THE GREYLER AND THE DRAGON

A SANTHARIAN PARABLE

 
The Frethoni Book of Fables   
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Introduction. Fable No. 7, ca. 650 b.S. The "Greyler and the Dragon" is a fable well-known in central Santharia, especially in the region of the Northern Rimmerins Ring. It related the tale of a despotic dragon over a small village, which seems to be helplessly at his mercy. No one has managed to survive a confrontation with the invincible beast, until one day a greyler, an outcast and hermit, sets out to entangle the dragon into a discussion, armed only with his wits... - The fable is not only a suspenseful story, but gives the attentive reader several hidden clues to the real meaning behind the story, which goes beyond the pure confrontation with the monster. Will you get to the heart of it?

 

ong, long ago in the very early days of the kingdom, the dwellers of a small village south of the Rimmerins Ring lived in fright and despair. They suffered under the whims of a sheer invincible monster that held the region in its tight, relentless grip: a mighty dragon had made his lair on top of a mountain nearby, and from there he took pleasure in terrorizing all other creatures great and small roaming the lands. The lair was up on the cliffs of what among the locals is known as the Great Watcher, a mountain of a truly daunting height, seemingly growing out of nowhere and stretching way up into the skies – steep, intimidating, a tenacious protest of the earth against the air-inhabited infinity above. And now the mountain had its king…

Contemplating dinner...

View picture in full size Picture description. The despotic dragon contemplating on what to eat for dinner... Image drawn by Faugar.

From time to time the dragon used to launch his deadly assaults on the livestock of the farmers which were browsing the fields, as the sheep and cattle the people bred were fat and delicious, just right for an always hungry dragon. The airborne incarnation of evil we’re talking about was quite a lazy kind of dragon though, you know, and because extensive hunting wasn't among his most favorite occupations during the day – contrary to devouring prey! –, the readily available fat grazers served as the perfect effortlessly attained meal. Dinner was practically presented on a plate to him right in front of his doorstep, he just had to swoop down and pick it up!

Now given these dire circumstances the helpless farmers that had to watch their livestock being decimated at random day by day eventually arrived at a joint decision: They agreed to sacrifice their animals voluntarily. To outsiders this measure might appear strange and unusual, but it was done for very good reasons: While the savage creature was being fed, the damage could be spread evenly among the peasants, and there was no need anymore for attacks that sent waves of shock and awe through the village. Certainly the farmers’ hearts were bleeding when they had to consent to a practice like this, but as they saw it, they had little choice. Thus for the sake of their community every day one of the peasants gave away either sheep, hog or cow for slaughtering. Thereafter the offering was presented to the vile beast by placing it on a select stone slab right beneath his lair, and that was that. The dragon grabbed his offering and was satisfied, and as long as it didn’t occur to him to demand, say, a virgin, the villagers were fine with the arrangement.

However, all that didn't solve the problem, quite to the contrary: It meant that the farmers had accepted their inability to stand up to their despotic ruler. The latter didn't even say "Thank you!" though. Unless one would like to interpret the noisy belching that way, which could be heard echoing through the whole valley after the beast was satiated. As far as the dragon was concerned, he was actually quite pleased with the development. He used to look down from the opening of his lair high up in the Watcher’s cliffs, awaiting the sacrificing procedure with glee. Each of the tiny figures’ movements he followed with suspense-laden interest: the picking of the unfortunate animal, the ritual of the slaughter and then the placement on the “altar” as he liked to see it, for he was like a God to them, and it helped to whet his appetite even more. The dragon then often shook his enormous head, saying "Humans!" to himself, and occasionally breathed a mighty flame to demonstrate his powers to the tiny beings down below. Usually they buzzed ant-like to and fro, but would disappear instantly as soon as they saw his draconic Highness appear on top of the cliffs.

