“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began. His voice came out as a squeak, so he cleared his throat and started over again. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he repeated, louder this time, “I am sorry to say that we have a slight problem with today’s performance. As it happens, Dramadia the dragon has…well, she’s escaped into the mountains.”
An angry murmur ran through the crowd. Sarah’s own face fell in dismay. Dax, however, didn’t look surprised at all. If anything, his nod of understanding meant that things now made a little more sense to him.
“Please, please, please,” said Noron the beast tamer, patting the air in front of him in a desperate attempt to calm everybody down. “We know the show must go on, so we have found a suitable replacement. She isn’t quite the same as the great black-scaled dragon, but she is a dragon nonetheless. And it’s without any further ado that I present to you all, Keeley, the dragon of the Northwood Caves!”
The crowd quieted a bit with the promise of at least some sort of dragon. Still, it seemed to do nothing to calm Noron. He fidgeted, took a deep breath, and smiled nervously. Finally, he walked to the cage and opened it. From inside, the snarl of the dragon could be heard.
The crowd gave an eager cheer. Sarah joined them. Then the dragon emerged from the shadows of the cave, and the cheers died down immediately.
To put it mildly, the dragon wasn’t what anyone in the crowd – except for Dax, of course – had been expecting. It was white and lizard-like, yes, and it had wings and a tail. But it was no more than six inches long from the tip of its snout to the end of its spiked tail. Its emerald-colored eyes seemed to be the largest part of its body. With a sound like a wounded hummingbird, the tiny dragon flitted out of the cage and came to perch on a nearby stool. It let out what Sarah thought was supposed to be a roar, but the noise really sounded more like the mewling of a kitten.
Sarah frowned in disappointment. The crowd shared her sentiments, but the other people in the audience didn’t keep their feelings to themselves like she did. While Noron tried to speak, the tent filled with boos and jeers.
“That’s no dragon, that’s a newt!”
“Some beast tamer! Do you train bumblebees, too?”
“I could find something more frightening back on my chicken farm!”
“Please, please don’t yell,” cried Noron, waving his hands in the air. “You’ll anger the dragon!”
“Oh, and what will it do then?” shouted someone behind Sarah. “Will it nibble our fingertips? Or maybe blow a smoke ring?”
As the laughter continued, Sarah began to feel genuinely sorry for the beast tamer and the tiny creature. She had hoped to see a real dragon, but there didn’t seem to be any reason to make fun of the small winged lizard just because it wasn’t big, dangerous, and breathing fire.
The tiny creature did seem to be spooked by all the noises. It flapped its wings nervously, and turned its head away from the jeering audience. Finally, its snout began to twitch, as though it were stifling a sneeze.
“Oh no,” said Dax. Grabbing Kay and Sarah by the arms, he pulled them out of their seats and pushed them to the ground. “Get down.”
No sooner had Dax spoken than a burst of flame erupted from the tiny creature’s mouth. It wasn’t the small smoke ring one of the hecklers had expected; it was a fireball almost as wide as a fully grown man. The burst of dragon’s fire shot over the crowd and hit the far end of the tent, where it immediately caught fire on the canvas. The crowd fell silent. The tiny white dragon looked as shocked as everyone else did.
For a moment, no one moved.
Then panic erupted in the arena. Everyone in the audience jumped up from their seats and ran for an exit. The stagehands dashed for buckets of water, and began dousing the spreading flames. All the while, Dax kept Sarah and Kay down. He didn’t let them up until the arena was almost entirely emptied out.
“We’re ruined!” cried out the ringmaster.
“I told you Keeley wasn’t ready,” said Noron, patting the small dragon on the head. The creature responded with a purring noise, and then flew on its short wings back to the iron cage, where it perched at the opening.
The ringmaster said nothing. He just put his head in his hands, and occasionally peered between his fingers at the damage that the now-extinguished fire had wrought upon the tent. Finally, he spoke again.
“We need to gather together an expedition. We’ll have to find some new beasts for the act.”
“More dragons?” asked Noron.
“No, not more dragons!” The ringmaster grew red in the face with his shouting. “I don’t ever want to see another dragon as long as I live! As far as I’m concerned, those creatures are nothing but nuisances!”
“Well…what do we do with Keeley, then?”
The ringmaster’s face grew dark. “Just…just get her out of my sight. I don’t care what you do with her, but I don’t want to see her again. If I had my druthers, I’d feed her to my cat!”
The tiny dragon gave a frightened squeal and retreated further into the cage.