I watched from the cover of the trees as the elves passed me by along the dirt road. They were traveling with a small horse-drawn cart towards the nearby settlement. A small town of theirs, deep inside the forest, where no men or orcs ever visited. It was a family of them, I think. A mother, a father, and two small elf children who scampered around the cart. Which only reminded me of my own family, as one of my claws flexed and left a furrow in the forest loam beneath my feet.
I was the smallest of two siblings hatched to two of the most cunning green dragons in existence. My mother and father had taught me and my brother everything that they could. But I had always been smaller and weaker. And worse, in my parent’s eyes, I was not cunning at all.
My parents had told us time and again that a green dragon’s fame and fortune rested on how well they could lie and manipulate any situation to their advantage. They told me legends of our ancestors, who through their wits and guile, had laid waste to entire kingdoms with mere words. And had lured foolish elves and men aplenty into their waiting jaws. A dragon who could lie convincingly would never go hungry, they said.
Which was why I was always the weakest. The runt. The failure. No matter how many times father or mother showed me or taught me, I just could not lie convincingly. Nor could I tell when anyone was lying to me in turn. And my older brother showed me no mercy for it either. He always tricked me into getting lost in the forest. Or eating something that had been dead for a week.
My parents gave up on me long before I left the nest. They called me a lost cause, and I was remitted to eating the leftovers of every successful hunt and kill. Even my first true hunting lesson, I was a failure. We were supposed to ambush traveling merchants who were lost in our forest. Father managed to scatter them easily enough, but when I confronted the pair who had wandered in my direction, I had failed.
My task was simply to lure them into a thicket, where they would be trapped, and I could eat them. But when I had talked to them from inside the thicket, promising shelter and safety using the phrase in the common tongue father had taught us, they had simply run away. And, I am ashamed to admit, I lost track of them in our own forest.
I returned to my family as they were gorging themselves on horses and men, empty handed. And between mouthfuls, my brother mocked and laughed at my failure again. My humiliation was complete as mother threw the severed hindquarters of a horse at me and told me to leave the successful dragons to their feast of man flesh.
It was not long after that, that my parents had driven me from the forest. Telling me in no uncertain terms that they would kill me if I returned to their territory. And I believed them.
So it was, that I had flown as far as I could, and collapsed from exhaustion in the forest I was now living in. it wasn’t a bad forest, all things considered. It was far from any major city, so no knights or adventurers would come hunting for me. And I had kept a low profile by eating only the deer and wildlife the whole two decades I had been here so far, despite having a settlement of elves nearby.
Which brought my attention back to the present for a moment. I sniffed the air and the tantalizing scent of elves met my nostrils again. Elves were a delicacy. My mother and father had not found many in the forest near where I hatched, for it was far from the wilder forests they liked to live in. But the few times they had brought pieces back, they had been the tastiest food of all.
Mother and father had told us that they were the tastiest and most prized food of all for a reason.
Because green dragons and elves had been at war with each other for generations beyond memory even of dragon kind.
They had also warned us as well, that while men or any other of the two-legged races might believe our lies, elves never would. And would slay us given even half a chance. Without hesitation or mercy. The blood feud between our species was just that strong.
So it was that as the family of elves passed in front of me, I was preparing to make the first large gamble of my life. Instead of trying to lure them away from the road, I was going to attack them right there.
I had, at first, considered allowing them to pass. But the deer had been avoiding my area of the forest of late. And I was growing desperately hungry. I figured that if I took out the male, the female would be helpless. And while the children didn’t register as a threat and didn’t seem very filling, I knew I would have to silence them too. Or else risk my presence being revealed to the nearby settlement.
I readied myself to leap and pounce on the male, my mouth already watering from what was to come. And then, the most unexpected thing happened. The little girl, who had been running circles around the family, tripped over a stone in the road and fell to the ground. And then she began to cry.
I paused before springing. Wondering how this would change my plans and observing how the family would react to their youngest member’s behavior. Would they scold her? Yell at her for being weak? Would her older brother torment her? Would they leave her behind?
My expectations were shattered when the entire family stopped to help her back to her feet. And I watched in confusion as they hugged and kissed their youngest, all while talking to her in a friendly manner. Were they lying to her, only to bring her more torment? Even though I was terrible at discerning tricks, something about their mannerisms told me that this was not so…
I was befuddled and in complete confusion, as the father picked up the daughter and carried her in addition to leading the horse-cart and carrying his belongings. Adding her to his own substantial burden. And then even more confused as the older brother asked to help carry some of his father’s burden in turn.
