Drake pelted down the forest path, one hand holding his hat in place, the other hand holding his school books. He was late. Again. Master Devlin would cane him for sure. Or, worse, would make him stay after classes and scrub all of the long wooden tables in their classroom at Finghul’s School for Boys.
He hurtled over a fallen log and ducked his head to avoid a low-hanging branch. As he picked up speed again, a wink of light in the undergrowth beside the path made him pull up short. Thoughts of school instantly vanished and Drake, still breathing hard, peered into the undergrowth, hoping to see the light again.
He edged back along the path and gently pushed aside leaves and branches. From under the spiked leaves of a holly bush, the light flashed again. Drake stooped closer. Bright, morning sunlight reflected from the smooth surface of a tiny glass ball, about the size of a chicken egg.
Drake scooped up the ball and held it cupped in his palm. The cool, clear glass was mottled with tiny bubbles, as though its creator had been in too much of a hurry to let the liquid glass heat to the proper temperature before blowing the piece. Each bubble acted as a prism and each prism cast a tiny rainbow against Drake’s palm.
Drake looked closer at a dark shadow in the center of the ball.
“Is that…?" Drake blinked and let out a long sigh of wonder.
A tiny dragon lay in the heart of the glass. Of course, he knew it wasn’t a real dragon, but Drake still grinned with excitement. He could hardly wait to show the other boys.
Boys. School. Drake moaned. Now he was later than ever for school.
He looked back at the ball. Why not take the day off to play with his new toy? Perhaps, in the rush of tomorrow morning's routine, Master Devlin would forget about the previous day’s absence. Besides, he's survived punishments before and this was worth the risk.
Drake pocketed the ball, slung his books over his shoulder and left the beaten path, heading for Dragon Head Light.
As he walked, he whistled. His new treasure nestled snug in his pocket and created within Drake a warm sense of satisfaction with life. He was ten-years-old with a dragon in his pocket and the world was ripe for adventure.
Dragon Head Light, the oldest lighthouse on this stretch of seacoast, perched on an outcropping of rock which had inspired the spot’s name. At dusk, with the sun behind the cliff, the rocks resembled a huge dragon peering out from his seaside cave, ready to take flight across The Great Northern Sea. Drake loved to sit at the highest point, just where the dragon’s head jutted out over the water, and imagine that he and the dragon were setting out for far-off places together.
He flopped onto the grass beside his books and breathed in the salt sea air. From this point, he could see far down the coast, almost to The Great City, nearly ten miles away. What he liked most, though, was to look out over the vast gray water and dream.
Drake pulled the glass ball from his pocket and set it carefully in the sun-warmed grass. Then he lay on his stomach, propped his chin on his hands, and watched as sunlit prisms leapt out to color the grass and the air around him. He wondered if he should break the glass to get to the dragon inside, but decided he liked it just this way for now; it seemed to have more possibilities this way. He could always break it open later.
As Drake lay in the soft grass, the sun gradually warmed him and a heavy drowsiness crept through his body. He rolled onto his back and closed his eyes against the brilliant light. Within minutes, he was asleep.
Beside the sleeping boy, the glass ball grew warm in the sunshine. It began to expand and shake and the dark shadow within writhed.
The sound of shattering glass woke Drake with a start. He sat up and looked for the glass ball, worried that the sun’s heat had broken his treasure.
What he saw made him scramble back and gape.
Standing amid the shards of glass, a small dragon preened, clicking his iridescent black scales and stretching his paper-thin wings. The dragon shook his head like a dog waking from a nap and opened its mouth to emit a feeble squawk. It blinked wide black eyes as though surprised by the sound of its own voice, but then quickly tried the noise again. This time, the high-pitched squawk was stronger and seemed to please the creature so much that it tried yet again.
Drake stared in amazement. This dragon was larger than the one in the glass ball, but surely was the same one. It was about the size of a yearling calf but as Drake watched, it grew still larger until it could have matched a horse for size and strength.
The creature’s noises grew in proportion to its size so that now it emitted a hefty roar and Drake began to be a little afraid. Whether it was fear or curiosity which froze his legs, he remained rooted in the same spot, staring at the growing dragon.
He was still more afraid when the creature spoke aloud, its voice hoarse but clear.
“Thank you.” The dragon was now as tall as his step-mother's cottage.
Drake's knees finally crumbled and he stumbled back a step. “You’re w-w-welcome. For what?”
“You released me from the evil magic,” replied the dragon in a deep rumble. It now rivaled a barn for size and its wings covered the ground for many yards on either side of it. “By bringing the ball here to Dragon Head and warming it, you freed me from my thousand year prison.”
Despite its size, the dragon moved with surprising ease. It turned to face the sea and took a deep breath. “Before I go, name your reward, youngling.”
Drake's head spun with bewildered excitement. What reward should he name? Deliverance from Master Devlin was appealing but not grand enough for the occasion. Wealth enough to set up his step-mother for life was noble, but still not right. Wealth enough for him to escape both Master Devlin and his step-mother was better.
And then the answer was obvious.
Drake grinned. “Take me with you.”
Biography: Anne Shaw is passionate about Shakespeare, classical education, good grammar and chocolate. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and four children. This is her first published work of fiction.
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