“No! Please don’t!”

Alexander dared to open one of his eyes a tiny crack. Where he had previously seen a flash of brilliant green scales, he now saw only rows of long razor-sharp white teeth.

“I’m sorry!” the boy cried, shutting his eyes tight again. “I didn’t mean to, I swear! Please don’t eat me!”

“Silence, mortal!” The beast reared his great head back as he let out a roar that could easily have taken down a tree. “I’ll ask you again, and this time I want a straight answer. What were you doing in my lair?”

The teenager slowly opened his eyes again, and was relieved to find that at least for now, the teeth had receded back into their owner’s mouth. The rancid smell of brimstone breath, however, still hung in the air.

“It- It was a dare.” Alexander looked up to lock eyes with the dragon, so there would be no doubt he was telling the truth. “My friends… I mean, the other boys… they dared me to sneak into your cave and steal a piece of treasure. Just one!” he added hurriedly, as though expecting the creature to rip his head off right then and there. “I only took one, but I’ll never do it again, I promise! You can have it back! Just please let me go!”

The boy shifted slightly, as much as he could while trapped under the dragon’s heavy claws. He flinched at the sight of the beast’s teeth beginning to reappear.

“And what made you think you could get away with it, human?”

“I…” Alexander averted his gaze in embarrassment; he hadn’t anticipated this question. “…I guess I didn’t.”

The dragon narrowed his red eyes slightly, surprised to hear such honesty from a mortal. “What did you take?”

Tentatively, the young man raised himself as best he could under the weight of the great lizard’s foot and reached for an item behind his back, reflecting on his situation as he did so. Why had he accepted such a ridiculous quest in the first place? He was only 17, a simple apprentice to a physician. What did he know about dealing with dragons? Nothing. He had taken on a fool’s errand. And for what? So he could prove the bullies wrong, that he wasn’t a weakling or a coward? Nothing was worth this. Now he was going to die, most likely a very painful death, and there wasn’t a single thing he could do about it. This was the end.

Alexander slowly pulled the stolen treasure out from his bag for the dragon to see. The sunlight caught a golden hilt and illuminated the steel blade of a perfectly crafted longsword. The teenage boy cringed again as the creature’s mouth opened wider, braced for the killing blow…

But it never came. Instead, the dragon let out a thunderous sound that Alexander could only assume was analogous to a human laugh. After a minute or two, the beast’s head moved closer, teeth gleaming in the light as the blade was.

“Clever”, the dragon mused. “You’re much sharper than the last human who tried to steal from me, I’ll give you that. He tried to carry off a bag of gold dinnerware. Much too heavy for him, and it made the most terrible racket when he fled. That was a good night’s sleep wasted. Wasn’t worth the trouble for either of us; he didn’t even taste that good.”

Despite the terror that sent a chill down his spine, the boy couldn’t help but be intrigued by the creature’s observation. Yes, he had indeed chosen a sword so that he might be able to defend himself should he be caught fleeing. It wouldn’t have been too difficult either; a palace guard in his youth, his father had taught him a few things about sword fighting. He just hadn’t counted on the monster ambushing him halfway down the mountain.

His upper body still trapped under a massive scaly foot, Alexander just barely managed to lift his arms high enough to make it clear he was offering back the sword now lying across his hands. The dragon’s eyes narrowed into intimidating slits.

“You’re a curious sort of human”, he muttered, though to a dragon, muttering was equivalent to a human speaking normally. “Most of them put up a fight at this stage of the chase…”

The great lizard lowered his head further, opening his jaws to take the blade from his prey. The human didn’t dare flinch, knowing that one false move could prompt the beast to unleash a stream of fiery breath that he’d have no chance of surviving. The moment those teeth touched the sword, however, the dragon winced, sending the weapon flying from the teenager’s hands to stick into the ground mere inches from his face.

Recovering from the shock of almost losing his left ear, Alexander stared up at the creature with wide blue eyes. Those massive jaws opened to their full extent as the beast reared back and let out a screech that shook the earth beneath them. That was when he noticed a large swollen spot above the fully exposed teeth. His terror giving way to curiosity, the young man lifted his left arm again to point at the gums on the dragon’s right side.

“How did you get that?” he said. The giant lizard looked down to stare at the human in surprise, understanding exactly what he was asking.

“It’s been hurting ever since I ate half that herd of deer two full moons ago. Haven’t been able to bite right in weeks.”

Alexander asked the creature to move closer. Once he did, the boy stared fixedly at his swollen gums for a quiet minute.

“I can fix that”, he said at last. The dragon scoffed as he closed his mouth again.

“How can you do that?”

“It’s easy.” The teenager smiled, suddenly confident. “You probably have something stuck in your teeth. All I need to do is scrape it out.”

The great beast gazed at his prey warily. “What with?”

“Umm…” Alexander glanced awkwardly to his left. Catching on to the human’s idea, the dragon roughly shook his head.

“I don’t think so.”

“But it’s perfect!” the boy cried, facing the lizard again. “It’s thin and sharp enough to get the job done. I’ll be careful, I promise! You don’t have to worry about a thing.”

The dragon narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“I help heal the aches and illnesses of the people in my village every day. It’s my moral obligation as a training physician. If you promise not to kill me, I’ll fix your teeth, give you back your sword and leave you alone. I’ll even tell the other humans never to bother you again. Deal?”

To be concluded next week

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