Waves thrashed, humped and slubbered, mounted and surmounted, gashed themselves, recklessly, against the rocks of Drum, sifted through seaweed, chopped each other into foam, then hurled themselves against the beach, tumbling stones, sheals and crab claws over and over in a bounteous explosion of spray. The daylight slowly weathered away.
Exhausted, defeated and badly frightened, Togura Poulaan lay in his cave in a state of collapse. At the beginning of the day, buoyant with confidence, he had been a warm, brave, well-fed questing hero, riding a ship on his way to high adventure. Now he was a cold, hungry, shivering vagrant, a helpless waif of a gadling, marooned on the island of Drum, home of the notorious wizard of Drum, an ill-tempered necromancer known to have the unpleasant habit of feeding strangers to his household dragons.
Togura wanted, very much, to be home on his father's estate. In bed. With a cup of something hot to warm and cheer him. He did not like it here. It was too cold, too wet, too lonely. It was dangerous. Things would hurt him. He would never get off the island alive. Recovering a little strength, he used it to produce hot tears of grief and regret.
He was eventually roused from his blubbering self-pity by a strange clinking crunching slithering sound which he could hear even about the rouse, souse, suck, slap and gurgitation of the sea. It sounded like four or five men dragging a log across stones. Or, perhaps, like a large animal of peculiar construction making its way across a beach.
Sitting up, Togura faced the cave mouth. The strange noise stopped. A beast peered inside, then withdrew.
- A dragon?
Togura was almost certain he had seen a dragon. He did not know whether to scream, to run, to freeze, or to pick up a stick and a stone so as to be prepared to fight for his life.
In the event, he froze.
There was a hiatus, in which Togura heard his own pounding pulse and the sea doing leisurely break-falls on the beach. Then the dragon looked in again. It gave a prolonged gurgling cough as it cleared its throat, then it spoke.
"Hello," said the dragon, in Galish; the word was clear and distinct, marred only by a superfluous bark at the end of it.
"Piss off!" screamed Togura, hurling a rock.
"That's not very polite, you know," said the dragon, mildly. "Come outside. Let's have a look at you."
The cave was large enough to admit the dragon, so Togura saw no percentage in disobeying. Reluctantly, expecting at any moment to be incinerated, he quit the cave. As no immediate disaster befell him, he was able to take stock of the dragon. Entirely green except for its eyes - which were red, with yellow pupils - it stood about as tall as a pony but was three times the length. It had short, stubby wings which were folded against the side of its body.
"You look cold," said the dragon. "You need a fire. I'll give you one. I'm an excellent pyrotechnist."
"A what?" said Togura.
"Watch," said the dragon.
It clawed together some driftwood then breathed out flames which were delicate shades of blue, yellow and green. The wood scorched, charred and flamed. Togura squatted down by the fire.
"Thank you," he said belatedly, remembering his manners.
"It was nothing," said the dragon, in a voice which managed to hint that it was really quite something. "We sea dragons are very talented, you know."
"I'm sure you are," said Togura, hoping that he was engaging in a real conversation and not just being subjected to a before-dinner speech.
"Sea dragons are characterised by versatile genius," said the dragon, encouraged. "Not like those ignorant hulking land monsters we are so often confounded with. We are not primitive brutes like the land dragons. No! A thousand times no! Sea dragons are the true lords of the intellect, noted for their wit, intelligence, grace, charm, sagacity and fashion sense, for their matchless command of all the philosophies, for their eloquence, good humour and comradeship, for their surpassing physical beauty, their wise counsel, their profound logic and their highly developed artistic sensitivity."
"And for their modesty?" said Togura - and instantly wished he had bitten off his tongue.
"That too," acknowledged the sea dragon, failing to realise that his comment was somewhat barbed. "Considering the true extent of our genius, considering the power of our swift-speeding inquiring minds armoured by their world-famous panoply of knowledge, we're remarkably modest, believe you me."
"I do, I do," said Togura, earnestly.
"Now warm yourself by the fire, young human," said the sea dragon, "while I go off to get instructions. Don't worry! I won't be long!"
It waddled down the beach, its tail dragging across the shingle, then spread its wings - which were water wings, not capable of flight - and plunged into the water. Swimming swiftly and gracefully through the lumbering seas, it rounded a headland and was lost from sight.
It had gone to report to its master - the wizard of Drum!
Togura knew what he had to do. He did it. He made himself scarce, and, for the next five days, used all his native cunning - plus a lot which had been grafted on in recent months - to avoid and evade his pursuers. But, in the end, he was cornered by a number of dragons - all very pleased with themselves, and saying so at great length - and, after a lot of spurious speechifying, the dragons led him off to the grim, castellated stronghold of the wizard of Drum.