You Can Take a Horse to Water…

You can Take a Horse to Water… by David Macfie

Golgoxa, dragon king of his mountain domain, soaked in his favorite hot springs and contemplated his life. He did that a lot, these days, since he had much to think about. After a lonely start, hatching as an orphan and living only by eating his siblings, he had matured into a fine, strong example of dragon-hood. But, although he had met, fought and beaten many poor opponents, he was still alone until the day, a year ago, when he had been fiercely attacked and simultaneously noticed five female dragons enjoying these very hot springs.

“Ah, that was a day to remember,” he mused. “Rexantha was a worthy opponent. It was the best and most difficult contest I’ve ever had. He was an honorable dragon too, and I was hard pressed to beat him. I wonder where he is and whether he became master of his own domain with a harem of females as fine as mine.”

This last thought led to contemplation of the five females who became his family that day. Each had laid a clutch of eggs soon afterwards and the broods had resulted in seven fine males and eleven sleek and beautiful females. The youngsters had grown fast and left to seek their own destinies just as winter began. Now his wives were in the breeding caves, anxiously waiting for the hatching of this year’s clutches. There were thirty eggs and Golgoxa had killed one sheep each, as birth gifts, so the hatchlings would get a strong meal to set them up properly for a healthy start to life.

Golgoxa, sunk lower into the steamy water and stretched his muscles in the invigorating warmth. There was no hurry. His wives would call when the first crack appeared.

“The survival rate last year wasn’t bad,” he thought. “Eighteen out of twenty-four is OK for first timers. But this year, I hope all the eggs hatch and all the wyrmlings survive. That would be something to be proud of.”

His introspection was interrupted by faint cries from the caves. The hatching had begun. The dragon leapt out of the water and shook himself off, then launched into the air. He rapidly gained height and soared towards the mountain terraces containing the caves that sheltered his wives and children.

“I can’t believe how excited I feel,” he mused as the air whistled past his powerful body. “What’s different from last year? It gave me my first children. Surely that should have been the most exciting?

He thought deeply as he flew and worked out that he was more excited because he had something to live up to. He must prove, to the wives, that he was still worthy of their love and loyalty. Otherwise he might be replaced in their affections by a younger and more virile mate.

He arrived at the caves, feeling the excitement, tinged by a flavor of anxiety. It was chaos. The floors were littered with broken shells, feeding whelps and frantic wives dashing about, trying to keep order. He did a quick count and found twenty-eight hungry youngsters, guzzling on sheep carcasses. He intercepted a flustered wife.

“What happened to the other two?” he asked sternly.

“Both hatched,” she replied, breathlessly, looking around frantically to make sure there was no danger to any of the wyrmlings. But both got eaten by hungry siblings before we were able to intervene.”

“Point out to me the two who did the eating,” he demanded. “I may need to provide them with some special attention.”

She took him to two males who were lying together. Both were mini images of himself, ruddy red on top and molten gold below. He smiled, happily.

“A very pleasing outcome, he whispered. “All hatched and two highly dominant males that look just like me. Look at them. They ate a sibling each and they’ve nearly finished a sheep. And the little pigs have purloined the two spare sheep also. They’re going to be a handful. I’ll name them Mandragon and Firezantha, big names for big dragons.”

The next few weeks were exhausting. Golgoxa spent all the daylight hours hunting and the wives set up shifts where there were always two playing nursemaids while the other three joined in the hunting. The youngsters ate, slept and play-fought each other, getting stronger by the day. The two dominant males were already bigger and stronger than their siblings both male and female. They had outmatched all the others and had to contest solely with each other to get a decent work out.

Golgoxa was proud of all twenty-eight, but he was particularly proud of the two. The whelps flourished and after three months they were big enough to come out of the caves and learn to fly. Golgoxa was instructor in chief, with his wives as able assistants.

He began with lots of exercises to strengthen bodies and wings. From a distance it looked like a dragon aerobics class. The wyrmlings jumped and stretched and flapped and did it all over again and again until they flopped down with exhaustion. The two always lasted the longest. When all were done in, they ate and slept and got up the next day and did it all once more. After three weeks they started to complain.

“When are we going to actually fly?” they asked. Golgoxa now knew they were ready. One by one he grabbed them and threw them off the cliff. His wives were waiting, soaring and gliding effortlessly. He left the two until the end. And they got impatient and threw themselves off. Golgoxa grinned.

