“Urp. Johnny, stop hitting Miranda with that! What even is that thing, anyway? Some sort of foam cross?”
“No, Grandpa, it’s a Minecraft sword!”
“Minecraft? You kids and your TV games. Whatever it is, stop hitting Miranda with it. Give it here. Let’s see. Ugh, this is the sort of toys they give you? No wonder everyone’s declaiming your generation as lazy.”
“Nothing, angel. Okay, get into bed, and I’ll tell you a story. Come on, tuck in the covers. There you go. Now, what do you want to hear about in a story?”
“Fighting! Knights with swords!”
“Yeah, and dragons! Like Mirry said!”
“Don’t call me that!”
“Okay, okay, settle down. Dragons, huh? Well, I actually do have a couple stories about those big beasties. But you’ll have to both stay in bed, and no getting up to hit each other. Deal?
“Good. Now, everyone always pictures dragons as being around back in the Middle Ages, back when brave and valiant knights would joust with them on the backs of horses, fighting them sword against scale. But just because that’s when dragons were most prevalent, it doesn’t mean that they disappeared as humanity rose.
“No, they just became more cunning.
“You see, once humans started showing up to fight the dragons with cannons and gunpowder, the dragons soon figured out that might was no longer the way to win against these pesky little pink-skinned fighters. Most of the dragons began taking the form of humans, walking among us. Now, they corrupt and savage us from within, claiming their treasure through trickery instead of force.”
“Like da Repubiccans?”
“Yes, Miranda dearest, I’m pretty sure that most of the damn Republicans are dragons in disguise. But that’s not what this story is about.
“You see, while most dragons gave up their giant lizard shapes, there was one who was too proud, to arrogant, too stubborn to accept this new change.
“His name was Carathax, and he was one of the most powerful dragons to ever fly over our world.
“Carathax saw the technology that humans now used, how we mastered steam and metal and pistons, and he sought to take these advantages for himself. He used his cunning and his wealth to hire humans, artificers, to craft massive plates of armor for him, to augment and increase his strength through the use of steam and pistons. He gave himself bladed talons and shielded wings, and the heat of his fiery breath drove steam through his armor.
“For thirty years, he roared and raged in pain as the human craftsmen built his armor, gave him the weapons to turn his fiery breath and scything claws into a true engine of pure destruction.”
“What do you mean, Johnny?”
“Well, why would humans give all this to a dragon? Why would they help him get stronger so he could kill them?”
“Carathax offered a lot of money. And humans have always been willing to compromise their ideals for money, I’m afraid.”
“I still think it’s dumb.”
“And my boy, I agree with you. I’m glad you can see it. But these humans gave Carathax what he wanted, and finally, nearly half a century later, the great dragon’s modifications were complete. Now carrying his terrible armament, the huge wyrm lifted off into the sky, setting out to bring destruction to the land.
“And he knew his target – King Llanar.
“King Llanar had, before he became a wise and just king, been one of the world’s greatest dragon slayers. He had used not just his strength, but his wits, outwitting dragons and luring them into traps where their normal strengths – their muscles and flight and fire – could be turned against them. He had become both famous and wealthy for killing these rampaging dragons, but he gave back much of his wealth to the people. He was the most popular king to rule.
“But in the fifty years, King Llanar had aged, and although he was still a strong and just king, he now had a thick gray beard, and he could no longer lift a sword as high or swing as hard. He still kept himself trim, but he knew that his dragon fighting days were over.”
“Why did Cartha wanna kill the king?”
“Good question, my dear! As it turned out, although not even King Llanar knew this at the time, the king had been the one to slay the dragon Selendria – Carathax’s broodmother. From when he was young, Carathax had sworn revenge.
“And now was his time.
“With his great mechanical modifications, Carathax flew across the kingdom, setting fire to entire towns in a swoop. His armor turned away arrows, his bladed talons cut through nets and snares, and his great jet of flame, fueled through the tubes of the human artificers, burned hot enough to melt even stone. He killed many at each town, and to the fleeing survivors, he roared out his challenge to King Llanar.
