Duval adjusted the jute strap of his pack, continuing through the damp moss of the woods. A rather violent storm had blown through the night before, and he was now taking it upon himself to assess the damage of the wood. His leather boots squelched in the mud as he returned the handful of snails he held beneath a fallen log, everyone accounted for so far. The songbirds had taken the biggest hit; their home now nothing but split halves of smoking charcoal. Once the sun dried the land, he would find them a new place to settle.
His black hair flew freely in the breeze as he stood back up—he hadn’t even bothered to attempt to tame the unruly short style after the restless night he had. His white woolen shirt was left over from yesterday, the front marred with various shades of pigment from a botched attempt at making dyes the previous summer, and wore his dark linen pants cuffed to his knees. Around his left arm, he wore a guard, complete with a worn leather glove to protect the scarred, delicate flesh underneath. From his modest height of nearly six-foot, he often felt that if he tried hard enough, he might be able to reach the forest canopy.
He continued his perusal throughout the trees, checking in on everyone from the frogs to the deer. It wasn’t until he was nearing the den of the black bears that something strange in colour and lying across a bed of moss near the river caught his peripheral. Focusing fully on the object, he came to a sudden stop.
Against the spongy surface of the ground laid what could be mistaken for a large river rock if not for the glistening blue and purple swirls gleaming across the surface. It was the size of a head of cabbage, completely smooth and almost glowing.
His grey eyes widened, taking in the strange, shimmering object, “Is that—" his voice was hushed in disbelief, “—A dragon egg? I’ll be—if that isn’t one.” he brought his right hand to skim lightly against the nearly translucent purple shell. The tips of the fingers on his left hand began to tingle. Beneath the cool surface, he could see it—a small and unassuming dash of pulsating pink shadows. The embryo, he knew, and it was still alive.
It had been years since anyone had seen a dragon. Over-hunted into near extinction for their flame-resistant scales, long and elegant horns to be made into carefully crafted goblets for mead. Or simply killed for sport and out of fear, Duval would have wagered that they were extinct. His arm, a reminder of the chaotic nature of the beasts, twitched slightly at his side.
But to find one here, on the forest floor? When they were flourishing, the dragons kept watch over the tallest mountains. Duval was sure the storm was responsible, but to fall from a mountain and remain alive? For the first time, he noticed the top of the egg and the large fracture running from the tip down the back. His stomach dropped.
Duval shrugged his satchel off his shoulder and pulled at the drawstring that held it shut, rummaging around in the bag for the spare piece of cloth he knew to be in there somewhere. With his good hand, he wrapped the egg in the cloth and carefully pulled it towards his knees, gently guiding it up his thigh with as loose a grip as he could. Finally, he secured it firmly into the crook of his right elbow, cradled gently against his chest. Gathering up his items, he stood and started back through the clearing that led home.
His house could better be described as a hut, as it was nothing but a pile of rocks held together with simple geometry and strong will—looking as if it would collapse at any moment, but most certainly sturdy as a boulder. To the side of the hut was a pen for his goat, who had come to him with the name Tourlaville, and a moderately sized garden where he grew his herbs. The toad pond had dried up for the winter, but as the seasons transitioned into spring, many of its inhabitants had started returning to the restored water and croaked as he pushed through the brush.
Duval carefully maneuvered the gate open, taking extra precaution as not to damage the egg anymore than it already was. Tourlaville bleated as he hurried past her.
“Toura—look. A dragon!” Duval smiled and the brown goat to bleat again. “They’re not all gone, Toura—They’re not all gone.”
The heavy red door took effort to kick open, and once he was able to convince it, he made haste towards the tiny fire kiln in the corner of the front room. A small wicker basket made its home in front of the radiating warmth, belonging once to his spoiled, white cat. Gilpin, in all his plump glory, had long outgrown the basket and had moved unceremoniously into one of the flowerboxes that looked out over the yard. Nearing the top of Duval’s mental list were his plans to ambush Gilpin for a much-needed washing as his fur had gone from snow-white to more of an off-orange.
Gilpin’s small basket was just the right size to cradle the egg. Duval set it atop the cream linens, doing his best to ensure they molded to the shape to keep it from tipping over. With steady hands, he brought the basket closer to the fire and watched as the tiny figure inside unconsciously crowded closer to the far side of the egg and away from the fracture.
Duval hoped that the crack would remain extraneous.
The egg remained in the basket for nearly a month, and to say Duval was getting anxious was an understatement. He would check in on it every hour on the hour, rubbing his hand across the smooth exterior to check the temperature and whispering calm, reassuring words to the growing creature inside. Gilpin had only attempted to eat the egg once and had quickly learned his lesson regarding that.
