RABBITHEAD - a free dragon story for children, one of an ebook anthology: only from Megamouse Books
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RABBITHEAD

by Emma Laybourn

Everybody knows what a dragon looks like. A dragon is cold, bold and magnificent. Its scaly armour gleams like bronze. Its cruel eyes glow like embers.

It may have leathery wings and steely claws. It is permitted to have horns.

What a dragon should certainly not have is a pair of long, soft, floppy ears with a tendency to fall over its eyes.

Rabbithead had been made aware of this for as long as he could remember. All his life he'd had these ears, and all his life he'd suffered the taunts of his brothers and sisters. They called him Rabbithead right from the start.

It wasn't just his brothers and sisters. When Rabbithead grew old enough to frighten humans, they refused to be frightened. The first time he swooped, shrieking, across the fields, the farmers dropped their spades, gazed up in alarm - and then burst into laughter.

Rabbithead was utterly humiliated.

He gave up trying to terrify people. It simply wasn't possible with two long, floppy ears bouncing against his cheeks. The other dragons jeered and sneered relentlessly.

Rabbithead looks sadly in the mirror at his long, soft ears

Eventually Rabbithead grew so wretched that he could bear it no longer. He had to do something about his ears. He needed help.

First he sought out the most famous wizards in the land. After one look at the ears, they sniggered and sent him packing.

Next he visited the most renowned witches, who weren't much better. The nicest of them offered him a cup of toad soup - but even she could not restrain a smile.

'Just learn to live with them, dearie,' she advised. 'At least you'll give everyone a good laugh.'

'I don't want to give anyone a good laugh!' wailed Rabbithead. He stalked out to find another witch.

But by now, he had asked them all. There was no-one left.

As he flew despondently home over the forest, he spotted a small cabin in a clearing in the trees.

Rabbithead flew lower. There was a sign by the door:

CLEMENTINA NIGHTSHADE
APPRENTICE WITCH

He eyed the cabin with suspicion. It wasn't the usual witch's hovel. No bats hung from its eaves: no crows perched on the chimneys. It was very neat and new, with check curtains in the windows and a big tub of pink geraniums by the door.

Rabbithead knocked doubtfully. The door was opened by a girl with plaited hair and freckles. She was wearing a frilly apron.

'Yes?' she said briskly.

'Are you the witch?' he asked, even more doubtfully.

'Clementina Nightshade. That's me.'

'You don't look much like a witch.'

'You don't look much like a dragon. What do you want?'

'I want people to think I'm fierce and horrible,' said Rabbithead desolately. 'I am, really, but they just look at the ears and laugh.'

'I'm not surprised,' said Clementina Nightshade. 'You'd better come in.'

'I won't fit.'

'Just put your head in. That's the important bit.'

Rabbithead lay down and eased his head through the door. His ears flopped onto the rug.

It was unnaturally clean, for a witch's house. No dangling cobwebs, no shadowy corners, no dusty shelves where unspeakable bits of things lurked in jars. The cauldron in the corner held a mop and an umbrella.

'Aren't you rather young for a witch?' he asked.

'I'm an apprentice. I've only just started.'

'Then I don't suppose you'll be any help.'

'We'll see.' She stroked his ears carefully. 'Aren't they lovely? So soft and silky.'

'I don't want lovely ears! I'm a dragon!' howled Rabbithead. 'Make them disappear!'

'If I do that, you won't be able to hear. But I could swap them for something smaller. Wait there while I fetch my book of spells.'

The sight of Clementina's book of spells reassured Rabbithead greatly. It was heavy and mildewed, with crackling pages. The ink was brown with age.

She blew the dust off it. 'This book's in a terrible state,' she said severely. 'I bought it off a retiring wizard. Quite disgusting. And the spells are most unhygienic. Eye of newt and tongue of frog. Imagine!'

'Don't you need those to make the spells work?'

'I like frogs,' she said indignantly. Rabbithead hoped that the spell he needed would not require any pieces of frog.

'Here we are!' said Clementina. 'How about having a mouse's ears? They'd be small enough not to show.'

Rabbithead agreed, and waited excitedly while she recited the spell.

He felt a tingling in his scalp. When he shook his head, he could no longer glimpse his flopping ears.

'Has it worked?' he asked eagerly.

Clementina was staring at him. 'Well, sort of,' she said uncertainly. 'They seem to have been made for a rather large mouse.'

