The Idiot King and The Dragon - from "The Legend of Knight Sieghart and Other Tales"
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Once upon a time, many, many ages ago, there lived a great and powerful king. His rule was one of benevolence and wisdom, and so he was beloved throughout the land. The thriving kingdom and his happy subjects were his pride and joy. However, as steadfast and respected his rule, the king did also have a great fear troubling him: his son, his only child and crown prince to the throne, was unfit to be king. The prince was a kind-hearted, gentle soul and the king worried what might become of his land, once the head upon which the crown rested was one stuck in the clouds of naivety. And so, even though the king was in good health and of sound mind, he grew sombre and pondersome, so worried his people might lose the wealth and happiness he had worked so tirelessly for. And as the ever so slight scarping of bone that followed every of his horse's hoof-falls began reminding him of his ageing body , he preferred the solitude of his own mind to the company of his court. Many a gloomy afternoon he would spend, wandering the grounds and woods by the castle, muttering to himself of times to come. So it happened that the king stumbled across some peculiar ongoings, on a dreary late-autumn evening. He tottered through the woods, mindlessly kicking at the golden leaves, as he had done so many times before, and was so caught up within the recesses of his mind, he did not notice the gruff voices arguing until he had stepped onto the clearing, where a dozen men stood, clad in the rags of vagabonds and bandits this kingdom had not seen in a comfortably long while. The men did not take notice of the king, so fiery they did discuss the matter at hand:

“I says: sell it back to ‘er! The longer we keeps it, the angrier she’ll be!”

“Ow! So yer tell me: how’re we gonna get the bloody thing back to ‘er? ‘R’ye gonna walk up to ‘er and tell the great ol’ madam ‘Oi, sorry we done knicked yer brat, that’ll be some hundred shiners for ‘im back and we’ll be on our merry way!’?”

A great deal of yelling and pushing ensued. During the scuffle, the king caught a glance of what lay in their midst: a small child, bundled up in a raggy blanket. The king, enraged by the gall of the bandits, drew his sword and, in a short and grizzly affair, struck them dead. He took the bundle back to the castle and let his servants spread the word: a child had been abducted and was awaiting his mothers safe embrace once more at the king’s castle. The King was sure the child’s mother must be worried sick, as was everybody in his kingdom, for there had not been an abducted child, or any crime of that magnitude, for that matter, in these lands for a lifetime. However, there came nobody for the child, not even a message, for three days and three nights. The king began to worry his judgement might have failed him and he had killed twelve innocent men over a misunderstanding. In the early morning hours of the fourth day however, the sun had just barely crept beyond the lowest of the green hills, the king was awakened by his son: “Father! Father! Come to! A dragon! A great, terrible dragon cometh right for the castle!” The king jolted from bed, alike a spring-wound toy, and raced through the castle, ringing the alarm himself. From the castle’s highest turret he saw it true as steel: a dragon, besat with scales as bright and glistening as nacre and horns as black as coal. Its wings beat with all the ferocity of a storm rolling in from the sea and the king was sure the beast would topple the entire castle in one fell swoop. The king however was not a man to back down and so he sent his son and all the servants to take shelter within the castle’s vine cellars. He gathered the strongest, most fiercely brave of his knights and went out and stood before the castle’s gate to meet the dragon. As the beast grew closer and larger, even the most steadfast of his men began clanking with fear within their armour and only the king stood upright and proud, determined to stand his ground. The dragon’s landing was however not in a blaze of fire and brimstone. Neither did the ground tremble and break under the dragon's wagon-sized paws. It landed as softly and quietly as a sparrow in a tree. Yet it still towered over the king and his shaking men and when it spoke with a voice like a thunderstorm over a landslide, even the most stalwart among the knights took flight:

“Hail, King. Thee hath something of mine.”

Now it was only the beast and the king, a mountain and a tiny, fragile climber. The king unsheathed his sword, the sword his father and grand father and grand-grand father and so on bore, and spoke with resolution:

“Hail, dragon. What is thy concern? Knoweth: this is a land of peace, we wage no war on thy kind and we has’t plenty of gold to offer in return of peace!”

