The Dragons' Gift

              A glimmer of warm, mellow sunlight made its way through the crack in Tommy's eyelid.  He fought a groan, but it inevitably emerged anyway as it always did, with the knowledge that it was time to wake up.  But it was only one small hesitant moment, for the truth was that he had no desire to miss the morning.  Not when he had his job in front of him; especially not on as fine a morning as the sun promised this would be.

              He threw on his clothes and a pair of thick boots, stepped out the door of his small cabin into the beaming rays, and drew his arms up over his head in an enormous stretch.  As Tommy opened his mouth in a wide yawn, a bellowing sound came forth.  But it had not come from him.  It was time to do the rounds; there were dragons to feed.

              Alisand, Rean, and Sern were Tommy's dragons, and it was his privilege to take care of them.

              Tommy's morning was spent hauling haunches of beef into the great barn, washing scales, putting down the  fresh hay that made up the dragon beds, and pouring copious amounts of whisky into troughs, just as he had been taught.  He'd been doing it almost a year on his own, and though he was not yet as tall and muscly as grandfather had been before the fever took him, Tommy was able to get the job done.  Besides, he thought to himself with firm certainty, I'm surely taller than I was a year ago. 

              The sound of six giant nostrils breathing roused Tommy from his thoughts, and he turned with a grin to greet his friends.  Not a word did they utter, but he knew they were content.  Especially before a trough of fine single malt whisky.  The whisky was gone in the blink of an eye down three thirsty throats, but not before the heady fumes wafted Tommy’s way and made his eyes water.
            And then it was time for his friends to spread their gigantic wings and take flight.
            But the dragons never went far—no more than fifty miles in any direction.  Close was what the dragons wanted.  Close and secure, with four beefy meals a day, plenty of whisky, and a daily scale scratch (which Tommy performed with a long pitch fork). 
            The sisters, Tommy knew from grandfather, had had many adventures before they came to the farm, and that was seen well enough by the gold they had brought with them.  Contrary to the myth of dragons and their hoards, the sisters were happy to share their gold in exchange for creature comforts.  It seemed, the dragons could not be bothered by having any adventures in the near future—all they seemed to want was a nice rest.
            But Tommy knew that they would not stay forever.  The girls were not old—not by dragon standards.  A mere 1,000 years between them touched nothing on a dragon’s long life.  There would come a time, grandfather had said, when they would take to the skies again, ready for more adventures.
            When that happened, Tommy knew, he would be very much alone.
            It was on this day with so glorious a morning, that the dragons did something quite different.  Instead of leaping into the air as they had done for days beyond counting, they preened over Tommy, as though hugging and kissing him in a dragon kind of way.  And when they took to the air, Tommy knew it was goodbye.
            The sense of loss covered him in a blanket of sadness that could not be consoled, and the next day, though there was no need, he could not keep from going about his duties as though his friends were there.
            And then a curious thing happened.  As he moved about the fresh hay that would serve as no one’s berth, he saw something glisten in a beam of sunlight that had made its way in through the barn rafters.  Pulling apart the hay, his eyes widened.  For there in front of him was an egg.
            It was no ordinary egg.  It came up to his knee and was almost half that wide.  It ran with blues and greens tracing about each other in swirling patterns.  And as light touched the whole of it, it shimmered.
            Suddenly the egg began to move.  Tommy nearly jumped out of his skin.  It rocked back and forth, until there came a loud noise like wood snapping, and a long crack made its way along the whole of the egg.  Then came a tapping, as though something where trapped inside.  Tommy had an inkling as to just what that was.  But, whatever it was, it was not trapped for long, for in no time at all a sharp beak made its way through the crack.
            Tommy was staring intensely at the sight before him, watching the beak peck away at the shell, until the top of it popped off all at once, revealing a very tiny dragon.
            Tommy looked at it for a moment, and then realization began to dawn.  The sisters had given him a parting gift, and a noble calling.  It would not be easy, but he knew what he had to do.
            And suddenly he did not feel so very alone after all.  He had a dragon to raise.

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