A flash fiction fantasy tale for a series of prompts (see notes at close of fic)
(base banner image by mconnors at Morguefile.com)
Once upon a time there was a fearsome dragon. It had lived peaceably near a village for years, the two separated by a thick forest. The dragon hunted mostly in the woods at night, and slept in the cave at the foot of the mountain range where few people travelled.
When an invading army came over the mountain peak one winter it had woken the hibernating dragon. The screams of the soldiers and fierce bellows from the enraged beast warned the villagers. Of the few survivors, one made it back to the mountains, and two ran for the village where they were quickly captured.
In harsher winters the dragon had been known to take a cow or two, but since the dragon had saved their village people were none too concerned. But now the dragon was worrying them. Its terrible roars and jets of flame left patches of forest burnt away and nearby areas scorched.
When the dragon swept down on the village square during daylight hours and snatched up a tall metal post that was a symbol of divine protection everyone agreed something had to be done. The loss of the iron post and what it represented, as well as the dragon’s new boldness, terrified them.
The village elder sent a message to the king and the king dispatched his best knight, Rann to deal with the dragon. Rann was not only a good fighter, he was a skilled warrior and he knew there was more than one way of accomplishing a goal. He did not go alone to the village, but took with him a scribe and a healer.
The villagers were relieved when Rann arrived and directed him to the cave where the dragon slept. Rann led the way, Jay and Tesi close behind.
Jay, the scribe, had read everything he could about dragons before they left and confirmed which the dragon’s tracks as they walked through the forest.
“What might make a peaceable dragon turn violent?” Tesi asked, shifting her bag of healing supplies on her shoulder.
“I do not know,” Jay said. “Perhaps it is hungry?”
“Maybe it has young that it is protecting?” Rann suggested. “I suppose we will find out.”
He had no intention of killing the dragon except as a last resort. His grandfather had been a dragon slayer of some renown. However he had once killed a fierce wyvern, only to find she had been desperate to guard her clutch of hatchlings. Saddened by his orphaning of the creatures, Rann’s grandfather had tried to rear them himself; tame dragons were rare and precious commodities even if the guilt had not been enough of a motivator.
However one by one each hatchling died. Rann’s grandfather told him the story often. Of all his kills of man and beast, it was the slaying of the wyvern and the subsequent death of the hatchlings that haunted him ever after. He made Rann promise never to kill a dragon if there was an alternative. The magical beasts were fewer in numbers these days and humans ought not to make an entire species extinct.
Rann swore to save a dragon if he could, and that comforted his grandfather. And Rann always kept his word.
As they got closer to the cave there were more scorched trees and others with gouges in their trunks from the dragon’s claws, larger patches of devastation, and the sound of strangled wails that put Rann in mind of a cat trapped up a tree.
“What I don’t understand is why it took the protective post,” Rann said. “Iron is harmful to magical creatures.”
Jay nodded. “To carry the post in its mouth must have hurt a lot,” he said. “Maybe it needs it to use as a weapon against another magical beast.”
“Are dragons capable of such thought processes?” Ran asked.
“Some are said to be,” Jay said. “But dragons don’t speak the way humans do, so we’ve never been able to hold a conversation with one.”
Rann motioned his companions to stay back as they drew near the dragon’s lair and they crouched behind some bushes. The dragon was lying with its head sticking out of the cave, the iron post clutched in its jaw. It was making awful whimpering noises as it chewed upon the metal.
A true dragon slayer would not hesitate to run over and chop off the dragon’s head before it could react. Rann was not a slayer. The poor creature looked so pitiful and he turned to his friends.
“It does not look dangerous,” he said in a low voice.
“It looks a bit dangerous,” Jay whispered.
“Rann,” Tesi said softly. “It’s jaw is swollen on one side.”
He peered through the undergrowth. “From the iron?”
“No, I don’t think iron has that effect. Also the swelling is contained to a small area.” Tesi considered. “Have you ever plunged your hand into icy water? It hurts. But if you have say, a sting from a bee, the cold of the water offsets the pain and numbs the area.”
Rann glanced over his shoulder. “The iron is numbing its jaw?”
Tesi spread her hands. It was as good as theory as any. If the dragon was hurt it would account for its behaviour. Perhaps they could help it.
They stepped back into the woods away from the cave and debated the situation. Tesi needed valerian, much more than the small pouch she had in her bag. She showed them the small white flowerheads, but since she usually purchased many plants from the local growers, she was at a loss as to where to find this particular herb.
Jay’s excellent memory helped them out. Valerian, he was certain, preferred sunny spots in well drained soil. They walked to the edge of the forest, avoiding the trail that led towards a river, and found a mass of tall plants growing in a clearing.
Back near the cave Rann dug a small pit behind a row of bushes, and lined the edges with stones before he made a fire. When he’d got a decent blaze going, they added the valerian, standing back from the fire and using their cloaks to send the musty smelling smoke towards the dragon and away from them.
Tesi’s plan worked. The dragon’s eyelids grew heavy and finally shut. Jay extinguished the fire.
They crept out from the bushes and towards the dragon. Rann lifted the heavy jaw with care and Jay equally cautiously pulled the iron post free. Tesi crouched down and peered inside. She made a face.
“Poor thing,” she said in a harsh whisper. “Can you hold the jaw a while?”
Rann nodded. Tesi worked as quickly as she could, digging out a discoloured tooth from the massive jaw, Jay passing her supplies as she asked for them. The dragon stirred once and they all froze in panic but it exhaled a puff of steam and was still again.
The stench of a lanced abscess make Rann retch and Jay looked pale, but Tesi was accustomed to worse maladies and didn’t flinch. The dragon blinked.
“Are you done?” Rann demanded.
“Close enough,” she agreed and all three retreated back to their hiding spot.
The dragon shook its head and bought its jaw together. There was a low growl, then another experimental bite. It spat out blood and pus filled saliva mixed with black tar and iron filings. Then its tongue ran around its mouth and a long puff of pale steam was exhaled. It seemed the dragon was feeling better already.
It was a job well done.
When they reached the village, Rann presented the tooth to the village elder. “Have a new post made for the square,” he said, “and place this atop it. A dragon’s tooth brings good luck.”
“It didn’t bring much luck to the dragon,” Jay commented on the way home.
“It’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good,” Rann said.
Tesi agreed. She’d never heard of anyone practising dentistry on a dragon before and she was quite sure it would do wonders for her reputation.
And ever after Rann was known not as the dragon slayer but the dragon saver, and he knew his grandfather would have been delighted.