Here’s a short story about a dragon who is supposed to have a rider … and for some reason, years have gone by, and he’s never found them. This story kind of wants to be a book someday, so let me know if you think it ought to be expanded.
The dragon’s bond
by K.M. Carroll
“Haven’t you found your bond rider yet?” a dragon sneered.
The gray dragon tightened his wings against his sides and lowered his head in shame. “No … no, I haven’t.”
The other dragons laughed. A crowd of them waited as the humans poured a savory stew into huge bowls for each of them. Every dragon was a brilliant, sparkly red, or yellow, or green, or blue. They all had bond riders and proper names.
The gray had no rider, no name, and no color. All of them had begun as grays, when they had been sent out from the Shield, created by its power. But all of them had found the human the Shield had created them to bond with … except him.
He limped along at the back of the line, head and tail low. His left foreleg was twisted, the elbow out, the forepaw turned in. He walked on the side of his paw, the claws grown long and thick with no human to care for them. He gnawed the claws sometimes, when they began to hurt him. No dragon was supposed to go years without a bond rider. Yet the gray had combed the Last Kingdom and the lands beyond, and no soul called to his own. The dark monsters of the wild lands had caught him, ruining his leg before he could escape. Now he didn’t leave the walls of the Last Kingdom. He couldn’t face the monsters without a bond rider to strengthen him.
He accepted the dregs of the soup kettle and carried his bowl into a high corner of the wall to eat in peace. There he could look over the battlements into the rolling, mountainous lands beyond the Last Kingdom. Nothing moved out there but cloud shadows on the hillsides. Once it had been full of farms and orchards, but no longer. Not since the Manifold Beast had attacked the Shield.
His belly full, the gray returned his bowl to the open-air kitchen that served both dragons and riders. Turning away from the crowd of chattering dragons and humans, where he was an outcast, he spread his wings and flew across the Last Kingdom.
He did this every waking moment of every day–searching across the Kingdom in a grid pattern. He had completed two entire grids in the years since he had been sent out, and this was his third. He knew by heart the location of the Castle in the kingdom’s center, every road that led to it, every neighborhood and district, every farm and cattle pen. He knew the white gleam of the Shield, the immense vertical disc, scored with cracks, that floated above the Castle in the clouds, the source of the kingdom’s magic, and his own birthplace. He knew the kingdom’s three rivers and all the canals they fed. He even knew a lot of the people by sight, having watched them grow from toddlers to elders in his years of searching.
To the kingdom, the gray was a pathetic sight, flying until the edges of his wings were tattered, his crippled leg held at an unnatural angle. People had running bets on how long it might take him to find his rider. Other people whispered that his rider had died the day he had been created, and he would never find them.
When the other dragons flew on patrols, or marched into battle, clad in glorious armor, the gray remained behind, watching sadly.
The Dragon Commander had no use for an unbonded gray. “Find your rider and your name,” he had told the gray. “We need every last claw, and here you sit, useless. Why haven’t you found your rider?”
The gray heard this refrain so often that it echoed in his heart. He rode the wind above the kingdom, their mocking words filling his mind.
Where’s your rider?
You’re no good to anyone.
Your rider is dead.
You’re a mistake.
You can’t even walk, so what good will you be to your rider when you do find them?
“I will find you,” he muttered into the wind. He carried inside him the exact pattern of his rider. It wasn’t what they looked like: it was the shape of their spirit. A delightful, sunny person who would name him, bringing color to his scales and banishing loneliness from his heart. Together they would fly into battle. His flames would heal his rider’s wounds and consume their enemies.
His rider lived, he knew that. If they had died, that sense inside him would have died, too, and he would return to the Shield, empty and bereft. But his rider lived, and so he searched.
The gray flew low over a neighborhood he had passed by many times before. But this time, his rider’s soul called to him.
The gray changed directions so fast, he almost fell out of the air. His eyes widened, nostrils flaring, taking in every detail of the cottages below.
There! A human in a wheelchair, sitting out in a yard. The gray measured the yard with a practiced eye. It was large enough to land in, but he would have to walk out. Very well. No inconvenience was too great to keep him from his rider, not when he had searched for so long.
The gray swooped down and landed carefully in the yard, hind feet first, then front feet, then folding his wings.
The human in the wheelchair was an old, shrunken woman. She was wrapped in layers of shawls, and her white hair was thin and wispy. Her milky eyes stared through him as if he didn’t exist.
“Rider,” he breathed, “I’ve found you at last!”
The old woman blinked slowly at him and said nothing.