I was so confused by their behavior, that I didn’t even notice my opportunity to pounce had passed, until long after they were farther down the road. And when I did, I cursed my own weakness and hesitation as my unsatisfied appetite grumbled and complained. But I still couldn’t get the image out of my head. Of the family of elves stopping to help their fallen and weakest member.
Several days passed after I failed to ambush the elves on the road. I spent most of my time in or around the small cave I had chosen for my lair. A few hunts for deer each day finally rewarded me with a sick buck that was wandering the forest alone. And I killed and ate it without reserve. For I knew few diseases could touch me. And my kind is absolutely immune to any poison.
But the memory of the elf family tormented me in a way I couldn’t even describe to myself. Why were they… the way they were? Every time my own family had observed my failures or discomfort, they had laughed at me or yelled at me or tormented me more. Especially if they were the source of my troubles. Because I was the failure.
But at least I understood why they treated me that way. I was expected to become strong and cunning. And instead I was the weakest of our kind that had been hatched in a dozen millennia, they told me. And they were just trying to toughen me up and make me smarter.
So why was it that, when the elf child had been in distress, they had done none of that?! But had instead checked on her health and even carried her! Nothing made sense!
After several days of these thoughts I decided that, at the very least, I didn’t know as much as I should know about elves and their warped ways. And I decided that I would observe them in their settlement.
After all, if I was going to live so close to my mortal enemy, I should know as much about them as I could.
Early the next morning I decided to stalk down to the elven settlement and watch them for the day. As I neared my destination, the smell of elves in the air became more predominant, and I could have just followed my nose if I had been lost.
Luckily, these elves had built their homes in a grove of ancient and giant trees, and most of the area around their homes was infested with undergrowth and shrubbery that I could hide in easily. And I soon found myself crouching in the undergrowth near one of their vegetable gardens. The sound of elves going about their day surrounded me shortly after sunrise, and I realized quickly just how many seemed to live here.
They descended from their homes in the trees seemingly at random, using ladders and steep staircases, and I was soon surrounded by activity. I watched as neighbors talked among each other. And it surprised me that, as before, there were no hostilities or threats exchanged.
My parents had frequently fought with other dragons, even other greens, for the rights to their territory. Showing us their battle scars, and sometimes bringing home scales, horns, or whole severed wings to show us of the other dragons they had killed or driven off. Territory and hunting rights among dragons was a matter of life or death after all.
So it seemed wrong that these elves did not fight being in such close proximity to each other. And I was even amazed as I witnessed members of different families working together. Helping each other with their tasks and helping each other tend their gardens. Something that would never happen among my own kin.
I even saw the little elven girl who had fallen some days ago on the road, still with a scraped knee, accompanying her mother as she was apparently taught about the plants in the garden in front of me. I remained as still as I could within the shrubs and used a little of the weak forest magic I possessed to bend them around me and hide me better.
The mother spent many hours showing the different plants to her daughter, who smiled back and plucked small berries and ate them while giggling. I found that the sight was… emotional, somehow. Had I been so dismissive of my own parents, they would have clawed at me or bit my tail.
For the briefest of moments, I thought the child looked directly into my eyes, but I blinked. And when I opened my eyes again, she was not in any panic. Nor did she point at me or reveal me. And she wasn’t even looking in my direction anymore, so maybe I had imagined it.
Finally the mother and daughter left, and the rest of the day passed as I watched different families repeat what I had seen. Picking berries, tending the garden, or showing their children the plants as well.
I had to wait until long after sunset for the opportunity to leave without being seen. But I found that as I left the settlement behind, I had more questions than when I arrived. Why were the elves so… wrong?
But then I remembered the smiles and giggles of the little elven girl.
And the beginnings of an idea crossed my mind. The beginnings of a blasphemous and terrible idea. What if they were not the ones who were wrong?
Over the next few months, I returned several times to the settlement to watch its occupants. But I never strayed so far inside as that first time. Lest I, again, risk being revealed in the middle of it and killed. I had been foolish to be so brash that first time, and I was now pretty sure the elven child had almost seen me.
But I watched their comings and goings. I watched the males as they left every few days to hunt deer together and always returned with more than enough for the ones who had done the hunting. They appeared to share their hunts as well as their vegetables. Which was very unlike what my own family had done.
