When the knight and his boy rode into the village there was much excitement and the people of that place poured out of their hovels and lined the street, such as it was, and cheered or simply stared at the passing nobleman.
The horses rode up to the town hall, such as it was, and the mayor came to greet the riders as they dismounted. To tell it more honestly, he ignored the boy and took his master’s hand in warm embrace and offered him welcome warmer even than his sweaty hands.
The men climbed narrow stairs to the mayor’s office and the boy was left outside to hold the horses and guard the armour. Into the knight’s hand the mayor pressed a generous drink and into the chair opposite he pressed his generous haunches.
“The village welcomes you, good sir! I am so relived the King has finally heard our pleas.”
The man nodded and sipped. “I think, Mayor, you may have misread my intentions.”
“You have come to slay the dragon, no? His Majesty has sent a knight to save us?”
“I am no knight, I’m afraid, but I do come in the name of the King.”
“But, sir, your horses pack a suit of armour.”
“Allow me to explain myself. I work on behalf of the King’s newly formed Parks and Wildlife Department. I have come to inspect the dragon. The armour, while having the appearance of a knight’s defensive, is simply the best protection when dealing with dangerous animals.”
“What is a park? A dragon is not an animal. A horse is an animal.”
“The King wishes to ensure the prosperous continuation of rare species. His reasons are manifold. Tourism, ecological diversity, bragging rights. A dragon is a natural wonder in the modern era. We cannot simply slay a natural wonder.”
The mayor pulled himself from his seat and strode to the window, gesturing out at the crowd outside, such as it was. “This dragon is depleting my county,” he shouted. “He demands one healthy body a fortnight. I am running out of village idiots with which to supplicate him. Is he to be allowed eat his way through our entire register?”
“His Majesty regrets to inform you that, at present, the dragon represents a more valuable commodity than your village tax-base. I will be approaching to inspect him shortly, and will see if any arrangement can be come to that will suit both parties.”
“Parties? It is a dragon!“
“I have a permit.”
“A dragon permit?”
Following a warm meal of lamb and potatoes the King’s man rode out of the village up the mountainside to the dragon’s cave. He paused for forty-five minutes or so while the boy assembled his armour and strapped it around his person. Then, taking a parcel from the back of his horse, he walked over the charred earth to the cave’s entrance. He drew an elaborate whistle from his belt and began to project strange whooping sounds into the darkness.
“Why are you making that noise?” said the dragon, emerging into the sunlight. His skin sparkled like a thousand wet fish.
The man lowered his whistle. “It is the cry of the greater striped dragon,” he said, after a pause.
“It is not, and I’ll thank you to stop it. Why am I awake? Are you a knight come to battle?”
The man shook his head. “I am no knight. I come bearing gifts from His Majesty the King.”
“Where is your sword?”
“I am no knight.” The man unwrapped his parcel and held forth a bird by its feet. “A peacock! Dragon’s greatest delicacy. A gesture of the King’s goodwill.”
“I have eaten kings, you know. Their crowns lay nestled in the folds of my belly.” The dragon hooked the peacock with a talon and put the bird between its teeth. “I was hoping for a knight. This peacock is less than fresh.”
“The King wishes to make peace with you. He would like you to move west, the the hinterland. There will be more to eat, and peacocks will be made available. You will not be troubled by knights or aught.”
“The peasants of the hinterland are a rangy bunch. The prospect excites me not at all. Besides, I wish to be troubled by knights. That is the whole point.” The man bowed slightly in apology. “Do you think,” asked the dragon, “if I were to eat you, the king might send a knight in your stead?”
“Likely he would just send another officiary. Such is the nature of departments.”
The dragon sighed, and the earth rumbled and grumbled beneath him. “The time of dragon’s is passed. We are drowning in the ways of men, faster than we can eat them. I wish to have my head removed by a knight, like my mother and my mother’s mother. It is the natural way of things. I will eat you, and hope that your king can see his way towards doing the right thing.”
The King’s man nodded. “I totally understand, but I have this permit, you see.”