“Good,” he yelled after them. They looked back, proudly and wheeled to join him as he launched into the air. Now the real training began. The parents taught the youngsters all the flying maneuvers they knew. Golgoxa showed how these could be used in fights with rival males and females. Obviously, dragons only fought with opponents of the same sex, but all had to be ready for inevitable contests. The training continued through summer and autumn. As the weather began to chill with the onset of winter the young dragons were ready. A great feast was organized and enjoyed, then the following day twenty-eight masters of the air set off to see the world. This year set a pattern that was repeated numerous times.

Golgoxa began to feel his age.

“This is ridiculous,” he muttered to himself, checking around to make sure none of his wives could hear him. “I’ve only been mated for seventeen years and I’m feeling old. But I suppose I was a late starter. I had all those years when I was alone. How old am I anyway?  Let me see…”

He started calculating. It took him the whole day to work it out and when he did it came as a shock.

“I don’t believe it. I lived alone for ninety-five years before the wives appeared so now, I’m a hundred and twelve. That’s still not old for a dragon but it is old enough for me to be feeling my age. How long can I keep up this pace? This year there were fifty whelps. I’m exhausted. I’m strong enough for the mating but the rearing of the wyrmlings is killing me. I need a holiday but now the winter is coming. Maybe I should feed myself up and hibernate. I’d probably feel stronger if I slept all winter…”

“But it would never work, the wives would keep talking to me and waking me up. There’s always something they must talk about right now. So that’s not a plan. Wait a minute. What if, there were lots of thunders of dragons in these mountains? There are enough caves and there’s plenty of game. Then we could all help each other. It would be like reinforcements. And it would be more like the old days. There would be other dragons my age. We could hunt together and talk to each other about many things. And the   

youngsters wouldn’t have to go away all the time. They could find mates in the other thunders…”

“I like it. I like it a lot. But we never see other dragons here. I’ve never understood why. Is so perfect here. My whelps never come back and I suppose new dragons don’t know we’re here. No dragons have been here since Rexantha all those years ago. I told him he should come back so we could get old together, but he hasn’t. I wonder where he is?”

Weeks went by with Golgoxa continuously agonizing about his plan and how to implement it. He discussed it with his wives, but they didn’t think their solitude was a problem. They rather liked the exclusivity. But now he’d thought about it, it became like a bee under his skin. He couldn’t let it go. The winter turned icy-cold and the wives spent more and more time in the caves. They collected brush and blocked the entrances to keep the warmth inside and only came out to hunt in the mid-day.

“This is driving me insane,” thought Golgoxa. And it’s not the way dragons are supposed to live. There should be a colony here not just a family. I think I must go on a journey to find others and persuade them to come back.”

He spoke to his wives. The senior wife, Bellegotha. Looked at him down her nose.

“That’s a good plan at a bad time,” she said, soothingly. It’s late in the day but early in the winter and the cold is setting in. Soon we’ll have blizzards. Shouldn’t this plan wait until spring?”

“It can’t wait,” replied the dragon king, roughly, with a fierce expression on his face. “I’ve decided it must be done so it must be done now.”

Bellegotha wasn’t intimidated. She just smiled.

“Have it your own way,” she conceded. “But let us pack some provisions for the trip while you rest up for the rest of the day. You can leave at first light.”

Golgoxa thought he was being manipulated, but he felt that his chief wife had a good point, so he agreed, curled up near the fire and went to sleep.

He was woken by an extremely loud whistling noise followed by many thunderous thumps that shook the caves.  Before he was properly awake, a roaring voice destroyed the early morning silence.

“Golgoxa, get your lazy fat ass out here, immediately. You’ve got company.”

The voice was followed by the rumble of many voices, all chanting ‘come out, come out.’

Golgoxa pushed aside the brush and stepped out onto the terrace. He was momentarily stunned by the sight of a huge crowd of dragons. Then his eyes focused on three males fronting the throng. He instantly recognized Rexantha, Mandragon and Firezantha.

“What the hell is going on?” he managed, in a strangled voice.

“We’ve decided, after all these years, to take you up on the invitation you extended that day we fought.” Replied Rexantha with a huge, toothy grin. “As the humans say – ‘you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I always thought I’d come but never got to it until I met your youngsters here. They persuaded me that it was time. So, to compensate I’ve brought fourteen thunders with me, including your two impressive sons. They insisted, even after we fought, and I won. All told there are a hundred and fifteen of us. That should give these mountains an impressive population, don’t you think?”

Golgoxa was speechless, but he did manage a goofy smile of welcome, before the party started.