Lumpy the Dragon and the Whales

Remember how Lumpy and the boy rescued a princess, and as a result the boy married the Princess and became a Prince? This arrangement suited the Prince admirably — he loved his wife the Princess, and he never had a dull moment as he learned everything needed to help rule the country after the old King and Queen retired. (In this country, Kings and Queens worked together as a team to rule well, and when they got old and tired, they handed the crown off in a happy coronation ceremony. They they hung around and gave unwanted advice to the new King and Queen until they died.)

At first, this life suited Lumpy quite well, too. He had his own special building on the palace grounds, which were extensive and stretched all the way to a lovely beach; servants brought him whatever food he wanted, and in this part of the world, that included amazing fruits like coconuts and mangoes and pineapples, as well as fish and nuts of varieties even Lumpy had never encountered before.

Then, too, Lumpy greatly enjoyed the wide, white, sandy beaches and the warm, gently-lapping waves of the ocean. Every day when it started getting uncomfortably hot in his house, Lumpy would mosey on down to the Royal Family’s private beach, which abutted the palace’s gardens, and lounge in the sparkling blue water while small fish nibbled at his scales. When they had time, the Prince and Princess joined Lumpy in the water, swimming and diving, finding fish of astonishing varieties of shapes and colors.

These halcyon hours passed all too swiftly, in Lumpy’s estimation, as the Prince became increasingly absent from Lumpy’s daily routine. The boy who had once spent hours mastering woodcraft under Lumpy’s expert tutelage now had much bigger fish to fry: Alongside the Princess, he would co-rule the country one day. He had a tremendous amount to learn about politics, laws, taxes, and all sorts of dull ruler-type activities. Plus, as the future King, he would be in charge of the army, so he also had to master weapons and how to run an army and how to win a war.

In short, the boy–the Prince, I should say–had quite a lot on his plate after marrying the Princess. As time went by, he visited Lumpy less and less, until a week went by without a single visit. Then a month, and then two months.

As noted, Lumpy wasn’t stupid. It didn’t take him long to smell which way the wind was blowing. The next time the boy visited, they talked as they walked down to the beach together.

The Prince said, “I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you lately. There is so much to learn as a prince!”

Lumpy rumbled the dragon equivalent of “mmm-hmmm.”

The Prince continued: “I didn’t realize what I was signing up for when I married the princess. She’s worth it, but boy, it’s a lot of work.”

“Mmmm-hmmm.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to visit you much for a while, until I get on top of everything. I’m really sorry.” And the Prince really was sorry. He loved Lumpy, and didn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings. But the Prince wasn’t old enough yet to value Lumpy’s centuries of wisdom, so instead of seeking the dragon’s advice, he simply apologized. It was a good start, and Lumpy understood that, too.

“You certainly have a great deal to learn,” Lumpy acknowledged. The Prince opened his mouth to say something, but Lumpy forestalled him. “I do not want to distract you from your learning, so I am going on an adventure by myself. I will come back in a while, after you have completed your training.”

The Prince stopped in his tracks. His jaw and heart dropped. “You’re — leaving?” He had never imagined life without his best and oldest friend.

“Not forever,” Lump assured him calmly, “Just so you can focus on learning to become a prince. I will return. Don’t worry.”

They resumed walking down to the water, the Prince silent and pensive.

Lumpy left the next day.

The Princess gave him a big hug and a kiss on his scaly nose; the Prince, surreptitiously wiping his eyes, hugged his old friend tightly. Then he stepped back and, summoning his Princely training, said, “I wish you a safe journey. Return to us soon.” He only ruined it a little by sniffling a bit at the end.

To the Prince and Princess’s surprise, instead of leaping into the air, Lumpy headed for the water. He waded in, slowly vanishing beneath the white wave tips with one last flick of his tail.

Although the Prince had never thought of it, Lumpy found the water fascinating. In his forests, he had certainly encountered plenty of rivers and even lakes large enough to swim in. However, the oceans called to him. Perhaps dragons originally came from some kind of eel, or perhaps Lumpy just liked water; but either way, he found he loved swimming almost as much as flying.

Swimming with the Prince and Princess, Lumpy had heard some strange sounds underwater, sounds unlike anything he’d heard before in all his many years of living. It was a carrying sound that he could tell traveled through water better than air, and it seemed to emanate from animals far off the coast. Many different animals of the same type made the noise, apparently for communicating with one another.

For his adventure, Lumpy had determined to find the creatures making this sound and learn about them.

The first part of this adventure took almost no time at all. He found the pod of whales (it was whale song he heard) near the continental shelf as they browsed on the abundance of sea creatures that populated the area. The whales were huge and a dark-gray color, with the adults fully as large as Lumpy; they swam along with their mouths open, using what looked to Lumpy like some kind of strange teeth (people call it baleen) to strain something tiny and swimmy from the water. Smaller juvenile whales swam around the adults, some with their mouths open, others not.

