The most important day for any boy living in the vale was the day he got his dragon. Today was Jonny’s 12th birthday and, as local custom dictated, he would be able to get his dragon today. Lore told that dragons flourished when a preteen boy bonded with a newborn dragon. Otherwise dragons grew wild and very dangerous, like the difference between dogs and wolves. They had been doing this in Ishkia, his island home, for a thousand years. For a boy it was a rite of passage into the warrior clan. Except now there were no wars to test men, and the young warriors tested their mettle in the Dragon Races held during the summer solstice. The Dragon Races had become the most important social event of the year in Ishkia. People came from all over the world to watch them. This year they were going to televise them.
Jonny was born on New Year’s Day, and that gave him an advantage over other boys his age who were born during or after the summer, as Jonny would have longer to train his dragon. Jonny’s father had been teaching Jonny the art of dragon training since he was born. When Jonny father was young, he had never been able to win the Dragon Races, and he had decided then that his son was going to have every advantage he didn’t have growing up. The earliest you could race was on your 16th birthday, and at 20 you were considered too old and had to stop. It’s not that people were too old at 20, but that dragons got their first firebreath at 8, and it was hard to keep dragons from toasting an opponent in the heat of the race. So in order to protect the dragons and their riders, it was established that dragons could only compete until they were 8. Dragons used to live a long time, but once they bonded with a human, they would die when their master died. Sometimes, as in the case of Jonny’s father, a dragon would get sick and die. Jonny’s father thought his dragon had died because he had pushed him too hard. A dragon loves his master, and will push himself to death if his master asks him to. Jonny’s father was determined that this was not going to happen to Jonny’s dragon.
Jonny jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen.
“G’morning pops.” He said to his father, who was having a bowl of cereal at the kitchen table.
“Happy Birthday son. Do you know what today is?” He said.
“Dragon Day!” Jonny said excitedly.
“No, that is next year.” His father said jokingly.
“No! It’s today pops. Don’t tease me.” Jonny said.
“Sit down and eat some breakfast. You need to be strong to handle a dragon.” He said.
“Dad. He’s only going to be a couple of inches big today. I can handle it fine.” Jonny said.
“Eat. Don’t argue with me.”Jonny sat down across from his father and started eating.
“When can we go?” Jonny said with a mouthful of cereal.
“Soon. Eat first.”
An hour later Jonny and his father were riding up the trail on their horses towards Dragonlair, the government sponsored dragon habitat, where they sold dragons to young boys who were coming of age. Ever since the last war almost killed all the dragons, the remaining dragon eggs from all over the world had been collected and moved to Dragonlair in order to protect them from annihilation. In Ishkia the only threat to dragons were the eagles, who preyed on small dragons too young and small to fight back. For the last 30 or so years, since the Big War, Dragonlair had been breeding selectively, in order to cultivate certain traits, and eliminate others. Since Dragons were no longer considered a weapon, they were bred for the Dragon Races on Ishkia, and when they were too old to compete, for air shows around the world in the summer. Every boy in the world wanted to be a Dragon Racer. However, it was very difficult to be qualified to get a dragon. You had to pass a very comprehensive test on Dragonlore, and demonstrate unblemished character growing up. That is why Jonny’s father had been so strict with him as a child.
“Dad, I’ve decided on my dragon’s name. I want to call him Zeus.”
“Why would you pick a name from Greek mythology?”
“Cause Zeus was the most powerful Greek god, and it will scare all my opponents in the Races.” Jonny said.
“Good reason. It’s a powerful name.” He said approvingly.
“Now you remember I told you that the Keepers will be looking at you very carefully today before they finally give you a dragon?”
“Yes, dad. You’ve told me a thousand times.” Jonny said impatiently.
“See son? Impatience will disqualify you. Don’t let the Keepers see you be impatient. Dragons are dangerous animals. They are not used for war anymore, since airplanes and other war instruments were invented in the mainland. But they are still very dangerous. Many people around the world wanted to get rid of dragons. They were scared of them, but the Elders of Ishkia convinced the United Nations that dragons were a very important part of our history and should be preserved. That is why Ishkia is the only place on Earth that still has dragons. There are still people that are scared of them, and want to get rid of them. So let’s not give them a reason to try to exterminate them.” Jonny’s father said.
Yes sir. Sorry. I’ll be careful.” Jonny said.
