Walking On Water And Walking On Eggshells
Titus had known that something was brewing in Folrolf’s mind since before Spring Festival. His guardian would drift about the house for days, muttering to himself and trailing scraps of parchment—like flotsam in the wake of a receding wave. The paper was covered in strange equations, measurements, and queer, tipsy drawings of figures suspended over wavy lines of water, wearing what looked like giant pumpkins on their feet.
Peculiar behavior was customary behavior for Folrolf. It was only what he was being peculiar about that changed. It was just as customary that Titus ever learned anything about these daily absorptions, thus he didn’t pay much attention until very early one morning several weeks after the Spring Festival.
He was fast asleep when his bedroom door was flung open with a crash that and his quilts ripped forcibly off of him.
Titus lurched forward in bed, swinging his arms in a panic and almost swimming up it to the headboard and cracking his skull against the bed frame, letting out a tortured yell. He was still writhing under a tangle of blankets when Folrolf fished underneath the quilts and heaved him clear to bellow in his ear. “Shake yourself, Titus—we don’t have all day!”
“All day . . . for what?” Titus gasped, rubbing at his eyes. His head was pounding.
“My project,” Folrolf exclaimed, eyeing Titus as if he were more than a little dense. “Are you blind, boy? The project I’ve been working on all week.” He let out a huff of annoyance. “Now come along, come along. Get dressed and find yourself something to eat. I’ve already had my breakfast.” With that, he let Titus drop limply back onto the pillows and swept out of the room.
Titus lay there a moment, groped dully out for a fistful of covers and pulling them over his head. A sudden explosion of a less-then-patient-sounding Harumph! from down the hall sent Titus leaping out of bed and into his pants. He realized darkly that the sharp-eared Folrolf had left the bedroom door open to ensure that Titus didn’t go back to sleep. Folrolf was apparently satisfied with the sounds of Titus stumbling around the room for an instant later, the study door slammed shut.
Titus had barely begun to button his shirt before there was a crash and tramping footsteps. Folrolf swarmed into view long enough to chuck a leather-bound ledger, a drippy inkwell, and a mangled quill on a side table and bellow, “Here Titus, you take notes.” before he whirled away and disappeared again, leaving Titus scrambling to keep up.
Seconds later, with a day old scone in his mouth, his pants pockets full of oat cake and his vest pocket bulging with an orange, his arms full of book, quill and inkwell, Titus staggered out of the house, yawning and feeling vaguely as if he had just inhaled a mouthful of fog. It was as thick as porridge outside, so thick that Titus felt as if the wispy trails of mist were fingers touching his face, like extensions of Folrolf’s bony fingers, prodding at him to make sure he was awake.
Turning slowly to survey the grey morning—rimmed and flecked with dull gold that promised sun and heat but offered neither now—Titus’s gaze caught on a figure behind the cottage. He squinted through the glare and fog and saw Folrolf legging it through the tall grass, carrying two large objects in one hand and supporting too poles over his shoulder with the other—looking like a tall and spindly ghost.
Titus hurried after him and in the subsequent twenty-minute walk—of which he was not very aware, as he stumbled through a physical and mental fog and mechanically chewed on his scone—it slowly dawned on him where they were going.
True to Titus’s suspicions, Folrolf was waiting for him on the bank of Rivenstream when he stumbled out of the undergrowth of Petalmist forest, batting at a patch of briars that had attached itself to his leg.
Folrolf spun around and threw open his arms—his peculiar bundles had been thrown willy-nilly on the ground at his feet. “Ah, Titus! There you are! Sit down and take notes. You are about to witness a truly historic event!”
“What are you going to do?” Titus asked—though glancing at the river and recalling the numerous strange drawings he had been seeing all week, we wasn’t completely surprised when Folrolf looked up and said, “Prepare to be amazed young Titus Benjamin. I am preparing to walk on water!”
He peered deeply into Titus’s face for a moment, as if waiting to receive a suitable reaction.
“Oh,” said Titus, fumbling for his orange.
Folrolf grunted, obviously too excited to care about Titus’s lack of enthusiasm, and sat down on the wet grass. His robes billowed around him, like a hen fluffing her feathers in an effort to get comfortable, and he began to insert his immense boots into the wooden objects he had carried with him to the river, both of which had a carved foot well for this very purpose.
