A Dragon's Tail by Shari Klase

“You are the worst sort of dragon,” Dudley had been told all his life since he was a baby, newly hatched from the egg. He had come to believe it about himself because if you hear something long enough it becomes part and parcel of who you are. Dudley’s father had told him that, at the beginning when he had been the last of the hatchlings. His brothers and sisters had been perfect in all their scaly ways from head to tail. But that was just Dudley’s problem. He had no tail and it had been the ruin of his life. Aside from the fact that he was hideous, tails were useful, even necessary for all sorts of things if one was a dragon. It was a wonderful defence weapon. A dragon could hurl his tail at an enemy or at its prey and be sure of a quick victory. Even his mother had told him he was a useless sort of dragon, even though she had said it affectionately while patting his head. However, when his siblings and would be friends said it, it was not to pity him. Now Dudley was all alone. The other dragons migrated every year to the Craggy Mountains where they went to refuel their fire-breathing powers in the lava pools of the volcano. He could not go. It was too far. The worst thing about being tailless was that he couldn’t fly. He had tried many times. It was no use. He managed to glide a bit and then he would crash into trees or underbrush. Dragon’s tails are used for extra lift and steering. Without a tail, Dudley would be forever flightless and therefore, truly, the worst sort of a dragon, a deformed misfit. He had spent many years alone. He had given up hunting. He could not pounce on his prey from above. He couldn’t outrun it. Without a tail, he wobbled a bit as he ran. He could not even swim without a tail for a rudder so he was a poor fisherman. Instead he had taken to eating fruit from trees. There was one thing Dudley could do that other dragons couldn’t. He could climb. He had no tail to get in the way of the branches. Other dragons had no need to climb. They did not believe Dudley’s climbing ability anything boastworthy, so even that had not managed to boost Dudley’s self-esteem. One day while climbing an apple tree, Dudley almost ran headlong into a hungry youth upon the same mission as himself – collecting apples. “I say,” Frederick said, startled – for that was the boy’s name. “Are you going to eat me?” “Why would I want to eat you?” Dudley asked in disgust. “You are a dragon, aren’t you? Don’t you eat village people and carry off princesses and all that?” Dudley snorted. “That, you stupid boy, is a myth. Dragons hunt for a living, but they don’t hunt people. They eat deer and sheep and cows and such, but never people. Of course, there is the bad egg every now and then who will eat or kill a person who is in his way. But it’s not the rule.” Frederick eyed the dragon curiously. “Then why are you in this apple tree if you are not after me?” “I didn’t know you were in this tree. I was after apples, not

but I am going to succeed!” Dudley sighed and regarded his new friend closely. I’ve heard that dragons breathe fire. I am the worst sort of dragon. working for King Egbert and felt sorry for the young princess. “I have just as much right to apples in this tree as you do. “What you need is a quest. “Just why haven’t you gone with the other dragons? Are you some sort of dragon outcast?” “If you must know. if I have offended you.” Frederick looked at him thoroughly. I am useless. took my mother’s duplicate key and banished my family to the other side of the kingdom. “I don’t know why. And really. what makes you think you can succeed?” Frederick smiled at him slyly.” Dudley hung his head. Dud. I have no tail.” Dudley spread his wings around himself in shame.” With this admission. Frederick thought for a moment and then he hit upon an idea. King Egbert is seeking to enlarge his kingdom by marrying Eleanora. “I’m Dudley. “That is not a myth. Dudley slid down from the tree and landed with a thud. “I’m sorry. Dud. “By the way.” Dudley offered.” . stupid boy. dragon. King Socrates has promised Princess Eleanora’s hand in marriage to her rescuer. I’ve never really spoken to dragons before. Why don’t you join me?” “What sort of quest?” “The fair princess. you are quite a handsome dragon. Is that a myth too?” “No!” Dudley sighed. I have no fire at present. as I haven’t gone. My name is Frederick. “I’ve been called worse. “We can’t all hunt sheep and cows and such. I’m not a stupid boy. “Now go away! There are lots of apple trees in these parts.” Frederick laughed. Egbert. I very seldom talk to anyone. I happen to have a very talented climbing dragon as a friend. Many others have tried and failed. Just now. My father is a blacksmith and he made a duplicate key in hopes of setting Eleanora free. I am sure there will be a place for a powerful dragon like you.you!” “Why were you after apples if you hunt for a living?” Frederick asked suspiciously. You seem to have wings. King Socrates. May I call you Dud?” Dudley nodded. He keeps her in a high tower at his castle until she agrees to marry him. He was not about to tell this boy his terrible secret. Without a tail. “Others don’t have the key to the tower. I am of age. I can’t run fast or even swim. Can I call you Fred?” Frederick nodded. “If others have failed.” Frederick looked at him cock-eyed. He stole her away from her father. Eleanora. In fact. Actually I am a bit of an outcast because of my lack of flying ability. I’ve never talked to boys before. “I don’t think so. If you find your purpose. He was about to make his getaway when Frederick fell down beside him and stopped him. Tails aren’t everything!” “That’s easy for you to say.” Then he paused warily. I cannot fly so I cannot go to the Craggy Mountains.” Dudley looked at Frederick with a puzzled expression. My mother was a serving girl to Princess Eleanora. You have claws and sharp teeth. I am going to his castle and rescue her. was taken captive years ago by a rival king. However. You have no purpose in life. Besides. You’re large and you climb very well.” Dudley sniffed.” Frederick glared at Dudley.” Dudley turned shyly to Frederick and offered a claw to shake. Really. In short. you will be a transformed dragon. I cannot fly. But King Egbert got wind of the plan. “But if King Egbert took the duplicate key…” “King Egbert is not very bright. I can’t hunt. “If he thinks that my father would make only one duplicate key. “I am on a quest myself. all the dragons have migrated to the Craggy Mountains to refuel their fires. can we? What would become of all the livestock then? I just happen to be hunting apples. “Looks can be deceiving.

