Once upon a time, in a remote area in the great forest east of the Rhine, people told stories of a dragon that protects a miracle. They tell about how it appeared suddenly, carrying a large object radiating unmeassurable power and how it had disappeared into the mountains. It had not been seen outside of them again but word of the beast spread fast, making its way from villages to cities to lords who were all equally fascinated by what the object could have been.
The more they spoke of it, the more people were convinced that the object must have been a miracle. After all, nothing else could have been so powerful for even peasants to feel its overwhelming magic. The thought of it brought many travelers and knights to the forest, all wanting to bring back the treasure but none of them able to defeat the dragon.
Soon a lord called upon Siegfried, the great hero who had slain the evil dragon Fafnir. He ordered the knight to take to the mountains and see if the miracle actually existed and if it did to slay the dragon and bring it back. Naturally he accepted his wish and quickly found his way to the place the dragon was supposed to hide.
After all the adventurers had visited it, the path to the miracle was a well traveled one, trees cut down and the grass trampled to make it easier to carry heavy weapons to fight the beast. With it the hero had no problems finding the cave it resided in, a hole in the wall only a bit bigger than he himself was.
As Siegfried walked with a torch in his hand, he wondered what kind of dragon was waiting for him. After all, he hardly remembered his fight with Fafnir, but he did recall its massive size, its impenetrable skin and deadly fire breath. Many travelers said the same about this one but with how many had claimed to have fought it, it almost seemed silly to think so many had lived to tell the tale if it truly was that dangerous.
But Siegfried was not there to wonder, he was there to slay the dragon so when he could see the shine of what must be the miracle in front of him, the hero did not hesitate to unsheathe his sword and approached the beast, only to lower it again by what he saw.
Dark scales glistened in the golden light, truly reminding Siegfried of Fafnir, but there was little else that was similar. The beast before him was much smaller, barely his height and its limbs were much shorter. Its wings looked like they were too big for the rest of its body and its face, with its large red eyes and its short snout, reminded him more of those young dogs he had seen in the villages before.
This was not a great dragon before him.
The fledgling in question blinked curiously at him, its head titled as it tried to make sense of the man standing in its home. After a moment it rose to its feet, barely making it bigger as it continued to stare at him.
“Are you here for the grail, as well?” it spoke in a boyish voice that was much smoother than he had expected. The dragon did not seem disturbed by the large sword between them because it leaned closer, its short snout sniffing at the knight before saying, “You smell like dragon blood. Why is that?”
Siegfried did not know how to respond, silently standing still as it examined him further. He knew it was the perfect opportunity to strike, to sever its head while it least expected it but for some reason he could not bring himself to attack the dragon when it could not even fathom the reason why he would smell like the blood of its kind.
“Are you lost?” the dragon asked when Siegfried had still not replied. “There is a village not far from here, I believe. I’m sure you can find someone in the forest to show you the way.”
“I am not lost,” he finally said, earning another curious tilt of the head. “My name is Siegfried and I am here because I had heard of a dragon protecting a miracle. My lord has sent me to investigate those claims.”
The demeanor of the dragon seemed to change, its wings lowering in what almost seemed disappointment. “So you are here for the grail.”
“I do not wish to take it,” and that much was true, he really did not want to take it from the dragon even if his lord did. Besides, his lord had told him to see if the treasure truly was a miracle. “I merely wish to learn about it. Would you be willing to tell me what exactly that miracle is?”
The dragon perked up again, its head rising to attention. “Oh, that’s good. As long as you don’t want to take it, that’s fine.”
The dragon turned around and walked further into the cave, finally letting Siegfried see what was emitting that light. A golden orb coming up to his chest was lying in front of him, its surface twisting and changing as if it was made out of liquid. Sheathing his sword and daring to take a few steps closer, he realized that the orb was not just emitting light but power, making him feel invigorated just being near it while at the same time strained as if his very being was about to be blown away.
“So this... is the miracle?” he whispered in awe. The dragon had sat down next to the orb and nodded.
“It’s a magical construct which holds a large amount of mana. I guess you could call it a small miracle.” It tilted its head again as it watched Siegfried. “You must be strong to stand so close to it. Most people get overwhelmed halfway through the cave and turn around.”