I watched as the occasional traveler visited, and all of the residents came out to greet them and exchange embraces and goods. Instead of exchanging threats and conflict, as my own family would have done with visitors. And the entire settlement seemed to be happier those nights, which I had thought to be impossible.
I even watched as a new family arrived, and the settlement worked together to build a new treehouse for the arrivals. And, again, welcomed them with open arms. It seemed like elves welcomed new arrivals instead of driving them away. Which perplexed me.
If so many of them lived so close together, wouldn’t the food run out? As if in answer to my question, the very next day the settlement planted a garden for the new family as well. And a great party was held in the center of their grove of trees that same night. I could see the glow of their lights from very far into the forest as I retreated from their revealing brilliance.
And I realized even more deeply how the elves lived the opposite way of everything I had been taught was right. And my suspicions only grew.
One day I was hunting through the forest for deer, when the sudden scent of elf crossed me again. This was unusual, because I was very far from their settlement. And they had never ventured this far out before. What’s more, they were dangerously close to my cave.
Had they seen me watching them and come to hunt me down or drive me away? For my own safety I had to know, so I abandoned the scent of deer I had been following and instead followed the scent of elf. And what I found was not what I expected at all.
Wandering the forest, was the same elven child I had now seen for the third time! She was all alone, and crying. She appeared to be calling for her mother and father every few minutes, and I knew that she had somehow become lost in the forest. And was wandering even farther from the settlement and towards my own home.
My hunger reminded me that I had originally been hunting for food anyway. And the smell of elf was appetizing as always. But as I followed the small child, her plight reminded me of something from my own past.
I too had once been lost in the forest, when I was a small wyrmling. My brother had lied to me and tricked me into traveling away from our lair instead of towards it. My father had eventually found me and scolded me for wandering too far towards the human lands. He had clawed at me and said it was almost my fault for revealing our presence to them.
When I had pointed out that my brother had given me the faulty directions, not only had they rewarded him for another successful trick, but they punished me additionally for falling for his prank. Saying that they should have left me to be slain by the humans I would have inevitably encountered.
I had felt like I had brought shame to my family my whole life for my shortcomings. Which is why, as the small elf girl cowered beneath a tree to rest, I knew they would take even greater shame in what I was about to do. But I saw an echo of myself in the circumstances of this small elf child, that my hunger was still telling me to claim.
Slowly and quietly, I stepped out of the concealing foliage and approached the child. She was too busy crying in a huddle to even notice me until I nuzzled her exposed leg with my snout. Once. Twice. A third time, and she finally looked up at me. And her eyes went wide with fear as she screamed loudly at the sight of me.
I flinched back at the shrill noise so close to my ears. But I would not abandon my task. I had strategically cornered her against the trunk of the tree so she couldn’t run. And once she realized this she cowered once more, if more desperately, into a huddled ball.
My grasp of the common tongue was not so good, or else I would have tried to reassure her before what I did next. As delicately as I could, I grabbed the collar of her clothing with my mouth and brought my head back around to deposit her between my wings. I then moved my wings together so as to hold her in place and prevent her from jumping off and running. As it turned out, I didn’t even need to.
When I let her clothing go, the elf child stopped crying for a moment to look at me, and she didn’t resist as my wings held her in place. She sobbed something in common or elvish I didn’t understand. Perhaps questioning my intent. I could only cock my head to one side and shake my head as I replied in draconic that I did not understand. And she too realized that we didn’t speak the same language.
As I carried her through the forest, she spoke only a few times at first, before exhaustion clearly caught up with her and she fell asleep on my back. I don’t know if it was seeing her helpless, or seeing her at peace at last, that seemed to bring me satisfaction as I walked.
Before long, the sounds of shouting elves echoed through the forest ahead, rousing the child from her sleep. They were looking for her. I only hoped that they didn’t suddenly turn their search towards me and find me. A silly hope, in retrospect, as I had already revealed myself to the elf child and had no intentions of silencing or eating her. Once I was sure that we were close to the elves, but still out of sight, I stopped walking before grabbing the child again and setting her down.
She had been quiet the whole time we approached her kin. And for that I was thankful. But she looked at me questioningly for a moment after I set her down. I pointed with one of my claws, indicating that she should run back to her family, and she only continued to stare at me for a moment. As if not comprehending.
I continued to point and look at her expectantly. And then she surprised me. She wrapped her arms around my forelimb, the gesture I knew to be in imitation of the embraces that the elves shared among each other. It lasted only a moment before the child ran away and towards her own kind.
