dogs as competition. It did not take the dogs long to learn that, even in a pack, they could not win a fight with a dragon. After that, they left Roger alone.

Unfortunately, human children were harder to teach. When they saw Roger, they thought he was cute, and wanted to catch him. Not wanting to cause an uproar by defending himself, he was forced to hide, or fly away on his stubby wings.

The problem came to a climax one warm afternoon as he was standing by the banks of a small stream. Roger was frustrated by being able to look through the clear surface of the stream and see fish calmly looking back at him. Yet, every time he tried to flame them, the only thing that happened was that steam rose from the water's surface, and when it cleared, the fish were still there, unharmed. It even seemed to Roger as if they were laughing and making fun of him.

Roger was so engrossed in his fishing attempt that he did not notice the group of boys who had come down to the stream with pails and buckets to play. They, however, being boys, did notice him. And, being boys, they thought it would be fun see if they could catch him and quench his fires in a bucket of water.

One of them pounced on Roger, wrapping a hand over his wings so that he could not open them at all. He flamed angrily, but the boy held Roger's head with the other hand, keeping it turned away from the boy's body. One of the other boys filled a bucket in the stream, and together, they plunged Roger deep into the water, over and over.

Now, you cannot put out a dragon's fires with water; almost anyone can tell you that. However, dragons do drown. So, Roger, for the first and last time in his life, faked it. He pretended to be quenched, and put a sorrowful, bedraggled look on his face. At least, he told himself that he was faking; his pride demanded it.

After a few times, the boys stopped dunking Roger. After all, they did want to keep him alive. They wrapped his wings in string, and tied a length around his neck like a leash. They thought he would just follow them home, like some kind of pet.

What they did not understand is that an adult dragon, of any size, is not someone to be trifled with, and an angry dragon is someone to avoid at all costs. As soon as the boys put him down, Roger flamed to life and burned through his leash. The cords on his wings went next, and he took to the air. Swooping over the panicking boys, he carefully set fire to the hair of each one. He paused only briefly to gloat, as the boys took turns dunking their own heads in the bucket. Then he flew away, still angry.

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I had a pocket dragon once. His name was Dragon, though. I don't know what became of him, but it's possible he dissolved when I walked away from imagery and put up a sign that said: "Don't enter the forest. It's not there."

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Mmm, just because something's not "there", that doesn't mean you can't (or shouldn't) think about it. Some would even say that that ability is what makes our minds different from other animals'. You can't invent something that doesn't exist yet, unless you can imagine it.

Besides, it's fun.

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Roger did not fly far, though. As his anger subsided, he realized that he might now be in some trouble. The humans were unlikely to let an attack on their children go unpunished, no matter how well-deserved it had been. He preferred not to be forced to fly on to the next village, and he had no reason to believe that life would be easier, if he did.

As he hovered, thinking, he caught sight of another human child, a little girl, watching him. Suddenly alert, he startled her by spinning around to face her. But she made no aggressive moves; instead, she spoke to him. "I won't hurt you! I saw what they did to you. I'm sorry. They bully me, too, when they can catch me."

Roger tried to answer her, but had to clear his throat first. He realized that he had not spoken to anyone for many days. "What do you want?" He realized that it sounded offensive, but he was not really in a mood to be polite.

"I just wanted to talk to you. I ... I don't have many friends." The little girl did not seem surprised to hear him speak. Human children appeared to be capable of accepting ideas to which the adults would respond in anger.

Roger was touched. For one thing, she was treating him with far more respect than anyone had for quite some time; not since he was full-sized, at least. Besides, he had a congenital weakness for fair maidens.

"Well, at the moment, it appears that I don't, either." He had to think for a moment about the next bit. It was something he had never even thought before, much less been forced to say. "In fact, it is possible that I will need a friend, soon. People won't like what I had to do, back there."

The little girl did not have to think for even a second. "I can hide you! You could come and live with me, and I'll feed you and keep you safe and ..." She broke off for a moment, then resumed as if to anticipate his objections. "You'll be free to go wherever you like! But it might be safer if you rode in my pocket, when other people are around." She turned her hip, and put her fingers inside the pocket to show him how roomy it was.

He looked at her for a moment. He was not sure whether he could trust her, particularly after what the boy-children had done to him. On the other hand, she had behaved differently in all sorts of ways, including such a simple thing as asking his permission. And, he had no better ideas for food or shelter.

Finally, she clinched his decision by saying, "My name is June. What's yours?"

So, for the first time in his entire life, he told a human his name.

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"My mother named me Roger," he said. "It's an unusual name for a dragon. Most of us have exotic, elegant names; for one thing, it makes better public relations. But my mother was an unusual dragon, herself. She believed that dragons and people should work together, that together they could make a brighter future for both."

The little girl, June, was listening intently. Roger had no way of knowing how much of his story she understood, at her age, but he found that it was a story he needed to tell.

"Her ideas enraged the other dragons, though. They went against the dragon way of life that had been in place for millenia ... a very long time," he added, seeing June's blank look. "My mother was banished, sent away from the other dragons, and I never saw my father again."

Roger had not meant to pause at this point, but found that he had lost his voice, momentarily. In the brief silence, June spoke. "My daddy's gone, too," she said. "He went off to fight in the war, and he didn't come back."

Roger looked at the little girl who had just told him matter-of-factly that her father was dead. He had never stopped to consider that the knights who had come to fight him might have had families back home. And little girls who would never see them again. He had never seen it that way before, though he suddenly realized that his mother must have. He sighed and continued.

