When the king’s guards hanged my master I thought I would
starve. “I’m fifteen years old,” I muttered to my master’s corpse. “I can’t stay at the Krugerville orphanage. No one needs a bookkeeper or a shop worker. What am I gonna do?” He just hung there, swaying gently in the breeze. Too bad he hadn’t taught me necromancy.
I tried to get a job in the local tavern but the barkeeper didn’t
like me. “You’ll get me hung.”
“No, I won’t. I wasn’t a wizard, Mordo was.”
His eyes narrowed. “You were his apprentice for almost two years. Didn’t you learn anything from him?”
“Well, I can read a little and do some numbers but he didn’t teaching me much in the way of spells. He was nervous about giving away trade secrets.”
“So what did you do for two years? Besides raiding my storeroom?”
“I sweep a mean floor,” I said hopefully.
They shouldn’t be allowed to boot you out like that. It hurts and he tore my only set of britches. It was bad enough that he wouldn’t hire me. He didn’t have to get physical. Maybe I shouldn’t have stolen all those chips from his storeroom.
* * * *
After days of starvation I decided to go to Fechum the dragon and talk him into making me his apprentice. Spell casting was outlawed in my country, but no one ever outlawed the dragon’s magic. I guess it was because there was only one dragon. He was a relic from the old
days, when magical beasts roamed the land. He lived high on the eastern slope of the mountain near my village. I followed the dirt road up the mountain to his den. “Hello?” I called, “Mr. Dragon, sir? I’d like to speak with you.”
The mouth of his cave was as long as a house and dark as the heart of our King. Fechum’s voice boomed out of the cavern’s inky depths, “I don’t know whether to be amazed at your stupidity or just curious.”
There was a loud scraping noise as he shifted his enormous bulk around and stuck his head out of the cavern entrance. Fechum’s green snout was bristling with teeth. His breath was foul, forcing me to back up a few steps.
“Scrawny little thing, aren’t you?” He huffed, and I ducked a jet of dragonfire.
Speaking quickly, I pointed out I was hardly a mouthful. “I’m thin and probably gamy,” I added, my knees shaking.
“And, what brings you up to the lair of a dragon?” His brows, long and white, raised in what I hoped was curiosity.
“Um … I need a job.” I tried to calm myself, and my voice sounded reasonably firm as I added, “My name is Farquarte the Orphan. Until recently I was apprenticed to the wizard, Mordo the Magnificent. Unfortunately, he was killed by the Royal guards. They’re hanging all the mages in Krugerville.”
“If Mordo was so magnificent, why is he dead?” Fechum’s eyes whirled hypnotically. “He should have been able to take a few small-town guards. Tell me more.”
Strangely relaxed, I found myself telling him of my life. “I thought you could take me on and teach me how to be a wizard,” I added hopefully.
“Probably,” he mused, his azure eyes swirling. “I suppose I could use someone to shovel the dung out of the cave.” His teeth glinted in the sunlight, and he added, “You keep the cave clean, keep the food coming, and keep your paws off my treasure. Don’t even look at it,
Farquarte,” he growled. “I know how you humans are when it comes to gold.”
This arrangement might have worked, except dragons don’t use magic the way humans do. Fechum was a magical beast, capable of things like breathing fire and flying without ever having to cast a spell. He couldn’t teach me how to light a stove without a tinder box.
I was disappointed, but the prospect of returning to town and starving kept me there. At least Fechum agreed to feed me. I gazed at his mountain of treasure, and then looked up at the dragon himself. Both kind of took my breath away.
I didn’t give up the idea of learning magic entirely, but Fechum was magic. He was powerful, educated, arrogant and larger than life, everything a dragon should be.
I’d wanted magic in my life, and here he was. Maybe someday I could find a wizard to teach me, but for now, I decided to stay and see what came of this. I gathered the books my master had left and brought them into the cavern. He had made me buy a primer, and several sheets of vellum. I began to practice writing, with the vague notion of one day having a real spell book.
Fechum saw this and pulled out an old, leather-bound tome. “It’s my cook book.” He smiled, his teeth flashing in the light that filtered in from the cavern mouth. “You can copy the recipes and practice your letters.”