The gray nuzzled her face, learning her scent. She smelled unwashed, and ill, and of many medicines. The soul he had sought for so long burned inside her, full of joy and cheerfulness, but the body it occupied could no longer cooperate. It dulled the gleam of her spirit. No wonder he hadn’t been able to find her–she was buried deep in her own sickness.
A younger woman emerged from the house with a shriek and ran to the wheelchair. “Go away, monster!”
The gray backed away a respectful step. “I’m no monster. She’s my rider. I’ve looked for her for years.”
The young woman stared at him, the fear slowly leaving her face. “You’re the wandering gray. And you’re saying that Mother is your rider?”
“Yes,” said the gray. “Please … don’t drive me away from her. I’ve searched for her for so many years.” The pain in his voice was palpable.
The young woman looked down. “Mother’s in no condition to ride any dragon, sir. Her mind’s been going for years. The doctor doesn’t expect her to last out the year.”
The gray looked at the fragile wisp of humanity before him, the spirit within her singing to her own. “Let me try to heal her.”
“You can try.” The young woman’s face lit with hope as she retreated into the house. No dragon would ever harm their rider. Her mother was safer with the gray than she was with a human.
The gray sank into his belly with a sigh. He hooked his injured paw around the wheelchair and drew it closer to him. The old woman’s face remained blank. If she knew what was happening around her, she gave no sign.
“My love,” the gray whispered to her, “I don’t even know your name.” Flames kindled behind his teeth. He gently breathed on the fragile human, a few sparks flying from between his teeth. However, instead of burning the woman, they swirled and sank into her. She tilted her face upward and closed her eyes.
She was so ravaged by sickness, it would take some time to heal her. But the gray didn’t mind. He had found his rider. He would remain with her, giving her his healing magic, if it took years.
He breathed on her, then waited for the magic to work its way through her, nuzzling her face and hands. He rested his chin on her lap and studied her face adoringly. Then he breathed on her again.
Gradually, as the afternoon wore on, the woman’s eyes began to clear. She sat up a little straighter, some of the lines fading from her face.
“Do I know you?” she finally asked in a quavering voice. She raised a hand and touched his muzzle, between the flaring nostrils.
A tremor passed through the gray. He wanted to leap into the air and dance before the Shield, but acute awareness of his delicate rider held him there.
“I’m your dragon,” he whispered, his breath fanning her face. “I’ve searched for you for years.”
“My dragon,” she murmured, frowning. More sparks sank into her. She watched them pass through her blouse. “I’ve always wanted a dragon, ever since Edward died. But dragons are born with a bond to a certain person.”
“I’m yours,” the gray said, resting his head in her lap. “Why couldn’t I find you? I’ve flown over this block at least four times, searching.”
The woman smiled. “I’ve been sick for a long time, you pretty thing. What do they call you?”
“You have to name me,” the gray replied. “I don’t know your name, either.”
“Molly,” she replied. “And you … I’ll call you Spark. You do have a lot of them in there.”
Spark. It was short, but it was her name for him. He embraced it, accepted it as part of his identity. Spark.
His scales rippled. The gray bloomed with color, first yellow, then pink, then orange. A deep, mottled orange, brown on top, vividly colored on his sides, and pale yellow in his underbelly.
“Oh, you’re the color of a tiger lily,” Molly exclaimed. “My favorite!”
Spark laughed, more flames escaping his teeth. Molly absorbed them, and the shawls fell from her shoulders. Laughing, she placed both hands on top of his head to steady herself, and rose from the wheel chair. She had lost twenty years, her eyes no longer sunken, her hair rapidly filling out with a healthier gray beneath the wispy white. She stood straight and tall, rejuvenated by dragon fire.
“Wait one minute,” she said, looking at her bathrobe and slippers. “I’m not going anywhere like this.” She strode into the house. “Dora! Where have you put my clothes?”
Shrieks of joy resonated from inside the house. Voices chattered. Spark listened, bliss filling his heart.
After a while, Molly returned, wearing old riding clothes that looked as if she had not worn them since she was young. She carried a knapsack over one shoulder.
Her daughter ran beside her. “Mother, you can’t leave now! What will the doctors say?”
“The doctors can take their pills and shove them,” Molly retorted. “You’re a big girl, Dora. You’ve got Kenneth to look after you. Now, I’m getting out of your space to defend the Last Kingdom on dragon back.”
Spark crouched down to let her swarm onto his back. Dora ran to open the gate, and Spark walked sedately out of the yard and down the street.
“Why aren’t we flying?” Molly demanded. “I want to fly.”
“I’m not wearing a harness, dearest,” he replied. “You might fall.”
Molly snorted. “Before my illness, I rode horses in show jumping. Do your worst, lizard.”
Spark laughed and leaped into the sky.