Rabbithead began to twist around. 'Where's a mirror? I want to see!'

'No, no! I don't think that's a good idea...' Hastily Clementina flipped through the pages. 'What about a bat's ears instead? At least they'll be black and not pink.'

Again his scalp tingled as she recited the spell; then her voice suddenly changed. It sounded as deep as thunder.

'What's happened?' he cried, his voice booming out unnaturally. He could hear every scrape of his scales on the floor magnified a hundred times. The ticking of the clock was like a volley of firecrackers.

'My ears hurt!' he roared, deafening himself.

'Bats have very sensitive hearing,' rumbled Clementina.

The dragon clapped his claws to his head in agony.

'Change them! Change them into anything - now!'

'All right, all right!'

As she gabbled another spell, the dragon felt a great weight on his head.

'What have you done?' he cried.

Clementina began to giggle. 'It was the first spell that came to hand. Elephant ears. Now they really suit you!'

Rabbithead rolled his eyes back and glimpsed two enormous, grey, wrinkled flags waving over his head.

At this, he became very angry. He was a dragon, and not to be made fun of.

'Take them away!' he snarled. 'Or I'll sizzle you up like a forgotten sausage!'

'I'm doing my best here,' protested Clementina.

'Give me back my ears!'

She shrugged. 'Suit yourself.'

Immediately Rabbithead felt his old familiar ears flop over his head again.

'Thank you for nothing,' he snapped, and began to back out of the door. 'Goodbye and good riddance!'

But Clementina was leafing through her book. 'We need to try a different approach,' she said.

He paused in the doorway. 'What do you mean?'

'It's not the ears that are the problem. They're very fine ears. It's people's attitudes to them that we need to change. People are so prejudiced.'

'What?'

'Keep still,' commanded Clementina, and she launched into a long and complicated spell.

When she had finished, Rabbithead shook his head experimentally. His ears were still there, flapping against his cheeks.

'What did you do?' he asked suspiciously.

'Here's a clue. The other dragons hate you because you're different to them. Can you guess yet? No? Go home and see.'

* * * * *

So Rabbithead flew off homeward, and very soon he saw. It became obvious with the first dragon he set eyes on.

This dragon was a stranger. It perched in a tree, hunched and miserable. It had two long, soft ears like a lop-eared rabbit's, and glanced up at Rabbithead without surprise.

'You too?' it said mournfully.

Rabbithead sped on without answering. Near home he saw a crowd of dragons reeling through the sky, long, floppy ears trailing in the wind. They were hissing like a swarm of angry bees.

'We look like idiots!' they snarled. 'We've been cursed! Just wait till we catch the joker who did this...'

One of them turned and saw Rabbithead. It was his sister.

'There he is!' she screeched. 'He's got to be the one behind this! He's trying to make fools of us all. Get him!'

The dragons banked in a seething, smoking squadron and swooped on Rabbithead.

He turned and fled. A dozen irate dragons pursued him. Their flames scorched his tail and singed his wings. He had never flown so fast in his life.

As he reached Clementina's clearing, he crashed through the trees and landed in a crumpled heap next to her cabin.

'Change them back!' he panted to the startled witch. 'Change them back!'

The dragons roared. Treetops burst into flame. Clementina took one look at them and started shouting a frantic spell at the sky.

The furious screams of the dragons suddenly faded into surprised grunts. Rabbithead peered out cautiously and saw a line of dragons, now earless, gliding away over the charred trees.

He laid his head upon his paws and closed his eyes, exhausted.

'Well, it was worth a try,' said Clementina's voice.

'No, it wasn't. They wanted to kill me. You should have thought of that.'

'I can't think of everything!'

Rabbithead raised his head. 'Why not?' he roared. 'You're a witch, aren't you? Why can't you get it right?'

'I will, next time.'

'There won't be a next time!'

'But I've had another idea! And this time it's foolproof. Well, interesting, anyway.'

Rabbithead glared at her. 'Interesting?'

'Foolproof,' amended Clementina. 'If this spell doesn't work, I'll eat my hat.'

'If it doesn't work,' growled Rabbithead, 'I'll eat you.'

* * * * *

Clementina refused to say what the latest spell would do.

'It's all to do with changing people's attitudes,' she said.

'I thought you'd just tried that?'

