The day I first met you, I thought you were a monster.
You were so small compared to me, but Viking, all the same. And with those vines binding my body, I could not move to stop you. Death had stared back at me from your eyes, and as I lay there, I found my only regret was that I could not take you with me.
But then you had freed me, little one. And I could not understand. What sort of predator would free me – me! – to play a little longer?
I had you under my paws, and should have killed you then. But my fear was too great and made my throat clench; I could not spit out the fire I needed. And I was too afraid to use tooth and claw, so I fled. I took the coward's way, and did not stay for the fight.
It was the best decision of my life.
You came back for me, little one. And I did not understand. Hadn't my roar told you that I was not yours to kill? I did not understand why you would return.
So I growled before you could. Lunged before you could. Had I known you were hiding such delicious treats, perhaps I might not have been so hasty. You were so funny running through the trees, so long-limbed and noisy. It made me wary, for surely you could not be this clumsy.
But such delicious treats you dropped! They were fish, but not fish, just as you were prey and not prey. I gobbled them up and followed you to the edge of your Viking Nest.
And when the treats didn't poison me, I came back for more.
I felt bad sometimes, taking your kill. You had always been so small and skinny. But you were also Viking, so I told myself it was okay. Besides, you always carried around food. If you needed it so badly, then you should have eaten it.
I felt worse once. I had come for your kill, but you had none. So I had told you just once I would pay the debt, and gave you part of mine.
I think that was a mistake. It made you greedy. You started demanding things - from me! But I humoured you, because collecting fruit was easier than fishing.
You came back again and again. I could not understand why. We were enemies, you and I. Should have been, at least. But you blurred so many lines: Viking, but not; enemy, but not. Your Nest smelt of blood and death, but your paws were so soft and small. It took me a while to understand why.
You had always liked to play. You always squealed and chattered. What gave it away though were your eyes: so bright and full of light, and big! I knew then that you were a hatchling. And such a small one you were, so soft and fragile. I worried you would break.
But the more I understood you, the less I did. Hatchling, yes. Hatchling of what? Not Viking; you couldn't be. Vikings travelled in flocks and your scent was your own. When the other dragons came to your Nest, you were left outside to roam; your mother did not hide you inside her den.
"What are you, little one?" I had asked once. You did not answer. Never did, never would. Not in any tongue I could speak.
But you had always expressed yourself well through tone. You were loud when you were mad; quiet when you were sad. When I asked that question, you chattered to yourself quietly. Your body drooped.
You reached for me. You had always liked to touch. I did not know what to do, and you grew upset at my lack of response.
So, I relented. Just this once, I told myself.
I let you touch.
I once thought you were secretly a Changewing. I had heard long ago that the youngsters, if their parents died, would pretend to be something they were not. They could sneak into another nest, flash their hypnotic wings and make the parents see another. Sometimes, too, I heard, they kept up the illusion so long, they forgot themselves what they really were.
If they could convince themselves they were another dragon, then why not Viking?
I thought it could be true. You had never been very Viking. You were too small, too skinny; you vocalized like them, but didn't move like them. You were at once both smoother and clumsier than they were. They were loud and angry; you were noisy and boisterous. So frail in body, but so strong in soul.
So I tried to take you flying. You didn't like it. You clung to me like a parasite. And when I finally shook you off, you never opened your wings. You would have died if it wasn't for me.
It made me mad. I had barked. "Didn't your sire teach you how to fly?"
You had barked back, as you liked to do. Then gone quiet. You had stared at the sky; I had no idea why.
I said I was sorry. I didn't mean to make you sad. I asked where your mother was; I could not smell her scent on you. I thought I smelt your sire's scent, but it was not strong enough for me to be sure.
You left soon after that.
I felt bad.
We ended up flying. I flew, at least, and you clung to my back. With help from that smelly thing. I hadn't liked it, but you had a hatchling's eyes, and a hatchling's gentle croon, so I accepted it (you weren't strong enough to hurt me anyways). This time, you liked flying. You only screeched a little bit.