Oh, it should not be forgotten to mention at this point that before the arrangement was sealed there had been attempts to confront the despot, to challenge him, defeat him – in the traditional heroic way, that goes without saying. Well yes, there had been quite a bunch actually if you must know. Such efforts hadn't let up either once the daily sacrifice was being made, but they had turned into irregular entertainment by now. Some wanna-be heroes and adventurers on a quest for a challenge, experienced battle-mages and highly acclaimed knights sent directly from the Duke himself nevertheless arrived from time to time, intent on teaching the dragon a lesson. Alas, not more came from that except further additions to the pile of skulls in the dragon's lair – a pastime the monster had become quite fond of. "A human entering my lair is a dead human!" the dragon used to greet his guests. "Didn't anyone down there explain that to you?" They might have or might not, at any rate the beast made a change to his menu plan. Only a few moments later the dragon's fiery breath usually already got rid of the nuisance, and a roasted adventurer took the place of the regular cow or sheep for dinner. If the visitor had come on horseback there was even dessert. Though the animals could be devoured as they were, the unfortunate so-called heroes had to be peeled out of their plate mail first however, and that was the only inconvenient part for his Highness, the dragon.

Sure, every now and then a heavily armored knight managed to get a bit closer than his predecessors, tickle the dragon’s snout or poke him in the belly. Or a white-bearded man in too big robes felt that shouting funny sounding formulas at him would help the matter. Some succeeded in spraying sparks, others summoned wondrous creatures like a little pet demon. The sparks at times singed the dragon's tail and the pet demon trampled on his toe shrieking fiercely. Which made taking care of the wizards even funnier; they provided some distraction. But all in all nobody had accomplished anything worth mentioning, and the dragon continued reigning from his lair like a moody tyrant over his subjects. – Until one day when things changed...

And that's how it happened: Not too far away from the village there lived an old greyler all by himself in his ramshackle hut. Greylers, you should know, are people, who prefer to live in their own small communities rather than in a village or a town, for the one reason or the other. They are content with one's own company and thus they make do: they hunt, grow vegetables, make their own clothes, fix the roof when the rain comes through and are happy the way they live. To each his own, I guess. Well, and that was the life of our greyler as well, though you could say he had turned into a hermit by now. He had used to live with other likeminded men, who had left the village either for their own reasons or had been forced to go. Together they had shared the same hut, but one by one his companions had died and they lay now buried in a small valley he had chosen as their final resting place. We don't know the reason why this particular greyler had left the village – nobody could say and nobody really cared. Not a single person sought to visit him either, after all that's what greylers want, peace and quiet from other people. By now nobody even remembered that greylers lived deep in the forests, least of all that only one of them was left. After all it must have been decades since our greyler had turned his back on the village, and people tend to forget if they lose track of someone; only rumors remain that turn into old wives' tales or scary stories, claiming that greylers are a crazy lot and that it's a blessing not to have them around. For there must be good reasons why they shun other people's company, you know. So it was with our greyler as well, and the less everyone knew about him, the better. The villagers by now were completely oblivious to where such people had settled in the forests, though they had known – once, but that was a long time ago.

Anyway, as you will see, it's not that our greyler had disappeared from the face of the earth, at least not yet. He might have preferred not to intrude in other people’s business, but even an outsider could hardly overlook how the dragon held the dwellers of the village hostage to his whims. Throughout the years the greyler had witnessed the dragon killing livestock, he had beheld the valiant knights and the showy wizards riding up to the dragon's lair – and had noticed that none of them ever returned –, and he also had seen the strange ritual of the dragon sacrifices, which – as far as the locals were concerned – was really the best thing they could do.

Thereupon one day the greyler made a decision and set out. Having seen the villagers prepare another cow for the dragon to feast on from the distance, he single-mindedly went right to the stone slab with the dead cow on it, pulled out a dagger and started working on the dead animal. From afar the farmers watched him approach, and their mouths were all agape… Some of the older villagers suddenly even remembered him! However, on the one hand they didn’t know what the madman from the woods was up to, on the other hand they feared the worst: Should the dragon see the greyler messing around with the dinner meant for him, he would certainly feast on both! Not that much harm would be done this way, some farmers thought by themselves though. But what if the greyler planned to steal the cow's meat, crazed as he was!

