Ermaline's Feast
  

As her wings shifted ever so slightly, the great beast turned, heading for the sun. Ermaline looked down on the people miles below and wondered that something so small and insignificant could be so tasty. Damn shame they fight back, she thought, wincing at the fresh scar on her side that had blistered from the heat of their torches. It was a bad burn, and not for the first time did she wonder why she was not fire proof outside as well as in. But it would heal, and she would be back, these humans were too good to resist.

***

It was a month before Ermaline had the chance to return to the village. The wound they had inflicted on her was worse than she'd realised flying back to her rocky home. It had been days before she had the energy and strength to hunt again, and then it was only that which she could reach from the shore, snapping the odd sea bird out of the air or diving her great head into the waters to scoop up fish and otters and seaweed. But now she was well enough to fly again. Though still tender, the scar was healing, at least well enough so far as Ermaline was concerned. But her diet of sea food and land animals bored her and she longed for that tasty little snack; loving the twiggy crunch their bones made as she chewed, with just enough meat on them to give it a mellow, subtle flavour. She was addicted.

Normally Ermaline did not bother with night time hunting, not for these creatures who hid themselves away in their little wooden caves as soon as the sun disappeared. But today was the equinox, when day and night were equal, and she had watched them long enough to know that tonight there would be a festival, the entire village gathered together around a huge bonfire. She found herself salivating at the thought – mouthful after mouthful of crunchy deliciousness. 

She had been sitting on this rock since dawn, arriving in the early morning in the hope she would not be seen and hiding amongst the trees. But now her muscles were tiring. She arched her back, spread her wings out as far as they would reach and gave her whole body a little wriggle in an attempt to get the blood flowing again. 

Finally there was movement. The people began to emerge from their dwellings, bringing food to the large table that had been set up earlier in the day. Ermaline watched from her hiding place, licking her lips as the mingled scent of raw human and cooked beast wafted up to her nose. She crouched low, watching and waiting as the group grew larger, and when she could wait no longer sprung herself forward, head tilted, mouth open, her great jaws closing on... 

Nothing. 

Ermaline opened her eyes to find the people still running, only just out of her reach. She lurched forward again, tried to spread out her wings for extra propulsion but something had caught them. She tried again, now aware of the sound of something whistling through the air and then there was an extra weight on her back, pulling her down. Ropes covered her face and Ermaline twisted and writhed, trying to lose whatever it was that was hampering her movement. She twisted again, the net getting tighter around her, and suddenly there was a sharp searing pain in her side – her scar, barely healed was torn open again. Ermaline roared. She twisted, trying to see what caused such pain and in doing so tripped and fell, landing with a crash on the human’s just lit bonfire. The spear poking out of her flesh was forced deeper as the freshly lit embers burned her skin and Ermaline sent another roar echoing through the valley, but the sheer size of her body smothered the flames preventing further damage. 

A cheer arose in the crowd; the great beast had been caught. People rushed forward, pitchforks at the ready, when suddenly she rolled, her tail swishing around and knocking half a dozen men to the ground. She shook her head, a great roar emanating from deep within as she struggled against the ropes. She belched a great flame from her mouth, instantly killing two men, and severely singeing a third. Everyone backed away. None could get near her now – she was too wild. 

“We should wait till she’s tired out from fighting so much,” one man said. Ermaline swung her head around and the people ran in all directions as another flame burst from her mouth. 

“Those bonds won’t hold her till then,” another shouted, pointing to the dragons head. The net had already burnt through around her mouth, and as she wriggled her head the ropes under her chin fell away. 

“We’ve got to do something.”

Another net was fetched, and thrown over the dragon’s head. A small group distracted her, daringly dancing in and out of reach of her flames as men on Ermaline’s opposite side weighed the net down with rocks, before changing positions. It was too late when Ermaline realised what was happening. The gash in her side was tearing open even further with every movement she made, and now the weight of the rocks made the net heavy over her, hampering movement even more. With the last of her strength she stood, muscles straining, then let out one last terrifying roar, leaving the villagers scurrying for cover, and collapsed again onto the earth. 

Ermaline’s strength was gone. Still she had done enough damage for the villagers to be wary of her movements. They stayed away, watching her from a safe distance.

It took two days before anyone approached. Ermaline was rested, but hungry. She heard the man coming and opened one large cavernous eye to watch him. 

“Not dead then hey dragon,” he said, stopping with enough distance for an easy escape should it be necessary. He looked at her one open eye, easily taller than he. She watched patiently. These humans, they treat all other creatures as though they are inferior. Yet she could communicate with all the creatures of the land and sea, and he, insignificant being that he was, could not. She blinked once, twice. He took it as a sign she was not able to fight back and moved a few steps closer. 

“Not long now hey.” He stepped forward into something sticky and glanced down to see the large pool of blood that had been seeping from Ermaline’s wound. “Guess your death won’t be as pain free as it could’ve been. That’s karma for you – kill us, and we’ll kill you.”

Ermaline snorted, and the man jumped back nervously. Silly little man she thought. I only kill for food, unlike you. It’s your fault anyway for being so tasty. She snorted again, laughing at the absurdity of her thought. Her laugh turned to a whimper at the pain that shot through her body. 

The whimper he recognised. “You stop fighting, let us get close, and we might make it a quick death for you hey, nice and easy. Good long sword between the eyes, you won’t know what’s happened.”

Except you silly man, I will. She thought. Gods forbid that I should return to earth as one of you folk. I’d really rather be a cockroach. 

He nodded, apparently satisfied with his own account of things. 

“She’s still breathing fairly well,” he called to the others gathered in the distance. “If we try now, I reckon she’ll fight back. Best wait another day.”

“Alright. We’ll post some lookouts tonight; the rest of us can grab a decent night’s sleep. We’ll put her out of her misery tomorrow.”

“And have fun doing it!” The jibe was followed by a deafening roar, as Ermaline tried to convey that she understood. The men scurried away, the two left to guard her returning to their spot by a freshly lit fire. In the distance she made out a group of curious children, eager to see a dragon up close, yet terrified to get too near. One of the men caught sight of them, and she watched as the children turned and walked back to the village, clearly upset at the instructions they had been given. 

Ermaline closed her eyes, willing sleep. She hoped the next few hours would pass quickly. It took time, but finally she drifted off. She dreamed of the villagers rushing her with pitchforks, of the axe that had carved the deep valley in her side, of her last taste of human flesh, too good to resist. It was all worth it, she thought. Nothing worthwhile comes for free.

Suddenly she felt a scratch on her back. It has started, she thought, waiting, but instead of cold metal tearing through her skin, Ermaline felt the weight of the nets lifted, and then she too was being carried. She opened an eye to see a shadow cover the ground, the two guard men running in terror. She did not need to look up; she knew if she did she would see a creature even greater than she. One whose wing span could easily cover her, and had on many occasions. Ermaline felt an overwhelming relief as the massive talons enveloped her, carrying her up and away to safety. 

“I have told you to keep away from the humans, Ermaline. Just because they are small does not mean they are weak. You must not underestimate them.” 

Ermaline nodded. “I’ll stay away from the village,” she promised her mother reluctantly, sad at the thought that she would never again enjoy the taste of human flesh. She glanced down and spotted a distant shepherds hut, and began to wonder. She had promised to stay away from the village, not the entire human race. Perhaps she did not have to go without after all.

*Ermaline’s Feast received an honorary mention in Five Stop Story’s April 2012 Competition and was published in June that year on their website.


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