The dragon snorted in its sleep. A tiny flame whizzed from one nostril
as the huge beast nestled more deeply into its pile of gold. Next
me, Mehan trembled, her blue eyes wide and timid. Even in the dim
light of the cave, the shine of her golden hair rivaled the treasure
"Don't worry," I said, trying to sound manly and confident. This
my one chance to impress her. She'd always been nice to me, but
liked the boys who jousted and won sword fights. I'm more the academic
"When they hibernate, dragons sleep like the dead," I explained.
"You'd have to dance a jig on its head in spikey-toed shoes to wake
I handed her a burlap sack, then crept forward silently. Though
sure the dragon wouldn't wake up, there was no sense thumbing my
nose at Fate. After a moment, Mehan followed.
As my father taught me, I stayed to the outside of the hoard, plucking
choice gems and gold bricks from the dragon's glittering bed. A
handful of gold coins and a ruby encrusted goblet followed them
the bag. Dragons only hibernate once every five years, so it's
important to take enough to keep your family in velvets and furs
next season. Everyone in the village thought my father was a minor
nobleman with an annual income, but this was our real bread and
Soon, my bag was bursting at the seams, but Mehan's lay flat and
forgotten. Instead of helping, she sat and admired a bracelet studded
with opals, her blue skirts spread out around her like a flower
bloom. My breath caught at her loveliness.
This was my first time harvesting treasure without my father. If
knew that I'd brought Mehan, he would be furious, but looking at
like that, I knew the risk was worth it. Though, without a second
of arms to help, I would have to work faster. I picked up the empty
sack and began shoveling in more gold.
Above me, coins clinked and rolled downhill. Mehan was moving, her
eye on something higher up.
"Keep to the outside," I hissed as I slid a gold and bronze platter
into the second sack.
But Mehan had the same look on her face as the time she saw the
single perfect lily on the island in the middle of the lake. When
Lance swam out and picked it for her, she'd rewarded him with a
smile that had haunted my imagination ever since. I squinted against
the golden glow and spotted her target--a tiara studded with diamonds
laying within flaming distance of the dragon's maw.
"Mehan, come back." My mouth spoke without the consent of my brain.
"I'll get the tiara." This time, the smile was actually for me.
a thousand feet tall.
"Oh, Reginald! I've always dreamed of owning something so fine."
picked her way gingerly down to my side.
I handed Mehan my sack. "Find more salable pieces while I'm gone."
She nodded and leaned down to harvest more gold for my annual income
while I slid off my boots. In my stocking feet, I disturbed fewer
coins during the climb. Just as I reached the top of the mountain,
dragon stretched in its sleep.
"Reginald!" Mehan cried. "Look out!"
Before I could duck, the dragon's huge tail crashed into my chest
sent me flying into a huge pile of diamonds. Now, diamonds may be
valuable and beautiful, but soft they are not. I bit back a yowl
pain, expecting to be a hungry dragon's appetizer.
But the dragon slept on. Apparently my scrawny self was no more
to its powerful tail than a fly to a cow.
Down below, Mehan tried to look worried, but I saw her glace dart
the tiara. In the dragon's shifting, her prize had slid even nearer
its powerful jaws. I was closer to the dragon than I'd ever been
could see each of the green and blue scales that covered its snout.
They were beautiful actually... like emeralds and sapphires. As
reached for the tiara, the dragon snorted again, and a flame licked
Let me tell you, dragon fire hurts like a son of a wombat!
burned before, but this was a hundred times worse than grabbing
a cook pot without a towel! Pain flared, but didn't die down again,
not one iota. Instead, the burning increased with each passing moment.
Eyes watering with unmanly tears, I snatched the tiara and half-ran,
half-slid down the pile of gold. She wrapped her handkerchief around
my blistered hand before snatching the tiara.
"Oh, Reggie!" Mehan cooed. "It's beautiful. You're amazing."
This was my moment! Ignoring the pain, I dropped to one knee and
pulled a ring from my pocket. Delicate filigreed gold encircled
largest diamond I'd ever seen. When I found it here five years ago,
knew it would look stunning on her tiny, but perfect, hand.
