Short Story Contest
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins

by Alia Salim

The day was a fne one--a sparkling sun, a gentle breeze, and small wisps of clouds trailing across the dazzling blue sky. The meadows seemed to shine with an unusual luster, and the warm June air was alive with birdcall.
All this beauty was lost upon the villagers, who were cheering and chanting as they marched up the mountainside. At the head of the crowd were two figures--one, the barbaric king of the village and countryside and the other, Murdock, a soldier in slightly dented armor.
Murdock, walking proudly next to the king, had a smug grin on his face. Once or twice, he would glance slyly behind him, where another soldier was scowling and muttering under his breath. More often though, he would make sugary remarks to the king, who would do little but smile and clap him on the back--kings being not very wordy.
Meanwhile, in the depths of a cavern at the mountains peak, a dragon was taking her noontide nap. Dragons, though not nocturnal, have a tendency toward daytime slumber. This one, a rare sapphire blue beauty, was especially tired, after having raided a nearby cow pasture that morning. Her belly was full and her cave was warm--she saw no reason to arise.
It was unfortunate, however, that she was sleeping, for there was a soldier who was striding up the mountain at that very moment, and he had only one intention that day--to slay her. Not for the sport of it--the fighting of dragons, is, as a rule, rather risky; but for other purposes.
Murdock, the warrior in question, had wanted to be a knight since the day he knew what one was. He had trained with the finest fighters, spent years learning the art of swordplay and had watched attentively many jousting competitions, in order to learn from the masters. Today was the day all his dreams would come true, or so he hoped, for in order to join the knights of King Dormal, one must first slay a dragon.
Perhaps this was the reason that there were so few knights in the area. For all know, that even in those distant medieval times, dragons were scarce, especially in populated areas. When a dragon did arrive, there were always five or six fighters who would give their eyeteeth for a chance at killing it. So it was purely by fate that Murdock had been chosen as the lucky one.
This, as one might imagine, had made the other soldiers who were waiting for a dragon rather upset. One in particular--Ferdinand was his name--was especially angry. He had, in fact, been waiting for his chance a good year and a half longer than Murdock. What's more, there was a pretty young maiden in the village, whom he thought would pay him a good deal more attention if he was to be knighted. In any case, there was little he could do but hope Murdock would fail.
The band of villagers reached the dragon's lair by around two o'clock. Most climbed trees so they would have a good view of the battle, and those too old to be clambering about in branches crouched down in the shrubbery. The soldiers already appointed knights stood boldly in front of the trees, discussing the fight.
"What are his chances, do you think?" asked one.
"I can see him taking the dragon down easily," replied another, casually leaning on the hilt of his sword.
"What makes you think that? The idiot hasn't ever really had to fight," retorted a small knight laughingly.
"The dragon makes me think that."
"Aye," put in an older knight, "this dragon is no more fearsome than a goat. I saw the beast this morning, snatching livestock from the pastures. A gorgeous color, but smaller than most. A female too, they never fight as well as the males. What's more, she's young--probably never seen a sword in all her life."
"I see your point. But give Murdock some credit, lads. He's trained long and hard, had his heart set on knighthood."
"Personally though," said the first knight, "I favor young Ferdinand. Now there's a fellow with some spirit! Got an icy mean streak, but he fights like ten his size."
The conversation was halted when the king called for silence. He obviously favored Murdock over the dragon, as he'd brought his sword with him so he could appoint his new knight as soon as the battle was done. Normally, all the knighting rituals were carried out at the village, after the confrontation.
"Attention, my subjects," he called out loudly, "the young soldier, Murdock, has come to slay the evil beast that lurks in yonder cave." He paused for a minute, letting Murdock take a bow, and smile at the onlookers.
"This dragon has eaten your livestock, scorched your fields and struck fear into your hearts. But Murdock is here to slay it!"
The crowd cheered.
"When he succeeds, he shall be appointed knight! A warrior! And your hero!"
The crowd cheered again, whooping and yelling with delight.
