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Dragons Like Shiny Things
by Sharon Butters
It is a fact undisputed that dragons like shiny things.
Anything that sparkles or shines is very appealing to them, and they will go to great lengths to seek out such things.
Gold, in particular, is highly prized for its depth of colour and shininess – but really any metal will do.
This was one of the first lessons the children of Jack’s village were taught. And it was one of the few subjects he was interested in.
The children were taught how to fear and respect dragons. They were also taught how their ancestors had given gifts to the dragons to keep their villages safe.
Jack had often thought some of the safety lessons were a bit obvious. Who WOULDN’T fear a giant winged lizard with a nasty temper and that breathes fire?
Respect was the sensible approach, and had kept the villages safe for centuries. The dragons rarely came down from the mountains – unless they were angry or hungry.
A peace had existed for as long as anyone could remember.
Jack loved learning as much as possible about the dragons. He had never seen one up close himself – and wasn’t sure how he would react if he did – but they still fascinated him.
The other subjects taught at his school didn’t interest Jack as much. Geography bored him, as did maths and English. History, too... unless there was any mention of dragons in battle.
If so, Jack would begin listening intently to every word that was spoken by his teacher.
The only other subject Jack liked was art and crafts. He made things out of bits of broken pottery and glass. Any leaves or twigs that had fallen off trees were useful too.
Jack’s parents must have liked his artwork, as they always looked happy with his efforts and displayed them around the house. Sometimes they invited the neighbours around for meals or drinks, and pointed out the pictures with pride.
Jack was a lucky kid, in that all his friends lived nearby.
He went to school with them, and played with them all after school had finished. Their games were fairly simple but very enjoyable:
Hide & seek around the village was always fun. There were lots of places to hide and, depending on how many were playing, the game could last until supper time.
There was also the ‘throw the stone the furthest game’. The rules were fairly simple: pick up a stone and throw it as far as you can.
Sometimes a stick was placed a short distance away and whoever got their stone to land closest won.
Another game was the tapping game, where someone pretended to be a dragon, and had to chase everyone else. If you were tapped on the arm you were dead, and had to lie down.
All their games were fun, but school came first.
The day started at eight o'clock sharp and there was no excuse for being late.
The children would have a few subjects and then stop for lunch. Sometimes it was stew that was cooked in a huge pot over the fire, and the smell would drift over to their classroom and make everyone hungry and eager for lunch.
After lunch, two more subjects would follow, and school would finish around 2pm.
After that it was play time for a few hours, and then it was family time – around five o'clock every night, each of the families would sit down for supper.
Jack was happy that his friends thought of him as a normal boy and their equal. Even if that wasn’t completely true.
His father was the leader of the village – or the “chief” as he was known. His mother helped with the day-to-day running of the village, and was someone the other wives could go to if they needed help or advice.
One day, Jack would be their leader, like his father was.
And things would start to change when he turned 13. He would then start to learn about other things related to the village and his father would teach him some important tasks.
Jack would still go to school, but there would be little play time after. While his friends enjoyed all their games, Jack would be taught details of village life from his father.
None of this would normally bother Jack, apart from one minor detail: there were only three days left of being 12.
One of his closest friends, Oliver, was almost the same age as Jack – born just days after him. Oliver’s father was a carpenter and a big strong man who also hunted along with the other strongest villagers.
At the moment the two boys were just two friends of the same age, but that would soon change. That lunch time, while they sat eating their stew, Oliver was quieter than normal, which Jack noticed straight away.
“Not long to go now,” Jack said with a sigh.
“Do you think things will be different afterwards?”
Oliver sighed and looked up. “It might do. You know what’s coming.”
Jack knew Oliver wasn’t just talking about their upcoming birthdays. This year, both boys qualified for the annual village challenge.
All the boys and girls who had turned 13 that year would be expected to compete against one another to steal a piece of gold from the dragon’s lair.
Whilst there wasn’t a prize as such, there was a lot of pride – and bragging rights at stake.
The champion was awarded a medal in a ceremony attended by all the villagers, and their name would be added to a parchment containing the names of previous winners.
There was an element of danger – sadly some children had been injured during the quest. The children could not opt out, but they could turn back before they had completed their task.
Jack had more to prove than most. His father was the Chief, and a previous winner. They were big boots to fill.
There would be five children in all, three boys and two girls. Jack wasn’t very competitive at all, but he knew he would have to be if he wanted to win. He wanted to make his parents proud.
The children usually set off at dawn, with no weapons as such. All they could take was a piece of rope, a whistle made of wood, a small knife and some water. They could make weapons with whatever they found in the woods, but it was safer, if possible, to steal the gold without angering the dragon.
“It’s only a few days away,” Jack replied. “I don’t feel ready for it at all, but it’s all my parents have spoken of.”
The next days passed in a sleepless flash and, on the appointed morning at dawn, the five children stood facing the woods, armed with the approved items in a bag.
They had hugged their parents and said farewell, trying to be brave. Jack had more reason to look brave than the others, but inside he was shaking.
They set off into the woods, half excited and half afraid. Some stopped to gather sticks, but Jack and Oliver carried on. Jack wasn’t entirely sure of his plan, but hoped to steal some gold without waking the dragon.
As they neared the dragon’s cave, the other children had caught up. They all looked at each other uncertain and fearful, as a giant roar was heard. Shaking now, they saw smoke emerge from the cave.
Only Jack and Oliver remained, as the other children ran back to the village. Slowly Jack edged forward, and, as the smoke cleared, he saw a pile of gold near the opening.
Dragons are smart, and don’t like to be disturbed.
After years of being woken up and angered, they became wise to the children’s quest. Jack picked up two pieces of gold, and ran back towards his village and his future as chief.
He didn’t see the dragon watching with a smile.