'Not this way. This way will work. Don't look so worried!'

However, as Rabbithead took flight, he felt sick at heart. He had no faith in Clementina. And after their last meeting, he couldn't face other dragons right now.

So he flew to a lonely perch in the hills, where only eagles circled, and he could be sorry for himself in peace. There he brooded on the unfairness of fate and the unreliability of witches.

Nearby, an eagle dived to make its kill. Rabbithead watched it moodily as it plummeted down, talons unfolding to grab its prey.

There was a flash of fur, a puff of smoke, a scream - and then the eagle was beating its way back into the sky as fast as it could, leaving several feathers behind.

'What's the matter?' called Rabbithead. Although he could barely hear the distant eagle's answer, it sounded oddly like:

'Rabbit!'

Rabbithead pondered this, and then flew down to investigate. As he landed on the grass, a brown, furry head popped out of a hole and wiggled its nose. Seconds later, rabbits popped out of holes everywhere and began to lollop towards him.

Then, launching themselves at Rabbithead, they sank tiny, vicious teeth into his legs. Some scrambled onto his back and bit his shoulders: others snapped ferociously at his wings.

'Get off!' cried Rabbithead. Their teeth could not pierce his hide in many places, but where it did, it was very painful. Little puffs of smoke and flame came from their noses. He tried to run from them, and took flight with a couple of determined rabbits still clinging to his tail.

He shook them off and flew over the fields. Abruptly, he braked in mid-air.

Down below, humans were harvesting. At least, they were flailing with scythes and sickles; but they weren't cutting wheat.

They were fighting off hordes of rabbits that leapt at them with tiny teeth bared. Miniature puffs of flame shot out of the rabbits' mouths and singed the farmers' trousers.

'Interesting,' said Rabbithead. He flew on to the village.

Rabbits were running riot in the streets. The villagers were fighting them off, but there were more rabbits than they could cope with, clawing at their hands, ripping their clothes and scorching their boots.

The dragon landed on the village green in the middle of a fluffy sea of wild, rampaging rabbits. At once they turned all their attention to him.

'Who are you?' they squealed viciously in a thousand puny voices. 'What's your game?'

'Game?'

'What do you think you look like? Call yourself a rabbit, with scales like that?' sneered the rabbits.

'Actually,' said Rabbithead, 'I call myself a dragon.'

And he took a deep and careful breath and blasted the entire village green, and its furry contents, with a sheet of fire.

'Roast rabbit for your tea,' said Rabbithead to the open-mouthed villagers. For once, nobody laughed. They all shivered in a very satisfying way.

He took off again and left them to their feast of rabbit. He had a score to settle.

When he arrived at the clearing in the woods he saw Clementina outside her cabin with a paintbrush in her hand. She was repainting her sign.

Rabbithead landed in front of her with a snap and a snarl.

'A foolproof plan, eh? I've come to eat you up!'

'Oh, please don't,' begged Clementina. 'I've already eaten my hat. Anyway, I've given up being a witch: it's far too dangerous. I nearly got scalped by a dozen darling little bunnies.'

'Good!'

'I've just magicked them all back to normal, but that's the last spell I shall ever do. I've decided on a change of career.'

She pointed at the sign.

CLEMENTINA SAWBONES
APPRENTICE SURGEON

Rabbithead shuddered. 'Remind me not to get ill. What will happen to your ancient spell book?'

'I'm about to throw it out,' she said. 'But you can have it, if you promise not to eat me.'

He considered this, and nodded. 'It's a deal. What did the hat taste like?'

Clementina wiped her paintbrush carefully. 'Delicious, thanks. I turned it into a treacle pudding first.'

* * * * *

Rabbithead took the ancient spell book home and studied it carefully. That was how he became the first dragon wizard.

Since he was not at all squeamish about frogs or newts, he found the book more useful than Clementina ever had, and soon acquired a good range of spells which he tried out on his family until they promised to be more polite.

As his fame grew, dragons came from far and wide to consult him. He was called Rabbithead no longer, but was respectfully addressed as O Master.

Those meeting him for the first time assumed his unusual appearance was simply a sign of the Master's special powers. If they dared to comment on his ears, they were likely to find themselves immediately transformed into a halibut.

And needless to say, no-one ever laughed at Rabbithead again.

THE END

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Copyright © 2012 Emma Laybourn

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