This is Part 5 but it all started here...
"Hold on a sec," Andrew interrupted. "What does this story have to do with anything? Where did the egg come from?"
"If you would let me finish, Andrew," Aunt Jenna said, "I'll be happy to tell you. Here, help me dry him off."
The little fish-like dragon was clean now, no longer gooey from the egg. His mottled colors were even more vibrant and his scales shimmered like the inside of a oyster. Blue, green, pink. Andrew had a betta fish once, and he remembered that the males were always more colorful than the females. They were like peacocks, using colors to attract mates. The thought of more dragons like this one intrigued him. He took the towel from Aunt Jenna and was surprised when the little dragon curled up into the towel like a cat, rubbing against it and drying off.
"Why do we have to dry it off? You said it was a water dragon." He felt ridiculous drying off a fish.
"Lake dragons are very particular about their water, as you will see. May I finish?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said with a sigh.
"Maybe I won't finish if that's your attitude."
Aunt Jenna smirked.
"I mean, you should finish."
"No more interruptions?"
The baby dragon opened its wide mouth and made a noise that was halfway between a gurgle and a chirp. It reminded him of those plastic bird whistles you filled with water, or at least how he played them, which sounded more like a bird gargling water. He gently dried it off, surprised at how soft its fins were. They were smooth as pebbles, flexible as rubber, yet sturdy. The tiny fish-dragon curled up in his lap, keeping his eyes fixed on Aunt Jenna as she continued.
As I was saying, Erik wished to save the Fae maiden, even though there was a price to be paid. He did not know what the price was, but it did not matter to him at the time. He was in love for the first time.
"Andalaise, please grant my wish," he said.
"If I bond with you," she replied, "my connection will be restored. But know this, you may never leave this forest, lest we both shall die and fade from this world."
"I would never leave this room if I could be with you always."
"You are truly a fool to say such a thing. But how I love you. Take my hand and vow to me then. Cursed are you if you break it, blessed are you if you keep it. You, and all your descendants as well."
He held her hand tightly. "I vow to never leave this forest."
In that very instant, the bond was created between them. They could feel it in their bones. Later that night, Erik took Andalaise as his wife. They lived happily together in the forest, teaching each other the ways of their peoples and they prospered in the bounty of the land during their first harvest.
As their first Winter set in, she was already heavy with child. Their son, Liam, was born in the middle of a terrible storm. The blizzard continued relentlessly for seven days and seven nights. They were running low on food and Andalaise grew weaker each day. Erik gave up his portions to feed her that she might be able to feed their son. Each day the game grew more scarce. He knew he could find more food outside the forest, but knew he could not leave it. They would both die. Their son was scarcely a few days old and would die without their care. However, they would all die soon regardless without any food.
Facing such utter despair, he wept at the lake where he had rescued his dear Andalaise. His cries awakened the Silver Gulariss, the Queen of the Lake Dragons. She rose from her winter sleep under the mud at the bottom of the lake and crashed through the icy barrier. She looked down in anger upon Erik who scrambled backwards.
"Begone foul human! You have disturbed my winter slumber. You are not welcome in the realm of the Gulariss," she hissed, spraying water that turned to ice crystals on the air. All about her danced a mist that became like snow in the cold, ice forming along her delicate fantail and fins.
"Forgive me! I beseech you, oh noble one," he cried, "Andalaise, my wife and daughter of the Fae, and our newborn son are dying of hunger. I would do anything you ask if you would give me food for them."
The fish-dragon listened to his plea and her heart softened, for she was not a merciless creature. The winter winds blew, but she seemed not to notice, studying him, staring into his eyes with her own. He found he couldn't look away. They were golden orbs.
"Yes, I see you have bonded with the Fae. You are already in bondage to this forest. What manner of human are you, that you so carelessly throw your life away?"
"I am but a humble man with one wish, to protect those that I love."
"Ah, your heart is indeed pure. I can also feel the Fae powers. They are strong within you. Perhaps then you could be of use to me. Pledge your life to serve me, son of Man, and I will feed your family for a lifetime. They will want for nothing."
"How may I serve you?"
"As Queen of the Gulariss I lay a single egg once every eleven of your human years. Once I have laid seven eggs, I will die. My seventh will come this very Spring."
"Then you wish for me to care for your eggs? But why do they need my care?"
"Normally my mate would care for my eggs, but he was killed, taken as a trophy by greedy Men who valued his colorful scales. Now there is no one to protect my children when I am gone."
He bowed deeply before her. "Then it would be my honor. I will pledge to serve you. I shall take care of your eggs as if they were my own children."
The fish-dragon rose higher and let out a bubbly laugh. "I am deeply touched. You are truly noble, that you would treat me and my kin with such compassion. What is your name, human, that I might address you properly."
"Erik the Kind-hearted, extend your hand." He did so. Using her long whisker, she traced a symbol on his palm. It glowed red hot, burning into his skin.
"Erik, as you protect my children, so my children shall protect yours. Together we shall unite our families in friendship. From this day forward, you belong to the Clan of Gulariss."
He touched his face to the ground, "My Lady Gulariss is both noble and generous. I asked only for food and you have offered me friendship. I cannot thank you enough."
"Rise! Sir Erik of the Gulariss! It is I who should be thanking you. You have improved my mood considerably, for now I have hope for the future. That is beyond worth. But for now, let us think of the present. I shall bring food to your family. Enough to last you through this confounded winter. All I will ask of you now is that you return here on the first day of Spring."
The Queen kept her promise, more than fulfilling her end of the bargain. All through the cold, harsh winter, Erik's family had more than enough to eat, so much that much of it began to spoil and had to be stored deep within the snow banks.
The following Spring, he kept his end of the bargain and met the Great Queen as she came ashore in all of her beauty, to his surprise, walking on her finned limbs as graceful as a gazelle, her slim body held high like a swan's. Her whiskers plucked an oyster from her back, setting it before him. She caressed the surface and it opened, revealing six eggs, each a color of the rainbow: indigo, purple, red, orange, yellow and green.
"My time is nearly at an end. I shall fly to my nesting ground at the center of the forest. I must ask that you come along, so that you may retrieve the egg when I am done."
"Andalaise will guard the others while we are gone."
The Queen nodded to her and she bowed with respect. "Thank you, my Lady Gulariss. Your kindness has brought good health to my family." She turned and showed the small baby that was sleeping peacefully in a sling tied across her back.
"He is but the first of many. I see strong children in your future." Andalaise blushed and smiled.
"Come, Erik. You may ride on my back." She helped him up and he held onto her tightly as she took off, her fins reflecting the light, casting small rainbows over the ground. Andalaise watched them fly high into the sky.
Andalaise began to worry when Erik did not return, but she did not leave Liam or her new children, the six eggs, which she kept in a place of honor. But she need not have worried. Two days later he finally did return, carrying the last of the Queen's eggs: blue as a sapphire.
"And that very egg," Aunt Jenna finished, "Is the same egg that I gave to you today."
Where once Andrew would have clapped, laughed, or said it was an unbelievable story but a good one, he now sat in silence. He couldn't deny the truth, because it was sitting in his lap and smiling up at him.
Continue to Part 6?