Today is the big unveiling for my friend Carlie Cullen, as she prepares to launch her new book, Heart Search. The surprise is waiting for you over on her blog: Carlie M.A. Cullen! Make that little side trip and see what is up!
One creature which lurks in one form or another in all of my fantasy worlds is the dragon. In ‘The Last Good Knight’, Lackland and Lady Mags rout a dragon, and it is Lady Mags whose ability to get the job done is what finally takes care of beast. A few chapters later, a firedrake is introduced into the tale.
Both creatures are different species of the same sort of beast. The first dragon is what Lackland considers to be a ‘true dragon’. The king’s messenger, knowing Billy Nine-fingers would refuse the job if he were told it was a dragon, has misrepresented the beast, so Lackland and Lady Mags have been sent to do the job. The masterminer, Colin, tells Lackland, “I’ve never seen anything like this beast, but it’s every bit as most bards describe them: wings, large head, hundreds of teeth, long neck and tail, and as big as a house. I’m sure you will agree that it is a dragon.” Lackland is nonplussed – he tells Colin, “Well, this could take a while then.” He explains, “We just don’t usually deal with dragons, because the standard method is to keep throwing men at it, keeping it busy while other men hack away at it. You usually lose five or six before the damned things grow tired enough you can swarm and kill them. Mercenary companies are not able to support those kinds of losses.”
Now, in order to know what Mags and Lackland were dealing with, I had to ‘build’ my dragon. I thought “What does he look like, beyond the miner’s general description?” I sat on my back porch and contemplated dragons, idly watching the Steller’s Jays that live in our neighborhood as I often do. As I watched them, I suddenly knew how my dragon behaved. Let us assume for a moment that the current theory that dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds is correct. Let us also assume the theory that dragons are patterned on the fossils of dinosaurs is also correct. I decided that if those two theories are correct, birds, dinosaurs and dragons must share certain characteristics. Therefore, my dragon is very much like a large, carnivorous bird in his behavior, and is like a large, flying dinosaur in his appearance.
But what about the traditional ‘fire-breathing dragon’ of legend and fairy tales?
Later in the book, Lackland, Huw, Slippery Jack, Beau and Culyn are returning from a job in the far south when they come across the tracks of a firedrake. Against Huw’s and Slippery Jack’s wishes, Lackland and Beau insist on stopping to kill it, since it is nesting near the main road and feeding on travelers, as is evidenced by an overturned wagon and the bones of a dead horse. Lackland described firedrakes as being, “… smaller, quicker and stupider. They have a second breath that is a weapon, and they are a wee bit temperamental. They don’t fly, but they can run faster than a horse, and they have those strange little arms with the claws at the ends. Something about their breath catches fire when they breathe it at you.”
The best part about writing fantasy is the freedom I have in creating my creatures, and finding logical ways for my characters to either battle them, or find ways to live around them. When I sit down to describe a mythical creature, I always wonder, what would it REALLY be like? Underneath the brightly colored scales or feathers, what sort of bone structure supports my dragon?
For a dragon to fly, the skeleton must be as lightweight as a bird’s skeleton. They must be warm-blooded, as birds are, because flight is an energy intensive exercise – and birds have an amazing respiratory system: a bird’s lungs receive a constant supply of fresh air during both inhalation and exhalation.
So how does a firedrake breathe fire? First, I took away the ability of the dragon to fly, because I see the firedrake as a very distant relative of the ‘true dragon’; as far distant on the evolutionary tree as Sasquatches are from Bonobos. Instead of the refined respiratory system, the firedrake has evolved a second stomach which produces a flammable concentration of gasses which it uses as a weapon.
In Waldeyn, dragons are not wise or devious – they are simply creatures of the mountains. They are as intelligent as birds are and are just as quick to learn. Their distant cousins, the firedrakes are more like chickens in that they are not smart, operating on reflex actions, cumpulsively repeating certain behaviors even when the situation requires a different approach.
I loved building my dragons, and I have many different variations on this model, waiting in the wings, so to speak. I haven’t followed the fantasy stylistic wings which may look beautiful on paper, but would never support a large creature. Instead I think of the shape of eagles wings, and my dragons soar.
My firedrakes are the chihuahua’s of the dragon species. They’re smaller and don’t fly, but they can run faster than the fleetest deer. They are frightening, difficult to fight, and deadly. Nonetheless, they are wonderful creatures.
“They are growing rarer with each year that passes,” agreed Beau. “Someday, there won’t be any firedrakes, or waterdemons. I suppose even dragons will be gone. I think the world will be a less wonderful place when that happens.”
This is the way I built MY dragons – how you build yours will be up to you!