Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Generous Dragon: Short Fiction

The Generous Dragon
Chris Costello

Draca was not a hateful creature. Despite her enormous size, pronged tail, and teeth the size of oak trees, she had never gone in for the gratuitous violence that was so lauded by the rest of her species. Whenever those damnable knights became stupid enough to put a sword through her belly, as they often did, she tried not to kill them too painfully. This wasn’t always possible, as evidenced by the decaying skeleton heaped in the corner of her lair. But she tried, and that was the most important thing. Or so she’d been told.

In Draca’s mind, there was only one life-form worthy of the level of disdain her kind usually granted to all species: Goblins. They were loud, smelly, and they tasted like rotting fish. Plus, they had no respect for personal space.

She smelled the band of goblins the moment they entered her cave. Judging by the thick odor, there had to be at least ten of them. They were quiet, though. She had to give them that. Not quiet enough, of course, but quieter than most of their contemporaries. She might not have heard the sound of their footsteps clattering against the myriad treasures that cluttered the cave floor, but she caught wind of the gold coins thunking to the bottom of their sacks. There was no way to keep her from hearing that. Dragon ears were just too powerful.

She pretended to be asleep, as she usually did. As much as she hated goblins, it amused her to have visitors. And so she took her time disposing of these newcomers. She cracked one eye open, ever so slightly, so that she could see them fail.

She always catalogued how greedy one of them might become when confronted with the vastness of her wealth. They all came with reasonable dreams. They would only steal one magical amulet, one overflowing chalice, one bag of holding. But as soon as they saw the piles of glittering treasure, they couldn’t resist taking more than they had planned. Goblins were particularly susceptible to this principle. She didn’t even need to kill them, really. Most would have died trying to carry everything down her mountain.

The two that entered her lair were different. For one thing, they said nothing. Goblins had a penchant for inane chatter during their heists. They got cocky, falsely believing they could hold their own against her. As if.

For another, they only filled their sack half full, and they only took the coins. Goblins, for all their faults, were brilliant warriors. She had to give credit where credit was due. Their strategy was certainly lacking, but they were tenacious. They threw everything they had at their enemy until one force was totally depleted. The fact that it was usually theirs seemed to have no bearing on the matter.

As such, the first thing goblins often went for were the weapons. She had plenty to go around, that was for sure. There were the broadswords she had stolen from various knights in tarnished armor, the staffs she’d taken from the occasional wizard, even a bow and arrow from the time she had encountered that hapless ranger.

The pair of goblins she was dealing with now seemed to be interested only in the money, in the actually currency she had. That was new. Goblins didn’t even use money, not in the strictest sense. Rather, their economy was based on bartering. And big sticks.

In light of all of this, she waited a full minute before intervening. Ordinarily, she would have given them about ten seconds, maybe even less.

When the goblins turned to leave, she thumped her great tail on the ground, blocking their path to the cave entrance. Then she sent a jet of flame over their heads. Their screams filled the air, and she smiled widely.

“Hello, little ones.” She said.

The bigger of the goblins drew a dagger from his belt and pushed the smaller one behind him. All the same, he made no noise.

She chuckled. Her laugh bounced wildly off the cave walls. The goblins yelped yet again. “Oh, dear.” She said. “I assume this is some kind of enchanted weapon. A dragonslaying knife, perhaps? I’ve certainly never seen something like that before.”

The bigger goblin lowered his blade. His arm quivered as he did so. “Please, just let us go.” He croaked. “You have so much here.”

“Indeed I do.” She said. She lowered her head to get a closer look at the two of them. One snort knocked them both to the ground. “But imagine how much of it would disappear if I let every thief who came along loot this place. I’d be a pauper within a decade, wouldn’t I?”

“You are a dragon.” The smaller goblin piped up. “A mighty beast.”

“Why, thank you. It is always nice to meet a fan. Or a pair of them, as the case may be.”

“Why do you need treasure at all?” The smaller goblin went on.

The bigger one shushed his companion, prodding him in the ribs with his bony elbow.

“Why do I need treasure?” Draca asked. “Why does anyone? Because it glitters. It shines. Because it offers hopes and dreams and sorrows and joys and pain to dragon and goblin alike. Because, that’s why. It is not any more complicated than that, really.”

“Please, leave my brother alone.” Said the larger goblin. “He is only here because of me.”

She spread her wings, shrouding both of them in darkness. “Then his death is on your head, and not mine.”

“I know why you horde.” The smaller one continued, apparently unfazed by the actions of both Draca and his siblings. “You are not greedy. You are cruel. You love luring people here just so you can torture them and pick the meat off their bones.”

She shook her head. “I wish it were that, little one. I wish. It would make more sense. But I am merely a very old dragon, driven by instinct and tradition. I have spent countless years gathering these baubles and trinkets because. Just because.” She raked her talons across the mountain of coins. They rained down her fingers, nearly burying the goblins in an avalanche of gold.

“Aren’t you lonely?” The goblin asked.

She looked at the cave entrance, trying to recall the last time she had left. It had been an eon. She wasn’t even sure she could fit through anymore. Her eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness.

“It is just a little bit.” Said Small Goblin. “We need it to feed our village.”

“A noble call for thievery, to be sure. But it cannot last. Once you taste it, you will want more. Gold lets no one go. It is a cage surely as poverty.”

“Easy for you to say.” Retorted Big Goblin, the brother. “You have all the gold.”

She folded her wings back in and thumped the ground with her huge tail. The cave shook with the force of it. “You are correct.” She said. “I sit here atop my mountain of riches and think you presumptuous for desiring what I have in abundance. It is all too easy for me to judge your frailty.”

She lifted her tail. “Go then, and may it bring you more peace than it did me.”

“Thank you.” The older goblin said.

“Why? I am giving you only the tiniest portion of what I have.”

“It is more than most would be willing to part with.” Said Small Goblin.

They left her to her glittering treasures, to her things. She was very old, by the measure of her kind. Long after those goblins had passed, and their children’s children’s children had followed suit, she would still be. But even dragons did not live forever. Time, however many years of it were left to her, was all she had. She had squandered so much of it on these worthless trinkets.

Some primal force surged in her chest, and she edged forward. Her snout poked out of the cave entrance, but only barely. She squeezed her eyes shut tight against the searing sunlight. She considered retreating back inside, but forced herself not to. She would get used to the fire and the pain. With one titanic flap of her wings, she launched herself into the clear blue sky. 

She did not stop until her worthless gleaming obsession was long behind her.

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