|This is Thistle. Isn't he cool?|
Once upon a time there lived a dragon. His name was Thistle, and he was a hermit dragon. That means that he didn’t like to be around other dragons or humans. His home was in the middle of a mostly barren valley surrounded by foreboding mountains on a lonely Island somewhere in an ocean far, far away.
Thistle only left his cave in search for food. His diet consisted of a mountain goat a day except on Sunday. That day he gave himself a special treat: sheep. The only drawback on this delicacy is that the closest sheep were on the outskirts of a village which rested on the opposite side of his mountains. This meant he had to overcome his dislike of going near humans once a week. Thankfully, none of the villagers minded him flying over to take one of their sheep a week. He never bothered any of them, and gradually they got into the habit of leaving a sheep out every Saturday night so that they didn’t have to worry about having a hole burned in the roofs of their barns. All in all the villagers and Thistle got along fairly well.
However, there was one boy who was more curious about Thistle then the other villagers. His name was Thomas. Now, it wasn’t that Thomas minded Thistle coming over to eat a sheep a week either, in fact he didn’t like sheep and thought they deserved being eaten by a dragon, but he found himself wanting to become Thistle’s friend. Thomas was afraid to interfere with the dragon’s life until he had a good reason, so he had to wait.
While Thomas puzzled over finding a decent reason to visit the dragon, Thistle’s life went on as usual. For a while, both the villagers and Thistle lived in peace.
One night, the villagers’ old chieftain died suddenly and a new one had to be appointed. Unfortunately, the new chieftain was a greedy and cruel man, whose want of power and money made him feared by all. He started a reign of terror, bullying the villagers into giving him all their money by means of high taxes on all their belongings.
When Thistle flew over the next Sunday for his usual sheep, the chieftain saw the dragon as he was counting the tax money and putting them into bags that would later end up in his personal treasury. Immediately, the chieftain remembered that all dragons kept a hoard of gold in their caves. His eyes glittered greedily as he meditated about all the riches he would gain if he stole the dragon’s treasure. Of course, the chieftain knew he would have to kill the dragon before being able to take the treasure, so he patiently waited until the next Saturday night before preparing his warriors to kill the dragon on sight.
One of the warriors was Thomas’s father, and when he went home for dinner that night, he told his wife and son what the chieftain intended to do. Thomas became so angry that he refused to finish the rest of his supper, but realizing that this was a chance to get to the dragon; he asked his parents if he could go and try to warn it. At first they were both worried that the dragon might eat him. Thomas pointed out that the dragon could have eaten him long ago and hadn’t, so at last his parents agreed to his going as long as he was careful.
Thomas jubilantly went, taking along his trusty knife just in case and a sheep from his own herd for the dragon to eat instead of it flying into the chieftain’s trap.
The sky was dark as Thomas struck bravely towards the mountains, and the moon stayed behind a cloud. He shivered in the cold, but climbed steadily, pulling the lamb up behind him. It was a struggle to find cracks in the rocks in some of the steeper places, but find them he did. After he was almost to the top of the mountain, the moon slipped from behind the cloud and the mountainside was flooded with its silver light for a while.
Thomas climbed even more quickly now, and it wasn’t long before he was safely on the other side of the mountains. Once he was inside the valley, Thomas was able to find his way to the dragon’s cave easily, though it was still dark. Quietly, Thomas tiptoed to the mouth of the cave. He could hear the even breathing of the dragon as it slept inside and could feel the heat coming from its nostrils. Thomas swallowed the lump of fear that suddenly rose to his throat and knocked on the rock nearest the opening of the cave.
The echo of the knock reached Thistle right as he was dreaming of sinking his teeth into a juicy lamb chop and woke him.
Thistle liked his sleep. The most annoying thing to a hermit dragon other than having humans near them is to be awakened before daylight, even if it was important. Thistle was not very happy to be woken, especially when he had been enjoying a pleasant dream. Therefore it was a frightening sight he made indeed when he crawled out in front of Thomas. Suddenly Thomas felt very, very small.
“What do you mean, waking up a respectable dragon in the middle of the night when everyone in their right mind ought to be in bed?” demanded Thistle, smoke billowing from his nostrils, and his eyes glowing dangerously.
Thomas trembled before the mighty dragon, but he knew he had to at least try to warn the dragon. Whether Thistle believed him or not was another story.
“P-please Sir,” He stammered, “I j-just wanted t-to tell you t-that our chieftain is p-planning on killing you t-tomorrow morning when you f-fly in to eat your s-sheep.”
Thistle stopped breathing so much smoke and fire, so Thomas collected his scattered nerves, took a deep breath, and continued more steadily. “Our village doesn’t mind you eating one of our sheep every week, but the chieftain wants you dead because he thinks you have treasure in your cave. Of course, we know that you don’t, but he refuses to listen to us. I came over the mountain and through your valley so that I could warn you of his trap and bring you one of our family’s sheep to eat instead of flying over our village to get one.” Thomas stopped, a little breathless.
As Thistle thought about Thomas’s information, his nostrils ceased pouring smoke and the glow died from his eyes. “Your chieftain thinks I have treasure in my cave?” he asked incredulously, hardly believing that anyone could be so stupid. Thomas nodded. Thistle frowned scornfully. “But that’s ridiculous!” he exclaimed. “Everyone should know that hermit dragons don’t hoard treasure. It brings to many people around.”
Thomas nodded again. “I know, but our chieftain is a greedy chieftain. He’ll do anything to get more money. He’s been taxing my village out of all our savings and sends people to jail that can’t pay them. If you fly over there he’ll kill you! Please don’t go! See? I brought you a sheep so that you wouldn’t have to go tomorrow, you can just eat it here!”
Thistle was surprised. He looked at Thomas thoughtfully. “You came all the way over my mountains to warn me? And bring one of your own sheep for me to eat?”
Thomas smiled shyly. “I like you Mr. Dragon, Sir. I don’t want you to die.”
Thistle became silent. His dragon’s heart had been touched very deeply by the boy’s friendship. Suddenly he realized that unless he was to stop the new chieftain, he and the villagers would both suffer. He nodded his great, scaled head in silent determination.
“I’m going to stop this chieftain of yours.” Thistle declared at last, and when Thomas began to protest, he held up a claw for him to be quiet. “I have to, or I won’t ever live in peace again. Nor will your village have peace while he is over you.”
Thomas kept silent, knowing that what Thistle said was true. Without the dragon’s help, their village would soon be terrorized into giving up all they held dear.
“Do you have a plan? And can I help?” He asked the dragon eagerly.
Thistle rubbed his wings together thoughtfully. “Well, to be completely honest, I don’t have a plan yet. But when I think of one, I’ll come and tell you what it is and whether you can help or not.” He paused. “Do you know of that big barn, the one furthest from the village?” Thomas nodded. Thistle continued, “Good. I’ll be there tomorrow night if I have a plan. If I don’t come, you’ll know I don’t have a plan and you’ll have to come the next night. Quickly now, go back home and tell your father that he has my thanks for the warning, and that he no longer needs to worry about me. I think I can take care of myself now that I have been warned.”
Thomas stalled a moment longer before leaving the mouth of the cave. “Mr. Dragon, sir, where do you want me to leave this lamb?”
Thistle looked over at the lamb, shivering in the cold. “Never mind about the sheep, I think I can live without my usual meal this week. Bring it back home with you.”
Thomas stuttered a quick thank you and then left, leaving Thistle thinking outside his cave as the sun steadily rose into the sky.