Upset the peasants discussed what to do in order to prevent a looming catastrophe, when suddenly someone pointed at the greyler shouting: "Look! He’s heading off… And he’s taking just the hide with him!" The farmers watched in utter disbelief. "He's climbing up to the dragon's lair with it!" the next exclaimed. Now, if someone still were looking for a proof that the greyler was completely out of his mind, here it was. "What should we do now?" another concerned peasant asked. But nobody seemed to have a good idea. "Well, let him go up there! If he so dearly wants it, so be it…" someone finally said. "A madman and a cow should be enough to cover today's dinner for the dragon. He had his share of knights and mages already, so one of those…" – he scoffed, pointing to the forest from where the greyler hailed – “might make a nice change.” And everyone nodded in agreement and looked up to the dragon's lair, their main concern being that the monster wouldn't mind his unbidden visitor bringing the hide of the animal separately for whatever odd reason.

However, the villagers looking up from below couldn't see that the greyler carefully stowed the hide away in an alcove before entering the cave. He also hid his dagger behind a rock. And when he went into the dragon's lair, he was only armed with his wits.

"A human entering my lair is a dead human!" the dragon snarled as he saw a figure appear in the entrance, but his growling sounded a bit listless, for he had become accustomed to unwelcome guests.

He was a bit confused though, as the visitor was no knight in shining armor, nor did he have the looks of a mage. Rather there stood that grey-haired little man, quite ancient in human terms and definitely not well fed at all; he even had some teeth missing and was walking on a stick! A scarecrow like this could hardly pose any danger. Probably the kingdom is running low on heroes, the dragon thought.

"Greetings, oh mighty dragon!" the greyler said bowing humbly.

"Make your last prayers!" the dragon replied unimpressed. But curiosity struck him before he would progress with filling his belly. Thus he asked: "Did you just lose your way, little man? Or are you here to fight me with that deadly walking stick of yours? Another wizard perhaps, this time in disguise? – Oh, I know, I know!" he finally blurted out triumphantly, suddenly filled with enthusiasm. "You're a cleric, aren't you? Different kinds of spells and such, right? Well, something fresh to taste then, I suppose!"

The greyler shook his head. "No, no, oh mighty dragon, nothing like that," he said. "I'm just a meek fellow from the forest. I'm here to bring you your ordered dinner."

"How so?" the dragon asked and looked quizzically at him letting steam off through his giant nostrils. "That's entirely new to me to have my dinner walk up here! But if your mind is set on getting eaten, this can be arranged. There's an unwritten rule that trespassers who enter a dragon's lair aren't supposed to live very long. And naturally I don't plan to make an exception this time, little man. It's a nice rule, and I quite like it. Even though there isn't much flesh on your bones..."

"No, no, oh mighty dragon," the greyler shook his head. "You don’t understand… I only bring the cow prepared for you by the villagers. Just so that you don't need to fetch it yourself!"

"Ah, I see… Well, how thoughtful of you!" the dragon remarked. "What a courteous and praiseworthy idea! I could have had that it myself..." But in fact the dragon was a bit irked as well. Because the villagers should have consulted him first before going ahead with such a fancy change of plans, even though it pleased him. Hmmm… Perhaps there is more to it, he thought. Maybe these petty humans only intended to spy out his lair for some reason? "Where is your cow anyway?" the dragon asked suspiciously. “I can’t see it, little one!”

"It's right outside, oh mighty dragon," the greyler answered. "Shall I bring it in now?"

"Go ahead," the dragon consented, already considering to first eat the cow and after that the unfortunate little messenger, who had dared to break his rules. After all he was a dragon and someone had entered his lair, so there wasn't much choice. That’s just the way it was.

"I'll be right back!" The greyler disappeared.

A short while later he was back indeed, pulling a large heap behind his back, covered with a cow's hide.

The dragon’s appetite was whetted. "Ahhhh..." he grunted ecstatically. How he craved a good bite! "Fresh meat!" And what an extraordinarily big cattle specimen, he thought. It was of a size he had never had before, and delivered right to his doorstep to boot! "Put it straight in my maw, if you please, now that you are here!" the dragon ordered as he saw that the greyler had troubles finding a good spot to put his heavy load. The dragon moved to the huge boulder at the entrance on which his guest was standing and opened its maw just beneath it. The greyler nodded, pulling the cow hide and its contents to the brink of the bolder, then pushed with all his force against it.

