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Copyright Michael "The Roach" Janszen ©2001

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

He came down from the mountains one evening in late spring. The sun glistened on His scales, rippling with the barely-restrained power of his muscles beneath. The men from the village, hurrying home from the fields where they had been tending the crops and expecting the worst, were astonished to find Him sitting in the village square, unperturbed by the women's' fearful looks nor the baron's barely controlled belligerence. "Dragon!" the village folks whispered.

To her, He looked as if He had come straight from the gods, which indeed He might have. She noticed everyone was afraid, but she couldn't understand why. She was only three, after all.

When He spoke, all the buildings in the village trembled. It was said, later, that some of the windows in the baron's mansion broke, which was a shame. They were  made of glass, after all, and glass was expensive.

"It's very simple," He said. "Ten days after each solstice, and ten days after each equinox, you'll bring ten cows - nice, juicy young cows, no steer, no oxen, no old ones, nothing else - into the village square. In the following night, I'll get them "

Ten cows, that was much. Forty cows a year was much more than the village could afford. Young though she was, she understood this. Still, she didn't understand the fear. So, she stepped out like she had seen her Dad do on occasion, hands on her hips, and looked at him.  Behind her, the villagers gasped, but no one dared pull her back, afraid to draw His attention.  "Just 'cos you're big doesn't mean you can simply take what belongs to us!" she yelled at Him. In the crowd, her Mum fainted.  With blinding speed, His head shot down, stopping inches in front of her face. She didn't flinch, even though one of His eyes was almost as big as she was.

"We have a spirited one here!" He seemed amused. "Rest assured, I am not planning on killing all of you off. The ten cows, that's what the whole barony will deliver." He took wing again. When everyone thought that He had left, He returned one more time, circling over their heads.
"One day," He thundered, "One day, I might take away one of your daughters, and if I do, I won't return for any more cows." And this time, He really left.

And her heart sang out. Everyone else had seen powerful muscles, sharp teeth, fiery eyes, the hard and impenetrable scales. She, however, had seen the play of the sun on His body, the finely manicured claws, the smoothness of His movements, the glint in His eyes. They had seen power and danger, but she had seen beauty.


* * * * *


Ten cows every quarter year from the whole barony  was manageable, though still a hardship. 40 cows a year. Being the liege lord, the baron was hurting the most. So when, together with the hundredth cow, the dog guarding them disappeared (his favorite hunting dog), he sent for a dragon hunter.

The dragon hunter was a filthy, unkempt individual. Wherever he went, an envelope of smell followed him and remained, almost as if it had taken on a mind of its own. His name was unpronounceable, so everyone called him Gargi. He was a dwarf.

She had just turned six, and was almost as tall as the dwarf.

In the village pub, they told Gargi about the set-up. How the cows were led into the village square in the evening. How they would disappear overnight, leaving only a few cow chips behind.  "Hasn't the dragon taken away any people as well?", Gargi asked.

Strangely enough, He hadn't. Some of the older girls in the village looked into their wine cups uncomfortably. They had thought of running away, using the dragon as a distraction - the village wouldn't realize for three months that they hadn't been taken by the dragon. But instead, they had fallen asleep with the rest of the village, only to awaken the next morning. They had wisely kept silent about it.

A few boys, though, had tried to sneak a peek out at the dragon. As she had, too. But they, too had fallen asleep.

Gargi stayed for three days, eating and drinking on their costs. Then, the day had come. They put the cows into the village square, and Gargi set out to confront the dragon.  The next day, the cows were gone. In one corner of the village square, Gargi's clothes, chain mail and weapons were found; in the opposite corner, Gargi himself lay, snoring away, not bothered by the cold winter air on his bare skin.

When he awoke to general laughter, Gargi didn't bother to dress. He just grabbed his stuff and ran away, never to be seen again.
That was the only time the village had tried to hire a dragon hunter.


* * * * *


The years passed, and she grew to be an attractive girl. She was very much a tomboy, but even so she learned a lot about life, and breeding cows, and everything else a good village girl needed to know.

