by Irene Radford
What happens when rival pirate queens take tea together? From the fertile imagination of Irene Radford, author of the classic Dragon Nimbus Series, and the epic Merlin’s Descendants Series, come sixteen stories of hope, fun, and poignant sorrow. Fire-breathing hummingbirds, a tavern between humanity and hell, crystal stealing pixies in space, and more, gathered together for the first time in Magical Meanderings.
READ A SAMPLE:
“Get out! Out, out, out. Get away from my territory!” I shout at the arrogant goldfinch. I dive at him from above, veering away at the last second. Then I swoop around him, turning a tight circle. The wind generated by my wings ruffles a few feathers on his back.
He blinks at me and returns to nibbling his tiny yellow seeds. His claws clench the edge of the plastic feeder in a grip that would withstand a hurricane.
He doesn’t even open his wings a trifle to reaffirm his balance.
I open my beak to spit fire at the invader.
Alas, my belly no longer turns my belches to flame. Instead my whip-like tongue waggles at him.
I return to a nearby branch and chirp my litany of woe.
A female flutters past. Her green feathers sparkle in the sunlight. She’s ready and eager to mate.
I have lost interest. I should mate with the golden queen of the dragons, not a pitiful hummingbird.
She flutters her tail at me and drops to the array of feeders to sip daintily at the fake yellow flower on the red plastic.
I easily glide to drop down beside her. Politely, I sip from a flower opposite her.
Bah! Sugar syrup. It is too sweet. It does not ease my hunger or quench my thirst. I should drink hot blood from my newly killed prey. I should feast on the meat I cook with my flaming breath.
My human slaves should fall down on their knees and worship me, giving me the last of their wealth in gratitude for sparing their lives.
No. They do not recognize my majesty, my power, my fierce anger. Instead they feed me sugar water dyed red with chemicals and force me to share my territory with ordinary birds. They too might be descended from monstrous dinosaurs, but they are lesser get. I am the child of a tyrannosaurus rex, the king of all beasts, the dragon of his time.
I am the dragon of this garden and I will reclaim it from those greedy kinglets who descend by the dozen to gobble all the seeds, even the big, black sunflower droppings. Nasty, nasty, nasty. Nasty birds and nastier seeds.
“Leave them for the jays,” I screech at them. Jays are the only birds nastier than a greedy kinglet. Dumber than dirt, they are. One sees his reflection in the glass door and thinks it is a rival from a different flock. He plunges into the glass and knocks himself senseless. The lesser males follow his example, determined to take his place as leader and defender of the flock.
They all fall, one after another, too stupid to make the connection between the glass and the pile of dead, or nearly dead birds, on the stained and varnished cedar planks. Their females continue to gobble the seeds. With the males having committed ritual suicide, there are more seeds for them.
I take another sip of the nasty flavored syrup. It doesn’t taste so bad this time. I’ll drink the whole jug of it if the little green female with the iridescent breast comes back and shakes her tail at me.
Think of the younglings she’ll produce, fierce, dynamic, and worthy of worship.
I decide I must demonstrate my prowess before her. So I dive into the mix of female kinglets. They rise in an angry flutter, jabbering at me in their broken patois. I remove myself to my perch and preen, singing tales of my ferocity that will be handed down from father to son for generations. All the dragons of the world will know of me!
A roaring sound akin to the sound of dragons flying into battle forces all of the kinglets, the juncos, and the finches to scatter to the four winds. As they should.
But I, I the king of dragons, hold my perch and reply with several clacks of my beak. My tongue flickers out to taste the air and know the name of the enemy that leads this phalanx of dragons.
“Hey, Big Red, what are you up to today?” a human female coos at me.
The roaring sound was merely her opening the heavy glass door. Bah! Good thing I kept my perch. She does not frighten me.
Incensed by the witch’s audacity I dive toward her, swooping away from her grasping hand at the last moment. “Leave my territory. Leave it now, and never come back!” I screech at her.
Her reply is to remove the source of my nourishment from its hook and return it to the interior of her cave. “Now, now, Red, I’ll bring it back as soon as I clean and refill it. I won’t let you starve.”