You always wanted to go flying after that. I humoured you. I always imagined that one day, you would reveal your wings and fly with me.
You never did. But you became more dragon. You bared your teeth a lot. You snapped at me once. I don't think you remember. You were awfully sleepy at the time.
You smelt more like dragon, too. Like other dragons. That made me mad, but you smelt healthy and fed, and you were not mine, so I allowed it (I sniffed around the Nest for those dragons, but could not find them). You always came back to me, and that made me happy.
We flew a lot. Played a lot. At night, you would always go back to the Viking Nest. I thought of you sometimes when I was on my island. I wondered if you could hear her voice, or if the Viking matriarch sung to you the same way she sung to me. It scared me to think about that.
You couldn't hear her though. You weren't dragon enough for that. But when we saw her, you were dragon enough to wail. I never knew you could shriek so high and loud. It hurt my ears, but it hurt her, too.
We ran away, and for the first time, I was free. There were no more whispers in my head. Your shriek had scared them away.
We stayed out a long time. It was a good thing. After I returned you to your Nest, I had run into others. They smelt of smoke and blood and Vikings.
I didn't need to ask to know why they had attacked. She had sent them. She had been looking for you.
So, I went back for you. Found you in the cove. Saw the other Viking attack you. I tried to flame her, but you got in the way. And then she wouldn't leave so I could help you.
So when the dark came, I flew to your den. I remember when I first found you in there. You smelt bad. Like burns and fear. You hadn't washed your leg; instead, you had wrapped it in weird, white bark. That made me very mad. Where were your parents? Why hadn't they washed it? Why hadn't they taught you how? I would have flamed them if I had seen them.
I washed it for you. You were very upset. You scratched me with your stubby claws, and cried an awful lot. It made me even angrier when no one came to see why.
I thought you would be safe, little one, hidden inside your den. But I hadn't known Vikings could be so cruel. I heard your scream one day, and I came for you.
They had locked you inside a cage with other dragons. I flamed the cage and chased them away. I thought that would protect you, but when I caught up to the other dragons, they told me no. They smelled familiar. They smelled like you. Like the other dragons whose scent had clung to your skin.
They said Vikings locked you in. That Vikings locked you in while dragons were roaming freely. (Not real free. There was always a cage. The Gronckle could not remember how long she had been in there)
I felt very bad for you. I did not know Vikings were so bad. Hatchlings, even Viking hatchlings, should be protected. Not locked with dragons.
I had thought your parents were cruel. Now I knew they were evil.
When I came back for you, there was a strange Viking in your den. He was big and growly, with horns and a thick pelt. He even had a mane.
I smelt your fear before I smelt him. Heard your fright before I heard him. You were too small to challenge him, so I snarled for you; I fought for you.
You grew afraid. You did not want me to kill the angry Viking. I did not understand why. But then I sniffed. I sniffed again. He smelt of metal and sweat and you. I smelt you in him, and him in you.
(He didn't have your mother's scent on him either)
I hated him. I wanted to flame his face off. He was your sire, but a poor sire. You had been scared when I arrived, and he had not comforted you.
Maybe you had been scared of him? Scared because he had locked you with dragons.
I did not like him. He could not be trusted with young. He could not be trusted with you. He was big and strong, and you were small and weak. He had growled at you when you were scared. He could not (would not) raise you.
So I would.
You had always been stubborn. It was frustrating. When I had taken you, you had wanted to go back to Vikings. Why couldn't you understand you were only Viking in body?
It made me happy when you decided not to go back. Then I was frightened when you wanted to go to my Nest. You always had a way of making me feel, little one. (I don't think I had ever felt so much before. Not when I was alone). But I beat her, we beat her, and we were free again. Free forever.
That was the day I almost lost you. You had fallen from my back into the flames. I had never been so scared before. You were so small and frail; you burned so easily.
