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The Dragon and the Lemon Tree

"The lemon tree is my favorite," confided the Bone Wyrm to Princess Meeka, though its great jaws did not move.
Within the echo chamber of her mind, the Wyrmvoice boomed clarion-bright, and Meeka had to fight not to clap her hands over her ears. The closest yellow orb of three on this side of its serpentine muzzle turned to follow Meeka as she stepped politely over the tip of its ivory tail and under the gate it had made by lifting its coils. Within it, the Wyrmgarden sang to her with silver clappers.
"I can see why," Meeka lied.
The Bone Wyrm had coiled itself around a gentle hill, crushing down the grass beneath its great ivory scales to mud. Upon the grass circle within were strange treasures, including a pair of baby's shoes of homespun wool, a small flower folded out of torn orange paper, and a stained scarf. And there was the lemon tree. Confined to a cracked brown ceramic pot, the little tree listed awkwardly to the left. Its lower branches were thick with chimes and brilliant yellow lemons.
Behind her, the Bone Wyrm rested its great jaws on the top of its coils. Wingless, the very air itself was heavy with star-magic: the selfsame magic that held the sun and the moon and stars aloft also bore dragons effortlessly on the winds. Meeka cleared her throat, suddenly nervous. The dragon looked hungry.
"You are surprised," the Bone Wyrm said finally, in the silence of her mind. Had it spoken to her through its jaws, this close, the vibration itself in the air would have burst her ears. Dragons as old as this were ever polite, or so the survivors tended to say. Perhaps dragons were only ever polite to those select few whom they found interesting enough to spare.
"I am surprised," Meeka admitted, because her mother had taught her never to lie to enormous beasts. "I have treated with the Red Wyrm and the Silver, the Manticore and the Old Gryff, and I have not seen a hoard like this."
The Bone Wyrm rubbed its coils together, the sibilant, hissing sound making Meeka flinch in surprise before she remembered her manners. This was the dragon, laughing. "No doubt. Red loves her little baubles, and Silver, her artifacts. I have not met the Manticore or the Gryff."
"They were none of them as beautiful as you are, O Wyrm."
The Bone Wyrm snorted, and the sound rattled Meeka, jarring her teeth painfully. A warning sign. The dragon was becoming less polite.
"I brought gifts for you in my saddlebags," Meeka told it quickly, now even more uncertain. "But now I am not sure if they are adequate."
"Ah-h-h." The dragon laughed in a slow susurrus of scales, by rubbing its coils together in the way of its kind. "You are very good, Princess. Not like the one before."
Meeka nodded slowly. The Duke of Iron, her uncle, had not survived the dragon. "I have but gold and silver and baubles, and some artifacts. Giving them to you will cost me nothing."
"So you have guessed."
"Begging your pardon, milord Wyrm, but I know your kind. The Red wanted enough baubles to bankrupt the city, the Silver enough magic to drown it. You, I think, want memories."
"Not bad," the Bone Wyrm conceded. It was pleased.
"The shoes must have been a mother's treasure. The flower was a child's. The scarf looks like it was once a lover's token. But the tree?"
"The monasterium with the lemon trees is beautiful in the winter. Unfortunately for the Abbott, it also presided over a strategic pass in the Emerald Teeth, and for its position was it broken, the groves burned and salted with the bones of those who had loved it. This tree I saved." Again, the Wyrm laughed. "You are interesting, for a Princess. I think I will not eat you after all."
Meeka was silent for a while, her hands clasped tightly behind her back. "I have nothing to give you," she said reluctantly at last. "The Goddesses blessed me and my city with plenty, even as the dragons came."
"I know," agreed the Bone Wyrm, and lifted its coils, to let her out of its garden. "But honey attracts flies, and your neighbors will soon come sniffing. You will learn to wield a blade, and command an army on the back of a destrier. After you drive your enemies back to the river, come back to me and give me that blade."
It was all Meeka could do not to look towards the distant banks of the Anrynw. "And if I fail?"
"Then your daughter will bring your blade to me. I will hide her in my garden for the night, while your city is razed, and come the morning we will cross the Anrynw together. I will leave her with the urchin child who made me the flower."
Meeka managed an uneven smile, even as she mounted her mare. "You are a very strange dragon, milord, if I may be so bold to say so."
"It is fair," the Bone Wyrm conceded, and watched as the Princess rode back towards her city at a breakneck gallop. It blew out a strip of fire at the sky, and shook its coils together, chuckling, then it rested its jaw on its back, and turned to watch the river. Soon, there would be others.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

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