Sometimes, Nahla thought, the dreams and wishes of childhood became the nightmare realities of adulthood.
When she was eight, Nahla would have given anything for a dragon baby. Lying awake at night, she prayed to the goddess Echindna to send her a fire-breathing beast with eyes like emeralds and wings of gold. She would be the envy of the village, a mother to a god.
As Nahla grew, those dreams were replaced by more practical desires—a husband, a home, and children of the human variety. When she ceased to bleed and her belly began to swell, Nahla lay awake at night, praying now to the goddesses Eileithyia for a strong and healthy son. She would be the envy of the village, a mother to a prince. The whimsical yearnings of youth were all but forgotten. She’d forsaken her childhood prayers, but they’d not forsaken her.
Nahla pushed and wailed, and as her child’s head emerged from her womb, the midwife, Sita, shrieked and fled the room, abandoning Nahla to deliver her baby alone. She staggered to her feet and, reaching between her legs, pulled the screeching infant from her body. A hand flew into her mouth, blood and sweat mingled, choking back a scream.
In her arms, Nahla held the dragon baby she’d so desperately wanted as a child. But instead of beautiful onyx scales and golden wings, his body was covered in sickly diamond plaques. His fingers were misshapen, ineffective claws. Instead of emeralds, his eyes were soft, swollen things that wept angry red tears as he cried. No ears. No nose. Only hollow black holes where both should be. He was an abomination.
Outside, the villagers were gathering. Unintelligible murmurs seeped through the windows like vapor and shadows born of torchlight writhed on the floor like mad spirits. Nahla’s husband entered the birthing chamber. His eyes fell upon the malformed infant wailing in his wife’s arms.
He cursed her. Turning slowly, he left to confirm his people’s worst fears.
Nahla wept for answered prayers.
She would be the shame of the village. A mother to a monster.