written by Michelle Nielsen
The letter came from a respectable location, a magic citadel floating above the highest mountain range in the land. It surprised Elbert Jean-Jacob Englehiemer Wordsmith that the letter came with a most unusual contraption, a flying carpet. However, after a frightful, near vertical climb to reach said citadel, he reflected the physical effort of such a climb would be unthinkable for a scholar of his experience.
Stepping off the carpet and onto the threshold of the citadel's front gate, Elbert dusted off his finest doublet and boldly knocked on the gate. He frowned as he waited, wondering where the staff were to tend this massive place. It looked as if a family of giants had resided there at one time. Before long, the gate opened, but not by a towering giant. He gained another surprise as he looked upon a lovely elf-woman with crystalline blue eyes and dark brown hair. She gave a pleasant smile as she addressed him.
"Elbert Jean-Jacob Englehiemer Wordsmith Esquire the Third, I presume?" She asked, her voice sweet and soft. Elbert bowed courteously to her.
"Indeed, madam...would I be addressing Miss Drucilla?"
"You are," she said. He amused her it seemed, her eyes smiling. 'Please, come in. You're eagerly awaited." Elbert stepped into a massive hallway that seemed to go on forever. Looking around he was alarmed to find he and Drucilla were the only living souls there.
"Might I inquire where the subjects to be tutored are located?" Elbert asked boldly, wanting to establish his authority as soon as possible.
"They're at play right now," Drucilla said with a constant smile, as if in relief. "I should discuss the children with you first. My Lady's instructions were clear to me when she left. Her offspring require special...handling."
Drucilla led him to a small alcove, built for people of smaller size. The alcove hid a door into which she led him. The room was comfortably attired, with a bay window overlooking a spacious courtyard of immense proportions.
"So what instructions does your Lady have? Anything of great importance I am to teach them? I'm skilled with history, mathematics, physics, literature..." There was something odd in Drucilla's blue eyes as she regarded him with a long suffered expression.
"Manners and etiquette, mostly," Drucilla said with a sigh, "They're a rather rambunctious lot, given to fits of humor unsuitable for..."
"DRUCILLIE!!" A plaintive childlike cry came from outside the window. Drucilla sighed, her eyes rolled with resignation.
"I can't take my eyes off them for a second..." she muttered softly. She rose, went to the window and poked her head out. "Whymsper, what is it now, love?"
"Brieghton smacked me again! With his TAIL!!" the voice responded to Drucilla.
"DID NOT!" shouted another voice, male by the gruff sound. Alarmed, Elbert tried to look out the window to the children below who were carrying on so. He caught a glimpse of a large ball, and four or five large forms. Large, brightly colored, scaled forms.
"Dragons?! These children are dragons?!?" Elbert responded with alarm as the children came into his view. He had a keen fear of anything scaly, whether it was a humble garter snake no longer than a dagger or something as large as... He shuddered.
"Perhaps you'd feel better about it if you met them. They can be charming when they aren't..."
Something hard struck stone in the courtyard. Again came the plaintive wail of Whymsper being subjected once more to Brieghton's abuse. Drucilla poked her head out the window and firmly ordered the two apart. She turned back to Elbert and motioned to the door.
His apprehension grew the whole way to the courtyard, despite Drucilla's attempts to soothe his nerves. The children, he discovered were five young dragonlings, and ranged from the largest, Brieghton, to the smallest, Whymsper, who immediately approached Drucilla for comforting, great tears running down her long muzzle.
"He hit me again!" she quailed, as Drucilla gently embraced her around the massive neck. Elbert swore Whymsper was the size of the largest draft horse he'd ever laid eyes on. Brieghton loomed behind her, much bigger and bolder both in color and attitude.
"I did not, you little..."
"Brieghton!" Drucilla's sharp voice brought the biggest dragonling up short. Instantly, Brieghton looked contrite for his actions. "What have I told you about your younger and smaller siblings?"
