‘It all started a couple of years ago.’
Keichi, retired dragon hunter, now hired hunter for food and protector of farmers and nature poured another cup of sake to create a dramatic pause.
‘I was hired to investigate a sighting of a dragon. Usually there were attacks on people or cattle, this time though only a few people who’ve seen one around but there were no attacks.
I wandered around the area the dragon had been seen when I came up to the lake shore and sat down for a spot of lunch. Before I even unpacked my bag I heard a faint noise. I had to find out what it was because it could be anything from animals, other people up to the dragon, I sneaked closer to a couple of boulders from where I thought the sound came from. What I heard was soft crying. I couldn’t see who it was because the boulders were too big to look over and they ran from the water to a bit inland. But I could clearly hear someone crying, and it seemed to me like it was a girl in distress.
Now, you know me of course, I can’t leave a girl alone when she’s sad so I coughed politely and asked if the person on the other side was okay. I heard her sniff and then she said she needed to find herbs to cure a wound and the resulting fever of her mother, but she couldn’t find them. I figured if there wasn’t any real trouble caused by the dragon I could help the girl first. I said I had some knowledge so I’d help her find what she needed and I’d come over as I found a place to climb over the rocks. As I climbed across I wondered what kind of girl she’d be. Her voice was a little husky and it felt sweet and innocent to me.’
He sighed, downed his cup of sake and poured a new one.
‘Imagine my surprise, and hers, when I stood on top of the rocks. She was sitting with her back to me, her head turned towards me with big, wet, green eyes.’
The other guests in the inn were listening curiously along with his friends whom he hadn’t seen in years.
‘In a way she wasn’t like any other I’d seen, she had this aura of purity over her, it was like I gained a new experience I’d never would have imagined I’d get.’
His friends leaned just a little closer in anticipation while he downed the sake.
‘And then I saw her surprise as she saw me in my dragon slayer outfit and the next thing she did was to fly away.’
‘Wait.’ one of his friends said. ‘Fly away?’
‘Yes, she was the very dragon I had to hunt.’
When everyone got back on their feet after they fell from their feet and chairs he poured another drink and continued.
‘Yes, a dragon. Unbelievable as it was, there she was and I watched her as she flew away from me. An orange, reddish coloured dragon, only about twice my size which is the smallest I’ve ever seen, and I daresay also the cutest I’ve ever seen.’
‘You gotta be kidding us.’ One of the guys said. ‘I’ve never heard of anything like that.’
The others nodded in agreement.
‘Oh, I agree.’ he nodded. ‘I’d never seen or heard of anything like this before myself. The few dragons I had to deal with were rugged killing machines. They were running on instinct, pure animals. But I must say that I only had to kill any of them when they didn’t stay away from human territory. This one though, she was nothing I had encountered before. I stood there for quite some time before I realised what had happened. And by that time it was evening so I made my camp there and just put it out of my mind for the time being and went to sleep.
In the morning I walked into the direction she flew, still thinking it must have been a mistake or a dream I had and tried to focus on the hunt. Around noon I arrived at an edge of the forest and I saw her again. She was searching in the open field in a frantic way and I could see she was having trouble finding what she needed.
I removed most of my weaponry and armour to look less threatening and coughed politely again when I moved a little closer to her.
She was startled and wanted to flee again but I shouted at her that I wouldn’t harm her. I kept my distance and showed her I wasn’t armed and she stayed where she was. Although she was very nervous I asked if she was looking for the herbs. She said she was, and I asked if she could tell me what kind of wound her mother had. She said it was a large cut on her leg from a sharp rock when she slipped on the mountains.
I asked her what herbs she was looking for and the ones she described are also some used for humans. I said that I know of a few more used for humans for this, but that I wasn’t sure if they’d also work for dragons. If she would trust me I could show her where to get the herbs and how to use them to cure the wound and fever.
She had not much of a choice so she reluctantly followed me to the valley in the south where I knew there were the herbs to keep down the fever. When I sh owed her what to get and how to apply it I told her this was just for the fever. She’d need others for the wound which grew farther away so she could use this for now to make her mother more comfortable while we’d get the others in the meantime. I told her I’d wait here for her while she attended her mother.’
He leaned back in his chair. ‘I know what you’re thinking, why the hell would I help her? I’m not sure myself, but I had this gut feeling that it was the right thing to do. If I would help her I would make a difference for the better.’ He downed another sake.
‘As I prepared for the night she came back, landing a little bit away and I could see she smiled softly while trying not to look at me. She told me that the fever had come down and she was grateful for my help. I told her I was glad to help and we’d go get the rest of the herbs we needed in the next couple of days. It was then that she bowed before me and told me her name, Zuchi.
I was lucky enough to shoot a deer that afternoon and I offered her some of the meat as I was roasting it for dinner. It was the first time that I’ve seen a dragon accept food so shyly, but then it was one of many firsts that I had in those days. It was also the first time I’ve seen a dragon enjoying dinner this much.’ He smiled and grabbed one of the small snack sausages on the table.
‘The next morning we headed north to get a flower from the slopes of the mountains. On the way I explained about the herbs we’d need and she picked it up quickly. She would listen to my lessons on different herbs and ways to treat common wounds and diseases and she’d ask a lot of questions about it. I must say she’s been a perfect student.
It was evening when we reached the edge of the mountains so we set up camp there. She caught a couple of wild boars and I roasted them. I must say I liked that arrangement.
It was after dinner that she asked why I was helping her, seeing I was a dragon slayer.’
He stared into endless nothing in front of him for a moment, then continued.
