It's Flash Fiction Tuesday.
This is a short, simple fable with dragons in it as well as a touch of wordplay.
The Dragonslayers of V'khaim
by Leonard C Suskin
Far from the village of V'kaim, deep in the wood is a simple, rough hut of fallen trees, mud, under a ragged rooftop of still green branches laced with leaves. It's the kind of shelter put up quickly, slowly weatherproofed over the months, easily abandoned. It's been abandon many times, but the hermit has always fled.
I've always fled. And I've gotten away. They keep hunting me. The dragonhunters. Because I did what they wouldn't.
I killed the dragon.
Why did I let you find me? Perhaps I'm weary. Perhaps I want to tell the story, the story the other dragon hunters won't tell.
I slew the dragon.
You know the history, I'm sure. A peaceful village, its name taken from its mystic healing springs. Pilgrims came far and wide for their healing miracles of the water cure, and miracles were delivered. They bathed in the mystic waters, they drank of them, chirurgeons infused them directly into veins. The sick and desperate tend to be poor, but the odd desperate noble every now and then would fill our coffers and walk away with a healthy body or, sometimes, a healthy bride. It was home, with an air of healing magic that kept us all healthy. It was a pleasant enough life, but for the Dragon Salemo. It demanded, as seems Dragonnish tradition, a tribute of twelve virgin girls each year. To you, I suppose, it still is home.
We paid, and we were safe. No armies dared attack us, pilgrims would come for healing, the earth was fertile.
The best and bravest of us would sometimes venture forth, to hunt the dragon. Full of bluster they'd leave, silently they'd return, never speaking on what they saw. They formed a brotherhood of sorts, shaking their silent heads sadly when a new youth would seek the Dragon, then welcoming him on his return to join them in silence. We didn't shun them exactly, but they shamed us with their failure. I sometimes gave them alms.
You know the history, so you know that I chose to take arms, to hunt the dragon, this scourge of our elsewise idyllic home. The story of how I got there is common enough; struggles with highwaymen, wild beasts, cunning traps left behind by the ancient mountainfolk. It matters not. What matters is that I arrived. Face to scaly face with Salemo, the Dragon of the North.
It hung its head sadly as I approached, armed with my dragonkilling spear and boiled leather shield. "Many have come. Follow, and understand. What I do, I do for love."
Deep into its mountain cave the dragon took me, deep in the mountain cave I saw her. The last year's sacrifice. She was bound, submerged to the waist in a deep underground stream, the water around her clouded with blood.
"The others wait their turn. It is a rare, Dragonnish magic I found, that their blood might infuse this spring - the same waters which give your town its fame - with purity and healing magic. It is a great secret. If you speak of it, I will withdraw my gift and my protections. Be silent, and all will continue as it has been. It is an offer I have made many a time, and no man has refused."
My spear penetrated his scaly skin with surprising ease. I wish I could say that I taunted him before he died, but I didn't speak until after his body stopped twitching.
"I am no man."
When I returned the last victim to the village, they knew. The silent, would-be dragonslayers. It was they who drove me out of town, to live hear in the trackless wilderness. Sometimes a woman or an old man who lost a daughter to the beast will leave me some dried meat or an old but serviceable tool. Sometimes an angry young man will hunt me, as I once hunted the dragon. This hut has been moved and rebuilt many a time.
Why did I let you find me? Because I saw something. A baby dragon. I know how it got here, and I know there are more.
If you listened to the story, you'll know too. It's quite obvious.
I'm sure that all of the hunters know, and I'm sure that they didn't care.
Now you know. You'll know to not trust the dragons, you'll know to hunt them.
You'll know that whatever it is they offer, it will not be worth it.