"My mother took me and went to live with humans, or tried to. But the humans, too, did not really understand. They were afraid, because dragons are big, and can be dangerous. But of course, humans can be dangerous, too; they just don't look like it, as much."

He sighed again. "At first, things went fairly well. We lived in a cave in the hills above the village. Every day my mother would fly down to the village for the day's work, and every night she would fly back to feed me whatever food the villagers had shared with her. But she remained cautious. She told me to stay in the cave, out of sight, and not to come down to the village. She also said that if one night she did not return, I should leave the cave at once and fly far away. I was almost full-grown by then, and I protested having to stay in the cave all the time, but she would not listen. I sometimes wonder whether she knew that there would be trouble.

"My mother helped the villagers in all sorts of ways. Dragons are natural leaders. Not just because we're large and fearsome (most of us), but because humans feel some sort of compulsion to do as we say. I have heard it called 'dragon charisma'. She helped them clear farm fields out of the forest, and to organize the village fire department. Dragons know all about fire and flame, not only how to produce it but how to control it. Mother taught them freely, and it seemed that all were benefitting.

"Unfortunately, the village elders began to get jealous. People were following my mother instead of them. She thought that by not interfering in their system of graft, she would avoid provoking the elders. On the contrary, her honest dealings with the villagers only endeared her to them. Soon, the people were pressuring their elders to treat them the same way. But that would have meant giving up the easy life they'd made for themselves. So, they hatched a plan.

"One night, after my mother had left the village to fly back to our cave, one of the elders slaughtered a bunch of sheep, and burned the bodies to make it look like my mother had done it. When she flew down to the village the next morning, the shepherds accused her of attacking their sheep. The idea scared the villagers, because it seemed like the food they had been giving her was not enough and that she might attack their livestock or even them, whenever she wanted. Their fear made them disregard the evidence of their eyes: the sheep were still whole, and the fire that had burnt them had not been nearly as hot as my mother's.

"So they tied her up in chains. She could of course have fought her way free, but she didn't want to hurt anyone and she still believed that she could convince them of her innocence. In fact, a few of those who had worked closely with her did listen. They volunteered to hike up to the cave to tell me what happened. But though they set out at once, they did not reach the cave until evening.

"By then, I was very worried. I was standing in the mouth of the cave, looking down into the valley, when the hikers reached me. Some of them were afraid to find that there really was a second dragon loose near their village, but one of them came forward and told me what had been happening.

"I couldn't help it; I was just a young and hot-headed dragon, in those days. I stamped around angrily and flamed out into the night. Gradually, though, the people who had come to bring me the news calmed me down. They persuaded me to approach the village with caution, and perhaps I would find a peaceful way to free my mother. So I took off silently from the hillside and flew over the village, looking for her.

Roger paused. Dragons are not equipped to cry, but nevertheless, he felt hollow and alone. He didn't know what had made him dredge up all of these memories now, or why he had to tell his life story to a little girl. Maybe he needed someone to know that he hadn't meant for it all to happen, that sometimes events make the decisions for us.

"It was my flame that did it," he continued, softly. "When the villagers realized that there was another dragon nearby, they were frightened. They could not know how many of us there were, or how angry we might be. One of the guards panicked. He had a long sharp spear ..." He stopped, and began again. "Dragon hide is virtually impenetrable, but there is a spot on the belly ... I heard her cry out, and I dived toward the village. I saw her fall ... I knew she was ..."

He swallowed convulsively, not sure he should tell the rest to a little girl, but unable to stop himself. "We dragons don't bury our dead. We usually die alone, and unmourned. But when possible, we prefer funeral pyres. We burn our dead." He glared angrily at nothing, at the image of a memory from long ago, in his youth. "I burned the entire village. Never has a dragon had a pyre so magnificent. I made sure of that. I flew back and forth over the village until there was nothing left, only smoke and fleeing firemen. I flew through the night, singing songs of my mother's deeds, as dragons do, until the village and my heart were filled with ashes."

He was quiet for a moment, remembering. "Out of respect for my mother, I did not hunt down the village elders. Instead, I returned to the ways of dragons, and that's how I've lived ever since, right up until I was shrunk."

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When Roger had finished, he closed his eyes, half expecting June to run away in horror at what he had told her. After a minute or two, he opened his eyes and looked at her. She was crying silently; tears glistened on her cheeks. Seeing him looking at her, she grabbed him and hugged him to her neck. He froze for a moment in surprise, then found himself clinging to her in return, tiny claws gripping her clothing. It felt a little like hugging his mother, when he was just a tiny baby. Maybe somewhere in his dragon brain, he almost understood why he had needed so badly to finally tell the story.

But the hug was cut short by the sound of voices, little boy voices. Quickly June held open her pocket, and Roger scrambled inside for the first time. It was cozy, but not as tight as Roger had anticipated. For one thing, he could fold his wings tightly, and coil his tail. For another, June was wearing her sister's hand-me-downs, pinned at the waist, so there was extra room. Nestled in the dark pocket, Roger heard the boys come closer.

"Hey June," cried one. "Who ya talkin' to? We heard voices."

June must have thought rapidly. "Oh, just my dolls; we're having a tea party. Would you boys like to join us? There's plenty of room!"

This, of course, was greeted with all the revulsion that little boys can muster. Their reaction was driven, as it often is in such situations, by the fact that individually they would have loved to play quietly with her, but as a group, it was obviously out of the question. One of them would have had to say "yes" first.

So, with much jeering, and otherwise making just as much noise as they could, the boys ran back the way they had come. When all was quiet again, Roger poked his head out of June's pocket to find her looking at him.

"Roger, you're my pocket dragon! And we're going to have so much fun!"

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