"To treat them as I would want to be treated..." he recited miserably. Elbert could tell from Brieghton's reaction he learned from experience some form of discipline would soon be meted out.
"Precisely, that goes the same as you three," Drucilla added, as she cast a speculative eye over the remaining three dragonlings who tried for some semblance of innocence.
"We were just playing ball, that's all!" Brieghton said in his defense. "It’s not my fault Whyms got in the way..." His protest stopped abruptly when Drucilla gave him an unimpressed expression.
After much fuss, Elbert was finally introduced to the dragonlings, although he tried to keep the initial meeting as brief as possible. Whymsper took to Elbert immediately, much to his discomfort. When they left the dragonlings to their play, he spoke briefly with Drucilla about the location of the wine-cellar. Flustered by what he could call a narrow escape, Elbert felt the need for a drink.
By the following afternoon, Elbert arranged for the dragonlings’ school-room to be in the great dining hall, the only place that could fit five young dragons and a fearful schoolmaster comfortably. They sat on the floor, watching him in expectation as Elbert made every pretense of hiding his very real fear.
“…in which case,” Elbert stated in mid-lesson, his knees locked to keep them from trembling, “No one may start to eat until the King, Lord or residing Master sits and begins the feast himself.”
Brieghton snorted with contempt. “It never matters to us when or where we eat. Not to mention who.” The oldest dragonling gave Elbert a sidelong glance. Alarm crept into Elbert’s face as he realized how close he stood to the large dragonling. The effort he took to ease away from Brieghton could not have been greater.
“Brieghton!” Drucilla spoke up from the little chair tucked into the corner of the room, her brow furrowed. Brieghton settled down, grumbling to himself about having to respect adults.
“Hmph,” Elbert attempted to cover his fear with his own disdain. “Well, courtesy is a key factor in relations. Deny a king respect and you may well find yourself hunted, young Brieghton.”
Brieghton snorted again and rose to his feet. Elbert shuddered when he tried to stare down Brieghton and nearly failed in the most epic of proportions when an unlikely hero came to his rescue.
“Brieght,” Whymsper said, for once bearing a stern gaze at her larger and older brother. “Don’t. I like him.” The little dragon shifted to face her brother, clearly in Elbert’s defense.
Elbert sighed with relief as Brieghton backed down, much to everyone’s surprise.
“Class dismissed,” Elbert stated, unable to hear over the heartbeat which pounded in his ears. He barely heard Drucilla approach him over the thundering in his head and the chaos of the dragonlings as they ran off to play. Her hand on his shoulder startled him.
“I’m surprised Whyms got attached to you so quickly,” she told him with amusement. “She’s a good girl, unlike that scamp of a brother. Besides, she’s her mother’s favorite.”
“Ah, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Elbert said with trepidation, “but when is their mother going to return?”
“Oh, she comes and goes as she pleases,” Drucilla said smiling. “You know how dragons can be. Not to worry though, you’ll have an easier time with her around to keep them in line.”
The next morning, Elbert decided a lecture on proper forms of addressing people of both higher and lower ranks would be appropriate. Just when he began to speak the entire citadel shook violently. Elbert fell flat on his face, and covered his head with his hands.
The dragonlings looked between themselves with delight.
“MAMMA!” they shouted together and charged from the Great Hall, lesson and tutor forgotten. Drucilla entered the hall hurriedly and helped Elbert to his feet.
“My Lady is back,” she said once Elbert saw the citadel wasn’t falling down around him. “It’s time to meet the children’s mother.”
Elbert began shaking well before they entered the courtyard. He’d half hoped that the dragon mother would only be a little larger than her offspring. Once he laid eyes upon her, he saw she filled the entire courtyard. She looked down at him with curiosity, her imposingly long neck craning around. Elbert guessed her teeth were all taller than his person.
“My Lady,” Drucilla began to introduce him. “This is Elbert Jean-Jacob Englehiemer Wordsmith Esquire the Third, the children’s tutor.” The dragon mother looked duly impressed at the dwarf.
In response, Elbert fainted.