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The Unlikely Tale of Stonebelly the Dragon
|Image source: openclipart.org|
One summer morning, Stonebelly awoke to the scent of a human, walking up the steep path to his cave. He raised his head and peered over the edge. He saw: one old man, wearing a uniform but no armor, leading a cow by a halter. The cow wore a bell, and the clunking noise preceded them up the mountainside. Being an old dragon, Stonebelly was patient. He laid down to wait.
“Good dragon?” he heard at last. He lifted his head to see the old man, standing at the edge of the cave mouth. The cow looked resigned. Stonebelly understood the languages of most animals, and this one told him, Just eat me. Better that than walking back down the mountain.
The dragon snatched up the cow and swallowed it in two gulps. It didn’t suffer much. The old man, however, looked ill. “Please don’t eat me, too,” he begged.
“I had to quit,” Stonebelly assured him. “You’d give me indigestion these days. I presume that you want something from me? Humans don’t exactly bring free gifts.”
“Aye,” said the old man. “Crown Prince Chowming is held captive by the Rival Kingdom. We need him returned, by any means necessary.” He wrung his hands. “Just bring him home safely. Does that sound alright?”
The dragon put a huge claw to his flinty face, and scratched himself behind the ears. Humans still didn’t realize that was a secondary erogenous zone. “Needs more cowbell,” said Stonebelly, lowering his claw. He jiggled his head; the cowbell, dangling from a lower tooth, clunked again. He gave the human a significant look.
“Oh, aye, there’s plenty more where that came from!” the old man beamed.
Stonebelly flew among the clouds, contemplating the habits of humans. Not for nothing are these the Strange Lands, he thought, not for the first time. But he thought he might enjoy this little task—the Rival Kingdom had shortchanged him a (human) generation ago, when he had done a little service for them. They’d likely forgotten, but a dragon’s memory is long. Wreak a little havoc, rescue the prince, wreak a little more havoc, take the prince home, gorge himself on cattle. Not a bad plan, he thought.
Reaching Rival Castle, he loosed a resounding, roaring belch of flame. I need to slow down when I eat, he thought, but the effect was most entertaining. Guards on the castle wall ran for their lives, or fainted on the spot. He swept over the wall…
Oh, no. In the great courtyard, he saw Prince Chowming, bound hand and foot, propped up next to a stern young woman in a flowing white gown. Humans get so irrational when you interrupt their mating rituals, he thought. The guests—and the bishop—scattered to the winds. Prince Chowming stood his ground, only because he couldn’t move, and the bride-to-be-bereft slipped behind him.
“Begone, foul dragon!” the woman snarled.
“Glad to,” said Stonebelly. “But the prince comes with me.” The prince raised one eyebrow, and Stonebelly winked. Chowming gave a sigh of relief.
“Never! He’s mine! I stole him fair and square!”
“Look,” said the dragon, growing annoyed. “I’m taking him home. If you don’t give me any grief about it, I’ll forget the little matter of your mother cheating me, back in the day.”
The young woman’s eyes grew wide. “You remember—” She stretched out her hand, and a swarm of wasps leaped for Stonebelly’s eyes.
The dragon recoiled, and loosed a tiny puff of fire—just enough to turn the swarm into a constellation of sparks, fluttering to the ground. He stomped, making the ground shake. “Enough, puny human!” he roared, and the woman fled, letting Chowming fall over.
“Climb on,” he told the prince, offering a claw. Chowming hopped to him, and Stonebelly sliced through the ropes with a talon.
“I’m so glad to be out of that!” the prince sighed. “She was going to make me…” he shuddered. “Princess Hatchet is not subtle. Or kind.”
“Aye,” said the dragon. “I have the urge to wreak a little havoc. Payback, you know. Would you rather I leave you somewhere safe while I attend to it?”
After gorging himself on the cattle of the royals and rich families, Stonebelly flew Chowming home before returning to his cave. There, he curled up and slept for four months. Princess Hatchet tricked a traveling merchant into marrying her, and Prince Chowming played golf and drank beer whenever he pleased. And they all (except the merchant) lived happily ever after.