I was impressed until I read a few of the recipes. They mainly consisted of ways to prepare human flesh for consumption. Still, the script was flowing and it was a dragon’s cookbook. I took the book outside and sat on a rock, copying. I could barely read the text, he used such big words, but I needed the practice.
I thought about stealing part of his treasure but he counted it all of the time. He knew every farthing intimately and could tell at a glance if anything was missing. The next morning I swept a copper piece under a rock, just to see what would happen. As he counted his gold, I listened carefully, busying myself with little chores like sweeping out the cave and washing up the animal blood.
He came to the end of his count, and there was an awful silence. Looking over, I was his normally green scales slowly flushing to a coppery tint mottled with red. His wings, vestigial but tough and leathery, stiffened out and began beating the stagnant air of the
cave, and he hissed,
“There’s a copper piece missing!” Whipping around, I began to bolt for the cave entrance, but the beating of his wings created a fierce wind that slammed me up against the cave wall. I fell and lay on my back, looking up at him.
“Farquarte!” He roared my name in anger, and his head shot up, slamming against the limestone ceiling, knocking a hole in it. Between dodging falling stalactites and ducking under dragon flame, I nearly bit the big one over that copper piece.
Scrambling to my feet, I dashed over to prostrate myself in front of him. “Fechum! Please, I don’t know what happened. Let me look around the cave for you, maybe I can find it!”
He huffed, and a blast of dragonfire washed over me.
After putting out the fire in my hair I “accidentally” found the missing coin. He stared at me with cold, reptilian eyes, and I knew when he licked his chops he wasn’t falling for it. Begging for mercy, reminding him of my valuable dung-shoveling services, I kissed reptilian butt shamelessly. In the end he contented himself with setting my clothes on fire.
Retreat; regroup. Having lost all of my bodily hair (and not a little of my self-esteem) I skulked around the cavern nursing third-degree burns. I stayed well away from his gold, and after a while he pretended to forget the whole thing, but I noticed him gazing at me with a hungry gleam in his eyes every time his supply of sheep ran low.
I watched him that night as he curled on his mountain of gold, sleeping in the center of the cavern. A thin stream of smoke drifted up from his snout to blacken the ceiling, and then faded into the shadows. I wondered how he produced fire. He was really quite beautiful. I wished I were like that; strong, smart, confident and powerful like he was.
He seemed to tolerate me, but at odd moments I would catch him watching me as I swept the smooth cave floor. He seldom spoke when I first moved in, but after the missing coin incident, Fechum told me where the coin I’d tried to steal had come from. Out of an entire hoard worth millions, he remembered one coin intimately.
Amazed, I thought about how much I had to learn. There was a lot I didn’t know about dragons. How was I to survive being apprenticed to one?
* * * *
Fechum, as the only living dragon in the land, was a tourist attraction. I didn’t like it much at first, because I had to clean up behind the tourists. Empty bottles, old meat and bread wrappers; people are pigs. Then I began selling “Authentic Dragon Rocks” to the tourists, gathering them from the dirt trail up the mountain and telling the chumps I’d gotten them from the dragon’s lair.
The Krugerville’s farmers could have hired someone to kill Fechum any time they wanted. Fechum was too old and fat to leave his cave, so they weren’t concerned about him ravaging the countryside in a Fiery Wash of Dragon’s Vengeance, or anything. A confined dragon was good
for the local economy. Since he couldn’t get out to hunt, he was forced to rely on the town’s farmers to deliver food. Fechum paid in gold, and though he hated to part with his precious treasure, he paid well.
The town’s main fear was that an itinerant swordsman might wander into the country and slay him. In the fourth month of my apprenticeship to Fechum, the Mayor of Krugerville successfully lobbied the King’s court into passing Royal Edict 257-Ha3/42H, section 6a. This evil law placed dragons on the Endangered Species List.
Royal funds were immediately appropriated, Dad’s mountain was turned into a reserve and the Royal Dragon Park Commission was born. They hired a Park Ranger whose duties included the maintenance of the reserve and the regulation and protection of Fechum in his natural habitat. The Park Ranger was a large, friendly man with a penchant for khaki shorts and wide-brimmed hats. I pretty much ignored him.
