by Duncan Jones
Many, or most, or even all will tell you that dragons have long since died out; that they were hunted to extinction, believed to be dangerous, or valuable, or both. But that is not the case. Well, that is partly the case, but not entirely. Yes they were believed to be dangerous, and yes they were believed to be valuable. (Their scales and teeth and claws were used to make some of the rarest and finest jewelry on Earth) And yes they were hunted, ruthlessly in fact. But they were not hunted to extinction. No, no.
The real answer is (though many won’t hear it) that they became very good at hiding. So good, in fact, that nobody has been able to find them since. And as many of us tend to do, when despite grand effort, something fails to present itself or go the way we would like, we decide that it must be because that thing cannot be done, or in the case of dragons, cannot be found. And so, following in such typical human fashion, we answered our own questions about dragons by telling ourselves that they no longer were to be found because they no longer were.
And that was that. Only children and fools gave it another thought.
This is the story, or legend rather, of the last dragons. It is also a story of a good knight, and a story about learning … About learning to change, and about learning when to accept help.
We shall start with the good knight …
He had already proven his worth fighting for his kingdom many times. The kingdom was one obsessed with power, and it had always been at war. This was just life. And life was good because this kingdom had always been on the fortunate side of things, often because of knights like our knight. He was one of the kingdom’s finest, and so the king called for him and proposed a quest.
Do please realize … When the king calls and proposes a quest, he isn’t asking, he is telling, especially when it involves the princess. See, in two year’s time the princess was to be wed, and the king wanted as a gift for her the finest (and rarest) jewelry. So you can see where this is going. This was the reasoning as it was proposed to the knight.
But what the knight did not know was that the king, with no more kingdoms to fight, had turned his thoughts to finding dragons, more specifically the last dragons, as a source of wealth. It had been recently declared that dragons were no more. No dragons had been seen for years, and they were at this time only characters in story books. Just in the recent months, though, the most delicate whispers had begun to float around that one last group had been found.
And so the knight, as proud as ever, set out on his way to a far off land where the rumors thought that these dragons still roamed. It was a long journey but in time he arrived, and he was very surprised. After searching for days and staying in many small towns and inns, he learned that he was only one of many on similar quests. It turned out that many of the defeated kingdoms from all around had been hoping to find these last dragons as well.
But the knight, determined as ever to again bring honor to his kingdom, was not discouraged …
He spent each day traveling to nearby forests, and in time he even began staying out under the stars and living in the forests. And it paid off. One day he found tracks. Many tracks. And the tracks let to dragons …
For days he tracked them and set his traps and found the perfect trees where he could wait. And the days became weeks and months, and during this time the knight noticed that aside from hunting the dragons were never vicious, and he learned much more and grew very fond of them. In fact, he spent so much time tracking them and watching that eventually he was able to walk among them. And even though he could not perceive it, slowly a wildness began to set in …
The dark was becoming less dark,
And he learned how to be silent,
And he began to grow stronger,
And he began to run faster,
And if anyone had been there to see, they would have seen flashes of this wildness, and they would have been scared.
He tried to remember his duty, but whenever he did a great sadness would come over him, and he knew that he could never hunt or trap and kill these dragons. For even after all the stories and tales, he saw that they only killed to eat, and they allowed him to walk among them. So he destroyed his traps and instead collected scales as he would find them, or pieces of claws or teeth that might chip during a hunt. And when he thought he had enough he decided it was time to return home. He made up his mind to tell the king that the rumors were not true, that there were no more dragons left.
But on his first night back in the town at an inn he heard men talking. They were royal hunters that his very king had sent to follow him. “A bit of an insurance policy,” as it was explained to the knight. And the knight knew all of them.
Soon a familiar voice called out … “Good knight! We’ve been searching for you for days! Come and tell us what you have found!” The knight managed his courtesies but told them nothing. These men though were not just out on any old errand, they were some of the king’s finest hands; they were not stupid, and they could sense that there was something different about the knight. “Too many long nights under the stars,” answered the knight. But that is not as they would later report to the king.
Instead of heading home, the knight left the inn and turned back to the forest. He found the dragons and explained what he had seen in the town, and he told them of his own king’s hunters. He told them that other kingdoms had already sent hunters as well and that man would forever hunt them. He told them that they had to find a new place. And as the knight was explaining this torches could be seen coming through the forest. He had been followed.
Quickly they ran and the dragons showed him their caves, one of which tunneled deep into the Earth and connected with an old coal mine. The knight explained, “If you fight them they will know their rumors about you are true. You must hide and wait in the caves and be very careful when you hunt.” He explained to them all of man’s tricks and traps and ways of tracking. And the dragons, though they were very proud, and did not like hiding, were thankful.
