Learning to Fly (7 Hunters)
Ezra lay in the hot sand, the sun beating down on his face. He reflexively raised his claw to shade his eyes—and instantly regretted it. A sharp pain sliced through his shoulder. He really shouldn’t have done that! Really. Something was broken somewhere. Ezra was sure of it. It was hard to tell where, though. Everything hurt.
He squinted up at the cliffside. It hadn’t looked that steep when he’d been at the top of it. A simple plan. Take a running start, leap from the cliff, and fly out over the beach towards the Copra Sea. If he fell, he’d land in the water. Instead, he’d dropped like a stone right onto the beach with hardly any glide at all. Now the tide was coming in, creeping closer and closer. Ezra would have to move soon if he didn’t want to drown. Drowning in the shallow waters of the tide. What an ignominious way to go. He just needed a few minutes to catch his breath, ignore the pain, and crawl further up the beach.
This had definitely not been one of his better ideas. Besides being extremely painful, it was highly embarrassing. He was thankful that at least the others couldn’t see him like this. They would never let him live it down—especially a certain Hunter named…
Buck Wilmington was walking along the beach with JD when they spotted Ezra lying in the sand. Buck smiled at that. He should’ve known that’s where they’d find him. Their young dragon friend could often be found sunning himself in the warm sand. “Hey, Ez! You better wake up! It’s time for supper. We’ve been looking for you. Miss Nettie is waiting on all of us before we eat, and it’s making Vin crazy. He’s going to start eating the furniture if we don’t get back soon.”
Ezra just lay there.
Buck walked up to him. “Nettie made them meat pies you like so much so you’d best get movin’.” Buck nudged him with his foot.
The dragon flinched. “I’ll be along shortly.”
“You alright, Ez?”
“I’m fine, Buck.”
Buck looked at his friend more closely. Sometimes it was hard to tell on a dark green, scaly hide, but it sure looked like he was covered in bumps and bruises. “JD! Go get Nathan! Ezra’s hurt!”
JD ran off down the beach without a moment’s hesitation.
“Really, Buck. I said I was fine.”
“Sure. That’s why you’re laying here all beat up. What happened?”
Ezra sighed. “I fell.”
“Just how many times did you fall?”
Ezra couldn’t meet his eyes. He was too embarrassed. “Quite a few actually.”
“I know you ain’t clumsy. Falling down a few times wouldn’t bruise you up that bad.”
“I…I fell from the cliff.”
“What?!” Buck looked from his friend to the tall cliffs that jutted up from the beach. “You fell off that? More than once? What were you doing?”
Ezra shut his eyes against a stab of pain. What could he say that didn’t sound pathetic? Ezra clamped his jaw shut and said nothing.
Buck asked him again, but Ezra remained silent. Buck wondered why Ezra wouldn’t say. The Hunter looked up at the rocks again, shaking his head. That had to hurt.
In no time at all, JD came running back up the beach, the other Hunters close behind. Buck almost laughed out loud. No way would Nathan come to tend somebody without the others right behind him—bunch of mother hens.
Nathan dropped down beside Ezra in the sand, passing his hands over the dragon’s body to check for injuries. “What happened?”
“He fell off the cliff.”
“He fell off the cliff. You’ll have to ask Ezra about that if you can get him to say anything.”
The dragon responded with an aggravated tone. “Yes, I fell off the cliff.”
“More than once, too.”
Ezra glared at Buck.
Nathan shook his head and concentrated on his examination. He’d gotten the hang of dragon anatomy over the past few weeks. It took him hardly any time at all now to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. Dragons healed much faster than humans, but Ezra would be hurting for a while. He unrolled his healer’s pack and took out the vial of blissweed water. “I need you to drink this.”
“Are you joking? It smells like Buck’s room at the castle.”
“I ain’t arguing with you, Ezra. This will numb the pain and speed the healing process. If you don’t take it, you’ll be hurting a long time and I won’t be able to fix that shoulder.”
“I heal quickly, Nathan. I’ll be fine by evening.”
“Not with that shoulder. It’s dislocated. If I don’t put it back in place right away, it will heal all wrong. In the meantime, all those other injuries are going to be paining you. Now drink it!”
“Very well. I do not relish the idea of spending the day in such pain and discomfort.” Ezra drank it quickly, letting out a disgusted puff of smoke after he swallowed. Really! Must all of Nathan’s concoctions taste as bad as they smelled?
The effect was almost immediate. Ezra became very relaxed. He could barely even feel his injuries. For something that tasted so noxious, it certainly worked wonders.