Droves of scientists came to his mountain lair to study Fechum. They were lead by the head scientist, a scarecrow of a man called Professor Breathe. I did a brisk business selling them the little bits and pieces that were always falling off my master, a scale here, a claw tip there. Fechum didn’t mind, as long as he got his cut. “It’s nice to see you acting like a dragon, Farquarte.”
“Well, you are my apprentice, boy. You need to collect a hoard, like I have.”
“I guess I could, but piling it up in the middle of the room like you do wouldn’t work.”
He sniffed. “Why not?”
“I’m not big and scary enough to keep someone from making off with it.”
His eyes whirled, azure mixing with a darkness I couldn’t read. “No one would touch your hoard, boy.”
Looking at him, lying there, I was sure he was right.
* * * *
The Park Ranger tried to warn me. “You shouldn’t be making this kind of money. This is a bad idea, Farquarte. The Crown will tax the life out of you. They go for the ‘nads. You should have seen what happened when the Elves tried to open a casino on their reservation.”
I should have paid closer attention to him, but who knows fateful words when they hear them?
I was getting too rich. The local townsfolk started jacking their prices, and I had to pay county taxes. The county’s bookkeeper listed my taxes in his weekly report to the Crown.
Next I got a visit from a little man in a tweed tunic. He assessed my business for king’s taxes, charging me back taxes and imposing stiff penalties, with interest compounded daily. He not only cleaned me out, but left me owing four times what he took.
Fechum claimed he had been just a non-paid advisor, and was above such mundane matters as king’s taxes. His treasure, and all investments and properties with dragon treasure as its capital, and all active and passive income from dragon hoard-based investments were exempt from taxation, both Royal and county, by the Royal and County Revenue Act of 12N(Part7ah/4Nah). Then he stuck his tongue out at me.
“You said no one would take my hoard,” I said in a tight voice.
“They aren’t stealing it, boy, they’re taxing you.”
“What if I don’t pay the taxes?”
“Then they’ll sell you into slavery,” he replied. “Get creative, boy. Think of a way out.”
I was working on it when an officious little woman and her ugly, steroidal lackey climbed Fechum’s mountain. The woman, winded from the long climb, leaned against a rock, gasping. Her bedraggled hair escaped from the bun she’d tied it into, and her business suit was caked with dirt. She took a moment to catch her breath, glaring at me the whole time. “Farquarte the apprentice,” she sneered. “You are guilty of violating Royal Edict 42, the Endangered Species Act. You have been selling parts of Fechum’s natural environment, not to mention parts of Fechum, without prior consent of the Royal Dragon Park Commission.”
“What? The bulk of my merchandise isn’t even authentic.” I stuttered the words, looking up at her pet behemoth with a shudder. The way he kept that sword polished to a blinding sheen I knew what he wanted.
Her eyes narrowed and she smiled grimly. “Then you’re guilty of defrauding the public at the expense of a national landmark.”
An offence, you guessed it, punishable by death. The big, ugly man was the executioner.
Fechum heard the national landmark comment. Shifting his enormous bulk, he stuck his muzzle out of the cave mouth and puffed steam at them. That got their attention. Upon hearing the commission of the woman and her large lackey, he growled, “You can’t kill the lad. He
keeps my cave clean.”
“That’s right,” I yelled. “That makes me a scavenger, doesn’t it? A kind of biological whachamacallit. Fechum needs me to survive.”
This gave the woman pause. As a biological whachamacallit, I was part of Fechum’s natural environment.
Protected by Royal Edict 42.
“Just what does this lout do around here?” She brushed back her bedraggled hair and glared at me.
“I told you,” my master replied. “He keeps my cave clean.”
“Yeah, like a pilot fish. They hang around sharks, swimming in and out of their mouths and cleaning their teeth.”
“No,” said my master. “Like a janitor.”
Sir Steroid walked forward, a blood-thirsty grin on his ugly face. His blade glinted in the sunlight.
“Wait a minute! You can’t kill me, I’m his apprentice.”
“I can get another apprentice,” Fechum growled. “One who doesn’t steal my treasure.”