"I love you, Mehan," I declared, "and I have since that day you
spilled paint on my new boots. Now that you know what my family
does, you know I can give you a comfort and security. I'll get you
anything your heart desires--jewels, children, a big house, a velvet-upholstered
carriage--just say you'll be my wife."
Her cherubic face crumpled into an adorable pout. "Reginald, I can't
"Why?" My question came out somewhat strangled. I told myself it
was the pain.
"Lance proposed last week. He's importing a ring from the coast,
when it arrives we'll make the announcement. He's going to take
me on a grand tour for our honeymoon." Her pout became an encouraging
"You know I can't marry you, right? You're sweet, but Lance and
I are the perfect match--the knight and the maiden... it's written
the stories. You never hear a tale of the dragon thief and the
She dropped a feather-light kiss on my cheek. "But thank you,
Reginald. I will treasure these jewels forever."
With that, Mehan flounced out of the cave, the tiara and bracelet
clasped in those perfect hands. Stunned and heart-broken, I sat
for a long time, cradling my burning hand to my chest. Then I crumpled
her handkerchief and threw it to the ground.
At first I thought another hunter had found our hoard, until I
realized the deep voice had come from behind. I turned and saw the
dragon contemplating me with a pearlescent gaze,
"You're awake?" I croaked. "And you... talk?" I thought about fleeing,
but a dragon could spit spirals of flame faster than I could run.
be the human version of a pig on a spit. Except, without the spit.
"The whole hibernation thing is a myth."
My mouth dropped open. "What?"
"We got tired of you treasure hunters invading our homes all the
No matter how many we killed, more came. We started this hibernation
thing to get a little peace and quiet. It's worth losing a little
gold every five years to finally be able to relax. Now, come here."
The dragon raised his head on its long, serpentine neck. "Come here."
"Hold out your arm."
Trembling, I did as the dragon asked, sure that he was going to
me again. If I obeyed, maybe he would just burn off my arm instead
killing me outright. I could live without an arm, and it was hurting
so much that I'd be glad to lose it, actually.
The dragon made a sound similar to my father's cough after he smoked
his pipe and coughed a huge wad of spit and I-don't-want-to-know-what-else
onto my hand. The sudden lack of pain shocked me so much that I
almost fell over. Once I had control of myself, I shook off the
dragon spit and found my hand burn-free.
"Don't worry about it," the dragon replied in its gravelly voice.
have to admit, I like you, kid. You've got the courage to stand
your dreams. Not the false bravado of those other hunters. And you
have spunk. But, next time, find a girl with more than jewels on
mind. A good mate needs a mind of her own. It's what worked for
I blinked. Love advice from a dragon?
The dragon snorted. "You humans, always after the pretty face."
My glance fell on the handkerchief below. "Not anymore," I muttered.
The dragon's rumble sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. "Good."
"I guess you don't want me coming around here any more," I said
quietly, wondering how I would explain our loss of income to my
father. Would I have to get a job?
"On the contrary, you are welcome to replenish your stores once
every five years, just as before, with one condition."
"If you ever bring anyone here again without my express permission,
will flame them to death."
"Yes, sir," I stammered. "I promise."
"Also," the dragon added, "make sure that smoke-for-brains girl
doesn't tell anyone. If even one stranger shows up here, I'll find
new cave and won't leave a calling card."
"Good." The dragon plopped his head back down on his mighty forelegs.
"Now take your bags and
get out of here. Dragons might not hibernate, but I would like to
finish my nap."
Bio: Erin M. Kinch lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas, where
she shares her home with her husband of six years and a rambunctious
golden retriever that they believe may be telepathic. Her short
fiction has been published in "Sporty Spec: Games of theFantastic,"
"Allegory," "A Thousand Faces," "Every Day Fiction," and "Arcane
Twilight." More is forthcoming in "NorthPoint" and "Afterburn SF."
learn more about Erin's fiction, visit: www.erinmkinch.com