Why does he have to attack me? What did I ever do to him? I’m sure I’ve never seen him before, yet here he is, charging straight at me with the light of the sun at his back. He looks like all the others: clad in glistening steel from head to toe, sword and shield at his sides, a white horse carrying him full speed into battle. Hopefully he’ll end up like the others too.
I stand my ground and turn to face the knight head-on, ready for what’s become a routine encounter over the past month. As always, I’m terrified, but I can’t let it show. The slightest hint of weakness and you’re roasting on a spit for the next royal feast faster than you can yell “Scram!”
He shouts something at me as he draws nearer. I can’t catch all the words through his closed visor and the whistling mountain wind, but I know what he’s saying. Every knight comes here for the same reason. Everyone wants to be the hero who slew the dragon and saved the kingdom. What difference does it make to any of them what I do? It’s not like they live on the old farms I scavenge. None of them know what it’s like to have hungry children to feed when winter turns the mountain into a barren wasteland. They don’t care if my family and I deserve a chance to survive, so long as they get their precious gold and glory.
I’d explain myself if I thought he could understand me. It wouldn’t matter; they never listen anyway. Not one of these buffoons has ever bothered trying to reason with me or hear my side of the story. All they see when they look at me is a monster who’d sooner rip their heads off than glance at them. So that’s what I give them.
The knight reaches my clearing and raises his sword and shield. Time to defend. I open my jaws and release a carefully aimed jet of flame at him, straight into the shield so it burns but doesn’t ignite him. Before he can look up, I bring my tail crashing down inches from his steed. The animal rears and throws its rider off before it turns and gallops back into the woods. Good riddance. I’m sick of seeing these white horses on my mountain. Why is it always white? Are horses color-coded for service? Or is it the same horse every time? Either way, it always gets scared off in the first minute. That’s the easy part.
The man staggers to his feet and faces me again, sword and shield still in hand. His visor is open now, and this time I can hear the words he yells up at me.
“Your days of destruction are over, foul beast! Prepare to die!”
I’d roll my eyes, but I don’t want to egg him on. Prepare to die. Like I haven’t heard that a million times. I have to give him credit for his bravery, though; most of them run away as soon as they lose their horse. Not so tough on two legs.
I tower over the knight and stare him down, ready for his next attack. He runs forward with his shield up, but I step back and shoot a fireball over his head. He ducks and rolls as if it would have hit him, then swings the blade at my front claws. It cuts, but not deep enough to sting. I’m lucky these fools never think to bring long-range weapons. If they ever figure out to go straight for my heart, I’ll be toast for sure.
The knight hacks at my claws a few times, then raises his shield again when he sees me open my mouth. Another stream of fire washes over him for a few seconds, and it’s his turn to attack again. This back-and-forth continues for several rounds, until at last I start to see the signs of fatigue in his movements. Time to end this.
Just as he lowers his shield and raises his weapon for the umpteenth time, I swing my tail back around and knock him to the ground. He falls on his back as the blade and shield go flying. Before he can recover his breath, I pin him to the earth beneath my claws and bring my face close to his, baring my fangs at him. Finally I see the satisfying fear in his eyes.
“GO AWAY!” I shout in my native tongue. He doesn’t understand my words, but I know he’ll get the message. I lift my claws with him still between them and drop him on his feet, then I roar until he bolts off in the same direction as his horse. Turns out he’s not just one of the bravest challengers so far; he’s also one of the fastest.
Exhausted yet triumphant, I sweep the fallen sword and shield into a nearby chasm full of lost weapons before I turn and walk back up to my cave. Three hatchlings are poking their heads out of the cavern, and I know at once that they were watching the whole time. They put on brave faces as I saunter in, pretending they knew how the battle would play out, but I’m sure they’re relieved that their mother is home again.
“Mama”, says my youngest as I cradle all three under my wings, her wide green eyes betraying the fear hidden in her voice, “will they ever leave us alone?”
I’m asked the same question after every battle, either by her or one of her brothers. The best I can ever do is smile at them and say reassuringly, “We’ll see.” Mothers are supposed to protect their children, even from the truth. I know the people in the valley. They won’t stop until I’m dead or the kingdom runs out of glory-hungry idiots. And the kingdom never runs out of idiots.
Sometimes I wonder if I should just kill the knights. It would be a much more effective way to make sure they don’t come back. My children have never tasted human before… but with good reason. I don’t want to set a bad example. It’s hard enough living in a world that thinks you’re evil; we can’t afford to lose all reason by living up to the hype. Too many of our kind have gone down that dark path, and it never ends well. Still, I have hope that it won’t always be this way, that someday empathy will overcome fear and our attackers will learn to tolerate us, maybe even accept us.
Until then, all we can do is defend.