Once upon a time, a long time ago (after fire but before matches) when magic made itself more obvious than it does now, there lived a man named Arthur Rose.
Now at this time and in this place superstition and tradition was still stronger than law. People did things in a certain way, not because it was right but only because it was the way their parents and grandparents had lived.
This made life hard for Arthur because he was different. He wasn’t very good looking, he had a prominent nose and scaly skin. And he could breathe fire. Not the circus trick of fire eating, but real true fire-breathing. All he had to do was think about it. And sometimes when he wasn’t thinking about it, smoke would come out of his nose anyway.
The children of the town took great pleasure in teasing Arthur publicly and being quite afraid of him privately. Since a fire-breathing neighbour was much to good a thing to waste, scarcely a day went by when some mother did not say to her child
“You had better be good because if you are naughty Arthur Rose will roast you alive and eat you up!”
Now Arthur had no intention of ever doing anything like that. He loved children… not baked, broiled, roasted or stewed either. It made him very sad that they all avoided him so much.
Now in this same town was a little girl named Emily. She wasn’t a perfect little girl but she did like to make her parents happy so she pretty much did as she was told and her mother didn’t often have to tell her that Arthur Rose was just waiting to eat her up. Not that her mother was any better or different from the other mothers of the town, just that Emily was naturally good because she liked to please people. So she grew up without really understanding why all the other children were so afraid of him.
When she was about six, maybe a little older, maybe a little younger, Emily came across a group of children teasing Arthur Rose. He wasn’t saying anything but the expression on his face made her want to cry and made her mad at the other children. She ran at them angrily.
“Shoo! Shoo! Fly away home, you mean things!” she cried and the startled children scattered.
Arthur just watched her, not wanting to scare her. Besides, she made him just a little timid. Emily walked up to him and took his hand like she had known him a long time.
“Are you alright, Mister?” she asked, a little plaintively, because she was shy too.
“I am now, thank you.” said Arthur. “Let me introduce myself… my name is Arthur Rose.” He waited, expecting her to be frightened or upset and run away.
“I know that.” said Emily. She favored him with her ‘all grown-ups are crazy’ look. “My name is Emily. Why were they teasing you?”
Arthur was floored. Had this little girl really not heard all about him? “Because I’m funny- looking and I breathe fire.” he said, truthfully.
“So why didn’t you toast them?” Emily asked.
“Because that would hurt them.” replied Arthur.
“Well, then you’re nicer than they are because they were hurting you.” said Emily. Then with the jump
in logic only children can manage she asked “Can you toast marshmallows?”
“Certainly. Well,” he paused “I think so. I never tried it.”
“So let’s try it.”
Arthur found that he could indeed toast marshmallows very well and every week Emily would come over and they would toast marshmallows and talk.
This went on all through the summer and fall and into the winter. Sometimes the village was snowed under and no one could go anywhere. Then Arthur would melt a path to Emily’s house by turning his breath on low and broad.
One morning at the tail end of winter, when the snow and ice are at it’s worst, Arthur melted his path to Emily’s house. Inside her father was trying to relight the fire which had gone out overnight. Emily was bundled up in blankets on the sofa trying hard not to shiver. Arthur made her father stand away from the fireplace and breathed gently on it. The fire leaped up as if it had never gone out.
“Thank you.” said Emily’s father in genuine relief.
“What happened?” asked Arthur. Emily’s family was very careful to bank the fire at night and this had never happened before.
“I’m not sure.” Emily’s father replied. “All I can think of is that last night was so cold that the fire burned faster than usual.”
“Come on Arthur.” said Emily, struggling into her warmest clothes. “If our fire burned out last night, I bet a lot of other people’s did too and they’ll freeze if we don’t help them.”
He turned to her. “Why should I help them? They never helped me and wouldn’t.”
“Because you’re nicer than they are.” she said and shrugged.
Since Arthur didn’t want to disappoint her, they spent the rest of the morning melting a path to each house and relighting fires. By afternoon they had gone to every house in the village. When they got back to Emily’s house, there was a crowd of grateful people waiting for them.
“Hooray for Emily!” they all cried as Emily and Arthur approached. Emily looked at them disgustedly.
“I’m not the hero,” she said “Arthur is. I didn’t relight your fires… he did.
The crowd murmured a little at this and some of them shuffled their feet and looked down. But nobody said anything.
“Well?” asked Emily “Isn’t anybody going to cheer for Arthur?”
A boy of about her own age in the front of the crowd spoke up. “But he breathes fire.”
Then one of the grown-ups shook himself and said quietly. “Yes, he does. And that’s exactly what kept us all from freezing. Hooray for Arthur!”
After a second another person took up the cheer and then a few more until they were all cheering for Arthur.
“But he’s still funny looking.” said the same small boy.
A hush fell.
“Well, yes, I am.” admitted Arthur.
“Oh Arthur, that’s just the outside.” said Emily. “Inside you’re… you’re…” she trailed off, thinking hard. Then several clues fell into place in her mind, the fire breathing, the scaly skin, the longish nose and bright green eyes.
“You’re a dragon!” she cried.
Arthur smiled, too wide for a man and said “Why yes, Emily, I am.”
Then right in front of the whole town, he stretched and changed and grew wings right before their eyes.
The townsfolk took a step or two back but Emily looked at him closely and noticed that his kind green eyes were still exactly the same. She put her hand on his forepaw.
“You make a very handsome dragon, Arthur.”
“Thank you Emily.” Arthur said. A little deeper, a little more rumbly but still recognizably Arthur’s voice. “I didn’t make a very good man, did I?”
“Actually, you did.” she said “You just weren’t very good looking. Are you really a dragon?”
“I am.” rumbled Arthur “But I had forgotten it until you reminded me who I really was.”
“Are you going to leave now?” asked Emily.
“Do you want me to?”
“Well, of course not.” Emily said.
Arthur swung his head around to the crowd. “What about all of you?”
One man stepped a little closer. “It would be a pretty poor reward for us to tell you to leave when you have just saved all of us. I say ‘Stay, and welcome’.” A general cheer went up behind him.
“Well, then.” said Arthur. “I would love to stay. After all, good friends are hard to find. Besides,” he smiled at Emily “who else would toast marshmallows with me?”
So Arthur stayed in his small village, more respected and loved than he had been before when he was trying to fit in. He and Emily toasted marshmallows quite often and Emily became known as ‘the girl brave enough to toast marshmallows in a dragon’s fire’.
Word Count: 1359