The knight entered her cave with as much bravado and needless spectacle as she’d come to expect, waving his sword high above his head and charging into the entryway. He tripped over her tail the way she’d planned for him to and collapsed in a loud, clattering heap of metal. She gave him a second to straighten himself and then calmly, almost lazily placed her very large claw on his very small sword.
The knight lifted his helmet to see this, let out a rather pathetic yelp and tried to back away, ending up with his back against her tail. She gave him a somewhat intimidating look, letting the steam curl around her fangs as it rose out of her mouth. The man’s skin turned white and his shoulders dropped underneath their armor plating.
“Now, before you start screaming, let me assure you that I’m not going to kill you now,” she said, letting her voice echo off the stalagmites hanging from the cavernous expanse above. She was impressed that he didn’t blanch more at the sound and felt herself growing more amused. His initial reaction had been so like the others she didn’t think he’d be anything more than another snack. But the way he clasped his metal plated legs to his chest plate now made her think he might have some uses after all
“N- now?” came a small, almost squeaky voice from inside the helmet.
“Ah, we’ve got a live one our hands. Good to see can you listen. So many of your fellows can not,” she said, waving her head in the direction of the bone pile in the far end of the cave. She watched him tighten his grip on his legs and smiled the tiniest bit.
“So it’s obvious that I can kill you at any time that I please, and it appears that you’re smart enough not to do anything stupid in the interim,” she said and waited for him to react. He just starred down at the claw firmly planted on top of his sword and then looked back up her.
“Good! So, then- you will sit and listen to my proposition,” she said. She moved slightly to better allow her mass to spread out over the warm rock that made up the floor of her cave. She was going to make herself comfortable, even if he wouldn’t.
“Now, I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly fond of loud, boisterous men barging into my home and trying to kill me everyday. I live a relatively quite life, for a dragon, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to live out my time peacefully,” she said and watched his face for a reaction.
His eyebrows furrowed for a moment, leading her to believe that he was actually considering his response. She was surprised again and waited for him to speak.
“Well,” came the small voice, a little more firm in it’s pitch now, “you are intruding in the kingdom of Goligeth,” he said. He stated it as a fact, not a threat and it pleased her that he wasn’t attempting to flex the might of his king.
“It’s good that you mention that because the fact of the matter is that your king is actually intruding on my domain,” she said. The small knight tilted his head up to look at her, almost as if he would make eye contact. She waited for him to do so but he settled his gaze slightly downward. She didn’t think it a deliberate sign of respect, probably more of a safety measure lest she bespell him with her eyes. But she appreciated it nonetheless.
“I came here over three thousand years ago, back when this land was nothing more than mountains and volcanic ash. Your king’s predecessors settled only 432 years ago but, like all humans, assumed the land was theirs for the taking,” she explained.
“Ah, I see,” the knight replied. She didn’t really believe that he did actually see her point, but he was at least listening.
“Now, as I said, I don’t desire much in life- I live a relatively quiet existence. In fact, I’m willing to wager that you and the rest of your king’s helpers didn’t even know I was in here until relatively recently. And you wouldn’t have known I was here if this volcano didn’t start petering out,” she explained. It was a fact that her warm and cozy home had started to get more and more chilly over the years as the active volcano her cave was located next to cycled further into its dormant season.
“So, forgive my intrusion, but if you like warmth, like most dragons, and this volcano is starting to slumber, then why don’t you just move?” the knight asked, keeping his gaze just below her eyes in as close to direct eye contact as he could manage. She was startled that he knew something, anything about her kind. It was a characteristic of most knights she’d encountered to believe that the entire world revolved around their kingdom and therefore to know little to nothing about other ways of life.
“How do know so much about my kind?” she asked.
The knight let out a sigh, and removed his helmet. “The truth is, I’m not a knight,” he answered as he wiped the sweat off his brow. He had released all the bravado he’d entered with and allowed his entire posture to deteriorate as if he weren’t used to holding himself completely upright. “I sort-of inherited this job from my uncle when you- uh…” he nodded his head towards the bone pile in the far corner.
She followed his nod and felt ever the slightest bit embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, as if she might have meant it if she’d known him any better.
He waved her apology away as if it were a fly. “I hate to say he had it coming, but I’ll leave it at that. The only reason I came here is because of my father- he was concerned that the king would take our farm if our family line was disgraced,” he explained with a tone that said neither the death of his uncle nor the prospect of his father losing his farm really upset him all that much.
“Seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for the king to do,” she sighed. “So- you’re a farmer?”
“Technically speaking, no. I have more experience with livestock,” he answered as if embarrassed by his lack of farming experience.
She studied him for a moment. Based on his appearance now, the information he’d shared and the general lack of fear, anger or anything else adversarial she began to entertain the idea that he might be just what she was looking for.
“Well, I have a proposition for you,” she began. She straightened her chest more as a formality than to appear intimidating, but she was fine with intimidation as a side effect. “Part of the reason that your king’s knights didn’t start bothering me until relatively recently is because, up until relatively recently, I had a servant who kept this place hidden. As I said, I’ve been in this mountain for far longer than your kingdom has been around.
“In the beginning, there wasn’t a human soul for over a continent and I had no troubles. When people started taking over land and this area started cooling I found it necessary to employ the services of someone to keep curious explorers out of this mountain side, and so I took on a servant. My faithful Osfrid served me for over 80 years. But unfortunately he has passed away and since I have been plagued by people of all kinds, not the least troublesome being your kingdom’s knights.”
She paused again, giving him time to digest. It was a lot to take on for anyone and she didn’t want him jumping into the decision simply to save his life. The look of concentration on his face made her think that he was actually considering her words rather than just looking for a way out so she continued.
“My proposition is this: you become my servant. You shall keep a farm if you wish, do whatever you like with your life. Your soul duty shall be to prevent anyone from coming into my home.”
It was then that his brow furrowed as if he were thinking it over very hard. She enjoyed the way the lines in his forehead deepened and his frown made his chin tuck in. The expression looked as if the issue he was figuring out in his head was a type of work that he was not accustomed to and she couldn’t help but smile slightly. He actually went to put his head in his hands and then grimaced at the feel of the metal from his gauntlets.
“Without inadvertently indicating any sort of disrespect, can I ask what’s in it for me?” he asked, with a tone that indicated more than the appropriate amount of fear.
“Hmmm, you are smarter than you look,” she said smiling down at him. With the dexterity that a creature of that size would never have been suspected to possess she drew back her claw from his sword, straightened herself and stood. Her head brushed against the top of the cavern and his face dropped as he watched her rise.
It was clear from his expression that he believed she was straightening up for the death blow or to snap down and swallow him whole. But then she surprised him by nodding downwards. His eyes dropped from her head slowly and then his mouth fell open as he beheld the large hoard of precious metals, gems and the like that had been nestled beneath her belly like a nest of eggs.
“Because I pay much better than your king,” she grinned at him.
He gulped so hard that the sound made a noise. “Alright, then,” he said.