This procedure took some time to accomplish and was accompanied with much grunting and muttering as Titus peeled his orange and peered at the objects curiously. They didn’t look like pumpkins at all; they were more like cucumbers. He noticed that the poles were not fishing poles as he had first believed. They were hefty wooden pools, firm and straight, with hand grips and two disks attached to the ends of them—like plates or lily pads.
Titus shrugged and took his time finding a dry spot on the ground. Once he located a spot to his liking, he stuck his orange in his mouth, and leisurely situated himself. He set the inkwell next to his elbow in tiny hollow of stone in the middle of a large knobby rock, carefully unscrewing the lid as he watched Folrolf procedures with vague interest. He set the sticky bottle top down beside the inkwell, propped the open ledger against his knee, dipped the quill into the inkwell and jotted down the date at the top of the page.
Folrolf tucked his poles under his arm and staggered with some difficulty to the water’s edge, using the branch of a weeping willow that jutted out over the stream to support himself. Titus knew better then to offer to help him. He tapped his quill against his knee and waited.
Apparently Folrolf hadn’t quite thought out how he would launch himself into the water once he actually had his shoe floats on. Clutching his poles, he wrapped his arms around a tree branch for several moments, examining the swirling eddies, slippery bank, and his own peculiar footwear for several moments. Muttering something to himself, he gave a kind of leap—accompanied by a great deal of flapping that made him look uncommonly like a malfunctioning wind-mill that was about to fly to pieces. Titus was surprised when he actually ended up on top of the water instead of under it. He made a notation in his ledger.
Folrolf wobbled and waving his arms a great deal, stabbing viciously at the water with this poles as if he were trying to kill it, not walk across it— and he occasionally found it necessary to clutch at the weeping willow branch behind him, keeping up a constant narration of impolite words between his teeth.
Finally, cherry-red from his exertions, Folrolf was standing very awkwardly erect. Not exactly erect; but much more in the way a knobby-kneed colt would stand in their first moments after birth. Folrolf stood, huffing and vibrating, for one moment under his own power—flushed with victory. And then he tried to straighten his knees and with a whoosh the floats bobbed out from underneath him, the poles flew out of his hands and he fell forward with a terrific crack as his face hit the water.
Titus bent his head over his ledger and wrote carefully. Attempted to walk on water . . . attempt failed.
He looked up just as Folrolf thrashed to the surface. His face was as red as their ripe tomatoes, whether from rage or the icy water, it was difficult to tell. Water cascaded off the battered brim of his hat like an upside down fountain and his robes floated around him like dead leaves. Folrolf spat out a stream of water and punched his fist into the water, howling, “Blast!” at the top of his voice.
There was a sudden spluttering of laughter from the opposite bank.
Titus had to look around for a moment before he saw a gorse gnome sitting under a bush on the opposite bank, several yards to the right of Folrolf. The absurd little thing was rolling about on its back, kicking its almost nonexistent feet in the air and laughing helplessly. Every few moments he would roll into a sitting position, stare at Folrolf as he tried to pull a lily-pad out of his robes, and then dissolve into out-of-control laughter again. Folrolf had finally stood upright in the middle of the stream—the water came to his chest—and was apparently unable to hear the gnome’s merriment, judging from the way he was vigorously shaking his head to and fro and tugging at his ears.
The gnome gave a hysterical hiccup, as if it couldn’t stand to laugh any longer and very slowly sat up, clasped its hands and stared eagerly, with a delighted smile on his ugly face, at the disheveled spectacle in front of him. The sight of Folrolf plucking a dead leaf from his hat proved to be too much for it and it and it burst into laughter again.
This time Folrolf heard it, and his head began whipping in all directions. He looked suspiciously at Titus, and finding him grave as a judge, cast a savage glare up and down the bank until he located the source of the sound. He also had some difficulty seeing the gnome as it blended with its surroundings and when he finally did, he peered distastefully at the gnome, past the hair plastered over his forehead and sagging hat brim and demanded, “And what, pray, is so amusing, creature?”
The gnome giggled into its hands, grinning fiendishly at Folrolf and saying nothing, but its eyes winking devilishly as if it were waiting for some new entertainment.
