“I’ve seen the inside of a dragon. It’s like staring into the gates of hell.”

“You? No way, grandfather!” The kids expressed doubt, but they leaned in closer, ready to accept everything Nadren said as certain truth. They always did, and this he knew.

“I did,” Nadren said, his voice solemn. The way his wrinkles curved showed that these were unhappy memories. “I stood close enough to tell you what the creature was thinking.”

“And what was that?” asked six-year-old Mona. She was old enough to ask questions but too young to know the best time when. Nadren liked this about her.

“There isn’t much meat to this man, but he’ll do,” Nadren said.

“You can’t know that,” said Luc, Mona’s slightly older brother.

“I can. Dragons weren’t uncommon in those days. They regularly showed up along the edge of town to see which people wandered off farther than others. You knew which ones did by the wails of their loved ones. Your Great Grandmother forbade me from getting a job tending the fields, so as to never give her soul reason to ache so.

“Then how did you meet the dragon?” Mona asked.

“You’re too young to understand.”

“No I’m not!”

“What about me?” Luc asked.

“You tell me. I was out there because of a girl.”

“A girl!?”

Nadren smiled. He was happy Luc was still so young.

“Yes. I had my eyes on a girl back then. We had each lived thirteen years, which meant I was too young for her. Excuse me, too old. I was young, but not young enough.”

“What do you mean?” Luc asked.

“Women partner with younger men. Even if there is only a year or two difference, it gives them stronger children. Just look at yourselves!”

Luc flexed a muscle and studied his arm for signs of strength.

“So we had to meet in secret, she and I,” Nadren continued, not mentioning what he and his lover did during those meetings. “There were too many eyes about in town, so we found a clearing in the forest. We felt safe there. Dragons are too hot to go near trees. The heat from their scales is enough to set the bark ablaze.

“But there was still plenty of field between the town and the treeline, and that was where the dragon got me.”

The children were silent now, completely immersed in their grandfather’s words. It was no surprise. People four, five, six times their age were taken away by Nadren’s tales.

“People talk of slaying dragons, but I knew there was no such thing. It has never been proven that a dragon can be killed.

“But I was unarmed, even if they could be. All I had were buckets of oil. As you know, the gears in the clock tower need oil to keep turning. I carried two buckets so that if I ever ran into anyone who questioned where I was going, I could tell them I had picked up the oil and made a wrong turn heading back.

“Dragons can’t turn their eyes much, so the have to look by moving their heads. This one’s neck was perfectly still. It caught me in the open. Cooking me would come with no difficulty. So right away it opened its mouth, and I could see the orange and blue glow from the base of its throat.”

Mona was holding on to Luc’s arm as this point. Luc, like young Nadren, wasn’t feeling particularly strong.

Nadren waited until ether one was brave enough to ask what happened next.

“I turned and ran! But as I did, I tossed aside my buckets. That, it turns out, is the reason I’m alive. When the dragon spewed forth fire, it wasn’t expecting the inferno that resulted from colliding with the oil. I fell to the ground when I felt a flame clinging to my clothes. When I looked up, I saw the last thing I expected to see in my life—fear. You see, dragon’s interpret fire as power, and I had just produced more than it had. So it leapt in the air, let out a terrifying and terrified cry, then flew away.”

It was then that Mona loosened her grip on Luc’s arm. Then the two of them looked back at the giant fire burning behind them. In their young mines churned the beginning of understanding.

“And that is why you must attend so many of these burnings. The bigger the fire, the longer we can go without hearing a dragon’s wings.”

“Mother and Father said there are no more dragons,” Luc said.

“There won’t be, as long as our fire burns brighter than theirs. Some embers will fade, but I tell you this so that you make sure the fire never dies.”