Chapter 5

I awoke before sunrise the next day. I could go into the forest. I was sure of it. I raced down the stairs and was surprised to find the house dark. I had never seen the house dark before. I felt my way to the kitchen and found it empty. Where was Marie? Where was the cook? Dumbfounded I washed myself and made my way back up the stairs. I would dress myself. Then, if Marie was in the kitchen, I could go to the forest immediately.

Dressing myself was easier said than done. I had picked one of my older dresses, the new ones mum got me were really uncomfortable. Unfortunately it had buttons and a bow on the back and it took me ages to close them all. When I finally had my dress on I had to tie my shoelaces. I had done this before, but not so often, so it took me a while to do them properly. By that time, the sun had fully risen and, as I made my way to the kitchen, the house wasn't dark anymore.

I found Marie in the kitchen and she seemed surprised to see me up and dressed already.

'Hey dearie, you're up early. And dressed already.' She checked if I had closed all the buttons on my back, I had missed one.

'You must be really eager to go to the forest today.' She said grinning.

'Let's get you something to eat and you can be on your way.'

Half an hour later I'm running through the forest towards the meadow. Please let the dragon be there, please. I was chanting in my head.

As I neared the meadow, I noticed the forest was quieter than normal. There were less birds singing around here. That's when I realised I hadn't seen any nymphs either. Where were they all? I slowed to a walk and paid more attention to my surroundings. Nothing seemed to have changed, yet there seemed less life in this area. Weird.

I became exited again when I neared the meadow. I burst from the surrounding trees and looked around me expectantly. He wasn't there. The meadow was empty. He was gone.

Just to be sure, I checked behind and under the willow, but of course the dragon wouldn't have fitted there. All evidence that the dragon was ever here was a huge patch of crushed grass and some claw marks in the earth. I stopped at the claw marks. Each mark was easily as big as my arm. I held my own nails next to them, they seemed so insignificant next to the huge claw marks. That's probably me to the dragon, insignificant. Dejected, I sat down next to the claw marks. I had seen a dragon, I was sure of it, but if it never returned, how could I stay sure of it?

Once again, the quietness of the forest disturbed me and I decided to go find Carya and Ptelea. They liked hanging out near the creek, so I made my way over there. I found Salila, the naiad, but she hadn't seen either Ptelea or Carya since she had seen me with them the week before. There was one other place where I could look, though seeing Salila had reassured me a lot already. Ptelea was the dryad of elm trees and there was a cluster of young elm trees not far from here where she would often go. Already cheered up by meeting Salila, I started to whistle as I made my way over to the cluster of elm trees. As I had expected, I found Ptelea sound asleep in the branches of the biggest elm tree there. Looking around for a bit, I spotted Carya a few meters away between the branches of an old nut tree, also sound asleep. Glad I had found them, I sat down between the elm trees and entertained myself throwing twigs at an ants nest. They would work the twig out of the nest immediately and carry it off a bit. At one time, when the twig had rolled down the nest, I laughed so loudly that Ptelea woke up above me. She came down from her tree and touched my hair wonderingly. I forgot she hadn't seen it this short yet. She was wondering what happened. I told her mother had it cut, but she didn't seem to understand. Carya joined us a while later and had the same reaction to my shortened hair. They cheered up immediately when I suggested to go to the creek though. I had noticed before nymphs didn't really have a long concentration, so if I distracted them, the loss of my long hair would soon be forgotten. I stayed out of the water by the creek, remembering Marie's warning, but Carya, Ptelea and Salila splashed around blissfully. When I made to leave, a bit earlier than normal, Carya and Ptelea joined me. I directed the walk towards the meadow, but when we came at the point where I had noticed the quiet this morning, Carya and Ptelea stopped. They refused to go any further. They wouldn't explain why either, just that it didn't feel right. I shrugged at their weird behaviour and continued to the meadow. I had little hope that the dragon had returned, but I had to check. I just had to.

He was back.

I was still hidden between the surrounding trees, but the dragon was back. His head was hidden behind the willow, but his body and tail were clearly visible. The sun reflected from his scales, blinding my eyes, but it was a beautiful sight nonetheless.

I remembered the way he had looked at me last time. The warm feeling that had spread through me upon touch. I could feel it again this time, even without touching him. I remembered how he was different than what I had been taught to believe. I remembered Marie's story from before the time of Dragon Masters and somehow found the courage to step out of the trees into the meadow. The dragon still couldn't see me, as his head was behind the willow, but he must have heard me, because he moved back a bit and his head rose up past the tree. When he spotted me, he lowered his head and moved closer to me, his golden eyes looking at me expectantly. He seemed… interested.

I tried to say something, but found my throat dried up. I scraped my throat and tried again.

'Hello?' It sounded really stupid when I said it, but what else to say? The dragon seemed to respond however. He didn't speak, but reached his head down to me. I lifted my hand to touch him, but he stayed out of reach. He opened his mouth slightly and a warm wind spread over me, engulfing me. Something happened when he did this, inside my mind I became aware of another feeling, one of welcome. He greeted me back.

I stood frozen for a bit, my mind testing the connection. The dragon seemed to laugh at this and tried to soothe me. I giggled at this and that seemed to fill the dragon with glee. I immediately relaxed and tried to reach for the dragon. He obliged me by moving his head within reach and I tried to hug him. My arms didn't even fit around his nose as a whole, but he got the gesture. He sort of hugged me back, his head gently nuzzling me from the side. I squealed in delight.

Our moment was broken when I heard an owl hoot not far from the clearing. I rarely heard any owls, so I focused on it for a moment. Wait… An hooting owl, that must mean it's nearly nightfall. I blanched. I had to be at home. I looked up at the dragon, but felt he already understood.

'Tomorrow.' I said, before I turned and ran all the way home.

'Alyssa! You're late! Where have you been. Oh thank god you look halfway decent. Your father wants to see you. He came back last night after I left, so I didn't know.' Marie was rambling when I came home out of breath. She brushed through my hair, straightened my dress and pushed me into the room next to the dining room. I found my parents there.

'Alyssa.' My father spoke. 'Where have you been?'

'Oh dad, I was in the forest, you'll never believe it. I met a dragon today.' I started to tell him, but he interrupted me.

'Great hunny, but I don't ever want you back home later than the fifth bell, do you understand?' He said the last part threateningly.

'But father, the dragon…'

'None of that nonsense now. Say "I understand, father" and we can go to dinner.'

'I understand, father.' I mumbled. He didn't believe me. He didn't believe I had met a dragon. How could he not believe me? I always told him the truth. Told him about my friends. He must not believe in them either.

While I sat through another long dinner of mother telling me what to do and what not, while father talked of boring mayor things, I resolved I would keep my friends a secret from now on. If he didn't believe me, he didn't have to know.