And the dragon answered with a most horrible noise. A growling, earthshaking roar that drew deep ripples through the moat’s waters. And the king realised: the beast laughed.

“Mine interest lies not with thy riches, wise king. Thee hath found something of mine: mine son. Word of thy brave rescue hath reached me and I has’t cometh to collect the boy.”

Of course the king was distrusting of the dragon’s claim, and so he said, though knowing he might stoke its wrath:

“I shan’t keep a mother apart from her child, however, the boy I hath found is a human child, and thou art a dragon, a kind which does delight in the eating of children, as legend tells!”

Again the dragon laughed, so uproariously, the aged king felt his bones rattle.

“Thou art a wise man indeed. To trust a stranger with a child is to put a terrible amount of trust within that stranger. So I sayeth unto to thee: in exchange for mine child’s safe return, I, the Dragonmother, shall grant thee a single boon of mine gratitude. A wish of thine heart’s innermost desire I shall grant.”

This made the king think. He still did not trust the dragon entirely, but he thought of that single wish that would make his heavy heart grow light and his sorrow-stricken mind to ease from the worries. He could not withstand the temptation and so he said:

“Very well! I shall send for the child.”

And so he did. The child was brought out and placed between the dragon’s claws, where it shielded the child with one of its front paws, as though anybody might dare to come near them. The dragon’s eyes met the kings, and only then, the king saw them for their true, soft blue colour.

“Very well, what is thy wish?” the dragon asked, “Doth thou desire more riches, a larger share of land to broaden thine kingdom’s horizons? Stronger warriors, perhaps? Ah, but I believe it is not any such mundane desire, thou want’st fulfilled, am I not right?”

The king nodded his head so vigorously, the crown tumbled off his head and right into the dark waters of the mote. In his excitement however, he could not pay mind to a thing as mundane as the crown he bore every day. Now with a trembling voice he cried:

“I wish to evade the reaper’s clutches! I want to live and rule forever!”

So blindsighted by the promise of having found the solution to all his problems he was, he even forgot the formal tone one should adopt when talking to a far-away land’s ambassador. The dragon grumbled. It did not laugh this time around, simply averting its gaze from the king and answering:

“I took thee for a wise man, but thou’rt a fool just as much as any village idiot. But very well, I did promise thee a boon and thee shall receive. Art thou certain, this is thine desire?” The king shook his head yes eagerly. “Death is a cruel mistress. She’s a bitter mule and she shan’t take thy transgression lightly. I cannot cheat her out of a soul. However, cheat her out of thy soul I can. Whenever thou would pass on over, I shall devour one of the folk living in this land and so give death the life she yearns for.”

This made the king hesitant. He began to reconsider. But then he thought of the wars that might be waged under a weaker king’s rule and the countless lives that they would claim. And he thought of poverty, disease, crime and famine so many kings with black hearts and empty heads had brought upon their subjects. And so a deal was struck and for a while, the king was happy once more.

Many years passed and the kingdom was as prosperous and well as could be. This, however, was not the old king’s doing. His son had grown to become as wise and capable of bearing the crown as his father had ever been, the kindness once confounded for naivete and the visions for a better tomorrow, confused for hopeless farawayness, had become his greatest strengths. The old king however was not well. For the dragon had tricked him, he was sure, as he may not have died many a time his moment had come, but his body still aged and illness still ravaged him. And with the burden of worry for his kingdom finally taken off his shoulders, the king began, for the first time in his long, long life to truly fear death. The dragon’s attacks began slowly, sneakily. Here and there a villager or townsfolk were snatched up and devoured, when the king could not fend off an especially nasty fever or his poor eyesight snuck a fold in the carpet beneath him and he tumbled down a flight of stairs. But as the old king aged and aged he saw his own son, the new king grow white and wither and die and the same fate came for his grand-children and their children. And the kingdom grew emptier and greyer and sadder with every passing minute of every passing hour the old king could not rise his boney, ramshackle frame off the old bed which had not seen a change of sheets, ever since they had walled off his chambers because his haunting of the castle reminded them of the dragon, that may yet come for them. And one day, after ages of ruin, the kingdom stood empty and forlorn. And the king drew his last breath and damned the dragon for its treacherous curse.

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