Nathan moved around to the side. He motioned for the others to grab hold of Ezra. He didn’t want him thrashing around while he put the shoulder back in. When the others had moved into place, Nathan leaned against the shoulder and gave a quick, violent push.
Ezra grunted at the sharp movement. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Already done. We just put your shoulder back in. How does it feel?”
“Slightly sore, but otherwise numb. Is that the blissweed?”
“Yep. It took a lot of the pain off. Your cuts are already healing up nicely on their own. Lucky for you they weren’t too deep. Must be that tough dragon hide of yours. You got a lot of bruises and sprains, though. I can fix those up with my own healing powers. You’re gonna be a little stiff for a few days, but after that you should be right as rain. Now you want to tell me what you were doing that made you fall off a cliff more than once?”
Ezra gingerly sat up on his haunches, slowly rotating his shoulder experimentally.
When Ezra didn’t respond, Josiah gripped one of his legs gently, but firmly. “Ezra. We’re your friends. You can always tell us what’s wrong. You know that, don’t you?”
Ezra ducked his head. “I know that. I do, but…”
“But what? What happened?”
The young dragon slowly lowered himself back to the ground. He rested his head on his front claws. “I was… I was attempting to fly.”
The others were surprised. Ezra hadn’t shown any interest in learning to fly. Josiah patted his side. “Perhaps you should try flying in the fields first before attempting to jump off a cliff.”
“I did—several times. It didn’t work. I thought that from a sufficient height, and with enough wind under my wings…”
“So when it didn’t work the first time…”
“I tried it again and again. There were moments when I thought I almost had it.” Ezra’s gaze drifted out over the sea. “A gust of wind came up under my wings, suspending me in the air for a moment.” Ezra sighed, looking back at the others. “But it was only for a moment. I suddenly felt the weight of gravity pulling me down. I furiously flapped my wings in a desperate attempt to maintain altitude or at least make it out to sea. I failed. I tried again and again, hoping to extend that moment of seeming weightlessness. But my efforts were futile. I never made it farther than the beach. What am I doing wrong? I thought flying would come naturally.”
JD scratched his head. “I don’t know, Ezra. Back in Belen, a young dragon learned to fly from its parents. Dragons pick things up mostly by watching how they’re done. Maybe you need to see a dragon fly to learn. Didn’t you ever see your mother fly?”
Buck elbowed JD in the side. “Smooth, Kid.”
“What? What did I say?”
Ezra stood up on all fours, stretching his muscles. With a little concentration, he changed into his human form, complete with clothes. The others watched with a mixture of interest and awe. It still amazed them how he could change shape like that. “I never saw her fly, JD. I always thought it was strange that she would depart the woods in her human form whenever she left me behind. In retrospect, her actions may have been deliberate.”
JD was still confused. “But why? Didn’t she want you to learn how to fly?”
Ezra didn’t look at JD or any of the others. “I don’t believe so. If I couldn’t fly, then I couldn’t follow her, could I? Perhaps she’d always planned to abandon me for good one day. Or maybe it was just to make me dependent on her. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter now. The end result doesn’t change. I can’t fly. And if your theory is correct, JD, I may never learn.”
Josiah patted Ezra on the shoulder. “Surely, there must be another way. There are no dragons in the swamps of Marfan, but aren’t there dragons here in Itreya? The palace itself is adorned with images of them. The King said it was once common for them to fly over the city on a daily basis. They can’t all be gone. Couldn’t we find at least one?”
Chris shook his head. “There hasn’t been a dragon seen in Itreya for over a hundred years. It’s rumored that most of them went into hibernation up in the mountains.”
“How long do dragons hibernate?”
“As long as they want. That’s one of the reasons they live so long. They don’t age while they sleep. The palace records say that they’ve been known to hibernate for hundreds of years.”
“Maybe we could go to Belen? They don’t hibernate there.”
Vin shook his head. “That’s a right fine idea, JD. Problem is, who’d defend Itreya if we was to all go off across the Copra Sea for months and months? And we don’t have magic ships and truces with mermaids and the like to keep the sea monsters from eating us all before we were even a week at sea. We got to find another way.”
Josiah rubbed his jaw. “Perhaps we don’t need a dragon at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“JD. You’ve said before that dragons learn by watching and then imitating, correct?”
“Well, what if Ezra observes other flying creatures? He’s been trying it on his own and it’s not working. Couldn’t he study insects and birds?”
A small grin pulled at Ezra mouth. “Josiah, you are a genius! I don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me. I’ll just observe the local flyers and pick up on their technique. It doesn’t have to be a dragon at all.”Part 2