Folrolf glared imperiously at the gnome, wrenched his hat off, and wrung it out. This caused his already disheveled hair to fly into even more disarray and brought a new wave of laughter from the bank.
Folrolf, realizing the laughter was directed at him, glowered fiercely at the gnome. Titus was well-versed enough in the ways of Folrolf to recognize the expression as an indication that Folrolf was being pushed beyond his limit. His eyebrows rose and fell with his heaving chest as he struggled wildly for some insult that would do his feelings justice. The gnome had been laughing into his hands and peeked at Folrolf the way a child peeks at a performing puppy, and he was not disappointed. He pointed at Folrolf’s contorted face and burst into a new explosion of sniggers.
The cork on Folrolf’s anger exploded like a button popping off a shirt and with a furious yell of, “You little hobgoblin!” he began surging across the river towards the gnome like a tidal wave.
The gnome stopped laughing, took one uneasy look the nemesis coming towards him and, with a little squeak, hopped to its feet. It snatched up its robes and took to the woods only a moment before Folrolf reached the bank. Folrolf was after him with impressive speed, and it didn’t take long for the bellowed insults, terrified squeals, and violent thrashings to recede into the quiet of the forest.
Titus scratched his last note into the ledger, Suggest new equipment for further experiments in walking on water, and corked the ink bottle up again. He took his time in cleaning the tip and, setting the quill on the rock to dry, he ate an oat scone and waited, watching the sun finally push its way through the tree tops to spread its beams across the stream.
It wasn’t long before Folrolf came huffing back through the trees again, slapping underbrush aside impatiently and trampling briars underneath his boots with unnecessary vigor.
He plunged without a pause into the river and swarmed across it—pausing in his headlong rush only long enough to collect the floats and poles that were caught in various small whirlpools and knots of reeds. Now that he was closer, Titus could see the eyebrows were nearly knotted together.
Folrolf stumped out of the river without a word and stood there rigidly—ringing out his robes while Titus got up and collected the ledger, quill, and inkwell. The two of them turned and walked side by side into the woods back towards Hedgerose, saying nothing.
Titus had not lived with Folrolf for nearly eight years without learning how to read his tempers. Titus could feel Folrolf softening beside him, like an eggshell that is boiled soft. Perhaps it was the sunlight dispelling the mist, or the burst of pearly-gray color as a bird started out of a bush bright with blossoms. Most of all, it was probably Titus’s careful silence that caused Folrolf to thaw.
True to his suspicion, they hadn’t walked five minutes before Folrolf cleared his throat, almost sheepishly, and spoke. “You know . . . I really am thankful that Providence doesn’t let me get away with my quick temper. I’m sure I would have throttled that little beggar—it was foolish of me.”
Titus looked up at him, surprised, but Folrolf was looking straight ahead, his profile thoughtful as he said almost more to himself. “Today’s results weren’t what I’d hoped for, but we’ll try again some other time, ay?” then he looked down at Titus and his eyes gentled into a smile and Titus wasn’t in the least surprised when the old man’s hand dropped gently onto his shoulder.
It remained there all the way home.
The moment they stepped inside the cottage, Titus had the funny feeling that something was wrong. Some of the glow that had warmed him more than the rising sun had on the walk home dissipated when he stepped into the kitchen and heard a crunch under his boot.
Folrof bustled past him, heading for the crumpet jar and Titus slowly raised his foot to examine the bottom of his shoe, expecting to find glass. Instead, what looked like eggshells was plastered to the heel.
He stared at it stupidly and was vaguely aware of Folrof freezing with a crumpet halfway to his mouth.
The crate that held their foster-egg had been tipped over. There was a pile of eggshell on the ground, coated in stickiness.
The dragon had hatched.
“It’s hatched!” Folrolf roared with excitement, flinging out his arms. The crumpet went flying. His wet robes slapped Titus in the face like the blow of a fish that had been jerked out of a pond. “It’s hatched, it’s hatched!” Folrolf was gabbling at the top of his lungs. “Now be quiet, Titus! Quiet, quiet, quiet!” he shouted. “We don’t want to frighten it!”
There was a trail of eggshells leading away from the crate to the corner of the kitchen, disappearing behind a tall cupboard.
Folrolf attempted to creep forward, his huge clomping boots not aiding his efforts at all, and Titus followed. They peaked around the cupboard.
