The Dragon Itself 
 

MUD PUDDLE

by Allen Butler
The sky was clear that summer day, and sunlight spread across the earth, bringing its warmth to every blade of grass, every speck of dirt.  Only the mud puddle, laying by the earthen road in its calm way, hinted at the darker times that had passed before it, evidence of a rain now passed. 

A heavy boot landed in the mud puddle, breaking its perfect stillness.  Panting, the wearer of the boot ran up the hill at whose base the mud puddle lay.  In his hand he carried a leather pouch, and as he ran it jingled slightly.  A slight grin pierced his lips as he recalled the look on the old merchant's face when he had taken the bag.  When he reached the top he paused, resting his hands on his knees and panting.  He took time to look at the earthen road behind him.  It was an old and well-worn road, he noticed, although it was slightly muddy from the rains.  Across the road was a small forest.  Maybe he could hide in the trees for a little while, so as not to get caught.  It was no petty sum of money he had stolen this day.  "Hello," said a deep, rumbling voice.  He lifted his head to see a bright red dragon perched on the hill beside him.  "How are you doing, sir?" the dragon asked him cordially.  In his surprise the man dropped his pouch and it rolled down the hill, ultimately landing in the mud puddle. 

"Well, are you going to speak?" questioned the dragon.  The man suddenly broke from his shock and began to run from the bloodthirsty beast, deciding that he did not want to be eaten by a dragon this particular day.  "What an odd man," commented the dragon as the man continued to run, even faster than he had before.  Lazily the dragon gazed down at the bag of gold lying in the mud puddle.  The bag had come open and a few of the bright shiny coins had fallen out.  The dragon loved shiny coins, especially shiny gold coins, but it was too much effort to try to get these little trinkets.  He looked back behind him at the towering mountains, his home, and lifted his mighty red wings, preparing for flight.  

                                                * * * 

"Stop, foul dragon!" came a shout from below the dark creature.  The dragon turned his head to the side and looked down upon the valiant knight, completely armored and sitting atop a horse, lance held in one hand. 

"May I help you, sir?" asked the dragon, ever polite as members of his species were. 

"I know what you are!  Thou art an evil beast, and shall be slain by mine own hand this day," pronounced the knight in his powerful voice. 

"Why do you think I am evil, good and noble knight?"  The dragon rested its wings and turned its massive body so it was now facing the knight. 

"Thou's magicks have effect none upon mine own self," answered the knight.  "Thou art evil, as is each of your foul breed.  Thou dost not know this simple fact?" 

"Unfortunately, I was lacking this important information, noble sir.  Of course, you are a  knight, so therefor you are correct, so I am yours to be killed."  The dragon gazed past the knight into the forest, as if searching for something.  Then his amazingly calm eyes inched back to the warrior. 

Beneath the knight's cold steel visor a brief smile appeared, cracking the rigid and weathered skin. The cavalier motioned for his steed to charge.  The horse galloped through the mud puddle and up the grassy hill.  The knight lowered his lance.  The dragon simply sat there, watching him come. 

Hidden in the trees on the other side of the road sat a young boy, watching the entire scene.  He knew what the dragon was going to do.  He knew this dragon, and had been witness to the deaths of four valiant knights under his hot and fiery breath.  For many a moon had he followed this dragon, cleaning up after it.  The dragon knew of him, and had decided to leave him be.  The boy watched for the creature's move.  Suddenly the dragon drew its head back.  The knight saw what was coming, and hurtled his lance like a spear at the beast.   Flames flew through the air, burning the wooden lance to ashes and bombarding the valiant warrior.  With a last battle cry the knight fell, and smoke rose from his charred remains. 

"Another poor soul, dead of his own blind hatred," the dragon remarked sadly.  "Perhaps if I stopped killing them they would not think me evil?  Ah, well, that is life."  Quite irritated at the annoyance, the dragon flew off into the sky. 

                                                * * * 

As the dragon took flight, the young boy scurried across the road to the mud puddle.  He picked up the bag and began scouring for the loose coins.  He placed them hurriedly in his pockets.  

"You there!  Boy!"  The boy paid no attention and continued picking up coins, as a fat old merchant rode to his side atop a shining ebony mount.  Next to him was a young man riding a donkey, which in turn pulled a cart laden with heavy goods.  The boy saw them out of the corner of his eye and turned his head to look at them. 

"What are you doing with my master's gold, which was stolen from him no more than an hour ago?" demanded the servant.  The boy stared at him blankly.  The man repeated himself, but the boy made no move.  "Answer me when I speak to you!" snapped the servant.  He grabbed the boy and pulled him out of the mud.  The bag of gold dropped to the ground, and several more coins spilled.  "Answer ME!" 

A look of fear came across the boy's face.  Garbled syllables ran from his mouth, but he could not manage any real words.  He had never been able to, having been deaf and dumb since the time he was born.  "Forget the boy and get my gold," commanded the fat old merchant.  The servant nodded reluctantly, and tossed the boy aside.  He began picking up the fallen pieces of gold.  He then remounted his donkey, and the pair rode off.  The boy ran in the other direction, wondering why they had been so cruel to him. 

                                                * * * 

Several hours passed on the clear day after that.  Eventually a minstrel rode past what had once been a mud puddle, strumming lightly on the lute he carried.  He happened to glance upon the ground and saw a gold coin.  He dismounted softly, and innocently picked up the coin.  "I wonder how this item came to be here," he asked himself half-heartedly and placed it in his pocket.  He got back on his horse and rode off into the sunset.   *   

Story copyright ©1998 by Allen Butler <Gigem2004@prodigy.net  

Illustration copyright ©1998 by Romeo Esparrago <romedome@aol.com  

 
 

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