Short Story – The Prince and the Dragon

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The old king lay on his death bed. All the apothecaries’ potions and embrocations proved powerless against the evil that had struck him down, sapping his life force. The physics bled him for days but his condition weakened with every leech they applied.

The king had three sons. The two eldest, the stone princes, stood in an anteroom disputing his inheritance in hushed tones. The eldest, Shale, had the strongest following among the palace guard, but the next in line, Marl, had the backing of the small-people of the forest — fierce battle-hardened warriors, every one.

The king asked to speak with his youngest son. It was common knowledge that he was the king’s favorite, ever since the day when the prince, aged no more than four, had fallen into a crocodile pit and the king had leapt in to save him. The scars from that day lingered still among the tattoos on the old man’s arms.

Entirely ignorant of the king’s failing health, the young prince and his two close friends, Scotty and Bill, were in the west wing of the palace blissfully pounding on their instruments. Scotty played lead lute, Bill played upright bass, and the prince did the vocals. The combo lacked a drummer.

By the time the young prince had made his way to his father’s death bed, the old king was barely conscious. He lifted his eyelids. “Come close,” he whispered, his breath no stronger than the beating of a butterfly’s wings.

The prince held his father’s hand. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier. No one told me—”

“Listen to me,” said the old man. “My time is near spent. I have named you my successor.”

A shadow passed over the prince’s face. “You want me to be king? But Shale is the eldest. The crown is his birthright.”

The king rocked his head from side to side on the pillow. “Shale would be a brutal ruler. He would bring unhappiness and revolution to the kingdom.”

“Marl, then. He is gentle and compassionate. Marl would make a fine king.”

“Marl is weak. If Marl took the throne, the kingdom would be thrown into war, for Shale would never accept him as king. No, you are the only one of my sons fit to rule.”

The prince shook his head. “Shale and Marl both have armies, Father. I have none. How may I challenge my brothers for the throne?”

“Take this ring,” The king removed his ring and placed it in the prince’s hand. “Go show it to the dragon that lives in the Angry Mountain. He will help you.”

“But Father, I have no wish to be king,” said the young prince. “You know that all I ever wanted was to make music with my friends. Music is where my true destiny lies.”

As these words were spoken, the king’s strength left him. He gave a last shuddering sigh and his soul left his body. The prince bowed his head and cried.

#

The day after the king’s funeral, Prince Shale began to prepare for his coronation ceremony. Prince Marl commissioned the most famous sculptor in the kingdom to fashion a likeness of the old king. The young prince set out for the Great Forest with his friends and a group of trusted outriders.

No sooner had the prince and his outriders reached the deepest, darkest region of the forest, than they were set upon by a group of mercenaries, heavily armed and intent on murder. The battle was short and fierce. Fighting for his life, the prince found untapped resources and he and his outriders bravely beat off the attack.

One attacker lived long enough to reveal to Scotty, that the ambush had been organized and paid for by Prince Shale, as he had learnt from his spies the words spoken by the king on his death bed.

This news spurred the young prince onward. He and his small band hurried through the deep forest to the foot of the Angry Mountain.

Night had fallen. It was too dark to climb the mountain, so the prince and his brave companions made camp. Scotty broke out his acoustic lute and they had a sing-song around a friendly fire.

The morning greeted them with bright sunshine, although the summit of the mountain was cloaked in dark clouds, and distant thunder could be heard. The Angry Mountain was living up to its name. Leaving the others behind, the prince and his most reliable companion, Bill, began their ascent of the mountain.

As they climbed, the thunder grew louder and more ominous.

Resting on a ledge 500 cubits above the canopy of the forest, Bill remarked on how regular the thunder rolls sounded. The young prince agreed. They continued their climb.

At 2000 cubits they came upon the entrance to a massive cave and stepped inside. It was immediately clear that the thunder claps, which were much louder now, were coming, not from the clouds above the mountain, but from somewhere deep inside the cave.

A dark tunnel led them to a broad cavern lit by a blue light. On the floor of the cavern they saw the dragon, its scales glistening in the blue light, sitting behind a gigantic drum kit, giving it the business.

Bill looked at the prince and the prince looked at Bill.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” said Bill.

“I think so,” said the prince.

#

The dragon wasn’t too happy about having his drum practice interrupted. He belched some fire at the two companions until the prince produced his father’s ring. After that, the dragon and the prince became the best of friends.

The dragon’s name was Jeremiah. They called him DJ for short. He soon barbecued Shale and his pathetic army, and when Prince Elvis and his band issued their debut album, everyone declared him The King.

© JJ Toner
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