It all started here...
"You didn't answer my question," Andrew said after some timed had passed, "You told me where it -- I mean he -- came from but I wanted to know why I got it."
He indicated the fish-dragon curled in his lap, its fantail curled around it like a cat, the gills flapping as it breathed in and out. It wasn't that he didn't have a million other questions, (like how it was breathing air in the first place!) but perhaps that one was the most urgent because he had a feeling this was serious.
"The Queen's eggs have always been passed down through our family. Yours was the last to be hatched."
As if he didn't have enough questions already. He frowned.
"So Erik, he was my...?"
"Your great, great, great," she had to count on her fingers to keep track, "great grandfather." She smiled.
"Do we have a photo of him?"
"Oh my darling," she laughed, "They didn't have cameras back then."
"What about a painting?"
She shook her head, "I'm afraid not."
"Then how do we know for sure? How do I know you're not just making this up?"
"Besides the egg, you mean?" She said softly.
He thought for a moment before saying, "Yes." She didn't seem angry.
"So you really don't believe me?"
"I need proof!"
"He's not proof enough?"
Andrew looked down again at the little dragon, his little dragon, he reminded himself. He picked up him in his hands and turned him around, waking him up. He turned him over again and again looking for a seam or a screw or anything that might indicate he wasn't as real as he seemed. Is it terrible that I want to find something to disprove him, he thought. The little creature giggled and smiled at Andrew even though he was dangling him upside down. He finally let him rest on his shoulder, his little whiskers gripping him tightly for balance. He yawned.
"I think he's real," Andrew said, "But I don't know about the rest... I mean, it's not that I think you're a liar or anything..."
"That's good to know!" She said, laughing again. He was glad to see she hadn't lost her sense of humor.
"But," he continued, "Did my parents know? Why haven't you ever told me before? Why now? Does everyone else know but me?"
"Oh Andrew," she started, pulling him into a hug, "No, not everyone. Only a few of us know. It's for their safety," she gently petted the dragon, "as well as ours. Believe me dear, I've wanted to tell you so much, every summer that you've come here."
"Why didn't you then?"
"It wasn't time yet."
"So how did you know it was time now?"
She sighed. He could tell her good humor was wearing down under his constant barrage of questions.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly, "I just want to know."
"I know you have lots of questions." She winced and stood up carefully, motioning for him to get up as well. "Come with me," she said, "It's high time I introduce you to them."
"Who? You don't have any close neighbors."
"They're not neighbors, they're family."
"How come I haven't met them before?"
Aunt Jenna laughed, "Well, you haven't been to the bottom of the lake yet, have you?"
"What's down there?"
"Our family's dragon den." She grinned.
With those words his imagination thundered on miles ahead, trying to determine what a dragon den could possibly look like. Was there lots of treasure? Maybe some suits of armor or artifacts? No, that was silly. Obviously he was nowhere near a castle or anything even remotely related to ancient history. Still, did dragons really like treasure? He realized just how little he really did know. It was true that he loved to swim in the lake, but he had never gone deeper than he would have in a swimming pool. He had always been afraid of seeing a giant fish or a monster lurking down there.
One time he thought he had seen something down there, had even felt an impossibly large fin (or had it been just some water weeds?) brush against his toes. He had flailed ashore, afraid to go back in until Jenna waded in and stood there for a whole ten minutes, proving it was safe. He had been seven then. The thought of going anywhere near the bottom of the lake frightened him.
"I can't hold my breath that long. I can't even really swim that well," he lied.
"Nonsense, I've seen you swim. You're just like your mother." She laughed. "You're probably more fish-like than he is," she said pointing to the dragon who was still perched on his shoulder and fast asleep again, still clinging tightly. "Now no more questions and fussing. Go get your swimming suit. We only have a few hours left of daylight."
"No, it's too cold."
"Andrew," she said, a little more sternly.
"Please, I don't want to go," he whined.
"Andrew, I'm not going to ask again. You'll be perfectly safe as long as you stay with me."
He shuffled his feet, unsure what else to say. He knew she would carry him there if she had to. That was the tone she always used when he was in trouble.
"I would never do anything to endanger you. You're my favorite nephew and a strong boy. You'll be just fine."
He blushed a little and turned away. Nodding slowly he mumbled an okay and trudged to his room, the little dragon still attached to his shoulder. It whistled, creating a strange gurgling tune.
When he had finally gotten his swim-trunks on, he strapped on his favorite pair of velcroed sandals. He tightened them. He figured he would wear them in the water to help him sink a little better. The thought of that suddenly scared him. Was he really going to do this? But Aunt Jenna words repeated. She wouldn't do anything to hurt him. She had always protected him. And a part of him did want to see the inside of a dragon's den.
It was a ten-minute walk down to the lake. The fish-dragon toddled along on behind Andrew who stuck close to Aunt Jenna. She had changed into a one-piece swim-suit under a thin white cover-up. Her skin was wrinkled and he could see the veins standing out on her legs as she walked along the dusty path, still barefoot. She was strong though from her life spent working on her farm. When he was younger she'd wrestle with him, but now he was beginning to see her age more, not nearly as energetic as she had been when he was little. She was still feisty though and he loved her for that. She was the opposite of his mom, who was always so reserved and quiet.
Soon they were standing at the lake's edge. The little dragon did not wait for an invitation and dove into the water. Andrew nearly leapt in after it but stopped when it resurfaced and looked up at them both expectantly.
"My word! I've never seen a hatchling so eager! I had to push Esmeralda into the lake!" She laughed.
"You'll see very soon," she said, "Come along now."
Together they waded into the lake, her cover-up ballooning slightly in the water. He winced at the chilly temperature, bringing his legs close together as goose-pimples rippled along his skin. She was already at the edge of the lake shelf where he knew it dropped off deeper, so he hurried along wrapping his arms tightly as if that helped him be any less cold. It was up to his chest now.
"Just bob a little to get used to the water. We'll pass the thermocline on the way down and it will be much warmer."
"What's a thermocline?"
He sighed. After a few moments soaking his head underneath the muddy water, he found he could unclench his arms and spread them out, the water still cold, but feeling better. At least it was shaping up to be a warm night, but it was still warmer outside than in the water.
"Alright now follow me. Take a big breath. It's not very deep, but it is a stretch. Remember to release the pressure just like I taught you," She added, pinching her nose and making a blowing noise.
With a splash she bent over and dove deep down into the lake, the little dragon following after her. Andrew filled his lungs with air, as much as he could manage, and he dove down, making a big splash as he kicked down, propelling himself down, trying not to blow out too much air as he cleared his nose, releasing the vice of pressure squeezing his forehead.
Never losing sight of her white cover-up swishing like a ghostly fantail, he followed her deeper and deeper than he had ever dove before.
Continue to Part 7?