So I went back for you. I covered you in my wings and held you tight. The flames hurt a lot; I wanted badly to fly away. But you needed me, so I stayed for you.
Your sire took you away after that. I tried to hold on to you, but I was so tired, and my body hurt. They took you away from me, and I was afraid.
When they put you on the floating tree, I forced myself to fly after you. I wanted to flame them, but I was scared of hurting you.
The other dragons came, too. They had flown back once we had killed her, and followed the floating tree with me. I hadn't liked them. I had snapped and growled, but they wouldn't leave. They claimed you as flock. That made me angry, because you were my hatchling. I was especially mad at the Nightmare. He had tried to hurt you before, so I bit him hard.
You appeared again after the floating tree reached the Viking Nest. Even though there were Vikings everywhere, I couldn't help but greet you. It wasn't like the last time you were flamed. You were walking and happy.
I asked you to come with me. To go away. It was best for you. You weren't Viking. Not like them. You belonged with dragons, with me.
You agreed. You were scared, but you agreed.
Terrors flocked. Nadders flocked. Sometimes, even Zipplebacks flocked. But Night Furies did not flock. Parents flew with hatchlings, but Night Furies did not flock together. Nor did they fly with other dragons. But you were very good at making me forget.
I did not like having the others around. They were noisy and pushy and distracted you when you should be with me. You liked them though. When I snapped at them, you would always comfort them. You liked cuddling with the small one.
You loved all of them. Even the Nightmare. I kept a close eye on him because he had hurt you once, and I did not trust him. But you were not afraid. You never feared he would flame you. The first time he went alight, you cooed, made your happy sounds, and went for a closer look. I thought you might actually touch him. You were not that silly, though.
The Gronckle always pretended she didn't like you. When you sat next to her, she would fly away. She liked to pretend she couldn't hear you. I thought that would make you sad, but you always smiled and laughed. Sometimes, you would sneak up on her and pounce.
The Zippleback was nice. He loved it when you scratched him. When you scratched me, he would try to draw your attention to him. I would have flamed him, but he always shared his kill. Plus, he wasn't pushy like the others.
The Terror was pushy. He was always making noise. He bit a lot. You never got as mad at him for it as you would at me. I think it was because you thought the Terror was a hatchling, too. But he wasn't. He's older than me!
I liked the Nadder most. She watched out for you, too. When I went hunting, she would stay with you. When the storm hit and you got lost, she was the one who found you. I don't think you noticed, but she liked to act like your mother. She would sometimes pile sticks and stones around you when you were sleeping.
She asked me once what you really were. I did not know what to tell her. You were not dragon, but you were not Viking either. You were both, but neither. You were you.
So I told her you were mine, and that was that.
We raised you well. You became strong and lean, (like me!) and you grew. You were still small for dragon, but you were larger than you were before. Your mane grew, too, but for some reason, you didn't like it big. You would always cut it shorter.
You spoke more dragon. Your voice became lower (more like us!) and you used your body a lot more. You would bump us and wrestle when you were playful; when you wanted to be alone, you would bare your teeth and snap. You loved touching foreheads.
The first time you growled, I had laughed. You had taught yourself, so you didn't know any better, but your growl was like a hatchling's. The Nadder loved it; she thought it was cute, and always wanted you to growl more. When I laughed in front of her, she snapped at me and scolded me for not teaching you.
So, we tried. But we never could teach you. Your voice was too high to growl right.
But we taught you how to sing with us. Well, the Terror taught you. The rest of us didn't know how. But we learned, and we sung lots of songs. The Gronckle had the best songs; she always sung about food and funny things. But the Terror's songs were the prettiest. He liked to sing about faraway places.
He never sung about the Viking Nest. He didn't want you to feel bad.
We travelled a lot. Night Furies had always wandered. The others were okay with it, except the Nightmare. He had been very moody at first. He had wanted us to make a den and hide in it. The Zippleback and Gronckle had convinced him to come with us, but we had slept in a lot of caves because of him.