Ka-rooom, ka-droom, da-room-ba-doom…

Loud rumbling sounds echoed through the cave as the dragon eagerly devoured the greyler's load. However, for some reason he didn't have much time to chew as it all glided so quickly down his throat into his gigantic stomach that he missed the whole taste of it. Something was clearly wrong. In vain the dragon's sharp teeth tried to get hold of the promised juicy cow, hitting something hard instead, and it didn't taste like meat at all. Angry smoke steamed from the enormous beast’s irritated nostrils.

"What have you done, you stupid pipsqueak?" The dragon was furious. In his growing rage he made a frightening display of his jagged teeth to the little man in front of him.

"Is something the matter?" The greyler put up an innocent face. He took a couple of steps back though, just in case the dragon might try to grab him with his fangs or decide to make use of his fiery breath.

"That wasn't a cow you've fed me!" the monster snarled menacingly, for he felt something strange in his belly he had never felt before. "You will pay for this!"

"How could it not be a cow? Didn't you see the hide? Certainly you must have recognized it!" the greyler replied. "It's a cow! And I even added some special ingredients to make it taste better, some stuffing, a bit of seasoning, herbs to add just the little extra! That’s how the famous chefs of Santharia do it."

"A little extra, you pathetic worm?" The dragon's eyes gleamed with blatant hatred. "And where would be the meat? This didn’t taste like meat at all! Whatever you fed me with: You wanted to poison me, admit it!" The monster dragged his huge body closer to the increasingly annoying visitor, and the greyler stepped back some more as he had done before. The dragon's giant maw changed back to a vicious grin. "Nice try, weakling... But didn't you know that there is no poison whatsoever capable of killing a dragon?” He let out a thundering guffaw. “A dragon's body is much too resistant against anything a pitiful herbwoman or even a gnomish alchemist could ever brew! It's quite impossible to get rid of a dragon that way, aye, not even spells like sleeping charms have any effect, you little vermin! Too bad that I have to tell you, but many have tried before you and failed. Well, and so will you!"

Nevertheless the greyler smiled. "As you say yourself, it would be stupid trying to poison you. The herbs I added might perhaps have some tiny side effects, oh mighty dragon, but I can assure you: They won't do you much harm."

"Enough already!" the dragon roared, lumbering around so angrily with his heavy feet that the whole cave shook and some century old stalactites rained down on them. He’d roast him, that little walking scarecrow! Even if he wasn’t much of a portion. But the dragon had it with him, once and for all. His nostrils began steaming furiously, and then fire exploded out of his maw, and that poor, poor greyler was instantly... –

No, wait! Actually, only the dragon's nostrils began to steam furiously, and that was all there was to it. As soon as the monster opened his enormous maw only a cloud of black smoke blew into the greyler's face. He had bad breath, that much was certain, but somehow lacked the fiery argument.

"See?" The greyler was amused by the sorry sight, though he had to cough a bit. "Just a little side effect, nothing to worry about..." Even so, the little man preferred to move a bit further back, so that he now in fact was already outside of the lair and the dragon couldn't reach him anymore with his claws.

"How... – What... –" The dragon reeled in frustration. But he was set to finish the business. Promptly he advanced, wriggling his massive body up the bolder at the entrance from where he had been fed, now snout to face with the greyler. Again he noticed a rumbling sound in his belly as he was moving. Apparently a sign that he needed to have real dinner, and soon!

"Well, I guess now that I have done my part, it is about time I should leave, oh mighty dragon!" the greyler said curtly, bowed and quickly walked off. Just like that.

The dragon snarled and boomed, rampaged furiously, hurt in his pride. He stormed out of his cave as fast as he was able, chasing behind the greyler. As he couldn't immediately spot where the – suddenly quite nimble – little man had disappeared to, he continued right ahead, which meant that he leapt from the cliff and spread his gargantuan wings in order to approach the problem from the air. That's one of the advantages of being a dragon: From a bird's view one can see everything, and there isn't much of a hideout up in the mountains the dragon didn't know. The greyler would soon be history...