And I wasted no time myself. After a brief moment to recover from what had just happened, I fled back towards my cave. A few minutes later, as the elves passed out of my own hearing again, I counted myself lucky that I stumbled upon a herd of deer that were fleeing the commotion behind me. And one of their number satisfied my frustrated hunger after I dragged its body back to my home.
Over the next few days, I waited and expected the elves to send hunting parties out to find and slay me. But to my surprise, they did not. They continued as if one of their number had not seen me. Had not even encountered me. And while I was thankful that apparently the child had not revealed my existence, I was perplexed and frustrated that I did not understand why. I had fully been expecting to be forced to leave because of my indiscretion.
But no, life in the region continued on as normal. Even as summer turned to fall and winter that year. The only change was the seasons. And the seasonal behavior of the elves along with it. The elves had made sure to stockpile large amounts of food in the center of their grove for the coming months. And I had been forced to roam farther afield in search of my own meals to avoid their hunters and gatherers.
I was surprised when, one day in the middle of winter, they held another celebration in the middle of their settlement and ate a large communal meal together beneath the barren limbs of the trees. I managed to spot the familiar elf child with her family and noted that they appeared not to have changed towards one another. Despite the little girl’s misadventure in the forest. But this was not the last time I would see her.
Indeed as the years went by thereafter I sometimes found the young girl, or later the young woman, wandering the forest alone. And wondered if she was trying to find me again. But I always hid or ran from her or any other elf who strayed too far from their settlement. Because I did not want to be found. And because I feared what would come after.
I had watched the settlement for years now. And I think I had finally come to understand the elves. Their way was not power or conquest. Or even right or wrong. They simply seemed content to be content. And to help the others around them to remain as such. Something that, until now, had seemed twisted and foreign and alien to me. But which I now came to realize was a far better way of life than the one I was born to.
And dare I say, watching the elves go about their happy lives, I shared in a small measure of their happiness. Knowing that I had chosen not to attack them or eat them. And knowing that I never would.
I would watch them from the outside. And wish them well. For I also knew that their brand of happiness would forever be aloof from me. I was, after all, just the dragon who lurked in their forest.
Winter had come to the forest again. And I was now as familiar with the comings and goings of the elves as I was with the seasons themselves. I knew when their hunting parties would roam the forest. I knew when their festivals and celebrations would be held. I even knew when the traders would visit on the long road back towards the major cities.
So I was surprised one day when the routines of the forest were different than expected. The elves would have been celebrating their festival at the winter solstice. And the deer would have been left to roam the forest in peace. But instead, the wildlife was running every which way. As if stirred up by a careless predator. And I knew I was not the one responsible.
I stayed clear of the source of the disturbance, for fear it was an inexperienced elf among an unexpected hunting party today. So instead, I went to one of my usual perches near the settlement to watch their festival and feasting. And to witness their smiles and happiness again.
The tables were set, and the elves were gathered as normal. But shortly after they began, cries rang out from the forest, and the elves looked around in confusion and fear. And once again, I knew I was not the cause of the commotion. I had long since learned to be careful around the settlement, and only one elf even knew I existed. If she even remembered me at all anymore.
No, the commotion drew nearer as smoke began to waft through the grove. And the villagers panicked and fled as trouble walked out of the surrounding forest. A band of orcs had come to the settlement. Roaming and raiding and pillaging. Just like my parents had taught me their kind desired to do. They set the trees alight with torches as they swarmed the settlement. Leaving the elven homes on fire among their boughs and branches.
I found that I was snarling as I watched this invasion of the peaceful elves. Who fled for their lives before brutish and thuggish orc warriors wielding spears and swords and axes. The orcs did not stop or cease or show any mercy whatsoever to the elves. Even the few who were left behind and begged for their lives at the point of orc blades. Old and helpless, nor young and innocent, were spared.
And it was then that I realized the full measure of what monstrosity was. What these orcs did, killing and destroying for no reason other than to enjoy it. Or, as I watched the orcs discover the elves’ food stores and begin to carry it off, even to sate one’s own hunger at the expense of others. As my own kind did.
I could not help but feel something for the elves, whom I had watched for so long from the forested shadows. And the end of their happiness was echoed in myself at the realization that the elves would soon be no more. Unless something changed. Unless someone did something. Unless a monster was willing to fight other monsters.
I made my decision.
I abandoned all pretense of stealth as I charged into the fray. Every elf that saw me, screamed in terror and ran. And every orc that saw me, simply stared. In surprise. In shock. In horror. Before I bit them in half or cut them down with my claws. Only a few managed to shout or yell for aid before I silenced their calls over the sounds of the village aflame.