It was the cheering that finally awoke the dragon. She yawned, and stood up. Her blue scales rippled like water when she moved. Blinking owlishly, she listened to the noises. They were people noises, this she knew, but little else. Probably nothing to fear. People were forever making noises, not like dragons, who spoke sparingly.
She turned around, and strode into the deepest part of the cave, which was littered with coins and jewels. This was her secret cavern, her treasure cave. All dragons are fond of things that sparkle, things that glisten and shine. This includes, of course, gold and silver, diamonds and other precious stones. Her collection was small, as she had lived in the cave for only a short while, but she loved it. She smiled when she saw her riches, revealing rows of milky white and needle sharp teeth.
Treasure was another reason Murdock wanted to slay the dragon. Traditionally, when a dragon is slain and its treasure collected, the knight takes one half of it, and the king the other. If the collection is large however, even half of it is enough to keep a greedy man happy all his life.
The dragon didn't know this, of course, or maybe she would have hidden her treasure better. In any case, she was crouching in her treasure cave when she heard the footsteps.
They were a human's footsteps, unmistakably that of a knight. No other being walks with the regular one-two beat. But even knowing this did not scare the little dragon. She knew nothing of battles, warriors, or poison-tipped swords. So she did not retreat further back into the caverns, where perhaps she might have hidden, nor did she advance, to crush the enemy quickly. She simply crouched among her sparkling treasure, listening.
Murdock, surprisingly enough, was not frightened. He had seen the dragon that morning too, and even a beginner could conclude that she was certainly not as dangerous as most of her kind were. He walked with a quick confident stride, thinking happily to himself how angry Ferdinand would be when he came striding out of the cave, a dragon's head upon his swordpoint. And the pretty maiden--the silversmith's daughter--she'd looked interested when the king had introduced him. There were possibilities, and wouldn't Ferdinand be jealous? Knights always had more extravagant weddings than common soldiers.
Murdock ventured deeper into the cave, his poison-tipped sword held lightly in his right hand. He could smell smoke, and hear low rumbling sounds coming from deeper inside the cave. Still he was not afraid--but call this not bravery, but foolishness. Rather than concentrating on the battle ahead, he was letting his mind wander. But maybe this was not all his fault--the air in dragons' lairs has an odd effect on the human brain.
Meanwhile, the dragon was moving toward the cave entrance, and toward Murdock. She still did not know that he meant to kill her, all she wanted was a brief flight through the blue skies to stretch her wings. It was not her intention to walk smack into the stalking warrior.
Murdock, inexperienced, but well trained, immediately took a direct thrust at the surprised dragon, who more by luck than anything, dodged in time to miss the swordstroke. Undaunted, and half-mad with a lust for battle, Murdock took a sideways sweep, and narrowly missed shearing off the dragon's claw.
Galvanized into action, the dragon retaliated. Lashing her tail furiously, she knocked Murdock flat on his back, then, puzzled by her own strength, backed away.
This gave the attacker a chance to get up, and start a charge toward the dragon. She breathed a sudden burst of fire, that missed Murdock and hit only the cave walls.
Murdock was somewhat wary of the flames, but so far, the battle seemed to be going his way. The knights had been correct, the dragon had never fought a battle in her life. She certainly didn't know how to control her fire, and had barely managed to dodge his previous swordstroke.
Encouraged by this, Murdock fought all the more ferociously. His sword was everywhere at once, whining as it sliced through the warm cave air. The blade nicked the dragon's scales, but not enough for the poison to do any harm. Murdock charged again.
Before the would-be knight could get anywhere near the dragon, a sword struck him down. It was Ferdinand. But the dragon did not know the difference between the two men--she had already breathed the fire that would kill them both.
Ferdinand and Murdock perished in the same ghastly manner; but none should sympathize--human treachery and greed was the cause of their deaths, not flames.
For sometimes, whether by skill or luck, the dragon wins.

"The author gives us a fun story with fresh characterization. The writer has a great command of words."
--the judges

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