“Ooo! I never!”
Sir Steroid came closer, gripping the wicked-looking sword, and I broke into a sweat. “You’d have to train someone new. Think of all the trouble that would be.”
“It might be less trouble in the long run,” he smirked. “I get the leftovers.” His eyes were whirling, and I suspected that he was laughing at me, but I wasn’t sure.
“Fechum, they’ll be saying all over Krugerville you’re a helpless old lizard.”
“What?” My master roared, shaking the mountainside. The woman scurried for cover, ducking behind a boulder near the entrance of the cave.
“Well, think about it.” Sir Steroid, too stupid to flee the wrath of a hundred foot reptile, advanced menacingly. “Government bureaucrats waltz onto your land and, without so much as a by-your-leave-sir, execute your apprentice right under your nose. People will laugh at
Fechum wasn’t convinced. “I just gave them my permission to kill you.” He glared at me, huffing, and smoke billowed up in my face.
“Yeah, but they didn’t ask.” I coughed and waved away the smoke. “That big guy started for me while you were still talking about janitors,” I pointed out frantically. “How’s it going to look
if you can’t even protect your own apprentice?” I tried to sound outraged, but the words came out sounding more like a squeal. Sir Steroid was raising his weapon for the killing blow.
Fechum’s eyes narrowed to tiny slits. I’d only seen them do that once before. I dove for cover.
Sir Steroid didn’t and Fechum cooked him.
I emerged from behind the rocks by the cave mouth, dusting off my slacks. The woman peered out from her sanctuary. “Um…” Her voice shook and her eyes were huge in her flat face. “Is he done yet?”
I glanced over at the smoldering lackey. “Well done.”
“I meant the dragon.” Even fear couldn’t keep the acid out of her voice.
“I don’t know.” I picked the mountain scrub-grass out of my hair. “Why don’t you ask him?” Looking at the smoking corpse, I added, “I’m not cleaning that up.”
She asked, and he was finished. Scowling, the woman pointed at me. “This boy broke the law.”
“Not my law,” Fechum growled.
“But, Your Dragonship, sir…” She stepped nervously from behind the boulder, kicking aside the melted sword with one slippered toe. “Your apprentice violated Royal Edict b4U-d, subdivision ie. He’s defrauded the public by selling false dragon artifacts, a crime that’s
punishable by death.”
“What isn’t? Farquarte got those things off my land, didn’t he? That makes them authentic dragon artifacts.”
“Then he’s guilty of violating subdivision b, as well as tampering with a Royal conservation park.” She crossed her arms stubbornly. “Royal Edict 82Yr, paragraph 2, subdivision ez. Either
way, Farquarte the apprentice has committed a capital offence.”
“Ah, think about that word, ‘apprentice’,” he advised her. “If he was apprenticed to, say, a carpenter, what would he become when he’d served out his apprenticeship?” Nonchalantly, he inspected one razor- sharp claw.
“A journeyman carpenter, I suppose.” She shrugged. “Eventually, he would be a real carpenter. What does that have to do with anything?”
“He’s apprenticed to a dragon.” Fechum’s eyes whirled with mirth.
“Oh, Lordy,” she breathed. “Someday, he’ll be a full-fledged dragon.”
“You might even think of him as a kind of dragon, already.” Fechum was warming to his theme. Feeling impressive, I drew myself up and tried to look dragony. “He’s a fledgling dragon, as it were,” Fechum told her.
The ruse was working. “Like a fire drake?” She pounced on this. Fire drakes weren’t shielded by the Endangered Species Act.
Fechum huffed in indignation, knocking the woman on her ass. “Do you think that I, the Mighty Fechum, would stoop so low as to train a mere fire drake?”
“I guess not,” she said in a muffled voice from the dirt at my feet.
I stuck my tongue out at her.
Fechum was waxing poetic now. “In fact I’ve become so fond of the boy I think I’ll adopt him. Yes,” he snuffled with the sentiment of the moment, and his jeweled eyes sparkled with tears. He was buying into his own lie. Talk about creative thinking. “Farquarte, my Son!”