But I did not stop my counterattack upon them. And soon, I realized, that I had charged right into the middle of their warband. And I was surrounded by angry and vengeful orcs in the very heart of the burning settlement.
Where once there had been feasting and smiling elves, there were now only bodies and wreckage and smoke. And rampaging orcs who waved their weapons at me and began to surround me. The same orcs who had destroyed the elves’, and my, happiness.
I inhaled a great breath, preparing to unleash my fury upon them. And they cowered behind crude wooden shields or overturned tables. Probably expecting a stream of fire to be loosed at them. But I was not a red dragon. Not a fire dragon. And the essence of my breath was much more insidious than simple flames.
I exhaled a cloud of poisonous green gas at the monsters before me. And watched as it wound its way around every overturned table or over every raised shield. And they bathed in my wrath. And many drowned in my fury.
But I was not the largest nor the greatest green dragon. And I had intentionally held back so as not to poison any elves who might be hiding or wounded nearby. And when my breath was inevitably blown away, or consumed by the roaring flames that surrounded us, there were many more orcs still around me. And they were even more angry than before.
They charged at me and swarmed over me. Hacking at my scales and wings with their crude blades. And in turn I chomped at them. And slashed at them. And flung many into burning trees and houses. Or rolled over on top of them and crushed them.
I do not recall for how long we fought, but before long, I was badly wounded and covered in blood. Much of it my own. And I was growing weaker. There were still a few dozen orcs left when I finally collapsed to the ground. And the largest of those remaining walked up to me as I was too drained to fend him off. Then he raised a great axe over his head. Preparing to chop off my own.
All thoughts of surviving left me as the orc continued raising his axe higher. But I did not panic. Nor did I fear. I only hoped that, for once, I had not failed. I hoped I had stopped the orcs from pursuing the elves who were fleeing. And I hoped that they would able to live on after I was gone. But just as the orc began to swing his axe down… an arrow shaft appeared in one of his eyes, and he collapsed dead to the ground beside me. Postponing my execution.
What followed after, I only remember as a blur. Orcs howled their frustration and rage as arrows and sword-wielding elves flew through the air with untraceable speed and lethality. The remainder of the orcs fled or fell dead, and the ring of angry orcs around me was soon replaced with vengeful elves who now held their swords at me or readied their bows. And the last thing I remember, I didn’t know if I imagined it, was a very familiar looking young elf woman running towards me from the crowd. And then, only darkness.
I never expected to wake up again. After all, elves and green dragons had feuded over the forests of this world for generations beyond memory. So I was surprised when my eyes opened to sunlight again. Blinding and brilliant sunlight. And I felt the soreness and pain of my wounds. And something more.
I looked around as my eyes adjusted and realized that I was in the scorched remains of one of the elves’ gardens. And the elves had somehow placed strips of cloth over my wounds to bandage them. But I was tied to a scorched tree by a rope around my neck that radiated powerful magic. And I knew instantly that it was unbreakable.
So I was a captive? Only until they decided to execute me, I reasoned. It was as I looked around that a male elf who had been silently sitting in the corner of the garden on a barrel yelled loudly in their language and ran off. So they knew I was awake now, as well.
It wasn’t long before many elves peeked over the scorched hedges and walls of the garden and were staring at me from every angle. And more than one elven hunting bow was trained on me. But none approached me, and I couldn’t blame them.
After that, it seemed like an eternity passed under the wary gaze of the elves present, before an additional handful of older elves stepped into the garden. The only exception was the elf child, now the elf woman, who had met me before. And she wore the only smile of the group, if a small one.
The elders stopped short of me. Probably judging what I could reach with claws or jaws on the end of my magical tether. And although the elf woman tried to approach me, the elder in the lead placed an arm up to bar her path. It was then that I made the most shameful noise a dragon can make, and a small whimper escaped my muzzle. I feared that she was in trouble because of me.
I lay my head back on the ashen earth, at the mercy of the elves. No doubt they had come to pass judgment or to make an announcement before condemning me to execution. But at least I knew that they would be safe after I was gone.
An aura of magic suddenly surrounded the oldest elder, who had barred the woman’s path, and he placed a new enchantment around the garden. Encompassing both myself and all of the elves gathered.
