“Tut, tut, tut--how am I to make our dragon tarts without any wild huckleberry?” complained a gargantuan, scaly monster wearing a particularly untidy wrinkled apron.
She thrust her mixing bowl across the thick table, as equally immense as herself, and the heaping contents spilled everywhere.
“But the huckleberries all burned to a crisp, Mama,” Leopold spoke to his mother solemnly. “Perhaps if you hadn’t gotten so mad at the mail dragon, then….”
“That’s enough Leopold!” His mother looked at him sternly with redlined coal black eyes.
Leopold could tell she was upset at another evening of sparse dinner pickings, but refused to show it. Instead she was angry--his family’s usual way of dealing with their problems.
She went on, “You know that dastard of a mail dragon got what he deserved! Choppin and a swallowin a batch of our dandelions all for his greedy, fat self!”
Actually, Leopold knew the mail dragon who regularly delivered his family’s mail, wouldn’t have tried to eat the few weeds that lined the craggy path if he wasn’t extremely hungry. When his mother slithered up on the mail dragon unexpectedly, blasting him with a crackling stream of fire, not only did the sparse bit of dandelions go up in flames, but so did the few thin bushes of huckleberry a few yards off.
Leopold also knew that statement about “fat” happened to be more than an exaggeration. It was an untruth. Yesterday when the mail dragon dropped a parcel off at the front door, Leopold could count every rib on the frail creature. But his mother’s untruth, nonetheless, so he made no comment.
No one in Dragonland—magic being, human or dragon alike--could ever be described as fat. There wasn’t enough food to be fat. Big, maybe yes, but not fat. Dragons had burned up nearly all the plants and trees with hot flames that shot from their noses and mouths. And this happened to take place regularly.
Only he happened to be different. “Leopold you do take after your poor old pathetic Aunt Agatha,” Leopold’s mother would often snort. “Why, you even look just like her!”
And it was true. The scales covering Leopold’s back looked more like floppy purple flower petals than sharp jagged dragon scales. His temperament for a dragon was also unusual. He let the scrawny children of the nearby village ride on his back, which was unheard of when it came to dragons. And instead of spewing fire like the others, he’d sing.
Leopold’s father was as ornery and gloomy as dragons came, with deep old scars gutted through ragged scales and black flesh. He proudly announced many a time throughout Leopold’s childhood that the gashes came from all those victorious rumbles in Dragonland’s early days. Leopold’s father was also a champion fire-breather and had set eight villages on fire in his younger days. When he was 105 he’d won the fire-breathing championship in the dragon town of Hornsharp.
But these days, Leopold’s father had settled down, and wasn’t so interested in fighting other dragons, terrifying villagers and setting towns and forests on fire. He wanted Leopold to do it.
“Leopold you haven’t scared the daylights out of one villager or set even one small cottage on fire since the day you were born! And you’re always so friendly and pleasant. It’s sickening. What’s wrong with you? And to think—I named you after a great warrior!” Leopold’s father would bellow.
Then Leopold’s mother would look at Leopold mournfully, sigh, shake her large knobby head, and go back to filing her talons.
Leopold would hold his head low and walk from his family’s cave with a tear in his eye.
One day feeling rather hungry, he walked into the thin, straggly forest, thinking about his problems.
Walking along, he met the wizard Juzil.
Leopold didn’t feel like talking, and Juzil wasn’t known to have any kind of polite, tactful demeanor. He hoped Juzil would go on by.
But Juzil stopped and stared.
Leopold shuffled his paws around and waved his head shyly.
Juzil burst out laughing and pointing. “Whoever saw a dragon that looked like you? —big purple, soft thing, with floppy scales, no fangs or sharp talons.”
As Juzil laughed, some of the floppy dragon scales on Leopold’s back grew stiff. This had never happened before. As Juzil kept laughing, all of Leopold’s floppy scales grew stiff and stood straight up! Even his pink fur was getting ruffled.
“HO-HO-HO, HE-HE-HE,” Juzil went on.
Leopold pawed the ground and snorted. What right does he have to laugh at me? Leopold thought. He should go about his wizard business.
He roared at Juzil, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE ME, SO DON’T LAUGH AT ME.”
For the first time in his life, Leopold felt fire form at the back of his throat, just like his father. This was strange for he’d never known to have anything in common with his father, but all the same…
Actually it was exhilarating. Could he be even slightly normal, even a little like his father? Leopold’s chest swelled with something. Was it pride?
But the children lived at the edge of the forest. If he spouted fire, the wizard would easily disappear, as wizards did, but the children and their homes would burn. Leopold realized he couldn’t spout his first fire and his self-esteem plummeted.
Large, droopy tears formed at the corners of his eyes, and he began to sob. He got himself all wet, falling asleep in his tears.
His tears made a great river that rushed through the thin, straggly forest and soaked the ground.
The ground loved Leopold’s tears. New trees and flowers spouted up everywhere.
When Leopold woke up, he was surprised. He tasted some flowers. They were sweet and juicy. He gobbled down a few more, and he was no longer hungry.
Juzil was gone. Seven green fairies fluttered close by, “Leopold broke Dragonland’s curse. He is Dragonland’s True Warrior,” they began to sing.
One of the fairies fluttered up and stood on Leopold’s nose. “You are the first dragon who chose not to spout fire, even when angry,” said the green fairy. “You have made the land green again with tears!”
Finally, Leopold managed to stand up after such a long slumber. He felt warm inside. He walked to the top of a hill and peered down into a valley. No longer a desert, dragons as far as the eye could see, munched hungrily on thick green grass.
The warmth inside Leopold’s chest exploded. Plop--one last tear.
Leopold frolicked down the hill. His father approached him. “Leopold, the wizard Juzil told me you made the land green again with tears. Is this true?”
“Yes Father. I was the one crying.”
Leopold’s father slumped low, a tear in his eye.
From that day forth, Dragonland was no longer barren. Dragons saved their fierce fire breathing for competitions. The competitions were moved to a dusty field in the dragon town of Sandville, where no villager or plant was close by to burn.
Leopold was the guest of honor at the next competition, and spouted his first fire, coming in first place.