The mountains were bright with sunlight, and daffodils shimmered in the breeze. On branches laden with catkins, birds were singing in the spring. Smiling up at the sky, Blodwen turned a full circle, her skirts belling out around her. Then the smile faded, and she let out a sigh. It was time to go home.
The path was still wet from winter rain. A particularly muddy expanse made her pause, her skirts held up with one hand, her other hand stretched out for balance. She heard a sound behind her: cold wind in the trees. She did not turn round. She tried to compel herself to go on.
"Er… roar?" said a voice behind her.
Blodwen turned around. Her eyes rose upwards. Her heart started beating very fast.
"ROAR!" the dragon shouted.
A distant part of her mind told Blodwen that she should be screaming and running away, but what did she have to run away to? "I think," she managed, quite calmly, "you aren't supposed to say 'roar.'"
"What should--?" The dragon's voice was high. It cleared its throat, and tried again in a rumbling growl. "What should I do, then?"
"Well, um, actually roar?" she suggested, trying to keep her voice mild. "Like this." She roared.
"Oh. I think you're right," the dragon said, high and squeaky for the first word, low and growly for the second. It roared once, then again and again, experimenting with different volumes and pitches. Eventually it settled on a roar that clearly pleased it. Personally, Blodwen felt it would have been more impressive without the yodel in the middle, but decided not to say so.
By now, Blodwen realised, she more was curious than afraid. Perhaps it was the wickedness inside her, that allowed her to converse undaunted with vile creatures of evil. "I would have expected a mighty dragon like you to, er, know this already?"
She braced herself for fury, but the dragon shifted from foot to foot. "I… um… I didn't pay much attention in dragon school. I spent my time gazing out of the cave mouth, mostly."
"An education should not be wasted," Blodwen said primly. She had fought for her education, fought to gain her letters. She could not regret it, despite all the problems that had followed after.
"But I'm paying attention now," the dragon said defiantly. "That's why I'm here. I found a book on what dragons are supposed to do, and I'm doing it, so there. "
"Are you?" Blodwen asked politely. She cleared her throat. "What exactly are you doing?"
"I'm kidnapping a fair maiden and taking her back to my lair." The dragon sounded quite proud about it.
"And you're doing very well so far," lied Blodwen, who had not been a maiden for many long years, and had never been fair. "The only trouble is, I've read that book, too. Have you forgotten what happens after the dragon takes the fair maiden to its lair?"
"Of course I haven't!" the dragon declared. "He… He…" Its crested shoulders slumped. A sad trickle of smoke drifted down from his nostrils. "I only read page one. Skimmed it, really. What happens?"
"A brave knight comes along and slays the dragon," Blodwen said. The dragon looked so crushed that she felt the need to add, "But sometimes the dragon gets a few years of devastation first: burning farmland, carrying off cows, creating an everlasting wasteland; that sort of thing."
"Cows," said the dragon faintly. "Not alpacas?"
"Oh." The dragon slumped to the ground. "I don't see any pleasure in burning farmland, and this slaying thing sounds most uncomfortable. Do I have to kidnap you?"
Blodwen decided to take pity on the creature. "Probably not. I'm not actually a fair maiden, you see. I'm…" She let out a breath. "I'm a wicked witch."
"Really?" The dragon perked up. "What wicked things do you do?"
"Live alone," Blodwen said. "Have a cat. Know how to read. Know about herbs and flowers. Very fond of gingerbread. I made a huge crate of it for the village fair twenty years ago. That's when it started, and now… now I've got no choice. I'm wicked, wicked to the core" Her voice cracked, and she fought the urge to cry. "Alpacas," she spat out instead. "Why alpacas?"
"It's what I want to be," the dragon said.
"An alpaca?" Blodwen asked.
"No!" The dragon drew itself up in outrage. "Alpacas can't breathe fire. Breathing fire… it's awesome. You never get chilblains and you can toast Welsh Rarebit in seconds. Of course," it added, sighing, "it comes with the requirement that you kidnap ladies and get slain…"
"And sit on vast piles of gold in lonely mountains," Blodwen added.
"Sit on gold?" The dragon drew back in startlement. "Sit on it? Really? How odd. I expect that was another lesson I daydreamed through at school. But… Oh! Maybe that's what happened to Uncle Eric!" It shook its head, stirring gentle smoke. "But alpacas… They're so cute. And so furry. Have you ever felt alpaca fur against the smooth scales of your cheek? I just want to farm alpacas in peace, but Dad says dragons aren't allowed to do that."
Blodwen patted the creature's side. "You haven't got a lair, have you?" she said gently.
"I have so!" the dragon said, in its squeaky, swooping voice. "A bedroom, anyway. Although I do share it with my big brother. But, anyway, what does it matter? Dad's right. I'm a dragon, so I've got to do dragony things, just like you're a wicked witch, and have to do wicked things, like cooking gingerbread." The flow of bitter words dried up. It looked up at her, feathered eyebrow raised. "Why is gingerbread wicked?"
"It isn't," Blodwen said. "It isn't. " She rose to her feet, and smoothed down her skirts. "Your father's wrong. Just because you're a dragon, it doesn't mean you've got to crave gold and destruction. And just because I'm an educated widow who likes cats and gingerbread, I don't have to be a wicked witch. Come on," she said. "You're coming with me. From now on, we change our lives."
"Where are we going?" asked the dragon.
"Home," she said. "Home to my cottage."
The dragon stood up, and stretched its wings. "Is there any gold? You see, I do want to be able to crave gold just a little bit. Can I do that? Just a teeny bit?"
"There's gold," Blodwen said, "but I've got something better than gold."
"Oh." The dragon walked beside her for a while in thoughtful silence. "Is this one of those stories with a moral? Are you going to tell me that friendship is better than gold?"
"No," Blodwen said. "But tea is."