Nov 24, 2022

Once upon a time there lived a very old dragon. He was so old that his wings were too stiff to fly. And when it came to breathing fire, all he could manage was a puff of smoke…so he was considered pretty much a has-been by the other dragons that lived on Draco Isle. (Well, that was what dragons called it, anyway; the giants who lived there called it by another name.) In his youth the very old dragon had been called Burnwald the Bold, but now he was called Burnwald the Bald because he’d lost all the scales on the top of his head.

Now, you might think that Draco Isle was a small piece of land, but its name was misleading. It was so big, in fact, that you or I would have called it a continent, and many thousands of dragons roamed there. The mightiest of these was Fangvold the Fearsome, who didn’t need a crown to announce that he was king of his kind. So brilliant were his rainbow scales, so large and sharp his ivory teeth, that other dragons bowed their heads in respect whenever he flew past. Though he was the most ferocious of dragons, he was a tender father to his son, who was that rarest of rare creatures, a silver dragon.

Now, a silver dragon only came along once every five hundred years or so and was believed to bring good luck. According to the ancient lore, if anything bad happened to a silver dragon, all dragonkind was doomed to hundreds of years of misfortune…until the next silver dragon came along. So dragons fiercely protected a silver member of their kind—to make sure that no harm ever came to it. But silver dragons were especially hard to protect because of one unusual trait. When a silver dragon cried, its tears, instead of drying where they fell, crystallized into diamonds. So you can imagine how many greedy giants would have liked to get their hands on one of them. And that’s the story I’m about to tell…because one finally did—a giant, I mean.

Near the Colossal Caverns—a system of huge caves where Fangvold, his young son, and a dozen of his dragon guards made their home—there was a lake. Here the dragons gathered every evening before retiring to their own caves.

One year in late summer, when the slumber thistles had gone to seed, a giant by the name of Rothfer the Wrathful collected as many of the seeds as he could find. He put them in a stout barrel and stomped on them for days on end with his callused feet until they were all crushed to powder. He wore a rag for a mask, of course, so the powder didn’t affect him. You see, the seeds of the slumber thistle would cause anyone who breathed them in to fall into a deep sleep.

Then, on an evening when the wind was right, Rothfer climbed to the top of a gigantic oak near the lake and dumped out the contents of a large sack, letting the wind carry the powder across the water. Soon the dragons on the other side grew drowsy, and one by one they drifted off to sleep. When Rothfer saw that all were slumbering, including the little silver dragon, he climbed down from the tree.

As he trudged among the snoring dragons, he chuckled loudly, not even bothering to be quiet. He grabbed the silver dragon roughly and dumped him into the now empty sack, then headed back to his castle.

The following morning, when the dragons all woke, Fangvold was outraged to find his son missing. He sent all twelve of his dragon guards out in twelve different directions to search the forest until they found him. They asked every woodland creature they came across—including a couple of bears, several beavers, and dozens of squirrels and rabbits—if they’d seen the young dragon and if they had any idea about what might have happened to him. One of them even asked Burnwald, when they found him resting in the sun at the mouth of his cave. (He lived in a cave so small he could barely turn around in it and so damp that no other dragon had wanted it.)

Anyway, Burnwald told the guard that he hadn’t seen the young dragon either. Though enfeebled, he had the wisdom that comes with age, however—and in the middle of the next night, he started awake with an idea; it occurred to him to ask the woodland creatures who slept by day and only came out at night. And, sure enough, an owl offered that the previous evening, she had seen a giant carrying a sack over his shoulder, coming from the direction of the lake.

Well, the only giant who lived in the area was Rothfer the Wrathful, but no dragon had ever gone anywhere near his castle because of his violent temper. So huge was Rothfer that no dragon had ever dared take him on. So Burnwald was more than a little nervous when he set off in the morning for Rothfer’s castle, but he was determined to make the most of this opportunity to prove himself—to show the world that he was still capable of heroic deeds.

As luck would have it, when he neared the castle, he saw the giant heading off in the opposite direction. And no sooner had he passed through the entrance than he heard the sound of crying. Now, the very old dragon was a little deaf, but the hearing of a dragon is so acute that he was still able to hear better than you or I can. As quietly as possible, he crept through a maze of hallways, listening at every door. If other giants were in the castle, he didn’t want to rouse them. Eventually he followed the sound of the crying down a steep staircase that descended deep into the earth. At the bottom, he came to the wooden door of a dungeon.

He threw himself against it, hoping to break it down—and when that didn’t work, he tried to bite off the lock. Unfortunately, he’d lost all his teeth, and gumming it didn’t work either. Then he had a bright idea—if only he could manage to breathe a little fire, maybe he could burn the door down. Well, he huffed and puffed for half an hour, trying with all his might to produce at least one tiny tongue of flame. By then the smoke was so thick he couldn’t see a foot in front of him, and finally he had no choice but to give up. He was too old to ever be a hero again, he realized sadly; someone else was going to have to rescue the little dragon.

With a heavy heart, he climbed back up the stone steps. Now that harm had come to a silver dragon—it had been kidnapped and imprisoned, after all—who knew what misfortune lay ahead for all dragonkind? he thought miserably. With no luck on their side, maybe Fangvold and his guards would fail to free the little dragon too.

What Burnwald didn’t know was that amid all that thick smoke he’d exhaled, he’d breathed one tiny spark that had lit the door on fire. As he neared the top of the stairs, he thought he heard a crackling sound coming from behind him…and when he glanced back, he saw that the dungeon door was aflame.

With an agility he didn’t know he had anymore, he raced back down the steps and kicked the burning door down with one thrust of his foot.

He found the little silver dragon surrounded by a heap of diamonds, so he must have been doing a lot of crying. The little dragon was so glad to see Burnwald that he cried some more, for joy, his teardrops tinkling when they hit the floor. Then he climbed onto the old dragon’s back, as little dragons instinctively do when they can’t fly yet, and Burnwald raced back up those stairs like a dragon half his age.

But when they reached the entrance to the castle, who should they see but the Rothfer—headed straight for them, waving a terrible club with spikes all over it. Well, sometimes in a crisis we can do things we could never do under ordinary circumstances. An emergency makes our bodies stronger and faster and our minds sharper. All in a moment the very old dragon realized that, being no match for the giant, he had no choice but to fly. And to his own amazement, with the first few beats of his stiff wings, he cleared the ground. A moment later he and his passenger were soaring over the giant’s head. Roaring with rage, Rothfer threw his club at them, since they were too high to reach—but he missed them by a mile.

They were nearly back to the Colossal Caverns when the old dragon felt his strength give out suddenly and he crashed to the ground. Fortunately, they were flying low enough that he only broke a few bones, while the little dragon was unharmed. They landed with such a loud thud that within minutes the dragon guards, who were out searching again, found them.

Burnwald was carried back to the Colossal Caverns and welcomed as a hero. It wasn’t long before his broken bones had healed well enough that he could have made his way home to his cave. But Fangvold wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted Burnwald the Bold stay on in the Colossal Caverns and gave him the very best of caves for his own. From then on the very old dragon was treated with reverence by all of dragonkind…and he was loved by the little silver dragon as a grandpa.