Leon the dragon was sitting on the riverbank, dipping his toes in the water and sighing to himself, when he saw a little roly poly black mudge hop up beside him and lean over to take a drink.
“Hello, little mudge,” said Leon.
“Yikes!” said the mudge. “A dragon!” It turned around and starting hopping away as fast as it could.
“Wait!” said Leon. “I’m not going to hurt you! I’m a nice dragon.”
The mudge stopped hopping. “Are you sure?” it said.
“Very sure,” said Leon.
“But I hear dragons like to eat mudges like me for snacks!” said the mudge. It was so scared it was shivering.
“I have never eaten a mudge in my whole life,” said Leon, “and I don’t want to eat you. I promise.”
The mudge didn’t come any closer, but it didn’t keep hopping away, either.
Leon said, “I’m too sad to eat anything right now, anyways.”
“What are you sad about?” asked the mudge.
“It’s my first birthday tomorrow,” said Leon.
The mudge smiled. “That’s something to be happy about!”
“Not for me,” said Leon. “When dragons reach their first birthday, their family throws a big special party for them.”
“I love parties!” said the mudge. It hopped a tiny bit closer.
“I do, too,” said Leon, “but at a dragon’s first birthday party, they are supposed to show everyone what colour their fire breath is.”
“Fire breath!?” shouted the mudge. “Yikes!” It hopped a little bit further away.
“The problem is that I can’t breathe any fire yet!” said Leon. “I haven’t breathed fire even once.”
“I thought all dragons could breathe fire,” said the mudge.
“Well, not all dragons,” said Leon. “Some dragons breathe other things, like ice or fog or wind or mud, but all of the dragons in my town breathe different colours of fire.”
“So why can’t you?” asked the mudge. It hopped a little bit closer again.
“I don’t know,” said Leon. “That’s why I’m so sad. If I go to my party and everyone finds out that I can’t breathe fire, they will all laugh at me!”
“Have you practiced?” asked the mudge.
“Yes,” said Leon. “I’ve been practicing every day for months.”
“Why don’t you try for me?” said the mudge, and hopped all the way back to where Leon was so it could watch.
“Okay,” said Leon. “Here I go.”
Leon stood up straight and tall, put his shoulders back, stretched out his wings, squeezed his fists tight, took a deeeeeep breath, closed his eyes, and blew all of his breath out as hard as he could.
“See?” he said. “No fire.”
“Are you sure you’re doing it right?” asked the mudge.
“That’s exactly how my dad does it when he breathes fire,” said Leon.
“Are you swallowing a tickle in the back of your throat?”
“What do you mean?” asked Leon.
“Well, I am just a mudge,” said the mudge, “and we mudges can’t breathe fire, but we can breathe bubbles.” The mudge closed its eyes, wriggled its body, and blew three shiny little bubbles, which floated off on the wind. “When I breathe bubbles,” said the mudge, “I take a deep breath, and then I feel a little tickle at the back of my throat. If I swallow the tickle, then bubbles come out, but if I don’t swallow the tickle, all I get is air.”
Leon thought about this for a moment. He wasn’t sure if he had ever felt a tickle in his throat like that. “It’s worth a try,” he said, “but I sure hope I don’t start breathing bubbles! I’m a dragon, not a mudge.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a mudge,” said the mudge. “I like being a mudge!”
Leon said, “I guess I like mudges, too.” The mudge smiled at Leon, and Leon smiled back.
Then Leon stood up straight and tall, put his shoulders back, stretched out his wings, squeezed his fists tight, and took a deeeeeep breath. He felt a little tickle at the back of his throat that he had never noticed before, so he swallowed with a big gulp, closed his eyes, and blew all of his breath out as hard as he could.
“Yikes!” shouted the mudge.
“What happened?” said Leon, because his eyes were still closed.
“You did it!” said the mudge. “You breathed lots of fire!”
“I did?” said Leon. He slowly opened one eye, then slowly opened the other one. A wisp of smoke was hanging in the air, and the wind blew it away as he watched. “I did it!” he said to the mudge. “I breathed real fire, didn’t I?”
The mudge cheered and hopped up and down.
“What colour was my fire?” asked Leon.
“Why don’t you try again with your eyes open, and see for yourself?” said the mudge.
So Leon stood straight, stretched out his wings, took another deeeeeep breath, swallowed a tickle, and breathed out without closing his eyes. He saw lots of green fire go shooting out over the water. When he closed his mouth, the fire turned into smoke and blew away.
“Hooray!” said Leon. “Now I can go to my party tomorrow and everyone will see my green fire. Thank you for helping me, little mudge.”
“You’re welcome,” said the mudge. “You’re a very nice dragon. Maybe dragons aren’t so scary, after all.”
“My name is Leon,” said Leon. “What’s your name?”
“Silly dragon. Mudges don’t have names!” said the mudge. “We are all just called ‘mudge.'”
Then the mudge took Leon to meet some of the other mudges, and they all became good friends and had many adventures together.