The two of them continued riding the trail up to Dragonlair, that today was shrouded in clouds. The ride could take all day, depending on the weather. There was a guest house in Dragonlair where fathers and sons had been staying in, since they established the dragon adoption program at the end of the Big War.
“When can I start riding Zeus?” Jonny asked.
“You know the answer, Jonny. In about 4 years, when your dragon is large enough, and you are strong enough to control him. Your dragon is going to be about 2-3 inches when it hatches. It will grow fast, until it is full grown at about 8 years old.” Jonny’s father said.
“I’ve been thinking about enhancing Zeus’ growth by giving him supplements and vitamins. There is a hormone that athletes have been taking that have disqualified them from competing in the Olympics. I haven’t read anything about using them on dragons, though.” Jonny said.
“Dragons don’t have the same metabolism, or for that matter anything in common, with humans. You should only feed dragons meat. They are carnivorous. Don’t mess with Mother Nature.” He said.
“I read that chicken meat has growth hormones, so they can be fattened for sale faster. And that Mexicans, who eat more chicken than anybody else, are maturing earlier that Europeans who live primarily on a fish diet.” Jonny said.
“I haven’t read that, but I’m not surprised.” He said.
“I’m going to feed Zeus Mexican chickens. If it hasn’t hurt the Mexicans, it won’t hurt my dragon.” Jonny said.
“Maybe your dragon will be the first dragon to sing Mariachi songs during the races.” Jonny’s father said with a smile.
“Don’t tease me dad. I’m serious. I want Zeus to be the fastest and best dragon on Ishkia.” Jonny said.
A few hours later Jonny and his dad emerged from the clouds and gazed upon a large meadow with dragons flying overhead. Some of the older kids were training their dragons on an obstacle course designed to teach dragons how to zig and zag during the races. Jonny and his father stood there on their horses watching in rapture. It was the most beautiful thing Jonny had ever seen.
“We need to get under cover. Some of those dragons are large enough to take a bite out of our horses, or even you. Training makes them hungry.” Jonny’s father said.
They circled the meadow under the cover of the trees and arrived at the main lodge. The horses were put into a barn to be fed and rubbed down, and Jonny and his father went into the main lodge to check in.
“Hello, I’m Miles Baker, and this is my son Jonny. Jonny has an appointment to get his dragon. It’s his Dragon Day.” Miles said proudly.
“Welcome to Dragonlair, Jonny. We’ve been expecting you.” The receptionist said.
“Thank you. Can I see my dragon now?” Jonny said.
“Patience, young man. You will see him tomorrow morning. Today his too late to hatch your egg. The ceremony takes about an hour, and you want to have some time to bond with your dragon. You don’t want to have your dragon bond with somebody else, do you?” The receptionist said.
“No sir. I’m happy to wait till morning.” Jonny said quietly.
The receptionist gave Miles the key to the guest cabin.
“Dinner in the atrium at 8 p.m. Your hatching ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Don’t oversleep.” The receptionist said to Jonny with a wink.
The next 14 hours were the longest Jonny had ever experienced. He remembered the lesson he got from his science teacher, explaining relativity. He told him that relativity was completely subjective. To a man drowning, 2 minutes was an eternity, whereas to a child who can only play with a new toy for 2 minutes, it seemed like 2 seconds. Jonny understood it in principle, but it didn’t make the time go any faster. He stood at the window and watched other young boys working with their dragons. There were even some older boys who were practicing flying with their dragons. Jonny couldn’t wait. He started biting his nails.
“If your dragon sees you biting your nails, it will think it’s ok and he’ll eat your fingers.” Miles said with mock seriousness.
“Sorry dad. I was worried. What if my dragon doesn’t understand my commands?” Jonny said.
“Once you are bonded, the dragon reads your mind, and you can read his or hers. You know that.” Miles said.
“What if my dragon doesn’t understand English?” Jonny said.
“Think of a cat. Picture a cat in your mind. Got it?” Miles said.
“Ok. What language did you see your cat in?” Miles said.
“I wasn’t speaking, dad. I just looked at a picture of our neighbors cat.” Jonny said.
“That’s how you will communicate with Zeus. You just think. You don’t speak to him or her.” Miles said.
“Oh, right. Maybe…” Jonny stuttered.