That must be the reason why so many had lived to tell the tale. No one had actually managed to fight the dragon and had lied about it to keep their pride. “Where did it come from?”
“From my homeland, a kingdom far to the east of here. I don’t know the details, but the mages there managed to create a container to gather mana and called it a grail. I’m not sure what they wanted to do with it but in the end they only managed to gather this much.”
“Only this much...” Siegfried repeated in disbelief. If this is what the dragon considered to be small, he was afraid to know what a true miracle felt like. “If the mages there created it, how come you have it now?”
The dragon lowered its head as if recalling a sad memory. “People started a war over who gets to use the mana. I hoped taking it away would stop everyone fighting over it.” It looked over to the miracle – the grail – again. “I had to hide it somewhere nobody could reach it but I guess carrying it around wasn’t the best idea. Thankfully no one had reached it until now.”
“But if it is a magical item, would you not have to be a mage to use it?”
The dragon gave a low hum in thought. “I’m not completely sure, but it seems the grail reacts to the desires and wishes of the person reaching it with no magical knowledge required. That’s why it’s so dangerous, anyone could use it for evil.”
Siegfried blinked, baffled like something so convenient could exist. “And you have not used it yet?”
“No, I don’t even think I can. I think only humans can use it.”
So that was the way it was. A young dragon takes a dangerous treasure that causes war and misery to people and gains nothing from it but adventurers trying to kill it for it. It felt unfair that so many adventurers came to try and take it, but he doubted any of the them would think twice about striking the dragon down. Siegfried looked at the grail again and remembered the mission his lord had given him.
He looked over to the dragon who was just patiently watching him. It was completely unguarded and a bitter taste rose to his mouth at the thought of slaying it and taking the treasure. How could it ever be just to kill something so innocent? He felt like he would be striking down a child but he could just not fulfill his lord’s wish.
A sudden thought occurred to him. It was ridiculous and downright stupid but if it worked... “Is there anything you want?”
The dragon blinked at him in confusion. “Who? Me?” Siegfried nodded.
“Yes. Surely there must be something you want. Something other than staying in this cave and keeping people away from the grail.”
It lowered its head in thought, humming again. “I suppose if I had to want anything it would be to spend time among humans. I’ve always been fascinated with them but its difficult getting close being a dragon.”
Siegfried nodded. That had to be enough. Before he could think better of it, he reached out his hand and touched the glowing orb, the dragon crying out next to him.
The feeling was near instant, the magic sending sparks up his arm and making him feel like he was struck by lightning but he tried to keep steady. If the dragon was right then all he had to do was to let the grail know his wish. So that was what he tried to do, bringing it to the forefront of his mind. Soon enough the pain receded and he could feel the magic washing over the room before slowly fading away.
“What did you do?”
Siegfried blinked his eyes open, not having been aware he had even closed them. He turned towards the dragon, hoping that his plan had worked--
Only to see air.
Panic rushed through him for a moment, thinking he had done something wrong. But no, he had definitely heard the dragon’s voice just now so it still had to be there. He looked around again, hoping to spot it.
“I’m down here. Please stop ignoring me.”
He stopped and turned his gaze lower and he certainly had not expected the dragon to turn so… small.
He must have been right about it being young because the boy before him looked like he was only at the cusp of adulthood. With the light of the grail gone and only his torch illuminating the cave it was a bit hard to see but the skin of the boy was an almost sickly white in contrast of the dark scales it had previously. His limbs were long and lanky as if he had not grown into them yet and his face still had a youthful roundness to them with soft brown locks framing it.
And that face was frowning at him, slim eyebrows furrowed in anger. It must have looked more intimidating when the boy had still been a dragon because right now Siegfried just found it very endearing.
“You said you didn’t want to take the grail. Why did you lie to me?”
“I am sorry, but I just said I did not want to take it. I had never said anything about not using it.” Though that had been because he hadn’t known it could be used but he decided not to say that.
The dragon was silent for a moment, considering his words. In the end it let out a little huff. “You still tricked me. I don’t like it.”
“I was merely fulfilling your wish. You said you wanted to be near humans and that it was difficult to do so as a dragon.”