Dud!” “Is King Egbert dead?” Eleanora asked. I’ve spoken to her many times. “That I can do. but how about a dragon?” he roared. Dudley stepped out of the shadows. Fred. “Never mind swimming. “Those wings must be good for something besides flying. they are. Arrows and spears bounce right off them.. but I’m terribly afraid he has . pointing at a tree next to the moat. As all good castles are surrounded by moats.” Frederick climbed on Dudley’s back and up Dudley climbed to the highest branch. Dud. “I suppose if you want to put your faith in the worst sort of dragon. When I tuck my head in and enclose myself within them. they are like a shield. “This castle doesn’t look too intimidating. “He is a friend!” Frederick reassured her. “You think it is so easy for a mere boy to rescue a princess from one as powerful as I!” he shouted. he should not have been surprised. “I didn’t think you had it in you.Dudley snorted. spread his wings and glided easily across the moat. Princess Eleanora cried out at the sight of the dragon. “And so am I. “Oh.It’s covered with good. As Frederick unlocked the tower door with the key.” Frederick replied. “No.” Frederick suggested. Climb on. Of course. the door from the other side of the room flew open. You and your mother were always kind to me. Can you use those wings for short glides?” Frederick asked.” “I remember you. She will not even leave the tower with me!” Frederick laid a hand on Dudley’s claw. Dudley nodded. She knows me.” Dudley and Frederick made quite a spectacle as they journeyed together to the Castle Duncannon where Princess Eleanora was held captive. You are the son of my serving girl. They made a bit of crash landing but Frederick dusted himself off and soon they were beside the castle walls. But you have risked much coming here. Dudley dug his claws into the nooks and crannies easily. Frederick’s mouth opened wide in astonishment. Hop on!” Frederick climbed onto Dudley’s back once again and they made short work of the walls and high tower. either as once Dudley enclosed Frederick with his wings. His face was red with fury. Not only were a dragon and boy walking together a sight. He grabbed King Egbert with his claws and flung him over the tower wall. maybe. Dudley looked over the side of the tower. “But she will go with me.” Just then.” “That could be useful. “Princess Eleanora will never trust a dragon. “I told you I can’t swim. She will remember me. the guards were no problem. but Dudley walked on two feet not being hindered by a tail and quite used to standing upright to look into tree tops. sturdy vines. “A mere boy. I will join your quest. As they neared the castle Dudley spied a moat. no weapon could hurt them. Trust me!” Dudley squinted his eyes at Frederick. Then he shrugged his shoulders. and King Egbert entered.” Dudley reminded him.

Let’s hope we don’t suffer the same fate because I can’t swim. “I’m afraid so.” Frederick replied. shedding the armour. When they arrived home. he frowned. As he inspected himself in the mirror with his new armour on. As for Dudley. “Dud. you are the best sort of dragon!” . “Does your dragon always fly so badly?” she asked shakily. Eleanora and Frederick had much time to fall in love on the journey. “What is the matter. “As a dragon. he was appointed Captain of the Royal Guard and awarded a special suit of armour with a built-on tail. The trio headed happily home to King Socrates’ castle. Dud?” Frederick asked.” Frederick laughed. As it was on the other side of the kingdom.” he replied. “I don’t believe I need a tail after all. Eleanora and Frederick were married in due course with the King’s gratitude and blessing. Hop on!” Frederick and Eleanora climbed on Dudley’s back and the three sailed wobbly from the castle wall and abruptly landed with a crash on the other side of the moat. I’m really not a bad sort at all. Sometimes it is quite lucky to have a flightless dragon for a friend. The Princess and Frederick climbed dishevelled and dizzy from Dudley’s back. at the dragon’s unhappy expression.fallen into the moat.

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