When he began to speak, despite the fact that he was clearly still speaking in their language, I was surprised that I could understand the general meaning of what he was saying. Even if I couldn’t understand the definitions of the words he was using. He had cast some form of translation spell.
I wasn’t expecting him to start by asking me if I was the same dragon who had brought his granddaughter back to the settlement a decade ago. Many of the elves present gasped when I confirmed that I was, and the remaining elders and the crowd began to whisper and talk amongst themselves about this. And once again, I couldn’t understand the words, but I could understand their meanings.
They were shocked that the little girl had been telling the truth when she returned, and ever since. And they were also terrified that I had been so close to them without their knowing. The fear and panic in their looks and voices was a painful reminder of the reason I had always stayed hidden. The reason I had wanted to stay away.
Once the crowd settled down, the elders took turns questioning me. Their fear and distrust only growing with each question and answer. As well as my own despair and trepidation. They asked me how long I had been in the forest. And I told them I had been living there for three decades. Which visibly surprised them. They asked why there had never been any sight or sign of me, and I told them that I had intentionally avoided any contact as much as possible.
Then another elder asked, if I was so intent to avoid them, why had I been there on the day of their festival. And another added, accusingly and full of hatred, why had I attacked at the same time the orcs had? Many angry murmurs echoed this thought from the crowd. And I felt their hatred and their anger even more tangibly than my wounds.
I broke down in front of them then, I could hold back my emotions and shame no longer. I told them it was because I was a weak dragon. And I told them everything.
I told them I had been shunned and rejected by my parents for being incompetent and weak. How I had finally been driven from my home and flown as far away as I could. How I had watched their settlement and their families and, in my weakness, realized that watching them be happy was the only thing that had ever brought me peace. So, I had stayed away and not interfered with them. And watched them from afar.
And I told them, that when I saw what the orcs were doing, I realized just how wrong the orcs were for the things that they did. And just how wrong my own kind was for the things that they did. I told them, when I realized they were doomed, I couldn’t bear it. That, I would rather die knowing I had tried to help them, than to live on without being able to watch them. As a dragon whose kind had only brought suffering to others.
When I was finally done talking, and I had poured forth what seemed to be my very soul, I was exhausted. I was still drained from my battle and wounds, and It felt as though every hope or happiness had left me again as I retold my story. My head crashed to the ground because I didn’t have the energy to hold it up any longer.
I was spent. They had their explanation, and I had nothing left to live for. There was almost a comfort in the finality of my situation, as I fell unconscious again. Fully expecting that, this time, the executioner’s axe would finish its journey.
And I was confused, when I awoke for the second time, to find that it had not.
It was the dark of early morning in the garden when I opened my eyes, and I saw that a slain deer had been left in front of me. The sight of food made me realize how ravenous I was from my exhaustion and wounds, and I ate it without a second thought. Incapable or unwilling to question why it was there.
When nothing was left of it but a few bloodstains on the ashen earth, I realized that there was also a barrel of water within reach as well. And I was just as parched from blood loss as I was hungry. I stuck my head in it and drained it thoroughly with equal abandon.
When I was done, I finally looked around and noted the absence of any elves standing guard in the garden. And also, the absence of the rope that had bound me before, which only emphasized how helpless I was. Because, I was still wounded and weak and bandaged, and I doubted very much that I would have the strength to even walk away any time soon. Let alone fly.
I looked up at the moon through the scorched limbs that loomed overhead for a few minutes, wondering if I had just eaten my last meal, before trying to go back to sleep. But my discomfort, both physical and emotional, would not let me rest.
When the sun rose later that morning, I was surprised when only the young elf woman and her father walked into the garden. And they were carrying a barrel of water to replace the one I had emptied. I was far too weak to do more than lift my head a little as I watched. But when the woman saw that I was awake, she smiled at me. And she reached out to touch my snout with one of her hands, as her father watched nervously.
When she patted the tip of my snout with her hand, I couldn’t help but smell her. And, for the first time, I realized that elves no longer smelled appetizing or made me hungry. They smelled like happiness and made me feel at peace.
But, I was even more surprised, when she began speaking to me in crude draconic as she kneeled next to me. She told me thank you for bringing her back to her people so many years ago, and she told me that I was no longer a prisoner. She even told me that I was free to leave, and visit as much as I wanted to, once I was healed.
But the whole time she was talking, she used a word I had never even heard aloud before. She called me ‘friend.’
And, as I looked into the eyes of my friend, I made the second most shameful noise a dragon can make. And I purred for a moment when I rubbed my snout against her hand in return.