The Last Dragon
  © 2001 by K Pelle

      The Dragon stands in silence
                        his wings are tightly furled
            He glances o'er the cloud tops
                        gazing out upon the world
            The mountain steep behind him
                        the ledge beneath his feet
            The cave is at his shoulder
                        his treasure hidden deep
            A trickle of his flaming
                        runs drooling down his chin
            A sodden belly rumble
                        comes grumbling from within
            What woke the mighty behemoth
                        from his centuries of sleep
            Who dares challenge the monster
                        what will his anger reap
            The sunshine falls down upon him
                        making scaly armour shine
            A deep iridescent shimmer
                        a subtle shade - like wine
                                    (From the ballad of the Dragon.)

The old dragon dragged himself about the cave where he had lain asleep for so many years.  He always had been a cautious fellow, stashing away a good bit of his treasure in his cave, so when the men of the country had grown extremely hostile and had started to use crossbows to shoot at him from ambush he had realized that he was going to be in for trouble.

So his last few raids had been at places where he could lay in a goodly stock of emeralds and diamonds, not to mention a tasty snack or two of gold and silver.  Any dragon could easily live for a century or two on the likes of his stash.  Not that he ever fancied a steady diet of jewels and precious metals, but they could certainly serve to tied a dragon over the rough times when prime cattle and youthful virgins weren't easily available.

After the knights had started to wear that new-fangled iron armour, then later had even begun to use cannons, he knew that he had to lie low for a few centuries and let their anger at his raids die down.  So he had stretched his rations as far as he could, only snacking away at his jewels when he felt it absolutely necessary to keep up his strength, but he had slipped into torpor most of the time, reducing his metabolism to a paltry minimum.  Unfortunately, it now appeared that he had eaten all of his vast treasure over the centuries of living in seclusion.

But then it had been essential for him to hide for a long while.  After all, the last raid he had gone on was a doozy, and the king of the castle had sworn eternal vengeance on him.  Perhaps he should have settled for only the wife and the oldest daughter, but when he had returned for the king's youngest daughter and the new concubine, the beautiful one that the king was so taken with, that had been the last straw.  Well, that and the fact that the dragon had just happened to empty the whole of the king's treasure house during the same raid.

Now though he stumped around the cave, checking to see if he hadn't hidden just one more tiny diamond or a few grams of glittering gold.  Even a slim sliver of silver tucked away and forgotten somewhere in a dark corner would do, but he really knew from the smell of the cave that there was nothing to be found.  He would have to venture out into the world again, to face the perils of whatever new destructive device man had devised, for he knew that the soldiers and knights of the various kings would use every weapon they had to seek his death and destruction.

He was so hungry that his scales were rattling together on his sides and his tail was dragging in the loose sand as he crossed the cave.  Even his feet felt like leaden weights.  Shuffling along, with his nose near the ground, he staggered toward the mouth of his cave.  Just as he came to the entrance tunnel, he stumbled and for the last few feet he slid on his stomach in an undignified skid that carried him into the bright light of the outside world.  He lay on his belly panting softly and feeling almost done in.  It took several moments before he had mustered the strength to be able to take a deep breath of fresh air in order to clear his lungs.

Pagh, whooee, what a stench, almost as bad as the smell near the old blacksmith's, which stood close by the piggery and the tanning yards.  All of those stank so badly that they had been forced to move several miles downwind of the old king's palace or else be taxed into bankruptcy.  What the dragon couldn't understand was how the fresh, clean air up here on his isolated mountain could have ever gotten to stink this bad.  And it was hot, even though the sun seemed to be hidden behind the skudding clouds.  Looking up at those roiling clouds, he wondered what sort of weather he could expect to face when he ventured forth on his search for sustenance.  Perhaps he should have gone hunting a century or two earlier because the weather certainly looked unsettled and the sky no longer seemed as bright as he had first thought either.  Looking down at the smaller scales on his front leg as it lay stretched in front of him, he couldn't see any of the iridescence that he would formerly have observed.

Well, he supposed that something of that sort was to be expected, after living on a diet of nothing but jewels for hundreds of years it was really no surprise.  He needed red meat to bring the shine back into his armour and the spring back into his step.  He slowly struggled to his feet and slithered toward the edge of the precipice that fell away from the ledge in front of his cave.

