dragon-cut-outOnce upon a time there lived a dragon named Zandy. Zandy was the oldest of ten dragons, and after his father was made into 432 pies and 234 pairs of riding boots by Sir McGregor, the local knight, Zandy’s mother found it hard to feed her hungry clan.

“I’m finding it hard to feed my hungry clan,” she said to her brood. “That’s you,” she explained in answer to their puzzled looks. “Some of you older ones are going to have to go earn your fortunes in the big outside world thing. You can’t live in my basement forever playing World of Weyrcraft, you know.”

“I’ll go,” said Zandy. He reckoned he had learned everything there was to know about being a dragon in the big outside world thing from his Slaystation games. He was getting tired of his many siblings, and hoping maybe to wreak some tasty vengeance on Sir McGregor.

His mother provisioned him for his journey, and gave him her blessing. “Go with my blessing,” she said, “and don’t come back in a week with a bag of dirty laundry or I’ll roast you alive and feed you to your hungry siblings.”

“Mo-o-om,” protested Zandy. “The blessing would have been enough. Anyway, bye!”

He hopped to the edge of the family’s cliffside cave, and flew off into the morning.

He hadn’t been flying more than a year and a day, stopping occasionally to take on water and a luckless sheep or deer, when he came upon a young dragon, not much older than himself, sitting on a rock and weeping. His great steaming tears were falling to the ground beneath the rock, cooking all the vegetation, which would have smelled good to Zandy if he had been at all interested in eating vegetation, which he wasn’t.

“Hey!” he said, alighting next to the weeping dragon. “You okay, friend?”

“I have bitten off more than I can chew!” cried the other dragon, whose name was Sasha.

“How do you mean?” said Zandy, looking surreptitiously in Sasha’s mouth for signs of unchewed food.

“My brother is dead!” wailed Sasha.

“I’m so sorry!” said Zandy. “You must have loved him very much!”

“No, he was something of a jerk. But as he lay dying I promised him I’d keep up his end of a bargain he made. Now I must eat one of the surplus unmarried young men every week in yon village.” He nodded his head vaguely in a direction in which Zandy could see only trees.

“Well that doesn’t sound so bad,” said Zandy. “At least you have enough to eat.”

“But that’s the problem,” wailed Sasha. “I have too much to eat, because I have made a bargain with yon village” (and here he nodded his head in what seemed to Zandy exactly the same direction) “to eat one of their surplus young maidens every week. And I just can’t eat that many unmarried men and maidens! I’ll pop!”

“Mayhap I can help you,” said Zandy helpfully. “We look enough alike; they won’t notice if I go and eat the surplus unmarried young men in yon village” (and here he nodded his head in what he hoped was approximately the same direction that Sasha had) “in your stead.”

“Could you eat the surplus young maidens in yon village instead?” asked Sasha, nodding his head in roughly the same direction.

“Sure. But maybe you should fly me there, so I don’t lose my way.”

So off the two of them flew, and soon Zandy was employed in thinning yon village’s surplus young maiden population. (The surplus was caused by the fact that most of the unmarried young men in the village had been killed in a recent war or storm at sea or pre-industrial accident or something – this story does not tell.) Soon this job began to gall, however, and Zandy began to think he hadn’t really found his calling after all. Surplus young maidens, or at least the ones of this particular village, tasted kind of strange, not at all like sheep or deer or tasty things like that. Zandy wanted to move on and find something else over the next horizon (and when you’re a soaring dragon, the horizon is pretty far). So one day, when he was doing his morning constitutional (and dragon morning constitutionals can be awfully constitutional), he got an idea. He found Sasha and told him his idea, and the two of them agreed to give it a try.

Soon Zandy was back in yon village. He explained his plan to the next maiden he was scheduled to devour, and asked if she wouldn’t mind going back to the village and suing for a parley on his behalf. To this she gladly assented, not having fully reconciled herself to being dragon chow, so he bit through her chains and away she flew (metaphorically speaking).

Soon a delegation from the village arrived, including the mayor, shaking in his McGregor™ brand dragonskin boots, and several members of the village council, carrying pitchforks and the occasional clam shovel (the village was near the sea, which come to think of it may explain why the maidens tasted a little fishy).

“See here,” said Zandy, not unkindly. “It has been a great honor thinning the surplus young maiden population of your lovely village, but truth be told I am getting tired of it.”

“So, our surplus young maidens aren’t good enough for you?” sniped the mayor.

“No, no, it’s not that,” Zandy hastily interjected. “I just don’t think I’m cut out for the surplus-young-maiden-devouring life. I’m only doing this as a favor for a friend, on account of his brother dying. I never wanted to go into this line of work in the first place.”

A murmur ran through the crowd.

“Well it’s mighty decent of you to do that for a friend,” said the mayor. “But we’ve still got this surplus young maiden problem.”

“I think I can help you there,” said Zandy. “There is a village in yon direction,” he said, nodding you-know-whither, “that has a surplus unmarried young man population. Perhaps your two villages could have something of an exchange? You could send half your surplus young maidens there, and they could send half their surplus unmarried young men here, and then everybody could get married and settle down and raise young fishermen, or whatever it is you guys do here.”

“That sounds mighty reasonable!” said the mayor, who secretly feared his daughter would be next in the feeding-to-the-dragon lottery, and was despairing of ever having grandchildren. (Unlike your average feeding-to-the-dragon lottery, this one was not rigged.) “We accept your offer,” he said, “and in return we’ll give you one sheep a week to keep you strong and healthy. But you must promise not to eat any more than that, including and especially our maidens. Seeing as we’d like to have grandchildren and all.”

“That sounds mighty decent,” said Zandy, wondering if “decent” meant what he thought it did. “I promise. Now I’m off to seek my fame and fortune, and eat Sir McGregor, for reasons that don’t bear going into. But I would love to come back once in a while to talk with my new friends, and have a sheep or two.”

“This is your lucky day!” said the mayor. “It just so happens we have Sir McGregor in jail here, for reasons that don’t bear going into.”

After a short while, nearly all of the last goodbyes had been said. Sir McGregor’s mail was shipped home to his family by Feudal Express, and Zandy was ready to fly off to seek his fortune.

“Good day to you all!” he cried as he ascended on the column of hot air created by the mayor’s farewell speech.

“Good day, good dragon!” cried the mayor.

Soon Zandy was out of sight beyond yon ridge. “Strangest dragon I’ve ever heard tell of,” said the village comptroller.

“Decent fellow, though,” said the mayor.

“Oh, definitely decent,” agreed the comptroller.

And from that day on, neither village had another young maiden or unmarried young man surplus. Zandy was as good as his word, returning occasionally from his quest for fortune to have a lovely mutton supper with the mayor and the village council. Then he would disappear again, flying high over the trees of yon forest (said the narrator, nodding his head in vaguely the same direction Zandy had). The mayor and all the villagers had many beautiful grandchildren, and if one of those grandchildren secretly met Zandy somewhere on the far side of yon forest, and maybe got a thrilling dragon ride, this story does not tell, although it does hint.

Copyright © 2015–2017 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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