The morning the Dragons came, the cat was in a questionable mood at best. That was understandable. When he was a kitten, and Mr. and Mrs. Dragon were still very young, Mr. Dragon pulled his tail. And Mrs. Dragon set him on fire. Simultaneously.
After all, he’d just fallen in the pig sty, and didn’t their own mother burn them clean, when they got dirty? In retrospect, even the cat could admit it was an honest mistake.
When his fur finally grew back, it had an iridescent sheen, like dragon smoke and wind. His tail—where a young Mr. Dragon had grasped it—was unchanged. Garden variety gray tabby.
Of course, the cat came out to greet the Dragons; that much was common courtesy. He and Mr. Dragon bowed to each other, and he even deigned to let Mrs. Dragon scratch his ears. He shook hands with each of the hatchlings, and commented on how big they were getting.
It was a compliment: none of them was any bigger than a baby goat. The hatchlings remembered their manners, and thanked him.
After that, the cat disappeared. He stalked off into the hydrangeas in the corner of the garden, and stayed there.
Mr. and Mrs. Dragon made themselves at home, and chatted with the hag on the veranda. The three of them—kept half an eye on the hatchlings—and drank cold tea and lemonade for more than an hour.
The hatchlings were bored. The green hatchling and the brown hatchling sat in the grass and made long chains of daisies, and answered the hag’s questions, when she thought of asking any, which wasn’t often. She wasn’t interested in children.
The red hatchling roamed the garden. He wandered past the roses, and the violets, and the little pond with the big goldfish. Then, he went to look for the cat. The cat moved fast—from the hydrangeas to the lilies, to the big evergreen at the end of the lot.
The red hatchling followed; boredom and mischief, and just a hint of excitement. He caught up, and tunneled under the spreading green branches.
Mr. Dragon looked away. The hag raised an eyebrow, and Mrs. Dragon forgot what she was saying, and turned to watch.
And then, they saw the cat emerge from under the burning fir tree. His back was still smoking, but he was only half-bald this time. From the waist down, his iridescent fur was unscathed.
Cats do not stoop to laughter, but the cat did smirk at Mr. Dragon. “Your kid’s smarter than you are,” he said. “Only took him two minutes to figure it out.”
The red hatchling crawled out from under the tree, and collapsed on the grass. He was out of breath, and the fact that he was panting for air did nothing to hide the shock on his face.
“You didn’t tell me he was enchanted.”
Mr. and Mrs. Dragon glanced at each other. “Of course, we didn’t,” Mr. Dragon said.
“If we told you, you wouldn’t have learned anything,” Mrs. Dragon said. “But, yes. Mr. Whiskers is enchanted. People, themselves, feel whatever pain they inflict on him.”
The cat licked his bare paw, and did not stoop to laugh.
“It hurts,” the red hatchling said. He trembled, with pain and humiliation. Without the enchantment, he would never have felt fire burn. As a dragon, he couldn’t.
The hag shrugged, as if the pain was nothing, but the brown hatchling looked worried. Mrs. Dragon took a jar out of her purse, and rubbed the salve on her son’s back.
“It doesn’t matter whether the cat’s enchanted, or not. It’s a cheap lesson,” Mr. Dragon said. He produced a gold coin from his bag, and gave it to the hag. Mrs. Dragon thanked her and the cat for everything they’d done. “In a few years, you’ll be as big as a house, and if you don’t learn to think and treat others as they want to be treated, they’ll come after you with spears.”
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