“Hello!” Lumpy called through the water, emitting little more than a huge stream of bubbles.

As soon as the whales noticed him, the biggest adults circled up the babies and faced out, looking aggressively at Lumpy. Lots of the noises emitted all around, nearly deafening Lumpy. “Ouch!” he bellowed, and popped his head out of the water. Immediately the sounds ceased.

Lumpy put his head back under the water and tried making some of the sounds back at the whales, keeping his mouth closed and making the noise deep in his throat. The whales’ postures seemed to relax and they almost seemed to find his attempts humorous somehow.

I won’t go into all the details of how Lumpy learned the whales’ language; he did, and that’s what’s important. It took a long time, but once they learned he intended no harm, the whales accepted Lumpy into their pod as a very strange whale.

During his time with the whales, in addition to learning their language, Lumpy learned all about their habits and culture. A matriarchal society, females of all generations helped raise the young, who were exceptionally precious to the entire pod. The entire focus of the pod centered around rearing young and passing generational wisdom on to them. The males were smaller than females and generally traveled farther afield, visiting their offspring and mate occasionally with news of the wide world.

Lumpy learned that, over the course of the year, the gray whales migrated very long distances. In the summer, when it was warm up north, the whales swam up to far northern waters, where their favorite food, little shrimpy-like things called krill, grew in great abundance. In the winter, when the water started getting too cold for them, the whales swam back south to the tropical waters where Lumpy had met them. This cycle took a whole year, as the whales swam steadily along.

As part of getting to know the whales, Lumpy migrated with the pod all the way to their far northern feeding grounds, where he saw nights when the sun never set. He saw tremendously huge mountains covered with snow even in the warmest summer days. He saw astonishing animals of all varieties that he had never imagined before. He ate delicious salmon and enjoyed exploring territory far from where he had ever flown before. Occasionally he would leave the whales and fly around, exploring, and on some of these excursions he saw smoke from fires far away, so he knew people lived there. But he kept a good distance, never letting them see him.

One day, the matriarch whale called the entire pod together. “It is time to head south,” she told the pod, and all the other whales agreed. They had all felt the water cooling and seen the days growing shorter. Seals and other sea mammals had started changing their coats, and Lumpy reported seeing frost on some mornings. It was time to head back south before the seas became too stormy and the water too cold.

They swam for many days together enjoying the warming water and renewed abundance of food. Lumpy started thinking about returning to see how the Prince progressed with his studies.

Then, one day, something changed. When the whales surfaced, the seas rolled angrily. Whitecaps formed and the wind blew harder than it had in many months. A sense of pressure oppressed the entire pod, including Lumpy. “What is it?” Lumpy asked.

“It’s going to be a big storm,” the matriarch explained.

“Is it dangerous?” Lumpy asked, rather anxiously. He had flown through huge storms before (not by choice) and didn’t relish the prospect of enduring another one.

“Not for us,” the matriarch answered; “We take extra-big breaths and dive deep, only coming up occasionally. Under the water it’s quite safe. But this is another reason we migrate: We, too, prefer to avoid these big storms. There is some risk, especially for the young, when coming to the surface in these conditions.”

This somewhat reassured Lumpy. He could hold his breath as long as any of the whales, for many minutes at a time. The young whales had to surface more frequently, and he noticed that the females drew closer together, at times rising up beneath the young whales and supporting them from below as they fought to surface for a breath. None of the whales ever seemed in danger, however, because they all looked out for each other so carefully.

Soon the wind howled and whipped wildly, throwing spray everywhere and lashing the waves into a frenzy. The sky was black and the sea was black with whitecaps foaming at the peaks of mountainous waves that crashed down into enormous troughs. When the whales surfaced, they didn’t dally; they took their deep breath and dove again. Lumpy followed suit with a renewed appreciation for the protection of the deep water after the fury of the storm above.

“Mother,” he asked as they dove (this was the polite term for the matriarch of the pod), “is this storm normal? I have lived many years and never seen such a thing.”

“Nor have I, and I have completed more than 80 migrations. Look to the young. We must watch them carefully, for there is more danger here than I anticipated.” They drew near the younger whales and swam on.

Next time they surfaced, Lumpy glanced around quickly. Unlike the whales, who didn’t lift their eyes out of the water, Lumpy had to take his entire head out of the water to get a good breath. This time, in the midst of the storm’s blackness, Lumpy thought he caught a flash of light. It was just a glimpse, a bright burst that slid behind the next enormous wave.

“Did you see that?” Lumpy asked, ducking beneath the water again.

“Do not tarry,” the matriarch scolded, “We dive now.”

“I think I saw something,” Lumpy insisted. “It might have been a boat.”

“We do not concern ourselves with boats,” the matriarch replied. “They use sharp harpoons to kill us if we approach. We have learned through great pain to stay far from the boats and their cruel human crew.”