Now let us pause for just one more moment … The knight had committed what amounted to a very serious crime. You see, according to the royal hunters, the only witnesses, the knight had interfered with a royal quest. Which means he prevented all the dragons’ scales and claws and teeth from being bagged and carried home to the royal jewelers. Which means he had prevented the jewelry to be made from these treasures from being made. Which means that he had essentially stolen from the king. And in those days essentially stealing from the king was exactly the same as stealing from the king. Which means (as far as any prosecution is concerned) that he indeed stole from the king. (It was not a very gray world.) It had already happened. It was a fact. And it was a very serious crime.
But nothing more came to pass with the hunters, at least not yet. The knight returned home with his collection of teeth and claws and scales, and the royal jewelers immediately went to work.
The king was happy enough with this, but asked if the knight had encountered any dragons. The knight lied, and he was very convincing. But the king was as perceptive as he was greedy, and saw that there was a new wildness in the knight, something he had never seen in any warrior before. It was just as his hunters, who had arrived days earlier, had told him, and so he knew he was right about the dragons.
And the king spoke, “Not long after you set out we received word that many believed only one band of dragons still roamed. So I sent out hunters to meet with you. My royal hunters and royal scouts have recently returned and all report seeing dragons, and they seem very convinced that you have too. Shortly after the princess is wed, they will set out again in force to claim the lot of them. As they are likely the last on Earth, this is a chance the kingdom cannot afford to pass up. And I know that there are others searching as well. So tell me again … Are you sure you didn’t see any dragons, that whole time you were gone? I hear there was one night you were very busy indeed …”
The knight again in a very convincing manner said that he was simply no match for the royal hunters, and that he only managed to gather what he brought back to the king. He had only gone back out one last time with the light of the moon for one last search. That’s when the king leaned in and very calmly and very quietly said, “You are lying. I think you found them. I know you found them. And you know exactly where they are now. And when my hunters find those dragons, I will have them all killed in front of you. And you will watch. And then I will make you my jester. And you will perform while wearing their jewelry. Doesn’t that sound lovely?” And for the slightest moment, no more than a hint of an instant, the wildness flashed in the knight’s eyes, and the king was scared.
But the king gathered himself quickly. And to help the knight remember where the dragons were, the king had him thrown in the dungeon. “You seem now to be quite fond of the dark, so why don’t you stay where it is always dark!?” He was thrown in the dungeon and locked up. The king even took his name, and the knight would have been forgotten except for one thing …
While in the forest he had made a necklace out of dragon scales, and so as not to attract any more unwanted attention than he already had at the inn, he had painted them in coal from the caves and the mine.
Now you should also know …
There is something in a dragon that cannot stand be locked up. It will fight until it dies, but it will not stand to be locked up. And so as soon as the dungeon was locked the necklace began to grow hot. And the knight took it off and wrapped it around the bars of his cell, and soon the light was bright and the bars were melting as if they had been made of ice. And when the jail was no longer a jail, and only then, the necklace began to cool. And the knight wore it again and rushed to be on his way back to where the dragons roamed free. He traveled by the light of the moon and at one point even borrowed some horses from the slower moving band of hunters that had set out ahead of him. They never even knew.
And when he arrived in the same small town, he found it swarming with banners and flags from kingdoms far and wide. There were drunks everywhere calling themselves dragon slayers, and the townspeople loved it because so much money had come flowing in. And the knight felt sick and low and did not want to call himself a knight anymore, and he was glad the king had taken his name.
When the moon was high he snuck into the forest, and he walked the long walk to the caves. Along the way in the moonlight he saw the tracks of horses and other men too, and so he started to run. And finally he arrived in the caves and found the dragons. There he said, “I have explained to you the ways of man. They will not stop. You can fight and defeat them time and again, and the others will invent new ways to fight until they tear you all apart and ruin your world. They will spend ten times what you are worth hunting you, and then they will fight and steal from each other. And they will have parties and tell stories to congratulate themselves. The only way for you to survive is to convince man that you are gone.
And as he finished explaining, torches could be seen coming through the forest. And so they all tunneled deep into the caves to where the one connected with the mine. And the knight showed them how to paint themselves with the coal, and when all were black as coal, the knight said, “Now man with his daylight eyes cannot see you! Now you can fly and your beautiful colors will not be seen by man. And if you ever wash the coal off, know that you must live in the clouds! And so they escaped, taking to the moonlit sky, and the knight rode with them. And to this day that’s where they are. They live in the dark sky and travel with the storms. And they light up the sky, and we call it lightning. And they roar until the sound comes from everywhere, and we call it thunder. And some even say that the reflections of their scales can be seen in the lights of the north and south poles; that the dragons are washing their coal off in the snow.
And every once in while (because they are always on the lookout for a good knight) they come down from the storms or the dark sky, and if they find one they take him flying.