Cats and Dragons

on cats and dragons, for Ser Webster

The sky was blue, bright, and clear. Wisps of cloud drifted silently over the valley.

The valley was green, lush, and glorious. Trees provided canopy deep into the depths between the hills, split by a wide, rough path leading straight to the gold.

The gold was glittering, glinting, gleaming. As the sunlight hit it from overhead, it shone like the hope of new love.

The dragon was bright, glorious, and gleaming in the bright rays as he perched at the top of the valley with envy in his face, saliva in his teeth and the reflection of the gold in his eye.

The cat was sly, clever, and quick. Her coat was fluffy, her claws sharp, her ears ripped, her snout scared.

“It is, of course, a trip” said the cat, looking at the dragon’s talons with her own envy.

“You would think. A trail of wagons with the royal insignia started arriving late last night. A troop of the Queen’s own wharf’s dockworkers unloaded the gold. Between the trees shine the armour of the King’s finest trained ready meals, and if they think they can clothe their archers in dragonhide and not have me notice, Our Queen has somehow managed to limbo under my expectations for her. How did you get up here?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon.

“Knights”, said the cat

“What?”

“The ready meals are called ‘Knights'”

“I don’t care what they call themselves. If they come to my cavern dressed in tinfoil and ready for roasting, dinner is what they are.”

“A careless feline might point out that your cavern was once their castle.”

“They weren’t using it.”

“In point of fact, they were using it. They were inside. Sleeping.”

“Then they should have defended it better. I barely sneezed” sniffed the dragon, demonstrably.

“You sneeze, my friend, and four hundred people burned.”

“I do miss those curtains. But that was years ago,” said the dragon. “They have a new castle!”

“It is true, this is something of an escalation. Have you asked them?”

“Conversation is hard. I don’t get on with new people, and they don’t speak dragon. How do you speak dragon?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon.

“Has something happened recently?”

“Well… One of the rea… ‘Knights’ they sent recently did have some really fancy wrapping.” said the dragon, thoughtfully. “A kind of pointy hat, too. Pretty thing.” The dragon waved a claw, and the cat could see the molten remains of the prince’s pointy hat fused around it, some of the gem-stones still in place.

“Very nice” said the cat, “though that might explain why they’re so intent on killing you.”

“By sending their armies into a flammable place, wearing the same armour I tore through last time, and rewarding me with gold? I think I can help them.” the dragon tensed up ready to spring.

“Hmm.” said the cat.

“Hmm?”

“Nothing.”

The dragon relaxed “No, not nothing. What did you mean by ‘hmm’, cat?”

“I was just thinking, this doesn’t really help a lot. You kill some more of theirs, take the gold. They send more, maybe with thicker wra… armour. It all seems empty.” said the cat, neutrally.

“Actually, after a few dozen I’m usually quite full.”

“Not in your stomach, in your soul.”

“I think I eat that too. It’s all in the wrapping.”

“No, I mean… I mean… _why_ are you eating them?”

“Because they’re trying to kill me.” said the dragon, in a somewhat condescending tone.

“And why’s that?”

“Probably becau…” began the dragon

“I mean what started this cycle?” interrupted the cat.

There was a quiet pause with a lot of weight behind it. The dragon stared at the cat with baleful eyes, for you do not lightly interrupt a dragon. The cat stared back politely. The dragon looked away.

In the internal workings of the mind of the cat, as visualised as a computer game, a small notification would have popped up saying “Achievement unlocked: Interrupted a dragon”.

“They still have my eggs.” said the dragon, quietly. His eyes away from the cat.

“Your eggs?”

“My mate. She died. She…”, he trailed off. “She’s gone. But while I was trying to find her, the King’s son stole her eggs. I know they still have them, but they weren’t in the castle.”

“Do they know?” asked the cat.

“Conversation is hard. I don’t get on with new people, and they don’t speak dragon. They’ll get the idea eventually”

“But not in the last ten years?”

“To the day, nearly.”

“I know people in the castle. I could tell them.” said the cat.

“You send your message, I’ll send mine.”, the dragon tensed again.

“Wait. It will be easier to convince them if you don’t kill their ready-me… knights”

“I still want the gold, though.”

“Fine. How many knights do you think you could carry at once?”

“Some dozen if I enlarge my claws?”

“Enlarge your claws?”

“I’m a dragon. I can take whatever shape I want.”

“So why not take the shape of a human and talk to them?”

“Because I can be a dragon! Wouldn’t you want to be a dragon?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon.

“Could you not pick them up and drop them back at their new castle, unharmed, as a show of power? Then just take the gold. It’s not like they can hurt you.”

“And I still get the gold. And you’ll ask them about the eggs? How can you make them understand you?”

“I’m a cat.” said the cat.

“Fair point” said the dragon, who leapt.

The dragon was huge, and majestic, and his wings spread out beside him like the unfurling of a flag of war. Like the spreading of a terrible dawn. Like… like the wings of a dragon, really, simile doesn’t do them justice. Metaphor is insufficient.

He drifted low into the valley, and as he descended his claws extended… and extended… and extended. The King’s Own Knights leapt (as much as they could) from their hiding places, only to discover the claws of the dragon clamping around them like jail cells. The dragon lifted them and deposited them in a large heap in the middle of the road. Methodically he worked, picking off knights in small packs and throwing them lightly to the pile. Eventually he picked up the whole lot in sky-scraping claws, flew over the mountain, and dropped them with soft precision into the centre of the castle grounds as the arrows from the castle walls bounced harmlessly off his scales. By the time he got back to the valley the archers, any remaining knights and the cat were gone. With shapeshifted claws, he picked up the gold and carried it back to the old half-devastated castle, then he sat, and slept, and hoped he wasn’t wrong to trust a sly cat.

* * *

“It’s been the eggs the whole time?” said the Queen, “I thought it was just because he was a dragon!”

“He is more sentimental than I realised”, said the cat. “If it upsets him so much, I think he should have them.”

“But he can’t hatch them?”

“No. But I think that matters less”

“And we can’t just tell them why they’re with you?”

“This… is more important. For now,.” said the cat. “I’ll need the large basement for a bit. I feel the need to be me on my own.”

“You’ve not wanted to turn back for years. Why now?”

“I’m a dragon” said the cat.

“Fair point.” said the Queen.

January 18, 2017

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