A day trip into town meant he had to leave the egg unattended for more than his usual few hours. He put Tourlaville in charge, and with a last threatening look at Gilpin, made his way towards the small village a quarter’s day walk north.
The bakery in the small village of Almyre was always his first stop when visiting the town, though he soon discovered even their dark chocolate truffles wouldn't cure the uneasy feeling in his stomach.
The village market carried an abundance of supplies he would use to restock his stores—only ever buying the items he knew he couldn’t grow or make at home. At one of the first stalls, a decorative wicker basket caught his eye. Large, with a wide base that even the likes of Gilpin couldn’t manage to knock over if he were to try, and Duval quickly decided to buy it.
He traded the basket for particularly large and potent jar of brambleberry wine and continued through the shops.
“Aye, if it ain’t little Duval!” a thick Scottish voice shouted across the bazaar, startling Duval from where he was admiring a decorative set of turquoise broaches. He turned towards the shout, finding a large, burly man standing behind a stall with dozens of leather hides on display.
“Good morning, Percy. Hope all is well for you,” Duval said as he approached the stall.
“You betcha! I gots some new leather in, didya want to take a peek?” Percy asked. His red, braided beard rubbed against his merchant counter as he reached across to point at a dark coloured hide.
“Different leather?” Duval brought his hand up to the leather, and instantly his left hand grew numb. “What is this? This isn’t dragon, is it?”
Percy clicked his tongue, “Dragon? No, no. Ain’t no one’s seen one of them fer years now, y’know,” The red-haired man ran his hands over the rough surface of the fabric. “No, this is from sometin’ else. A strange young lass, half yer size, I’d say. She’s goin’ beneath the town to some ruins, slaying beasts and bringin’ up their hides.”
“Beasts? What sort of beasts?”
“I’m uh—not exac’ly sure, she won’t tell me. Says they’re what’s killed the dragons.”
“Killed the dragons? They’ve been hunted—”
“Aye, tis what I though, too! But that’s not what she says, no. She says it be this beast, right here!” Percy brought his hand down on the leather with a slap.
Duval gave it one last look, wary of the dark ripples across the cut. “I think I’ll pass for today. Maybe next month. Thank you, Percy. Now if you’ll excuse me, Tourlaville will be rather upset at me if I don’t bring her a treat.”
Percy laughed, “Say hullo to her fer me, will ya?” He said as he stuck out his large, soot-covered hand towards Duval.
“Will do,” Duval smiled, taking the meaty hand into his grasp. He gathered his new basket under his arm and made his way down the chain of merchant stalls towards the dairy farmer.
He returned home as the sky was beginning to dust orange. Tourlaville welcomed him obnoxiously as he paused just a second to scratch under her chin. He offered her a very thin wedge of cheese from his bag.
“Did Gilpin behave?” he asked her, moving towards the door, “I won’t have to turn him into a toad, will I?” Tourlaville ignored him, straining her neck to try and get into Duval’s bag.
Upon entering the house, everything seemed in order. Gilpin sat smugly atop Duval’s freshly planted mint, and the egg shimmered from its place near the kiln. Duval kicked off his boots, threw his worn canvas jacket over the back of his arm chair, and went to kneel next to the egg. He set the new basket down near the fire, and as gently as he could, he slid his right hand under the bottom and raised it from the old basket. Cradling it against his chest, he stood and moved closer to the window to get a better look. The embryo was still pulsating inside. Warmth radiated from the egg. He brought his left hand to hover above the shell, feeling the warmth across his palm and looked at his flesh, bright pink and still looking just as fresh as it did when he was ten-years-old. An incident he would never forget in this lifetime. A product of being too adventurous and not heeding his brother’s warnings.
He rubbed his thumb across his palm, unable to feel the raised skin against his damaged fingertips. Duval pondered for a moment, thinking back to what strange beasts Percy could’ve been talking about. And ruins? No one’s been down to those ruins for centuries, and even if they did—it’s certainly not a place to find dragons or what’s supposedly responsible for their downfall.
Absentmindedly, his fingers traced the surface of the egg, only to be met with a sharp and searing pain that shot up his left arm. He jerked and let out a cry, watching in horror as the egg tottered out of his right hand. He attempted to catch it again with his left, ignoring the violent jolt of pain that the action caused but could only stare as it bounced off his hand to the cabin floor with a resounding crack.
He slapped his hands to his face and clamped his eyes shut, unwilling to look at the ground. His eyes burned, water welling up and spilling down his cheeks, and sobbed.
About the author: Bridgett Dorsey is a sophomore at LSSC.
About the illustrator: Avry Fontanez is the Art Director of the Odyssey Magazine.