“Relax. Every boy feels the same way when they first get their dragon.” Miles said putting his hand reassuringly on Jonny’s shoulder.
At 9:45 Jonny and Miles stood waiting at reception to be led to the hatching room. At precisely 10 a.m. A young blonde escort walked Jonny and Miles into a large room with a number of large cushions all over the floor.
“Jonny. You sit on the cushions. Mr. Baker, you follow me to the room next door. You will be able to see the hatching through the one way glass and not interfere with the bonding. Jonny, I will be back in a couple of minutes with your dragon egg. You will place the egg on that table among the cushions. The eggs will be magnetically stimulated on the table, to cause the young dragon to break his shell. The first thing the dragon should see is you. Nobody else. Now the next 15 minutes are the most important. You should pick up the young dragon carefully and rest it on your palm. Then caress him while thinking nice thoughts and sending him love. This will help you bond. Don’t do anything else. Don’t let any negative thoughts come between you and your dragon. This is important. Eventually your dragon will anticipate your needs, as you will anticipate his or hers. Any questions?” The escort said.
“No thanks. I already read the brochure explaining all this.” Jonny said.
“Good. Let’s do it.” He said as he led Miles out of the room.
Jonny found a red cushion and sat on it, his heart beating loudly wondering if his father could see him shaking in anticipation now.
All of a sudden the escort returned with a pillow cradled in his arms. It wasn’t until he bent over and carefully handed Jonny the pillow that Jonny saw the small egg on the pillow. His heart almost stopped. He felt this incredible love for this egg. He delicately placed the egg on the table and put his head close to the table. He felt this vibration when he got close to the table. He wondered if that was stimulating the egg. In a few seconds the egg started moving. Jonny held his breath and waited. Soon a crack appeared on the shell. Jonny teared up. The crack widened and a small claw forced its way out. Soon another claw joined it and together they split the egg in two. In the middle of the egg an incredibly beautiful and delicate dragon stood. Jonny looked intently at the dragon. The dragon looked curiously at Jonny and tilted his head. Tears of happiness rolled down Jonny’s face. He gently reached over and picked up the hatchling and cradled it in his hands. With his right hand he very gently stroked the hatchling.
“Welcome to our world. I would like to call you Zeus. Is that all right with you?” Jonny thought.
The dragon kept looking at Jonny intently. He would tilt his head from one side to the other slowly, as if trying to figure Jonny out. For an instant Jonny was worried that the dragon wasn’t bonding, and he remembered his father telling him that he had the same fears when he got his dragon.
“ I love you Zeus.” Jonny thought over and over again while he stroked the soft skin.
Then the small dragon started moving on Jonny hand. Soon it was climbing all over his fingers with one eye always on Jonny. Jonny lay back on the pillow and let the dragon climb all over him. He was balancing with his delicate wings extended. Jonny was worried that the wings could get damaged if Zeus hit anything. All of a sudden Jonny had the feeling that Zeus was telling him that his wings were stronger that they looked.
Jonny stopped and looked at Zeus. Zeus looked back. Jonny thought he saw the dragon smile.
“Oh my god. That’s how we communicate?” Jonny thought.
He instantly felt an acknowledgement from Zeus. Zeus was climbing up Jonny’s arm with wings extended, as if he was looking for a perch to jump from. When he reached Jonny’s shoulder, Zeus curled his claws into the fabric of Jonny’s jacket and looked around the room from his new vantage point. At that moment the door opened and the escort, closely followed by Miles, entered the room.
“It was perfect. It was perfectly beautiful.” Said the escort.
“Congratulations son.” Miles said as he approached Jonny to hug him.
At that moment Zeus started growling and looking menacingly at Miles.
“Tell your dragon I’m not a threat, son. Do it fast.” Miles said.
“This is my father, Zeus. I trust him You should too.” Jonny thought.
Zeus quieted down and looked quizzically at the escort.
“That guy is also ok. Don’t worry about him.” Jonny thought.
All of a sudden Jonny felt, rather than heard, Zeus purring in contentment.
“The hatching was perfect. Congratulations Jonny.” The escort said.
“You should spend a couple of hours getting to know each other, here in this room. After lunch you can leave and return home with your dragon. Now you know that you have to bring your dragon back in 3 months for a checkup?” The escort said.
“Yes we know that.” Miles said.