‘I told her I didn’t really knew. For some reason my gut told me I could trust her and that helping her and her mother was the right thing to do. And that I was a sucker for the cute way she looked with those teary eyes.’ He grinned and quickly took another shot. ‘One more first for me, seeing a dragon blush.
We went to sleep and we spent the morning looking over the slopes looking for the flower, then we moved west to find the next ingredient. During the trip I told her a bit about myself, how I started becoming a slayer to protect people from the fierce attacks of dragons and other creatures. She told me her father died protecting his family from an attack from another dragon when she was little. He defeated it but his wounds were fatal. I think I embarrassed her a bit saying he’d be proud of her doing her best to cure her mother.’
He leaned forward and looked seriously. ‘And then we encountered just that.’
The audience looked expectantly at him, drinking their ale as if it were water.
‘A rogue dragon came down upon us.
It came from high up so we didn’t notice it until it was too late. It brushed past Zuchi, cutting the back of her neck with its claws. She rolled on her back from the pain and the dragon tried to make another swoop at her, but then I was ready with my spear. As that dragon didn’t watch carefully it dove right onto my spear when I jumped in front of Zuchi, which was also lucky for me. I tended to Zuchi’s wound immediately and managed to ease the pain. I told
her the cut wasn’t deep so she’d only have a minor scar.
As it was we set up camp for the night, she’d need some rest first and I got rid of the dragon’s remains. But as soon as I prepared to go to sleep she asked if it was okay to sleep next to me. I was kinda surprised but she told me she felt a little scared now. I didn’t mind so we laid down with my back against her side, it felt rather nice.’ he nodded.
‘When I woke up the next morning I found myself wrapped up in her arms and wings.’ he snickered. ‘Apparently I was so far away in my sleep I didn’t wake up when she grabbed me in her sleep. She had a really peaceful expression on her face so I guessed the attack hadn’t left her with a trauma. And then she woke up, slowly she started to realise what she had done and became so flustered I laughed out loud. She sat away pouting and after I apologised for laughing she said she often did that with her mother’s tail. I patted her on the head and told her it was no big deal, then got to work on breakfast.
That day we managed to gather almost all we needed and she really cheered up. By evening we had set up camp at a river. While she would go out to hunt for food I took the opportunity to dive into the water and wash my clothes. Zuchi came back early and when she didn’t see me she walked up to the river when she spotted my clothes there. Just as she stepped into the water I came up from a long dive, right in front of her. It seems she did know something about humans because she became flustered again and ran off to camp.’ he laughed. ‘But I must admit it was kinda embarrassing for me too.
Anyway, when it was time to sleep it seemed like she wanted to ask but didn’t dare to. I just smiled at her and told her if she wanted to hold onto me for the night it was okay. I said it was the first time I has slept outside feeling warm and comfortable so I wouldn’t mind another night. I think she was glad she could sleep out here just like she could at home.
When we found the last of the ingredients the next day I showed her how to make a paste to apply to the wound and I wrapped a bandage with it around her neck for her own wound. I gathered everything she needed in a makeshift bag and wished her good luck and health for both of them and told her I’d hope to see her again. She stood up to take off, but then quickly bowed down and gave me a dragon’s kiss. Then she took off and flew home.’ he smiled and stared into his cup.
‘Life was uneventful in the days after, no dragons to hunt down but a few creatures who attacked cattle, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Zuchi. It was
then that I realised I missed her. I was still in the area where we first met, but I never knew where her home was. And then on an afternoon I walked into a clearing right in front of a large dragon. It was red and black, had fearsome yellow eyes and looked like it would tear me up at a moment’s notice. I stood still, readied myself to run back into the trees as she turned her head, leaned closer and sniffed at me.’ he leaned closer to his friends looking seriously. ‘And then she asked if I was Keichi.
I said I was, she grumbled just a little, then nodded. She turned to her right and then I saw her bandaged leg. I looked up to her and she nodded again, saying she was indeed Zuchi’s mother and she thanked me not only for the medicine but also for taking care of Zuchi.
I asked her how Zuchi has been and she said she’d been a bother to my surprise. When she saw the question on my face she told me that all Zuchi talked about in the last days was me. I apologised for that and told her that I missed Zuchi’s company as well. She puffed and looked really close at me. “Take responsibility then.” she said.’
Everyone around Keichi lifted their collective eyebrows.
‘I didn’t knew what to respond to that but she already called out to Zuchi and a few moments later she appeared. She smiled seeing me and gave me a shy wave. Then her mother pushed her to me. “It’s time you learned to stop hanging onto your mother’s tail and go out into the world.” she said. “I have no idea how on earth you two got together but you’ll just have to manage.” And then she flew away.
We stood there for a while, both lost for words when she softly asked if it was okay. I smiled to myself and asked her if she wanted to go along the river with me, I was asked to chase away a pack of wolves a few towns down south. She smiled and nodded and ever since then we’ve been together.’ he concluded, finishing off his drink.
His friends looked at each other, then grinned. ‘Bullshit.’ one of them said. ‘It sounds like a weird love story.’ Others nodded in agreement.
‘I think you’ve spend too much of your money on ale and wine all these years and gave yourself delusions. You don’t have a dragon partner. Nobody ever heard of a tame dragon, let alone a talking one.’ One of the others said.
Keichi just smiled, then something flew over his friends heads and pounced him. ‘Daddy!’
His friends stared wide eyed at a girl only a few years old, wagging her tail, flapping her red wings and sporting the cutest green eyes they’d ever seen.
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