A reworking of "On Dragons" with a happier ending and an uglier wizard.
Ardon, the king of the island nation was miserable. He ruled benevolently and his only troubles came in the form of marauders from distant shores. He’d held them off for many years but they were gaining in strength and the resources of his island were finite. He sent out word that a reward would come to the one who could find a solution. Many of his people brought him a variety of ideas for weapons or treaties but he rejected them all.
One day Gamne the wizard came down from his dark lair in the highlands and petitioned for audience. Ardon, as well as the rest of the population, feared Gamne for his magical ways and ugliness of aspect but he was desperate. A recent attack had cost him hundreds of citizens.
“I will provide you with a weapon, Sire.” Gamne said. “One that will strike fear into their hearts and save your kingdom, and I require no reward, save for something you already have in abundance and only one one-hundredth of one per cent of that.”
“Bring me this weapon and you will have it.” Ardon said hastily, and after Gamne withdrew, added, “Seems like a nice enough fellow.”
Gamne went to work. At night, the island people could see bright lights flickering in the distant highlands and hear terrible sounds echoing down, human and bestial screams of agony.
“Just a trick of the wind.” said Ardon.
For many long months, the king waited and grew impatient as his people continually brought new ideas to thwart the marauders. They reeked of desperation, brought on by those sounds that came every night from the highlands and haunted their dreams.
Finally, Gamne came before Ardon and announced, “Your weapon is ready, Sire.”
“Show it to me then!”
“First you must fashion a bed of pure gold of three square yards and install it in the high courtyard.”
“This is your price? It is beyond the terms you set forth.”
“This is not for me, Sire. This is to house your new weapon.”
The gold, Ardon thought, was not irrecoverable if this turned out to be a sham. When they’d made their bed, the king and Gamne and a handful of guards gathered near it. Gamne called words that were foreign and in a few moments a speck appeared on the horizon. Gamne pointed to it. “Behold!”
Gradually the speck grew as it approached them, and they were all taken aback when a creature, about the size of a child’s pony, lighted on the bed of gold. It was the most beautiful thing any of them had ever seen. Ardon was enthralled and forgot for a moment what this thing was supposed to be. Its wings were like those of the giant eagles of Harek Tor. Its scales glistened like the leviathan of the deep. Its talons called to mind the Great Rok. Its head was equine but with forward looking eyes that seemed human. And many other features that reminded one of some other creature.
“Your dragon, Sire.” Gamne said. “Her name is Nova Clarus.”
The creature drew them and was affectionate in return. She responded warmly to human touch and all were charmed, but the king said, “It’s wonderful, Gamne. But how is this a weapon?”
Gamne spoke more foreign words and the dragon took flight. It soared above them and dazzled them with its aerobatics. It stunned them with bursts of speed that the eye could not follow.
“Wonderful!” Ardon said. “But again, how is this a weapon?”
Gamne spoke more of those words and the little dragon sent forth from its muzzle, a plume of fire many, many times its own body length. Though directed skyward, they could feel the heat of it.
“Wonderful!” said the king.
“Virtually nothing can slay her, Sire, and she will grow to the size of the bed of gold you provide. She is too pure and perfect a creature to survive on the other earthly elements. Nova Clarus will only light on a bed of pure gold.”
“How do we care for it?”
“She will feed herself. She plucks her prey and eats while airborne. You just provide the bed.”
The alarms sounded at that moment and everyone went to battle stations. The island’s shores were once again under attack, and this time, it was by a very large fleet.
“Perfect timing! Alright, Gamne, send it off!”
“The dragon! Send it! Wipe them out!”
“My fee, Sire.”
“Now? Don’t be a fool, man. Send the dragon! You’ll get your fee!”
“As you wish, Sire.”
More words and Nova Clarus moved on the fleet and destroyed every last bit of it within the hour. Not a single islander was lost.
“A larger dragon can do that in moments, Sire.” Gamne said.
“I don’t think we need a larger dragon.” Ardon said, looking blissfully at the burning sea before him.
“My fee, Sire?”
“Oh, fine. What will it be?”
“The woman who runs the tavern. Hanna. I wish to marry her.”
“I see. One one-hundreth of one percent of something I have in abundance. So ask her, man.”
“You agreed to my fee, Sire. Her answer notwithstanding.”
“You expect me to force her?”
“My reputation precedes me.”
“Very well. If she refuses, I will speak with her.”
Hanna dutifully consented when commanded to marry the grotesque wizard, but in a moment of despair, threw herself from the highest wall. Gamne returned to his lair.
Over the next year, Ardon impounded all the kingdom’s gold and increased the size of the bed. As promised, Nova Clarus grew commensurately. She was now a massive creature, comparable to some whales in the sea. Ardon was contemplating striking out to other lands to acquire more gold.
Though affectionate, the dragon ignored their words and remained on her bed, only leaving to feed on the livestock that was now dwindling, having already decimated the island’s wildlife.
The next attack finally came, and watching his people die in old-fashioned battle, Ardon knew they needed Gamne. But when his bravest men went to his lair, Gamne was gone.
One day an envoy approached under the white sails of truce, and Ardon learned that Gamne had been abroad providing other kingdoms with dragons. Every nation had made the same mistakes and now had a giant dragon that was depleting their resources while not defending them. War was constant. Everyone was crazed for gold, as it was vital to maintain the largest dragon possible for when Gamne could be persuaded to teach them the command words. Not all kingdoms were equal, and while smaller ones with smaller dragons had joined together, several stood out with dragons large enough to wipe out everything. Trade had reverted to a barter system, as all gold was now fought over and sought for dragon beds.
It seemed that in each kingdom, Gamne had requested a wife, and they all took their own lives in various fashions. “That Gamne is a trickster.” Ardon said.
One day Gamne returned to his lair in the highlands. This was known because the lights and horrible sounds issued forth once again. Ardon sent a group of his bravest men to fetch Gamne. Before they could set out, Nova Clarus took flight and was joined in the sky by all the dragons of all the kingdoms, large and small. They flew to Gamne’s lair and came away a short time later. Nova Clarus returned with a scroll in her talons, which she presented to the king.
“Here be the words you seek.” The scroll read. “With them, you will control your dragon and vanquish your enemies.”
And below that were the foreign words and their translations.
Ardon was growing wiser of late. He considered that each kingdom would have received such a scroll. He petitioned the others for a treaty of peace but it was too late. The other kingdoms used their dragons to annihilate each other. Ardon never launched his dragon, and no other kingdoms survived to attack the island. In the aftermath, new problems arose. His people were slowly growing sickly.
His scientist Irba came to him one day having finally discovered the cause. “It’s dragon waste, Sire. It’s everywhere and it’s toxic and we must dispose of it properly.” So Ardon put his best men to the task of proper disposal of Nova Clarus’ waste.
Ardon had reneged on his agreement with Gamne so the wizard repossessed Nova Clarus. For days the sky was filled with all the dragons from all the kingdoms bringing their beds of gold piece by piece to the highlands. From the gold, Gamne fashioned a shining and grand palace on the highest peak, its broad flat roof affording the dragons great comfort and community. When again he’d selected a suitable mate, he cured her of her sickness, and she, looking off to highlands at that beautiful glowing structure and the sky above it filled with those beautiful creatures, readily accepted his proposal.