The summer solstice shortly before her sixteenth birthday, something changed in the general procedure. For the first time since He had appeared over thirteen years ago, His shape was seen, circling over the village waiting for nightfall. She had made up her mind. When everyone went to bed, expecting to fall asleep, she crept out of the house, and onto the village square. There, she used a rope to tie herself to one of the cows. She had barely finished tying the knot when she felt her lids go heavy, and she fell asleep.

She awoke with a start. It was daytime, and she was in a valley in the mountains, lying on a stack of cowhides. It wasn't an uncomfortable bed at all.
She looked around. Next to her bed, she saw a bowl of fruit. She grabbed an apple, wondering how a completely fresh apple could be here, before the apples were even ripe. She bit into it, and then set out to look where she was.

She rounded a corner and saw Him, sitting majestically, looking over what must have been a herd of several hundred cows grazing. The cows seemingly were not worried by His presence. Slowly, she crept closer, trying to move as stealthily as possible.  When she had closed in to ten yards, He suddenly spoke. "I see you have awoken. Do you have what you want?" Only when He had finished did He turn His head to look at her.

"If I am allowed to stay, then I have what I want." she replied.

"If I had not wanted you to come here, I would not have taken you. You would have slept, and awoken on the village square. Even though it's sad that I don't get the cows anymore."

Content, she sat down next to Him.  "A herd of cows? Are you keeping them?"

"Of course. As long as they will live. I don't need their flesh."

Unbelievingly, she looked up at Him. "You don't? But then, why...?"

He looked deep into her eyes. "This must remain a secret between you and me. Promise me that!"

Se looked into His eyes. Slowly, she nodded. "No one will ever learn it from me."

"Then it is good. We dragons don't eat flesh at all. It is poisonous to us."

She frowned. "Do you mean you eat plants? Most animals that eat plants need much more..."

"No, dragons aren't herbivores either. We need too much energy to make use of material that raw. What we ... well, you might say, eat... is much more refined."  He looked at one of the cows. Suddenly, the cow gave a start, and ran a few steps before forgetting whatever it was that had startled her.

Se looked back at Him. Out of the corner of His mouth, she saw a a white liquid trickle while He... was it a smile?  She looked back at the cow that had been startled. And noticed that her udder was empty. She looked at the other cows. About one third had empty udders, the rest were waiting to be milked. She looked back at Him, understanding dawning deep within.

"Yes, we need milk to survive. Unfortunately, these cows don't last long before they start to... dry up. They produce very little milk, and so we are forced to continue collecting new cows. And being down one barony... well, while I like that you have found your way here, after all this still means I need to find another source. I gave my word."

She leaned against His left paw. "Did you know I would come?"

"From the day I first saw you. Your spirit cried out. It cried out against what you saw as injustice, and you stood in for what you believed in. Yes, I expected you to come, but still... why did you?"

"I wanted to know... When you were in the village, everyone only saw the mighty, fearsome dragon. I saw the beautiful, noble creature and wondered whether I was wrong. It seems I wasn't."

"And what do you plan to do now?"

"You have a problem because part of your milk supply suddenly ran out?"

"One fifth, to be exact. I gathered about 50 cows a quarter, which is barely enough to sustain me. But I'll manage. Of course, I won't keep you. What would I do with you? Can I take you somewhere?"

She sat down on His right hind leg, leaning against His strong body. His smell - unlike anything she had ever smelled before - tickled her nose. "Say, was there a special reason why you demanded ten cows? You could have demanded anything, I doubt people would have dared disobey"

"What would I do with anything else? I need the milk. So, all I ask for is cows."

She smiled dreamily, while three more cows suddenly found their udders utterly empty. "I think I'll stay with you - for a while at least. And I'll help you become less dependent on the humans."

"Less dependent? That would be nice. But, how are you going to do that?"

"Are you done collecting the cows this quarter already?"

"No, there's two more villages."

She smiled up at His eyes and impishly tapped His giant nose with her index finger. "Can you change your orders to one of the villages? Have them deliver three or four young bulls.  They ought to be about to kill them or turn them into oxen anyway."

Confusion flew over His face. "Bulls? They don't give milk. What would I need them for? As I said, meat is poisonous to me."

"It's what you need, believe me! Ever heard about the birds and the bees...?"



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