Many years ago, before the dragons had been chased from Fortuna, a young boy who had never seen one of these fiery beasts was lying on his back in a meadow of sweet grass, hiding from his brothers. Their mother had sent them all to work in the fields but the boy was not for working. The sun was high and the day warm and he had other things on his mind.
He had been born to mischief and nary a day passed without he found himself in some kind of trouble. Today would be no different. He broke off one of the long, green stems beside his head and sucked at it thoughtfully while he watched puffs of clouds sail over his head and listened out for the voices of his brothers as they tried in vain to find him. Today he had determined to see a dragon and, after listening to the men’s talk around the fire, he knew exactly where to look.
When he was certain that his brothers were long gone to their work he got up and ran quickly through the field and into the oak woods. There, according to Hardwin the Woodcutter, right at the very centre, a dragon had made its nest. Not a full-grown beast only a juvenile but still large enough to swallow a man whole. Let it be, his father had said, if it leaves then all is well and, if it does not …” He had shrugged and the men in the circle had nodded sagely. They knew that Hedysma flowers could deal with a dragon.
The boy could not believe his luck. Not only had a dragon come to within a short distance of his village but the men were not going to hunt it. His heart had leapt in his chest. This was his opportunity and he was not about to let it pass by. As he lay in bed that night, listening to the measured breathing of his sleeping siblings, he made his plan.
It was cool and shady in the woods, for it was mid-summer and the oak canopy at its most fulsome, but the boy neither noticed nor cared. All he could think of was the dragon and how he would boast to his brothers of the sight he had seen while they toiled in the heat. How jealous they would be, he thought gleefully. He could already imagine their faces, creased with lines of envy.
The deeper he travelled into the wood, the darker the world became and he knew he must be getting close to the spot. He walked slowly on tiptoes for the snap of twig would surely bring unwelcome attention. Finally, with his heart beating faster than he had ever known, he came to the clearing and saw the nest. He had imagined it as a bird might make only larger and on the ground in the undergrowth but this was nothing like a bird’s nest. The dragon had bent the very treetops down and woven them together into a huge bed, suspended just above the earth, all leafy and green. The boy was in awe. How had such a cumbersome beast created such a beautiful thing? His curiosity got the better of him and creeping forward he peered through the leaves to see the beast in its slumber.
He was disappointed. The nest was empty of anything resembling a dragon. Instead, in the very centre, lay a tiny girl in a green shift with a cloud of golden hair.
He could not stop a small gasp of surprise escaping his lips and, at the sound, the girl opened her eyes to look at him. The boy jumped back and found himself blushing furiously for those eyes, huge and green, had seemed to look straight into his heart. The girl, who did not appear to be alarmed by his sudden appearance, sat up.
“Hello”. She said.
The boy was dumb for it was the first time he had experienced anything of such beauty. Hair like sunshine, eyes like the precious stones he had once seen on a nobleman’s sword, she stole both his breath and his reason. Tipping her head to one side she continued to hold his gaze until he finally stuttered.
“What are you doing in a dragon’s nest?”
She laughed, a small tinkling laugh, and he was completely at her mercy. This was not what he had expected. Where was the dangerous and fiery beast he could brag about to his brothers? They would not be so impressed at his tale of finding a girl, however beautiful she might be and, he felt certain, his stumbling words would fail in describing such exquisite features.
“Who said this was a dragon’s nest?” She smiled at him.
“Hardwin the Woodcutter, he told the men in the village, last night, I heard him.”
“Well, it isn’t. It’s my nest. Do you want to lay in it with me?”
The boy hesitated for he had been brought up on tales of forests full of witches and fairies. Tales of spirits that lived in the trees and masqueraded as beautiful women; creatures that would put you under a spell and then rip out your heart.
“I don’t think I should”. He said at last.
She seemed disappointed and dropped her eyes, long, dark lashes brushing against her pretty, pink cheeks. The boy felt sorry for her.
“Maybe just for a minute.” He did not want to see her sad. “I can’t stay long. I expect my brothers have already told the overseer that I ran off. He’s sure to whip me when he catches me but it won’t be so bad if I go back soon.”
“Just a minute then,” she agreed. Pushing aside a branch she opened a hole for him to crawl through.
Inside the nest it was far more comfortable then the boy had imagined. Certainly more comfortable than his straw mattress at home that was full of lumps and spikes. So intricately woven were the twigs and leaves that there were no sharp edges at all. The boy lay back and looked up at a great blue expanse of sky, now visible where once there had been only treetops. He felt strangely sleepy and when the girl told him to rest a while he saw no harm in doing so. As he could not escape being punished by the overseer, a few more minutes would make little difference.
He awoke to find the sun starting to go down and the girl still sitting beside him as if she had not moved.
“I must go back,” he cried. “I did not mean to be gone all day”.
He tried to rise but his legs were heavy and would not do as he asked and his heart was suddenly leaping with fear.
“You must not struggle.” He heard the girl say. “That only makes it more painful.”
“What are you going to do to me?” He whispered.
“I’m not going to do anything to you, sweetling.” She brushed the hair away from his face and smiled down on him, her great green eyes glowing in the gathering darkness.
Overhead the leaves of the trees began to shiver in the growing wind and the boy tore his eyes away from the deadly beauty of her face just as a great, dark shadow came swooping down from the sky. He did not even have time to scream.
His family, at first angry at the boy’s disappearance, did not begin to worry until late that night when his absence became unusual. Then his eldest brother ran to the inn to tell the men and, at first light, heavily armed and under the leadership of Hardwin the Woodcutter, they began their search. Remembering their talk of the dragon and fearing the worst, for all knew the boy was made for mischief, they made straight for the oak woods and there, in an enormous gash among the trees, they found a great deal of blood and some shreds of clothing. Although they searched until the light began to fail, of the boy there was no sign. Sad and defeated they began to trudge wearily back toward the village bearing the terrible news. At the treeline, just before they stepped out into the meadow, a light rustle among the leaves, reminiscent of a young girl’s laughter, made them stop.
Blood froze in their veins as they each felt the touch of eyes upon them. Large, green eyes, that glowed in the gathering darkness, watching them from the trees. Out of habit each man made the sign to ward off the evil. They did not feel safe until they reached the safety of the village, and its constantly burning fires, where the spirits of the oak wood could not touch them.