“It’s a spanking new dragon!” Folrolf exclaimed softly.
The hatchling was covered in brilliant dark blue scales, with small green wings. Its wings looked to small and its feet looked to large for its small, clumsy body. It had his back turned to them and when they spoke, it turned around. Its belly was the same softer quality as his wings, but pale blue. It had an immense nose, a pair of sharp looking ears, a pointed horn in the center of its forehead, and a pair of luminous black eyes.
But the first thing that Titus really noticed was the embroidered dish cloth on the floor—Titus guessed that Folrolf had dropped it there absently when snatching some breakfast—and the dragon had used it to clean himself. It rolled across it now and wriggled through it like a dog, his foreclaws kicking at the air.
“Why, what a clever fellow,” Folrolf murmured.
Titus didn’t see what was so clever about it. Anybody could destroy a towel. He must have coughed to hide his derision, for the dragon swung its head around and blinked at him a moment. He might have known it; the dragon hated the very sound of his voice. Animals always had, and always would, hate him.
Titus moved instinctively backwards, but the dragon didn’t seem much interested in them. It abandoned the towel, scratched his horn against a cupboard. It appeared to be trying to sharpen it.
“I don’t think that’s a good sign,” Titus volunteered.
The dragon raised a tentative paw, shaking a little as he struggled to maintain his balance and shuffled vaguely forward. It bumped into a cabinet and looked affronted.
“Don’t look at me; Folrolf moved it there,” said Titus as the dragon coughed with displeasure.
Folrolf shushed him and watched raptly as the dragon slowly crawled away, its fleshy tail tip flapping aimlessly behind him as he headed for the door.
Folrolf followed slowly, half-bent, stroking his chin and watching with the expression of a scholar making an important discovery and Titus followed him, feeling foolish and more-than-a-little annoyed.
“We should write everything down,” Folrolf said suddenly, as if reading Titus’s mind. “We may be some of the few people ever to witness a hatchling in these first precious moments!”
Titus rolled his eyes. Folrolf was starting to sound like the author of a very-badly written book about dragons and their natural habits.
The dragon had wandered into the parlour, and he bared his teeth at the knitting needles and scrambled back a few steps. Perhaps he thought they were the horns of another dragon.
“It’s all right, they won’t hurt you,” Folrolf assured him, while Titus made a mental note to start wearing knitting needles strapped to his head to ward off the dragon’s inevitable munchings.
The dragon eyed the knitting needles a second longer, waggling with a mixture of aggression and fear, then satisfied that he was safe, he turned and wandered away, still staggering and tacking randomly as he eased forward; a little scaly drunk.
Instead of walking around a chair, he burrowed under it, emerging a second later with a layer of fine dust decorating his face and his horn.
Titus coughed and shot a guilty look at Folrolf (he hadn’t cleaned under the furniture) even though Folrolf was physically incapable of seeing grim or clutter.
The dragon wrinkled its muzzle and sneezed, like a tiny clap of thunder, his wings flying straight out, overbalancing him so that he nearly fell on his face. He looked startled for a moment, then he shook his head and returned to his waddling.
Folrolf, still dripping with river water, wrung his sleeves—partially to dry himself (he left a sizable puddle around his feet that Titus would have to clean up later) and partly because he was so excited he apparently needed something to do with his hands. “Now wasn’t that cute?” he whispered gleefully to Titus.
The dragon had ambled uncertainly towards the bookcase. He poked his nose into the dusty lower shelves, and poked a claw tip at a heavy volume.
Folrolf’s hand dropped slowly to Titus’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Titus turned to stare at Folrolf’s hand and then at Folrolf’s. His guardian didn’t do things like that.
Folrolf’s face was positively agog and his voice was hushed with wonder. “Would you look at that? He likes books!” He beamed like a new parent.
Titus could not quite keep from sounding skeptical, he might have even sounded a little bit sarcastic. “He could be trying to eat them for all we know.”
Folrolf sailed on as if he hadn’t heard him; he probably hadn’t. “We’ll have to name him, of course.”
“Folrolf,” Titus cautioned. “You said we wouldn’t be keeping him.”
“No, no, of course not,” Folrolf said distantly.
“What would we even do with a dragon?” Titus thought a moment and added ominously. “What would it do with us?”