       His claws are poised on rock face
                        talons long and cruel
            Forked tongue licks o'er sharp teeth
                        as hunger makes him drool
            Great legs that tense and hurl
                        his form upon the breeze
            Great wings that strain to carry
                        his body o'er the trees
            He circles round the mountain
                        where he has made his home
            A last check of defences
                        before he cares to roam
            Soon hunger drives him outward
                        above the ranging hills
            His appetite is rampant
                        his eyes alert for kills
            Beware the mighty shadow
                        as it glides across the ground
            Tonight the land will sorrow
                        at the site where he is bound
            For who will fight the dragon
                        as he breathes a mighty flame
            Be it warrior or maiden
                        to him, they taste the same
            He may feast upon prime cattle
                        or upon the kings fine deer
            Or he may take the treasure
                        as the almsman flees in fear
            With his armoured breast a'glitter
                        as he wings forth on this night
            Who will dare oppose him
                        Who is brave enough to fight
            For this is the mighty dragon
                        sole master of the sky
            All run in fear before him
                        as he is seen to fly
            He soars above the tree tops
                        against a sky of grey
            Master of all below him
                        he holds it in his sway
            For none dispute his freedom
                        to take what he may want
            For he mocks the strength of cavaliers
                        cares not for brags they vaunt
                                    (From the ballad of the Dragon.)

He was rocked by the gale that blew up from the valley at his feet.  His eyes were watering from the acrid air that gusted at him and he hesitated, even drew back from the edge for a moment, but he knew that he had to find a meal to ease the pangs of hunger in his shrunken gut.  Then he rushed forward, planning to launch himself in a mighty leap from the ledge.

Instead he tripped on a small insignificant rock and fell forward over the edge of the precipice which drop below his cave.  Had it not been for that sheer drop he would have been beaten against the rocks.  As it was he fell some distance before he was able to regain his balance and take wing.  The turbulence was far greater than he had ever seen before and he was forced to fight for his life to even stay upright.

Then suddenly the tempest he'd been trying to ride caught and tossed him like a feather in a vagrant breeze.  He was tumbled over and over and even though he fluttered and flapped his wings, he was tossed and thrown about.  He finally fought his way to a level keel and rode a sudden battering thermal wind, riding it upward to gain altitude.  At least if he gained height he had some chance of surveying the situation below.  The gale carried him up, and up, and up, higher, and higher, and finally he managed to get into air that was slightly less turbulent and somewhat easier to ride. Unfortunately by then he was so high that his head felt light, and though his chest was pumping like a bellows, he was having a hard time gaining his breath.  As a result he had to descend, but he succeeded in making a relatively controlled descent into air that was thick enough to breathe, even though he'd had to drop into the upper level of the cloud layer.

He still couldn't see very far because of the thick clouds, so he didn't dare to fly quickly.  Instead he settled into a slow glide that he was certain would carry him for miles with little effort on his part.  Occasionally he ran into a turbulent stretch of air and he quickly realized that either he was even weaker than he had thought or this wind was the strongest and strangest he had ever encountered.

Gradually he worked his way down through the clouds that grew steadily darker and darker above him.  Suddenly he realized that he was flying in much less turbulent air and he began a steady spiralling drop downward.   He was suddenly catching brief glances of very strange scenery below him as he neared the bottom of the cloud layer.  A great expanse of charred and toppled trees was what he finally saw when he broke through the clouds at last.  It stretched for miles and he had a hard time believing that it was true.  Blackened stumps, slivered snags, and nowhere green, only barren rock, drifting ashes and ruined forests.  He knew that his dread enemy, man, was in some way responsible, because there were his trade-mark roads, running straight as an arrow's flight.

What a mess.  He would have liked to have paused to investigate, after all he suffered from a great curiosity, but he knew that if he landed, he would have a hard time getting aloft again in his weakened state.  And he was almost certain that there would be nothing to eat in that muddle of destruction.  It had to have been man that managed to achieve that amount of havoc.  No other being would have totally ruined the habitat of all the tasty deer and big fat juicy bears who would once have resided in the shade of the now gaunt stumps that were all that remained of an obviously great forest.

He fought his weakness and sought to flap his wings in order to carry himself upward and away from this horror of destruction.  Even the lakes and streams looked putrid and dirty, he was certain that any fish that had ever lived in them were surely dead.  His flight carried him near to a high hill and just as he passed its crest a gust of wind carried a cloud of ashes up and into his face, nearly robbing him of sight.  Then suddenly he was lifted and abruptly he shot upward, until once more he was being helplessly tossed in the throes of the winds within those roiling, turbulent clouds.

The sudden uprush of wind had caught him totally by surprise and before he could halt his upward motion he was carried high into the stormy clouds.  Now however, the very air was full of grit that scoured at his scales and tore at his wings, driving biting grains of abrasive sand beneath the edges of hunger loosened scales and making it hard to catch a breath of air to fill his lungs.  As well, although the wind was strong against him, it felt thin in his lungs even though it was laden with abrasive particles.  He found himself panting for breath, each lungful more painful than the last.  The air was murky around him, he could see no further than two or three of his own lengths.  It was like flying in a thick fog, but this cloud was far too hot and too dry for it to be fog.  This was a huge floating cloud of dust and grit, painfully aggravating and certainly harmful to his health and well being.

The errant wind shifted and suddenly he was dropped.

