Evening had fallen again Sunday night before Thistle had finally come up with a plan. Quickly he unfolded his wings and launched himself into the air, chuckling gleefully. Ha! He would show that stuck-up, unfeeling, lowdown, no-account, two-bit, cotton-picking dragon-hater of a chieftain what a mistake he had made by interfering with his quiet life!
Thistle could barely contain his excitement as he soared over his mountains and landed softly behind the barn on the outskirts of the village. He didn’t have to wait long before Thomas arrived, also glowing with excitement.
Carefully, Thistle laid out his well devised strategy. Thomas agreed to that it was just the thing and promised to do his part completely.
As soon as it was safely possible, Thistle took off again, flying back over his mountains to his lonely cave in the barren valley. Still chuckling, Thistle landed near his cave and crawled into it, prepared to wait until the time came to carry out his plan.
The time came at last. The new chieftain got tired of waiting for the dragon and decided that the next day he and his best warriors would go find the dragon and make him fight.
Of course, Thomas’s father was one of the chosen men, and he wasted no time before telling his wife and son what the chieftain’s new plan was. Naturally, Thomas took the news to the dragon, and Thistle began his conspiracy against the chieftain.
First, he and Thomas created a huge blockade at the beginning of the trail that lead down the mountain. Thistle uprooted several trees, flying them down to where he created the skeleton of the blockade. Meanwhile, Thomas collected armloads of smaller braches and prickly bushes that he pushed into the cracks between the tree trunks.
Next, Thistle began to use his gigantic, spear-like tail like a shovel, digging a trench that the chieftain would have to either fill or make a bridge to cross. Thomas helped as much as he could with his own ordinary shovel.
Then, as a further frustration to the chieftain and his men, Thistle cut cacti, the only thing that could live in his valley, and spread their needles across a large area in front of his cave. Thomas was allowed to stay with Thistle as long as the fighting wasn’t too dangerous, so he helped Thistle with that as well.
The last trick Thistle had up his sleeve was that he and Thomas weren’t going to be in the cave at all. Instead, he was going to fly Thomas away from his cave, wait until the chieftain and his warriors were going up the mountain, then fly up and over them, making the chieftain impatient and frustrated. Once he had urged his men into exhaustion, and through all his tricks, they wouldn’t have the heart to fight, and it was then that Thistle planned on taking care of the chieftain.
Now prepared for anything, Thomas and Thistle practiced fighting together. Thistle taught Thomas how to shoot his bow accurately while flying on his broad back. They found that they worked very well together. Thomas was quickly turning from a fearful boy into a dependable warrior, and Thistle was learning just how lonely he had been before Thomas came into his valley and what a selfish life he had been living. He realized that Thomas was a fast learner and a good listener. He admired how Thomas obeyed his orders without question.
Before the misfortune of the new chieftain, Thistle had thought people were a nuisance, something to stay as far away from as possible, and to only go near if it was absolutely necessary. Now he understood what true loneliness was. He was a completely new dragon while Thomas was around; helping him set his traps for the chieftain or play-fighting on his back. He was amazed, and a little startled to find himself hoping that Thomas would stay longer.
His thoughts were interrupted by Thomas patting him on his shoulder saying that he thought he saw the chieftain and his warrior’s coming up the mountainside. Thistle glanced where Thomas pointed. Sure enough, the chieftain was crawling up, closely followed by about twenty men.
Before they saw them, Thistle circled back to a smaller, better hidden cave on the opposite mountainside. There was where they were going to hide, for it had been used by Thistle’s ancestors as a place to conceal themselves from unwanted visitors.
There Thistle left Thomas in safety, and now he flew back to where the chieftain would be able to see him plainly in the sky. With a shout, the chieftain urged his men on faster, just as Thistle suspected he would do. Very soon they were stopped in their tracks by the blockade.
Thistle couldn’t help laughing at the frustration written plainly all over the chieftain’s face. Besides, the laugh of a dragon is always a challenge, and that made the chieftain make his men work all the more faster.
In a few hours they had broken through the blockade, and though his men were scratched and bruised from the grueling pace he had made them work at, the chieftain continued to push them into a march again, determined to overtake the dragon and kill him.
Thistle had gone back to the hidden cave to relate how well their blockade had worked to Thomas while the chieftain and his men were busy working. So when he came back to carry on the chase he was freshly rested, whereas the chieftain and his men were nearing the point of exhaustion.
Now the chieftain was more determined than ever to end Thistle’s life. He pressed his warriors into greater speed and thought he would overtake Thistle at last. It was then when he heard his men let out a cry of despair, for in front of them lay the deep chasm Thistle had dug with his tail.
Angry beyond words, the chieftain stood speechlessly at the lip of the ditch, his face turning from a heathy pink into a furious red and then into an unbecoming purple. His own men took an involuntary step back when he turned to face them. Not one complained when he ordered them to build a bridge in a terribly calm voice. Silently his men went to work, forcing their exhausted strength in hopes of escaping the chieftain’s wrath.
Thistle watched their slow progress, sometimes circling above them, sometimes resting on an overhanging rock.
The chieftain paced back and forth, angrily commanding his warriors to double their efforts. His men put in a valiant attempt to follow his demands, but their strength was wearing thin, and the actual amount of labor they accomplished was pitiful.
Deep down inside his dragon’s heart, Thistle felt sorry for the chieftain’s men, and he determined to not hurt any of the warriors more than his traps would already do. He also decided that such cruelty that the chieftain preformed would be paid back as soon as possible.
By now a crude bridge had been built and the chieftain was ordering another march. The bridge was far too weak for the warriors to cross at the same time; their combined weight would make it fall, but the chieftain ignored this fact and impatiently demanded his men to cross as one.
Thistle’s nostrils flared dangerously, he knew what was going to happen to the men if they obeyed their chieftain: they would die from the fall. His scaled brows met together in a terrible dragon’s frown. With a low growl he promised himself that he would save the men that fell and would bring them safely away from the chieftain to Thomas in the secret cave.
The men were beginning to cross, but they knew their peril and tried to beg the chieftain to only have one warrior cross the bridge at a time. Blind with hatred and greed, the chieftain merely told his men angrily to stop making excuses and cross. At last his men had to give in, and with fear and trembling they placed the first foot on the bridge together.
Just as the first flimsy support beam gave way under the strain, Thistle swooped down through the ditch, coming up under the falling debris. The warriors who fell were desperately trying to grab anything that could stop them from falling to their deaths, but only managed to helplessly flail their arms. A handful had somehow managed to grab hold of the lip of the ditch and now stood; watching in mute horror at what they thought would be the end of their comrades’ lives.
But they didn’t know Thistle. He was able to catch all the men that fell as they came to him, and piled them haphazardly onto his broad, scaled back. Before the chieftain had time to react to his appearance, Thistle soared back into the sky, soon disappearing over the mountains.
The chieftain had watched all this as if a man in a dream stunned into silence by the magnificent saving of his warriors by the dragon. Now that it was over, however, he remembered his anger and turned to the remaining warriors wrathfully.
Glowering around at them he said, “Well? Are you just going to stand there? Or are you going to rebuild that bridge?”
His warriors began to work again, casting frightened eyes up at the sky or at their chieftain from time to time, trying to forget their exhaustion.