“And even far away, across the land at his castle, the king heard that challenge, and he responded.
“He rose from his throne, gathering his strength, calling for his attendants. ‘The kingdom is in danger,’ he told his court, ‘and I must ride out to save my people.’
“‘But you have not the strength or speed of your youth!’ cried out his advisors, his most loyal knights. ‘You cannot hope to win! Let us go in your stead to fight the great dragon!’
“But the king shook his head. ‘It is with me that the beast demands battle,’ he told them, as he pulled on his shining armor, strapped on his sword, Wyrmsbane, which had served him so faithfully in battles long before. ‘And I will not let any others die in my place.’
“And so, on the great fields of Karanor, King Llanar rode out to wait for Carathax. He went alone, and carried only a shovel and his sword. He brought no armies, no great siege weapons.
“Two days later, the skies above the king grew dark with smoke, heralding the beast’s arrival. Like a plunging meteor, Carathax dropped from the clouds to land in front of the tired and muddy king.
“Beneath his weight, the very earth split, the grass burned black by the heat of the creature’s inner fire. ‘Dragon slayer, killer of my brood mother,’ Carathax greeted the king, spitting out drops of liquid fire with each word as he glared. ‘Your kingdom is half in ruins – and after I have killed you, I shall set the other half ablaze, to burn forever!’
“‘I am sorry for killing your mother, but she killed us,’ King Llanar yelled back, as he tried to stand in the burning heat of the dragon’s very presence. He leaned on the shovel he had brought, using it for support. The king did not even wear his sword. ‘I have no quarrel with you! You can leave my kingdom and do no more damage, and I shall not pursue you!’
“But the massive dragon shook his armored head. ‘Never!’ he howled. ‘I have sworn bloodlust, and I will see you BURN!’
“And with that, the great dragon beat his wings and lunged forward, towards the lonely king. Llanar didn’t even have time to turn and look for his sword Wyrmsbane, for it was not even on his waist. He had nothing but the shovel.”
“Wait! Grandpa, what happened next?”
“Oh, you’re still awake?”
“Yeah! You have to finish the story!”
“Okay, very well. But I will turn off the lights. It’s too bright in here.
“Ah, that’s better. Now, where was I? Oh yes. So the dragon lunged forwards, towards the helpless king. King Llanar just stood there, tired and muddy and leaning on the shovel, watching as this massive, heavy, armor-coated dragon bore down on him.
“And then something quite strange happened.
“As Carathax crossed the difference between him and the king, the ground, already cracked and ablaze from his very presence, suddenly opened up beneath him! The ground cracked open beneath the weight of the dragon, and suddenly, the great wyrm found himself falling!
“With a great roar of frustration, the dragon plunged downward, into the huge pit! The hole was large and deep – the king had spent his whole time at the fields of Karanor digging it, covering it up with a thin shell of wet mud.
“The dragon’s great heat had made the mud brittle, and the weight of his armor and mechanical devices broke through the shell. Carathax tried to beat his wings, but he was too heavy, and could not lift off fast enough to keep from plunging down into the pit.
“And as he landed down in the pit, his belly slamming down onto the ground beneath, he landed directly on top of where King Llanar had buried Wyrmsbane, pointing straight up in the mud.
“The weight of the dragon plunged the sword into his chest, piercing between the plates of armor and into the great dragon’s heart. Carathax let out one last bellow, and the heat of his fury burned the walls of his pit until they were black as coal and hard as stone. But even he could not pull the blade from his chest, and that great cry was his last.
“For a long time, King Llanar stood at the edge of the pit, gazing down at the corpse of the great wyrm. He leaned heavily on his shovel, still breathing deeply. Wyrmsbane, his sword, was beneath the dragon’s weight, too far down to retrieve.
“And then, the king began the long, slow process of shoveling the dirt back into the hole he had dug, making sure that Carathax was lost to the world forever.”
“Ah, good. Sleep tight, my dears. And remember, even the greatest beasts can be vanquished with courage and forethought.”