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A Dragon's Nature

Floris M. Kleijne writes his stories in the interstices between his career in finance, his family, and his insatiable craving for Netflix binges. His fiction has appeared in the Writers of the Future anthologies, Andromeda Spaceways, Spark: A Creative Anthology, and many other publications; stories in Reckoning (a climate change-themed anthology) and Catalysts, Explorers and Secret Keepers (the Museum of Science Fiction feminist-themed anthology) are forthcoming. He is currently finishing his first novel. For more information, visit his website floriskleijne.com or follow him on Twitter (@florismk) or Facebook (Floris.Kleijne).

The raiding party piled out of the tunnel in a cacophony of heavy breathing, weaponry, and increasingly exasperated hushing noises. I dragged myself from my slumber atop the highest mound in my hoard to sniff out their scent.
Dwarves. Who else.
Sighing, I reached for the bottle of lamp oil, and mentally prepared my pilot light spell. The dwarves had extinguished their torches, probably in a vain attempt to hide their approach, and stumbled around cursing in the pitch darkness. Mumbling the spell, I took a large mouthful of oil.
Then I exhaled over the flame in my palm, and sent a tongue of bright fire twelve yards long towards them.
The yellow light showed me the sorry band: three dwarves, much the worse for wear, and now singed to boot. Since I had claimed this hoard after the previous occupant's death, I'd torched many similar bands of looters. However, these were accompanied by a tall human with a magnificent white beard and a grey, pointy hat.
A wizard.
At last.
"Run!" the smallest dwarf screamed, and fell over himself retreating into the tunnel. Another scampered off along the base of my mound, deeper into the cavern.
"Hold," the wizard's sonorous voice sounded. "Stand your ground!"
"Yes, stand your ground." I exuded all the glee I could muster. "So I can roast you in one burst."
Silence descended.
Stupid, stupid! My fire is convincing enough, but I keep forgetting the sound of my voice.
"That didn't sound like any dragon," a strong dwarvish voice spoke.
"No, it did not, Bardon," said the wizard. "It sounded like..." Bright light shone from a crystal in his hand. The two fleeing dwarves returned sheepishly, and stared at me. "...a goblinette."
"I am a dragon!" I tried to thunder, but the scratchy little voice from my puny body made it more of a squeak.
"Yeah right." The largest dwarf--Bardon--pulled a face. "Just the smallest, hairiest, ugliest, Goblinest dragon ever."
Raucous laughter burst from the other two. The wizard smirked. I glanced with murderous desire at my bottle of lamp oil, but the wizard's presence had changed the game.
"I am!" I raised myself to my full four-foot height and pushed my chest forward. "I'm a dragon born in a goblin body. Don't be fooled by my appearance. I'm a dragon, and this is my hoard!"
"Don't be daft," said the small dwarf who had fled. "Everyone can see you're a goblin. Born a goblin, always a goblin, I say."
Muttered agreement rose from Bardon and the wizard, but the third dwarf raised a hand.
"No, hold on, hold on. My third cousin, twice removed on my mom's side, always claimed she was an elf in a dwarf's body. Ended up shaving her face, folding her ears, and going off to live out in the forest."
I couldn't believe my luck: not only a wizard, but a dwarf who knew about this cursed affliction.
"You're pulling our legs, aren't you, Moir?" Bardon stood poised to laugh.
"Am not! Looked her up once, I did. Living among the wood elves, she was, the shortest, prettiest elf you've ever seen, and what's more: she was happier there than she ever was in the Halls."
As the dwarves broke into rapid-fire Dwarvish bickering, a fleeting expression of confused disbelief passed over the wizard's face. Before the dwarves noticed, he pulled a veneer of confidence over his features.
"Moir is right." His raised voice silenced the dwarves. Two even had the gall to turn their backs on me. "Sometimes a mind is born into the wrong body. We wizards call it..." He glanced upwards for inspiration. "Well, never mind what we call it." He gazed wisely from under his eyebrows at me instead.
I suppressed the urge to call out his blather; letting this play out seemed the wiser course.
"Can't you do something for her?" Moir asked.
When neither of the other two dwarves protested, I knew my chance had come.
"Never mind, Moir." I let my ears droop and hung my head. "All I've ever wanted is to live like a true dragon. But what can you do?" I sighed my best sigh. "No wizard is skilled enough to free me from this goblin shell."
"No?" The wizard raised his eyebrows.
"No. And who can blame them? How could any wizard be powerful enough to give me my dragon body?"
He tilted his head.
An experimental wave of my new wings sent a tumultuous wind down towards the band of raiders. I swung my head back and forth on my long, sinuous neck and whipped my tail around, scattering gold coins and emeralds.
The wizard stood beaming.
"How is that?" Smugness overflowed the edges of his speech.
"I cannot begin to tell you," I said, and the hitch in my deep voice was real, "how wonderful it feels to finally be who I'm supposed to be."
"You look magnificent."
"Thank you."
The moment broke when Bardon shuffled in front of the wizard.
"Now that we've helped you out, like, I suppose we've earned a reward?"
The wizard clamped a hand over his forehead as I chuckled. Pretty soon, my chuckling had grown to throaty laughter that filled my cavern with echoes. I took a deep breath and felt my chest furnaces ignite. Through euphoric tears, I saw to my relief that Moir had the good sense to steal back into the tunnel.
"A reward?" I managed once I'd gotten my laughter under control. My booming words echoed wonderfully through the cavern.
"Yes, like, you could give us a share of your hoard as a token of your gratitude?"
"My hoard?"
Bardon nodded eagerly.
"You don't understand much about dragons, do you?" I said, and let my flames roar.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

Author Comments

My hometown is the second most comfortable city for LGBTQ+ people to live in, recent research tells me, behind only Madrid. But even here, life is far from peachy for them. Here, too, religion, machismo, fear of the other, and other cowardly excuses are deployed every day to discriminate against, mock, ostracize, and even assault members of the LGBTQ+ community, for the crime of wanting to live true to their identity, for wanting to be who they are.

This story is not about revenge, or comeuppance. This story is about identity, being true to oneself, having--or conquering--the freedom to live the life one was born to live. A freedom, I might add, that is so easily available to cis-gendered heterosexual white males like myself, that we'd do well to regularly beat ourselves about the head with this fundamental truth: the freedom to be accepted as ourselves that we take for granted, is the high-stakes object of a battle that many of our fellow humans have to fight on a daily basis even here in Amsterdam. But if it was just a fun little story to you, that's okay, too.

- Floris M. Kleijne
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