Gather round young ones and I shall tell you the tale of the first dragons. Remember, long ago, long before you and I took our first breaths, the first dragons were already old. They had lived on this land since the sun caught fire when the first dragon breathed life into it. For four generations, they lived, hunted, and gathered in these mountains. Parents taught their young ones the ways of the land and how to control their flames for the betterment of all the beast of the woods, not just themselves.
But in those days, dragons had no wings and could not fly. They were land bound creatures, big and strong, and content to be so. Let the winged creatures fly free from the world and its care. Dragons were tasked by the sun to care for the world and had no time for such things.
That did not stop a young dragon named Feather from dreaming, though. Though born a dragon, she spent all her time wanting to be a bird. It was why all the other dragons called her Feather. Her head was always in the clouds and not on the ground where it ought to be.
One day, while out in the woods, she spied a group of humans perched on a branch cleaning their large, leathery wings. Oh how she envied them and their ability to fly and preform great magic. Maybe, just maybe, she thought she could talk them into talking her for a flight. Once was all she wanted.
She approached them slowly and carefully for humans are easily started and she didn’t want them to fly away. When they spotted her, they watched curiously.
“Hello humans,” she called. “It is a lovely day, wouldn’t you say?”
They humans looked to each other, then back to her. “What is it you want, dragon?” the leader asked.
Pleased they didn’t fly away, Feather smiled. “Oh humans, though I am a land bound dragon, I’ve always wished to fly. Please, could you take me for just one flight?”
Again, the humans looked to each other, but then they started laughing. “Silly girl, dragons do not fly. Only humans.”
One human hopped to the front of the group. “But for your boldness, I will tell you what. If you can answer our riddle, we will give you one flight.”
Delighted, Feather agreed.
The humans chuckled as the human asked, “Tell me who I am: I fly yet have no wings. I cry yet have no eyes. Darkness follows me, and a lower light I will never see.”
Feather thought and thought. Finally, after a long time, she found the answer. “A cloud. You are a cloud, for a cloud flies through the air with no wings. It rains down, weeping, though it has no eyes. When there are many, it grows dark, and it is too high for light to shine above it.”
The birds looked disappointed, but per their agreement, they gathered together and lifted her into the air.
Oh what a delight. Feather had never been happier than up there. For the first time in her life, she felt at peace. This was where she belonged. This was where all dragons belonged. That night, she thought long and hard how she might fly again and how she would share this great gift with all her people. Everyone had to know the joy of flight as she now did.
So the next morning, she traveled to the spot where she found the humans before. Just as the day before, they were there, cleaning and resting their wings.
“Hello humans,” she called again.
They did not look pleased to see her. “Shoo dragon. We gave you a free ride and there will be no more.”
“I haven’t come for a ride,” she replied. “I have come to trade.”
“Trade?” they asked, baffled. “What would a dragon have that a human could want?”
“A new riddle,” Feather replied. “I will teach you a new riddle if you give me and all the other dragons your wings.”
The humans were intrigued. It had been a while since they had a new riddle and dragons were not known for making riddles.
Some of the humans laughed, but after a few minutes, the one who had questioned her before, spoke up again. “Very well. Tell us your riddle, and if we can’t guess it, I will give you our wings. But, if we do guess it, and we will, you dragons will give us your strength.”
It was a hard bargain for what was a dragon without her strength, but Feather was determined. She had to give wings to all her people so they would know the joy of flight. “Agreed. Tell me, what am I: I can’t be seen nor felt nor heard nor smelt. I lie under hills and fill empty holes. I come first and follow after, ending life and killing laughter.”
The humans thought long and hard. They thought all day and all night. The chittered and chattered like birds, until finally one human stepped forward, a big smile on his face. “A very nice riddle, but I’m afraid we have you beat. You are air.”
The birds all grinned and patted each other on the wings.
Until they saw Feather shake her head. “No, I am no,” she said. “I am darkness, not the wind or air.”
The humans were shocked and horrified, yet they had no choice. Slowly, they all gave up their wings to the dragons.
And from then on, humans have been grounded and dragons have known the joy of the air. Humans have never forgotten their lost wings, though, and to this day, they hunt us for ours while trying to make new wings for themselves from wood and canvas.