“It’s a he, Titus. The proper grammar would be, what would he do with us.”
Titus only just managed not to roll his eyes as he pressed his point. “He might eat us.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Whoever heard of a baby eating its own parents?”
“I mean, guardians,” Folrolf tacked skillfully away from Titus’s spluttering protests and swept across the room.
“We’ll have to name him,” Folrolf said, stooping down to pick up the dragon.
“Folrolf, be careful!” Titus protested. “He’ll bite you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! Of course, he won’t bite me—will you, little fellow?”
The hatchling squalled as he was lifted off the ground, kicking his feet in confusion.
“Now, now, don’t fuss,” Folrolf assured him. “I just want to have a look at you.”
“I’d put him down if I were you,” said Titus. “Sir.”
Folrolf flipped a dismissive hand at him as he studied the hatchling. “Let’s call him Hatch.”
Hatch? After all that build-up, it wasn’t very inventive.
“What do you think of that, Hatch?” Folrolf asked the dragon.
Hatch gave him a disgusted look and then turned to stare out the window.
“He thinks it’s stupid,” Titus volunteered, thinking that, if nothing else, the hatchling was a convenient person to blame for his own private sarcastic opinions.
“No, he doesn’t,” Folrolf rejoined. “I saw him smile.” His voice grew low and sugary as it slid into the tone usually reserved by old ladies for nappied babies as he chucked the dragon under the chin. “Didn’t you, little Hatch?”
Hatch answered by biting him with a ferocious crunch.
As Titus called Folrolf to dinner, and as Folrolf walked slowly into the room, his nose stuck in a book, there was the clatter of claw tips as Hatch shadowed the wizard into the kitchen.
Titus glared at Hatch and decided he would give his guardian the silent treatment to demonstrate his displeasure at there being a dragon in the house.
He dished up the main course, certain that he was bristling visibly with disapproval as he maintained his stony silence—but his demonstration wasn’t very effective since Folrolf was reading and unaware that the world even existed. The only thing that seemed to disturb him was that when he tried to lick his thumb to turn a page, he was licking an enormous bandage. A brief flicker of annoyance passed over his face and then passed as he reached for his fork and took a bite of hash. He must have gotten to an exciting bit because his eyes grew wide and he stopped chewing.
Hatch had hopped up onto a chair but was having difficulty reaching the table.
“Hey, get off!” Titus made a shooing motion, not daring to touch the dragon.
Hatch gave him a “Oh, please,” look and turned his back, staring at the stove top.
That reminded Titus his soup was about to boil over. He raced over and ladled up two bowls. Then, grumbling under his breath, he rummaged around in the icebox for a piece of meat for the stinking dragon. He tossed it into a bowl and poured in some milk. He had no idea what baby dragons ate; as long as it wasn’t people, he didn’t care.
He shoved everything onto a tray and hurried back to the table before his hash could get cold, only to find his plate empty, decorated only by what looked suspiciously like saliva. He leaned forward over the table and stared down at the seat occupied by Hatch. The dragon gazed back at him innocently, but a bit of yam on his horn betrayed him.
He glanced at Folrolf, who was finally mechanically reached down to his plate to fork some more hash into his mouth. He stabbed around for several moments, and finally the sound of tin scrapping against porcelain dragged him from the depths of his book and he looked down.
Folrolf’s eyebrows worked furiously for several seconds as he stared silently at his empty plate—all that was left on his plate, aside from dragon drool, was a piece of parsley garnish.
“He ate it,” said Titus. “Don’t worry, there’s more.” After a significant pause he said mercilessly. “Are you sure you still want to keep a dragon in the house?”
Folrolf gave him a look and started to eat his soup.
Titus sighed and glanced over the table to look at Hatch. He could have sworn the dragon was smirking at him.
He glared and kicked the chair the dragon was sitting on.
He hadn’t meant to tip the chair over, but tip over it did, depositing the baby dragon on the floor with a deafening crash. Hatch hit the ground and flew across the room like a dropped marble, wailing at the top of his voice.
Folrolf exploded out of his chair, his book dropping to the floor and his tin clattering against the table. “Now, see here, Titus Benjamin—I will not countenance any cruel behavior from you—ever. We have to be kind. After all, nobody has taught him any better.”
