Dragon by David Macfie

 He lounged, soaking up the sun’s heat like a sponge. He lay on a flat plateau high in the mountains that circled his domain, gazing at the peaks high enough to still have a frosting of snow on this fine late-spring day. Then he let his eyes wander over the brilliant green foothills, verdant conifer forests and deciduous woodlands. He marked the movements of wild sheep and goats and the occasional herds of deer and even noticed the rabbits and hares hopping through the grasses. He tucked this information into his memory for another day. He had consumed a moose two days ago and didn’t feel hungry right now. He checked that his favorite hot springs were steaming invitingly – something for later perhaps. But right now, he felt lazy, the sun was caressing his body and his mind wandered.

He was a dragon, in the prime of his life, and his name was Golgoxa. The name was a vestigial reminder of an era long gone. An era when dragons ruled the skies and dominant males owned their harems of females. An era when spring brought battles for supremacy and the passion of courtship. An era when dragons mated and cared for their offspring. An era when dragons honed their vast intelligences, with diverse conversations, mind games and complex interactions with other thunders of dragons from nearby domains.

He lay and critically inspected the lands within the range of his piercing eyesight. It all belonged to him. He was supreme, but in the back of his mind he knew that this was no great feat because there were no other dragons there. He was single and had been ever since he hatched in an empty cave. His first meal was the unhatched eggs containing his siblings, but he didn’t know that at the time. He only knew that he was alone and hungry and there was no other food to be had. He grew, by chasing and eating mice and rats, beetles and lizards, snakes and unwary birds. Later he became big enough to go after rabbits and hares, then sheep and goats and, finally to deer, moose and wild cattle, buffalo and the occasional bear. Now nothing was too big.

He lay dozing in the sun and thinking about his life. He had seen a small number of other dragons, even fought with a few males that came and wanted his lands. They were good lands with plentiful food and water and many suitable breeding caves. But they were his and so he fought. If he was honest, the fights were seriously disappointing. He yearned to be challenged by dragons who would give him a real contest, but his opponents had been, small and weak by comparison and he had defeated them easily. None had come for many years now, and he was in his prime and bored and lazy. He didn’t consciously think about mating or having a mate, but he did know there was something missing from his domain, from his life.

He stretched out in the sun, lying on his stomach, with his legs splayed and his neck and tail lying flat and straight out. His scales glowed like burnished metal, ruddy red on top and molten gold below. He knew he was beautiful but it didn’t matter if there was no one to see. He fell asleep, lulled by the heat. He dreamed of battles and passion, his body twitching and his muscles clenching and jumping in concert with the images in his head.

He was rudely awakened by a sudden chill and a thundering bellow in his ears. He lurched to his feet and, looked around, groggily, still fuddled with sleep. Two things brought him instantly fully awake. The shadow that had blocked the sun trumpeted a challenge and swooped down upon him, slicing razor-sharp claws along the length of his back. The second thing that competed with the sudden onset of mind numbing pain, was a fleeting glimpse of five female dragons enjoying his hot springs. With an effort he pulled his eyes upwards to see an enormous black-backed male dragon with tan underparts, wheeling to attack again. The screaming challenge was filled with rage and passion and the bulk of this opponent was intimidating in the extreme.

He lurched to his feet, tensed his muscles, and sprang into the air, his powerful wings beating with a noise like rolls of thunder. He bellowed his own challenge with all the air in his lungs. It made the opponent’s roar sound like the squeak of a mouse and he smiled when its reverberating echoes caught the attention of the females. Their faces turned to the sound and, instantly, the five were locked in to watch the coming conflict.

But now he had to focus. This opponent was different from all the others. He was larger, stronger, fiercer, and that was enough to make him a suitable and worthy opponent. But he also had honor. He could have killed Golgoxa in his sleep, but he didn’t. He’d woken him before the first attack. That made him doubly worthy and Golgoxa’s heart filled with exhilaration and excitement. At last, a wish come true – a fight that meant something – a genuine challenge from a worthy adversary, who would make a real fight of it.

He rapidly gained height as the other dragon wheeled to attack again. The two raced towards each other and met like an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. The collision didn’t stop either of them for a moment. They instantly grappled and shoved and bit and clawed at each other, both looking for an early advantage. His opponent was strong and capable and, for a fleeting moment, Golgoxa felt fear. He shrugged it off as the other grunted in his ear.

“I am Rexantha and today, this domain and the females will be mine.”

The reply left Golgoxa’s lips with no hesitation.

“Talk is cheap, youngster. You must prove your claim. I am Golgoxa and today you have met your match.”

Preliminaries now over, the contest escalated into a no holds barred all-out-war of two huge masters of the air. They separated and climbed and wheeled and attacked each searching for a weakness in the other. Each time they came together, they clawed and grappled and bit some more. Soon, blood flowed from many wounds on both bodies and sprayed into the air like a shower of red rain. The two separated again and attacked again in a titanic tussle for supremacy. The younger male was extremely strong, perhaps even as strong as Golgoxa. But as the war continued, Golgoxa began to notice small mistakes that came from naivety and inexperience. Once, he looped the loop and caught his opponent by surprise, landing on his back and scoring huge gashes on shoulders and ribs before soaring away again. Another time he feinted the loop and pulled out of it as his opponent reacted. He managed severe wounds to Rexantha’s chest and front legs and even managed to bite a chunk out of the side of his neck.

The younger male’s breathing started to labor and his reactions slowed a fraction.

Golgoxa sensed that the end was near.

He pulled apart and soared into the air once more, gaining fifty meters of height. He wheeled and dived towards his challenger, gaining speed as he fell. The wind whistled over his scales, making an eerie, ghostly sound. Rexantha tensed for the inevitable crash, but it never came. Golgoxa barrel rolled and dropped simultaneously, coming upside-down underneath his opponent, claws up and ready. In seconds he had sunk his claws deep into the flesh of the younger male’s flanks. He barrel rolled again turning the linked dragons a hundred and eighty degrees so that he was now on top and Rexantha was upside-down. Instantly he drove downwards with all his considerable strength. The other struggled, twisting his body, trying vainly to break free. But Golgoxa had him now. He drove the helpless challenger into the flatness of the plateau with all of his weight and strength, momentarily stunning him. As the younger male lay supine and helpless, Golgoxa bit into his neck and started to close off the air-flow.

Rexantha woke in a panic. He was pinned and suffocating. He realized that he had lost and could die here.

“I yield,” he groaned through his pain. “I beg for mercy.”

Golgoxa tightened his bite for a few seconds to underline his victory, then he relaxed his hold and released Rexantha.

“You are a worthy dragon, with courage and honor,” he said. “You will be the proud master of your own domain, with your own harem of females. But not here and not today. Go with pride and when you are a master, return so that we may grow old together as friends and neighbors. I am honored to have fought with you.”

So saying, Golgoxa left the other to collect himself then fly off to his own destiny. The undisputed master of this domain turned, swept into the air and soared, proudly, to the hot springs to soak his battered, weary body and bask in the admiration of his new wives.

His life was now complete.