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Orum and the dragon

Orum weighed the lump of star metal in his hand.
“It can’t be smelted,” his father said. “The forge isn’t hot enough.”

“When my dad gave that to me, he said it should remind me any skill has limits,” the old smith said.
“We’ll see,” said Orum.

The next day, Orum packed tools and supplies in a sled, picked a spear, strapped on his skis, and headed for the mountains.

Years ago, men came through the village, showing gold taken from a dragon. They had snuck in and out, as the dragon slept.

Orum searched for the dragon’s lair until his food was gone. He was ready to give up, when he saw a bird circling, rising.

Warm air wafted from a cave. Orum set skis and sled aside, put the star metal in a crucible, and held that with long tongs.

Spear in one hand, tongs in the other, Orum entered the darkness of the cave. He walked far, then heard:
“You are too late.”

There was a faint light ahead, around a corner. Orum moved up and peeked around.
“Oh,” he said, “I thought you’d be bigger.”

The dragon glared at him. It was the size of a goat.
“Well, I thought you’d be impolite,” it said, “so one of us was right.”

“Anyway,” the dragon continued, “the gold is all gone.”
It looked at Orum’s spear. “Or did you come for fame, not riches?”

“Do as I say, and I’ll let you live!” Orum shouted.
“A generous offer,” the dragon said. “I’ll make the same. Just leave.”

This encounter did not unfold like Orum had imagined it. “Look,” he said, “I just need a magic fire.”
“Don’t we all.”

The dragon laid down and closed its eyes. Behind it was a crack from which light and heat came. “You smell of fire magic.”

“I am a smith,” said Orum.
“Fire magic. A smith is almost as good as a baker.”
“Thanks. Um. Will you help? Please?”

Orum leaned the spear against the wall. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?”
“For being impolite, and threatening.”
The dragon snorted.

“You are but a spark,” the dragon said, “you are no threat.”
Orum bit back his objections. “And you?”
“Me? I am an ember.”

“Right,” Orum said, “so with the right kindling we-“
The dragon snorted again. “I am far too old for such hope, smithling.”

“Dragons grow, in power and size, until our fire fades, and then we diminish.”
“You are dying?”
“Not doing anything else.”

“Oh.” Orum sat down next to the dragon.
“At least I wasn’t murdered for my gold.”
“What do dragons need gold for, anyway?”

“Gold is…” the dragon hesitated. “You lack the word. Absorbent? We transfer aches and pains into gold. To die easier.”

“Are you in pain?” Orum asked.
A simple answer, which brought silence to the cave. Orum looked in the crucible.

“Is there,” he said, showing the star metal, “any gold in this?”
“Bah. I would smell gold. That’s just… What is that?”

The dragon craned its neck to sniff. “You seek fire, carrying that? It holds fire in its heart!”
“Oh. Could you use it?”

“Would you gift it to me?” the dragon said.
Orum weighed the lump in his hand. “You need it.”
“Your kindness has no limit.”

Orum came home late that night.
“Did you smelt that lump?” his father asked.
“He did,” the dragon answered from the sled.

This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2018, tagged with #AdvenTale.

Published inShort story