“Well, I don’t think its kind to keep an animal in the house when you know I don’t like them.”
“Hatch isn’t an animal, he’s a dragon.”
“It’s the same thing,” Titus stormed and then he dropped his head and shoved in his food, his shoulders hunched.
He was vaguely aware of Folrolf’s surprised look, but he didn’t speak and they finished the meal in an awkward silence. Folrolf did offer to wash the dishes, which he hardly ever did anymore, so Titus guessed he was trying to sooth him. It didn’t work, but Titus let his guardian clean up as he tore up to his room and shut the door.
An ill-tempered voice blew a steady stream of disgruntled thoughts into his mind, fat, unpleasant bubbles of ideas that shoved out the story he was trying to read.
It wasn’t fair . . . Folrolf knew Titus didn’t like animals, and yet he insisted on keeping that creature in the house . . . Folrolf cared more about that dragon then he did about Titus.
A second voice, far more calm than the first, whispered that maybe Titus wasn’t being very fair . . . after all, what boy could say he had a dragon in his house?
Titus didn’t really wish to listen to either voice and he attempted to stop the thoughts by shoving his nose deeper into book. All that did was make him go cross-eyed.
The sound of a voice outside his bedroom window caused him to toss the book down on the bed and swing off his bed so he could look outside.
Folrolf had taken the baby dragon into the garden for some air.
Titus went to his desk and rummaged inside it for some paper and a quill. Lighting a candle, he scrawled out a hasty letter. He felt rebellious. With or without Folrolf’s permission, he would send the letter to the castle and ask them to come take charge of the dragon.
He shoved the cork back into his inkwell and went back to the window, flapping the letter and waiting for the ink to dry as he looked out into the garden.
Folrolf had settled down on a stone bench; Titus could see his stooped grey head bobbing away as if he were doing some funny song and dance to entertain someone.
Folrolf was pointing and obviously talking, patting the dragon on the head. Hatch squirmed out from under his hand and in doing so; accidentally fell off the bench and into the grass. Folrolf was so distracted by his own dissertation he didn’t notice that Hatch had fallen. Titus hadn’t heard Hatch squall, but he could just imagine the annoyed look on the dragon’s face.
Titus sighed and folded the letter, shoving it into his pocket. He’d just watch and wait. Folrolf didn’t stick with many things for long. He was a shooting star always racing away to some new planet to revolve around. Pretty soon he would grow bored with the idea of having a dragon, and, if Titus kept on making sure he was aware just how bothersome owning a baby dragon would be, he might even lose patience with the creature and agree to send the dragon to a better place.
But he wouldn’t send the letter off tomorrow. Firstly, it would make him guilty to go behind Folrolf’s back and secondly because reason told him it would accomplish just the opposite of his desired end; if Folrolf felt pressured he would keep the hatchling out of sheer stubbornness.
He could hear the steady, monotonous thread of Folrolf’s voice, weaving some kind of story. Hatch watched the wizard for a moment until a firefly suddenly darted by his face. Hatch gave a startled snort and stared after it as if he couldn’t decide whether it was food or something else far more mysterious. He followed it, still unsteady on his legs, but determined.
The moon smiled down, the garden was radiant with its shining, shot through with the lightning-streak glow of fireflies, and in the cool glow, Titus could see the ink-dark figure of the baby dragon, pouncing at fireflies like a cat.
This is copyrighted by Allison Tebo 2018© Please do not use or copy without permission.
Okay, people – you know the routine! What did you think?
As a fun behind the scenes note, the baby dragon was actually originally going to hatch at the very end of the story on the final page. Ohhhh yeah. THAT would have gone over well. I knew that that if I had stuck to that original plan, my dear readers would turn on me.
The people wanted the baby dragon now. The people spoke, and behold, the dragon hatched!
Special thank to my stuffed dragon, Blog, for inspiring me to add a dragon to the story in the first place! He’s one of my little wistful companions that sit on my bookcase as I write.
So is there something you would like to happen next? What are you anticipating in this story? Tell me everything!
ALSO – I’m actually not at all happy with the name of “Hatch” for the baby dragon. LET’S HAVE SUGGESTIONS. What do YOU think would be a good name for the hatchling?
(more detailed rules about how this serialized and participatory story works (think Wattpad) can be found HERE)