“Father,” I cried, greatly moved, and opened my arms wide. Dad lowered his snout and allowed me to hug it. It was an emotional time for us.
The woman left in disgust.
* * * *
She came back a day later, towing a reluctant fellow in a white lab coat. As he stood there quaking, the woman shouted triumphantly, “Farquarte can’t be a dragon. He’s human.”
Dad was ready for her. He smiled gently, showing four foot teeth. “Can you prove it?”
She shoved the unfortunate man forward. “What do you think the doctor’s for?” she demanded, then ran for the safety of the boulder as Dad’s eyes narrowed. The doctor, however, didn’t.
Cleaning up the doctors ashes wasn’t as much trouble as dealing with Sir Steroid’s melted armor. I finally dug a hole and shoved him in it. With the doctor, all it took was a broom and a dust pan. I did get a lovely planter out of Sir Steroid, though. Dad knocked him right out of his helmet with the blast of dragonfire. I put petunias in it and set them next to the cave entrance. It gave the place such a nice, homey feeling.
She tried again the next day, this time bringing a lawyer. They hid behind the boulder, and I heard whispering and the sound of papers being shuffled. At last the woman peered out and snapped, “Call your dragon.”
“Dad, we’ve got company.”
Dad stuck his nose out of the cave and she snarled, “He’s human.”
“Forget it.” Dad was having fun now. “He’s as much a dragon as I am.”
“Farquarte looks human,” the lawyer protested from his hiding place behind the boulder. His voice sounded confident. He didn’t know Dad.
“Dragons can change their shape,” Dad huffed, dusting the boulder liberally with dragonfire. “If you’d bothered to read the scientists’ pamphlets and brochures you would have known that.”
“But, he grew up in the village.”
“So what?” Dad’s tail lashed, knocking loose a stalactite from the cave ceiling. It came crashing down, and Dad watched the lawyer jump with a smirk on his snout. “Farquarte could have grown up anywhere, and he’d still be a dragon.”
“Farquarte had a human mother.” I heard his briefcase snap shut, and the lawyer peered out to glare at me.
“My adopted son is a foundling. Did you personally witness a human female giving birth to Farquarte?”
“Of course not.” The lawyer’s voice wavered, and doubt began to show in his eyes.
“Can you produce one witness to the birth of this boy?”
“Well, I heard…”
“No hearsay.” Dad was in his element. “You have no proof, sir. Therefore, you don’t know if Farquarte is a human boy or a shape- changing dragon.” He grinned triumphantly, his teeth flashing in the sun. “Farquarte is a dragon. Take my word for it.”
“If we could just bring in a doctor,” ventured the woman.
“By all means, do so. I haven’t had lunch yet.” Dad scoffed. “Besides, what good could a doctor do your case? Farquarte is a shape changer. He can assume the almost perfect appearance of a
“A-ha! So there are differences between a shape-changing dragon and a human being.” The lawyer looked indecently pleased with his professional hair splitting. “Now, if you’ll just tell us what to look for…”
He stopped, realizing his mistake.
“Precisely.” Dad was gloating, an impressive sight in a hundred foot reptile. His tail lashed happily and his eyes whirled. “I am an expert on what does and what does not constitute dragonhood. You are not. I say that he is a dragon. Therefore, Farquarte is a dragon.”
“Now, wait a minute. There has to be a flaw in your argument,” the
“There is none. He was an apprentice dragon, he is the adopted son of a dragon, and he has been recognized as a dragon by me, the highest authority on dragons in the land. Therefore…”
“Ipso facto,” I added, because I’d read it somewhere and I thought it sounded all lawyerly.
“Shut up, Son. Don’t interrupt your father when he is talking. Therefore, Mr. Mouthpiece, Esquire, Farquarte is a dragon.”
The lawyer moaned.
“As such, he is protected by the Endangered Species Act.”
“Royal Edict 42,” I smirked. “257-3/42F, section 6U.”
* * * *
That was how I achieved dragonhood. It was pretty cool, if you thought about it. I was legally recognized by the Crown as one of only two dragons in the kingdom.
I was a rare and wonderful thing.
As for the apprentice thing, I had plans. After all, he couldn’t keep an eye on the gold all the time…
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