“Mr. Baker and I will go and fill out all the paperwork. We’ll come back for you in about an hour. Enjoy your dragon.” The escort said.
Shortly after lunch Jonny and Miles rode out of Dragonlair with Zeus firmly attached to Jonny’s shoulder. They had given Jonny a small kennel to carry Zeus, like the ones they use to transport dogs and cats on the mainland, but Jonny didn’t want to use it. He preferred to let Zeus sit on him and observe his new world.
“You know why my dragon died?” Miles said.
“You’ve told me a million times, Dad. He died of exhaustion during a race.” Jonny said.
“Yes, but the “why”. The why is because my dragon knew that I wanted to win more than anything in the world. You can say that conceptually, but the dragon reads your mind and will do whatever you wish him to. In my mind, there was nothing as important as winning the race. Even the health of my dragon was secondary. My dragon was smaller than some of the other dragons and could not keep up in the long legs. It could turn faster, but wasn’t quite as fast as the bigger dragons in the long sections of the race. I mentally pushed him so hard his heart burst. I killed my dragon. As big and powerful as dragons may seem, a careless driver can put a dragon in harms way, specially a young dragon. You need to understand this very well.” Miles said.
“I do, Dad. I do.” Jonny said.
It was after dark when Jonny and his father finally arrived at their house. Jonny was exhausted after the exciting day so he put Zeus in his cage in his bedroom and set it next to his bed. In 5 minutes Jonny was asleep.
The next morning Jonny woke up and the first thing he saw was Zeus looking at Jonny and purring comfortably. He was overwhelmed with affection for this creature. He let Zeus out of his cage and noticed that Zeus had grown considerably in the night. He also knew that Zeus was very hungry, so he put Zeus on his shoulder and walked into the kitchen to feed him. His mother had prepared some chicken and left it in the refrigerator for him. Jonny took the chicken and walked into the garden. He cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces and put small portions all around the area he was in. Then he placed Zeus on the ground and watched him hobble over to the first piece of chicken and devour it.
“This dragon is going to grow fast.” Jonny thought with pride.
All of a sudden Jonny felt the call of nature, and decided to leave Zeus to finish his meal, while he ran indoors to relieve himself. It was when he was brushing his teeth that he felt a sharp pain on his side and knew that something had happened to Zeus. In a panic he ran outside. Zeus was not among the small chicken pieces he had dropped for him to eat. He looked everywhere. Jonny started crying.
“Zeus! Zeus! Where are you?” He screamed in panic.
Miles ran out of the house. “What happened Jonny?”
“I was feeding Zeus and left him eating while I ran inside to pee. When I came out he wasn’t here.” Jonny said with tears streaming down his face.
Miles glanced around the garden and then looked up at the sky. All he could see was a bald eagle flying away with something in his talons.
“I can feel him dad! He’s alive!”
Miles looked at the retreating eagle. Then around the garden. Suddenly he noticed some movement under a tree.
“There son! Under that bush.”
Jonny ran to the bush and parted the leaves. There, shivering, he found Zeus.
“That big bird nearly got me!”
“It’s ok Zeus. I won’t leave you alone again. I promise.”
“The cursed bird took my last piece of chicken.”
“We’d better stay close to Zeus until he can defend himself. It won’t be too much longer. Look at how much he has grown overnight. ” Miles said.
Jonny picked Zeus up and placed him on his shoulder.
“I wasn’t scared.” Said Zeus. “The next time I see that bird, I’m going to toast him.”
Jonny, laughing, told his Dad what Zeus had said.
“That’s a good sign, son. Some dragons get scarred for life after a scary event like that one. You have a brave dragon. You are very lucky.”
“I am brave, aren’t I?” Zeus purred contentedly.
“Can I have more chicken?” Zeus said.
“Dad, Zeus is hungry.” Jonny said.
“That is a very good sign. Let’s see if we can find him something to eat. Soon your dragon is going to eat more than we do.”
Zeus stretched his wings to see if they could hold his weight.
“Your Zeus is going to be the fastest racer this island has ever seen.” Miles said.
“I am fast, aren’t I? You should have seen me run to hide under the bush. But I would have been faster if I could fly. When are you going to teach me to fly?”
“Soon Zeus. Very soon. By tomorrow you’ll be flying on your own.”
Zeus could hardly wait.