He fell, flapping his wings valiantly, trying vainly to gain some purchase in the suddenly thin air.  The air was suddenly clearer and he could see a great river running in a deep canyon.  His plummeting body seemed to be aimed unerringly towards it.  He struggled to right and steady himself, but only succeeded in throwing himself towards one of the steep walls.  He crashed against the brutal rock, shattering the small bones and tearing the thin membranes of his wings as he fell, scraping along boulders and sharp outcrops of knife edged, harsh and unfeeling stone, then splashed into the murky water below.

He had never been a great swimmer and in his exhausted state he was rolled and tumbled several times before he managed to hold his head above water.  He tried to draw his wings as close to his body as he could to protect them, but the turbulent water kept tearing at them even as he vainly struggled to fight against the raging currents.  And this was not the clean water of a chuckling mountain brook.  This roiling flood contained pollutants the likes of which he'd never previously encountered.

In his struggles within that raging torrent he was battered against underwater obstacles as well as scraped, scoured, and smashed by other objects being carried in the mighty cascade.  Great logs, trunks of trees, rocks, sand, mud, bones, large metallic objects, innumerable pieces of flotsam, some felt like slime to his touch, some were solid - with sharp, jagged edges, almost all were unrecognizable scourges and terrors that rushed onward and threatened to defeat and drown him.  Finally, he managed to claw his front feet onto a large tree trunk, and using it as a rest, he was able to hold his head above water and finally managed to draw his battered and torn wings close to his emaciated body.

       But as he flies swift onward
                        he comes to realize
            That he in truth is flying
                        in new and fearful skies
            The landscape that he passes
                        is barren and forlorn
            The earth he sees beneath him
                        looks battered - wasted - worn
            He flies across the mountains
                        o'er the prairie to the sea
            And not a single morsel
                        can he find that he can eat
            He feels a growing terror
                        at the scene he sees below
            As he finds dead sign left by mankind
                        standing cluttered row on row
                                    (From the ballad of the Dragon.)

By sheer chance the log he clung to was eventually deposited upon a wide bank, the only remaining evidence of what had once been a sandy shoreline.  There he lay, unable to move more than his unbelieving eyes.  Beneath his roving gaze, he beheld the ruin of the beach, each incoming wave loaded with more floating refuse, more soggy garbage, more smelly waste.  Finally, fearing that he would be buried beneath the incoming tide of flotsam and jetsam, he struggled fully ashore, staggered to an oil sodden sand dune and once more collapsed in utter exhaustion.

Awakened by a screaming wind, beneath a sodden sky, he staggered on along the ruined shoreline, his tail dragging over the oil soaked sands.  He realized that he was starving.  He knew that he could fly no more, his tattered wings drooped down along his sides where his dull and brittle scales were slowly flaking away.  The hills above him bore no hint of green grass and no sign of any movement.  The sunlight was weak and pallid as it fought it's way through the roiling clouds that raced before the tearing winds, so all around him he saw only shades of grey.  With a long last look at the scudding clouds overhead he turned at last and waded out into the sea.  A sickened sea, devoid of life - a sea that would finally extinguish his flaming breath where naught else could.

Resolutely he plowed outward, then weakly began to swim away from the land that he had once loved, where he had once been the mightiest of the mighty and feared by all.

       They have killed the world around them
                        as he rested in his sleep
            They have chewed away at mountains
                        killed the fish out in the deep
            Put a rot upon the prairie
                        cut the trees that did abound
            They have poisoned all the rivers
                        with the refuse from the towns
            He can feel the growing weakness
                        as the sun shines over head
            And he curses at the murderers
                        as he gazes forth in dread
           For he knows he'll always hunger
                        yet he knows he cannot die
            But he knows he lacks the reasoning
                        to understand just why
                                    (From the ballad of the Dragon.)

Upon a barren beach and beside a storm tossed sea, all that moved were the clouds, the wind and the waves.  The waves beat relentlessly upon the beach and the wind and the tide deposited the sea wrack on the lonely beach along with all the other objects that floated in the sea.  Eventually anything floating on that ocean would be deposited on some distant shore, where it would lie, lonely and undisturbed.

And far out to sea, a glittering iridescent globe came bobbing to the surface, an egg, the likes of which had not been seen since the last of the female dragons had clutched.  Draped around that globe and acting as a sea anchor which was being dragged in an offshore current, was a musty green hank of kelp that had been torn from the deep.  Then a small ray of sunlight broke through the clouds for a brief instant and if there had been eyes on the shore to see it, a rainbow would have seemed to form an arch which centered above that tiny insignificant piece of flotsam as wind and wave carried it over the horizon.

       Yet still there stands the legend
                        that when the world's swept clean
            There will hatch at least one dragon
                        to rest in sunlight's beam
            Now could that really happen
                        perhaps - perchance - maybe
            For if the world can heal itself
                        what a wondrous sight to see
            Sunshine would fall upon him
                        making scaly armour shine
            A deep iridescent shimmer
                        a subtle shade - like wine
            For who can kill the dreaming
                        of the poet or jongleur
            When there exists one listener
                        his fancied words to stir.

and so ends the tale of 'The Last Dragon.'