“But that’s no reason to use the grail! It should have never been used at all!”
“But as long as it exists you would be forced to stay here. Now that it is used, you can go anywhere. Was that not your wish?”
That shut the boy up, causing him to look at the floor in shame. He struggled for moment with his feelings only to realize he was relieved he would not have to guard the grail anymore. He was still a bit angry that Siegfried had just used it but there was little he could do about that anymore.
Watching him struggle, the knight pulled out a cloak he had with him for the journey and wrapped the boy up to shield his naked body from the cold. “If you would like, I could take you with me and show you the cities of humanity. You would not have to be alone and decide for yourself where you want to go from there.”
The boy considered it, thinking about all the grand cities and festivities he had seen back in his homeland. The thought of watching them up close, to be among the crowds, to live with them…
He looked at the grail again, the orb having darkened as it had lost its magic and now resembling a big rock instead of the magical construct it actually was. “...We will have to destroy the vessel. Someone might be able to figure out how to fill it with mana again if we just leave it.”
Siegfried nodded. “Would you like to wait here?” The boy fidgeted for a moment, considering it.
“If it would be alright, I want to go ahead. I haven’t been outside in a while and I want to get used to it first.”
“Understood. The way out is a straight tunnel but please be careful.”
The boy nodded and started walking, already feeling his body aching from the movement. He had not noticed immediately but this body felt a lot more fragile than his old one, like a single blow could knock him over. His feet hurt, he felt the cold seeping into him even with the cloak wrapped around him and walking on two feet instead of four felt foreign while feeling natural at the same time.
Still, in a strange way he reveled in all the new sensations, imagining that this is what humans must feel like all the time. They were fragile and weak but they still managed to live and create amazing things that he could never hope to do. And now he was one of them.
He reached the cave entrance and the sun blinded him, forcing him to close his eyes. When they finally got used to the light, he took a look around, at the trees, at the sky, at the small animals flitting around. He had seen it all before when he had arrived but for some reason the world seemed to be so different now that he was not a dragon anymore.
He was not sure how long he had been standing there but it was long enough for Siegfried to have finished, coming up to join him. They stood in silence for a few moments before the boy spoke again.
“Do you really think it’s alright? Me leaving, I mean.”
A few moments of silence passed before the knight finally replied, “...I do believe it is good to wish for your own sake, yes.”
The boy nodded, humming in thought. After a moment his head snapped up, looking at him in shock. “Wait, if I’m going to be a human, I need a name, right?”
Siegfried was a bit confused at the change of topic but replied anyway. “I suppose you do. Do you not have a name already?” The boy shook his head.
“I never needed one before. Most beasts don’t choose names for themselves, they are given them by humans.” He was lost in thought for a while before his cheeks reddened a little and he looked up at the knight again. “Um, you said your name was Siegfried, right? Would it be alright if I called myself Sieg?”
He was once again baffled at the boy’s words. “I do not mind but surely there must be other names you like. Do you not want to reconsider?”
Thin fingers gripped the cloak tighter as the boy shyly looked at the floor. “I just thought because I owe this chance to you, it only feels right to make my name a tribute.”
What a strange way to think. The boy did not owe Siegfried anything but if it was that important to him… “Very well. If you want then your name can be Sieg from now on.”
Sieg looked up again and positively beamed at him, his entire face lighting up with happiness. They soon started their journey to a nearby village only for Sieg to become tired due to never having walked in that body before. In the end Siegfried had to carry him in his arms as the boy slowly let his head fall on his shoulder in exhaustion.
As he watched him fall asleep, Siegfried considered what he had done. He had defied the wish of his lord but in a way he had not. There may have been a miracle but there was not anymore so there was nothing to bring home. There may have been a dragon but there was not anymore, only a boy in his arms. He had not neglected his orders, he had also merely fulfilled the boy’s wishes before he did his lord’s.
Looking at the sun setting on the horizon, he thought about how it was the first time he had realized his own wish – to save the dragon from his fate of staying in the cave and battling whoever managed to reach it. He looked down at the boy again who was now softly snoring and smiled.
It was good to wish for your own sake, indeed.