If only! As for some strange reason the majestic view a flight offers this time presented itself way different to the dragon. In fact the ground below seemed to rush towards him, rather than to stay away at a regular distance or even get smaller. The few moments the monster had to gather its confusing thoughts were not enough to figure out what this sudden change of perspective might have caused. Desperately the monster looked up, only to see the greyler on the cliff, waving happily.

"Wild rose!" the greyler shouted. "Paralyzes a human instantly. Unfortunately not a dragon. Gives the wings a bit of trouble though, I've heard – just for a few moments..."

The greyler wasn't sure if the dragon had heard his last words. But he was pretty confident that he had found out that the last ingredient of the special menu he had fixed had been a heavy pile of rocks.

Quite so, for the dragon smashed with full force against the sacrificing rock below and didn't even have time for final last words. We'd like to spare you the gruesome details. It should suffice to say: It wasn't a nice sight to behold.

The villagers who had watched the scene from below couldn't believe their eyes. But after a few moments of utter bafflement they cheered and threw their hats in the air and they danced. "He has done it!" they shouted euphorically. "He has really done it! Crushed him right here and now!" Then they fetched their wives and children to show them what was left of the great tyrant and after that they announced a great feast to be held, and it would last late into the night and continue right through the rest of the week. Ah, what a glorious day that was when the greyler outwitted the mighty beast!

The farmers of course tried to find him, that great hero of the day, the "Greyler Dragonslayer" as they would call him from now on, but – can you believe it? – he had disappeared as suddenly as he had shown up. Everyone searched for him several hours combing the woods, some places even twice and trice, but it seemed that he was gone for good along with that ramshackle hut of his, as though he had been altogether swallowed by the earth. But regardless how much they searched, at last they had to give up. The greyler was gone for good.

Not too far away from the village there lived the old greyler all by himself in his ramshackle hut. He sat in front of his miserable lodging carving a piece of wood when a knight in the Santhran’s colors happened to pass by, riding on a proud frost white Centoraurian steed. He was in full gear, wore heavy plate mail and a helmet with a plume on it, a paladin apparently, probably looking for a maiden to rescue from the hands of some villain, or a dragon to defeat.

Speaking about dragons: "May the Twelve be with you!" the knight greeted the man sitting there near his hut, absorbed in his carving. "Say, you don't know per chance where this malicious dragon everyone talks about has his lair? He might have seen his last day already, for his time has come now!" he added, bristling with confidence.

The greyler looked up. "And the Twelve with you," he replied in response to the greeting, putting away the piece of wood he was working on and eyeing the newcomer. "But I fear you're a little late methinks. Just a few days ago someone killed that monster and the whole village is still celebrating the event!"

"Oh, now that's news to me," the knight admitted in bewilderment. A mixture of disappointment and relief could be heard in his voice. "And how was that miracle accomplished if I may ask? I've heard rumors that dozens have already died in the attempt..."

"Well, someone went up there," the greyler said mysteriously.

"And...?"

"I guess he talked to him."

"Talked to him? Did he tell him jokes that he laughed so hard that he died?"

"Maybe..." the greyler smiled wryly.

The knight looked a bit confused, then decided that this weird bedraggled and obviously quite confused hermit probably was not the right person to get the information he sought. Maybe they can tell me the whole story in the village, he thought.

"Anyway, old man," he said then, poised to ride on. "I could need some rest for my weary bones and will see if I can get someone to tell me the whole story in the local inn. Can you tell me how to get into the village?"

"Quite certainly I can, my friend. You're practically there anyway," the greyler answered. "Just ride back the way you came a bit, then turn east at the next crossing, and move straight on a while. If you arrive at a patch of birches, head south and you'll get right into the heart of the village. Nothing to it if one keeps one's eyes open."

The knight raised his hand, signaling the stranger thanks and good-bye, then turned his horse and rode off.

"May the Twelve bless you as well!" the greyler said and continued with his carvings.
 


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Parable written by by Artimidor View Profile