We went everywhere. You always wanted to look for other dragons, no matter how many times we told you no. You didn't understand that other dragons were not as nice as us.
Sometimes, you looked for them anyways. If you heard one nearby, you would try to find them. The first few times, I caught you and brought you back. But you would always run off again. So, me and the Nightmare started following you to make sure the strange dragons didn't hurt you.
They weren't usually mean. You had always been very happy and gentle, like a hatchling. So they would sniff and greet, and sometimes play.
We found other Vikings a few times. You didn't like them as much as dragons. You always had to sneak and find their Nest before you would think about greeting them. You wouldn't always either, and when you did, you wouldn't let us go with you (so we flew above instead).
Once, another dragon found us. The dragon told us that he had heard some Terrors singing about you and wanted to see. We had been worried, but right away you went up to him and sniffed and greeted.
You let him stay with our flock for the night. It made us all very nervous. Me and the Nadder made sure you slept between us, and the Terror slept within your fur, just in case. The Gronckle growled at the stranger before she fell asleep.
The stranger and the Zippleback talked during the night. I didn't pay much attention. The stranger left the next morning, and I was glad.
The Terror wanted to know what they had talked about. The Zippleback said that the dragon had told him that there was another like you. Another who smelled like you, up North.
We were all very curious, so we decided to go North.
North was cold. The Nadder hated it. She always shivered at night. We were all cold, but the Nightmare set himself alight, and then it was okay.
You started getting more interested in fire. That was good. I wondered if you were old enough to flame yet. You liked to poke at the embers, and burn sticks and plants. A few times, you started your own fire. We were all surprised. None of us had seen you flame. No matter how close we watched, we could not figure out how you made fire.
But we were happy. If you could flame, it meant you were growing up. But you still needed to learn how to hunt. And to fly.
You already knew how to fish. You would use sticks as your claws and catch them. But you could only fish in rivers. You couldn't fly and fish in the ocean like the rest of us. So, I tried to show you how to catch land creatures, but you were too slow to grab them.
That made me sad. I worried I wasn't a good sire. The Zippleback said it was okay because you weren't really dragon, but it didn't make me feel better.
We almost ran away from the Not-Viking. She was tall and strong, and surrounded by many dragons. The Nightmare thought it was a trap.
But she was nice to us. Even before I let you out of my wings, she spoke with the gentle croons and coos that you did. She wasn't big and bulky like your sire, but lean like you. She had your bright eyes, too. But most important, she had your scent. She smelt of frost and trees and you. I smelt you in her, and her in you.
She was kin.
I think you were confused at first. You were careful approaching her. You didn't speak much. But she was gentle with you, as a mother should be. You didn't know who she was, but she recognized you. And when you figured it out, you wriggled and tackled and clung to her, like you would to us.
We had found your kin. Your real kin.
So what did that make me?
The next day, I thought I lost you again. Not dead-lost. But still lost. You came up to me in the morning after you had scratched all our itchy spots, and asked me to take you back to the Viking Nest.
The Terror said we should just ignore you. But I couldn't. You weren't Viking, you were mine, but I had always known that someday, you would want to go back and show off your mane.
I didn't eat much that day. I wasn't hungry anymore. You spent that morning with your real mother, and I was even less hungry.
Your mother came with us. At first, I tried to chase her and her flock away, but you always got so mad. None of us knew what to do, but your mother's flock refused to leave, so we had to allow it.
I always kept my distance from them. I didn't want them – I didn't want any of them – getting close to our flock. The Zippleback and Gronckle liked them though. I growled at them a lot for that. The Nightmare liked your mother; I think it was because her flock was larger dragons like him.
We flew all the way back to the Viking Nest. You always perched on my back, but you talked to your mother more than me. I had never spoken Viking like you, but you had always cooed to me before.
It made me feel alone. Even though I was surrounded by dragons.
The Viking Nest was very different from when we had last seen it. It stunk of Vikings, but also dragons. I had worried that the Vikings and dragons were still fighting.