Still, despite the matriarch’s injunction, the next time they surfaced, Lumpy rose up higher from the water, fighting the wind and waves to look around again. He immediately spotted the boat, not even that far from the pod.

It was a small sailboat, perhaps some kind of fishing boat caught in the fury of the storm. It raced down once side of the waves and up the next wall of water, cresting the wave to crash down the next side. Clearly the little ketch couldn’t last much longer; the masts were gone, as was pretty much anything that might have once been on the deck. The wheel spun wildly. Now only some jagged railing and stumps of the mast remained. Just as the small craft disappeared from sight, Lumpy caught a glimpse of a person struggling along the deck towards an unmanned tiller.

“There is a boat!” Lumpy called to the whales. “At least one person is aboard. We must help!”

“Certainly not! We dive now!” the matriarch snapped, sounding alarmingly authoritative for a moment. She rarely laid down the law, but when she did, no wise whale disobeyed.

But Lumpy was not a whale, and his closest companion for the last couple decades had been a person. “I cannot allow the sailors to die!” he called back. “You go; I will assist the sailors.”

“Foolishness!” came the echoing call as the whales disappeared into the deep.

Lumpy turned away from them back to the seething, frothing chaos of the storm. He took a bearing on the small craft, still miraculously afloat. It was difficult seeing through the spray and water flying everywhere, but Lumpy’s keen senses served him well again. Even over the howling of the waves, he could make out the faint cries of at least two sailors, and he followed the sound toward them, swimming and surfacing periodically to orient himself.

In a few minutes, Lumpy had reached the boat. But in those few minutes, waves had finally finished their brutal work, smashing the ship to splinters just as Lumpy arrived. Two people were thrown into the sea, clinging desperately to wooden debris as the ship shattered in all directions. In a flash, Lumpy lunged forward and, just as they began to sink, snatched the sailors from the watery depths. The sailors, seeing a sea serpent charging toward them through the spray, promptly fainted from terror.

Fighting the wind and waves became much harder now. Lumpy had to keep his entire upper body above the water so that his unconscious passengers could keep breathing. He tried rolling onto his back, but found this battered his passengers too much as he couldn’t see what was coming next.

There was nothing for it but to try to fly out. Flying from a watery start is difficult even under ideal conditions, which perfectly described the northern summer weather in which Lumpy had practiced originally. Now, carrying two people, with the elements fighting him every inch, his even spreading his wings against the gale proved nearly impossible.

Valiantly, Lumpy strove to hurl himself from the waves, using momentum from the crest to throw himself into the air, spreading his wings wide — Only to be smashed back into the rock-hard water, shattering his right wing with the impact. The pain was beyond anything Lumpy could have imagined. It blazed. He thought wing had been sheared off or had caught fire. Yet still Lumpy fought to keep his poor unconscious people above the water, riding the waves, striving now only to stay above the water.

With his wing dragging behind, a dead weight acting as a sea anchor, it didn’t take long for Lumpy’s strength to wane. He could no longer keep the sailors above water all the time, and he himself began fully submerging for long moments before he could struggle back to the surface.

Just as he finally gave up and began to sink for good; just as he was about to release the unconscious people with a hope that they might survive; just as the storm defeated him, Lumpy felt something smooth and solid pushing him toward the surface. Lumpy gasped and choked, rolling onto his back and gently curling the people onto his chest, looking for all the world like a very strange giant otter with its treasure.

“Foolish dragon,” the matriarch whale called to him as she and the rest of the pod firmly and strongly lifted him and the two sailors to the surface.

“My thanks,” Lumpy rumbled, “You have surely saved our lives. And saving the life of a dragon is no small thing.”

“We save the life of our pod-mate,” the matriarch replied. “We care for our own, however foolish they may be, that they might learn greater wisdom in the future.”

The whales held Lumpy and the sailors at the surface while they all rode out the remainder of the storm. It didn’t last much longer. As the weather moderated, the whales guided Lumpy to a small fishing village on the shore. He crept ashore, wing painfully dragging behind, and deposited the men near a battened-down cottage. The two sailors, still unconscious, coughed, but both breathed well.

When the men woke up, the people of the village didn’t credit their story that a sea serpent had rescued them when their ship broke up. From that day on, those men gave up the sea and became farmers well inland. And when they told their kids and grandkids about their wild rescue at sea, nobody believed them then, either.

Meanwhile, Lumpy dragged his injured self back to the sea. The whales had experience treating broken fins, and helped and advised Lumpy at the treatment of his wing. Fortunately, dragons heal quickly and typically recover fully from their injuries (which is part of what makes them so irritating for knights); in this, Lumpy proved no exception. He healed well under the care of the whales, and soon resumed flying again, although it took some time to rebuild the strength and dexterity lost during his convalescence.

With his injured wing, Lumpy remained with the whales for several more migrations. In fact, he lost track of time and stayed away for longer than he realized. He did return to the Prince and Princess in time, but that’s a story for another day. And that is how Lumpy the dragon met the whales and saved the sailors.

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