“Free me from your traps and I will fend for myself. I will kill my prey and drink their blood. Then I will feast on their raw flesh. You will bow down and worship me.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before.” The roar comes again and the glass partition between her cave and my porch closes. I know its tricks and refuse the challenge to knock myself senseless by following her.
I flit off to another source of food to sate my hunger. The tall flower stalks with red and gold blossoms fixed tightly to the stem taste wonderful. But I must feed quickly and retreat for these flowers belong to another dominant male, a mere hummingbird who shouldn’t be able to challenge me. But he thinks he’s a dragon. I know he is only a tiny bird and I am the real dragon, but I leave him with his illusions intact.
The deck next door pulls me back. Since the witch transformed me, I cannot go far away from her buffet of sunflower seeds and sugar water. One taste of the neighboring flowers tells me that the witch’s food is not enough. I’m going to starve to death. There is less of me today than yesterday. I need real food, and she is not giving it to me. And she chains me to her.
“Hey, Big Red, here’s fresh food for you.” The witch calls me back.
I take one last fortifying sip from the tall flower spikes and wing my way back to my gaoler. But I am smarter than she is. I fly high and dive down, roaring at her. My elongated beak pierces her hand where she holds the red feeder. I draw blood. Sweet, satisfying, nurturing blood. I suck it up greedily.
“Nasty little creature!” The witch swats me away.
“I wouldn’t have to suck your blood if you’d plant real flowers and offer me food with real nutrients!” I screech back at her. My words come out as chirps, but I know she can understand me. She is a witch after all.
“Watch your mouth, squirt or I’ll put fake sugar into this feeder, and you’ll be dead before morning. You’ll starve to death in minutes.”
“You wouldn’t!” I swoop around and plunge at her again, aiming for her eyes. Her eyes are the source of her magic.
“Think about all the meals I missed because you roasted my entire garden,” she sneers at me as she ducks away. “You cooked all of my squash and ruined my tomatoes, leaving them to rot just so you could have steamed corn with your dinner. You’ll starve just like I nearly did.”
“But… but I’m a dragon! It’s my job to set fire to my dinner before I eat.”
“But not mine too.”
The other birds fly away, not interested in becoming a part of this dispute.
“Nasty dragon,” she humphs and retreats toward the sliding door that roars.
“I’m sorry,” I call after her. “I am a selfish and territorial dragon.” For once I know that my pride is not as important as my belly. If she demands humility and apologies, then I must give them, or starve.
I perch on the wooden railing of her deck and duck my head. Then I hear the hum of other wings coming to check out the replenished feeder. I resist the urge to chase away the intruders. If I had any hope of surviving this witch’s tortures I have to appear humble. Tomorrow I will chase away all other creatures.
“Oh, all right. I can’t make you a dragon again, but I can provide for you. Look what I bought you.” She hauls out of her dwelling a big pot filled with drooping red and purple flowers.
“You love me,” I flap my wings until they hum a contented tune. My beak finds an open flower and I sip long and hard. I feel my chest swelling with emotions I’m not used to feeling.
I flit to another blossom and drink again. My wings have to strain to keep me aloft. I need more food. A third, fourth, and fifth flower strengthen my wings.
But the pollen is beginning to taste strange, no longer sweet, not yet as sharp as blood.
“Oh, you silly bird, the fuchsia is turning you back into a dragon, a beautiful red jewel of a pocket dragon.”
I look at my reflection in the glass door. I am indeed a fierce dragon with a wide snout, sinuous neck, single wings, long barbed tail. And my scales, real scales, not feathers. My scales glow with the inner light of true rubies basking in the fading sun.
“I am a dragon again!” I suspect that the drop of her blood I sipped brought me back, not the flower pollen.
“But you are still barely bigger than my hand, so watch yourself. No more flaming my garden.”
“But I can drink the blood of mice and squirrels and other creatures that steal food from your garden, and I get to eat any corn I can harvest, if I don’t touch the rest of the food you grow?”
I spit a tendril of flame and caress her cheek with the tip of my barbed wing. Then I lick a drop of blood from her cheek.
A dragon I will always be!