But then we saw lots of Vikings and dragons not fighting. It was no longer just a Viking Nest, but a Dragon Nest, too. But they weren't like us. They weren't playing together or flying together.
I recognized some of the dragons. They were all very eager to greet and sniff our flock. The Vikings wanted to greet, too. They all chattered at you; none of them growled this time.
I did though, when I saw your sire. You made hissing sounds at me and then ran to him and snuggled him. Your sire didn't snarl at you this time; he chattered like the other Vikings.
Your mother joined you. Your sire went very quiet at first. Then he got very loud and touched foreheads. They clung to each other, and you clung to them, too. You all smelled of dragons and fish and each other.
You had a mother and a sire, now.
You didn't need me anymore.
I followed you around for a week. You spent lots of time with your parents and ran from Viking to Viking, to dragon to dragon and helped them make flocks. You didn't spend much time with ours.
It made me very sad. I didn't fly very much after that. I slept a lot. I thought I was sick because I didn't have much energy. Even you had trouble getting me up.
The rest of our flock worried. They would poke and prod, but I snapped at them and told them to leave me alone. I always felt bad after that, but I was too tired to find them and say sorry. I think I even snapped at you once.
You worried, too. You brought me fish because I didn't have the energy to catch them. They always tasted weird. I didn't like eating so much anymore. You cooed to me and scratched me, and tried to push me so I would stand. I always felt better when you were there, but then your mother or sire or playmates would come by and you would leave. Then I felt bad again. Sometimes, I couldn't remember what it was like not to feel bad.
I tried to leave once. I only told the Nightmare so our flock wouldn't look for me, but then he told the Nadder and she brought you and found me. You could never really speak dragon with us, but you understood what I was doing anyways.
You grew very scared. I could smell your fear. You wailed a lot, and clung, and squeezed very tightly. I shook you off and told you that you didn't need me anymore. You had parents to teach you how to be Viking. You had no need for me to be your sire.
You wouldn't stop clinging, though. I couldn't fly away because I would take you with me. I told the Nadder to help me, but she refused.
You started to smell like salt. It was your eyes; water was leaking out of your eyes. I knew you did that when you were very sad.
I didn't like it when you were sad. I licked and told you that you would be okay without me. Your eyes didn't stop leaking; you wouldn't stop clinging.
I didn't know what to do. I let you cling to me.
Your wails grew softer and quieter. That's when the Nadder spoke to me. She told me that even though we were no longer your parents, that didn't mean we weren't flock. She told me I should stay. For you.
I wasn't sure, but I told her I would try.
You ended up making us a new den, close to your old one. You no longer slept in your parents' den, but in our own.
The den was big enough for our whole flock to fit inside. We slept together, ate together, and played together. Once our flock had our own den, it was better. I wasn't so tired anymore.
You still ran around with the Vikings, but not as much as before. You spent most of your time with us. Sometimes, you brought other Vikings back. Especially the blonde female. You spent a lot of time with her (I wondered if that fight I had once interrupted had been a courting ritual).
But you spent lots of time with us, too. You spent more time with us then you did with your parents.
And that was good, because it still meant you were still mine.
We went flying today, just me and you. You had grown a new pelt (actually, it was more like a shell) and wanted to fly with it.
It was a normal flight. You asked me to go high, and then we glided a lot. You kept chattering to yourself and me and looking around.
Then, I felt you move. You weren't balanced on me anymore. I looked to see what you were doing –
I screamed. I dove after you and screeched at you to tell me what you were doing –
And you did it. You stopped falling. You started gliding instead, and I accidentally dove past you and had to catch up. I did not understand what had happened.
Then I looked closer. And I understood.
You were gliding, like me.
You had revealed your wings.
You still couldn't really fly. You could only glide, and I had to keep catching you and bringing us higher. But you had wings. Like me.
You were very loud and happy after that. When we landed, you laughed a lot and clung to me. I licked because I was happy, too. I think you finally understood:
You had never been Viking.