What Was Lost

There was once a dragon who loved beautiful things.

As a youngling, in his first years of life, he loved to collect stones. He liked smooth river stones the best, polished by years of water and sand, because he liked the way they shone in the light, especially when they were wet. He kept them in a pile next to where he slept. Before he laid down to bed, he ran his claws though them, taking pleasure in the peaceful clatter as the rolled over one another.

As he grew, he discovered gemstones. Though the plain stones he’d collected as a child were still pleasant, gemstones were inarguably better. The way light shone through them, and the colorful hues in which they presented, entranced him even before he knew that humans liked to cut and polish them to make them even more lovely.

It was gemstones which led him to humanity. In caves and underground, before he grew too large to explore such tight confines, he hunted for uncut, natural gems, prying them from the earth with his claws. It was in such pursuit that he discovered humans for the first time. They recoiled at his arrival, fleeing before he had time to inspect them more closely.

He realized that the humans, too, sought the beauty of the gemstones. Taking human form, he pursued a group of humans to their home, where he discovered the beauty their craftsmanship could make out of the rough gems he had come to covet. Once again, that which he had once loved was supplanted, as he realized that the cut gems were better than the rough, natural stones he had collected.

Almost immediately, however, his new love was supplanted once again. In his human form, he gazed upon a human woman, and in her he saw a beauty unlike any he had ever known. She shone brighter than a polished river stone, and more clearly than a gemstone, and he knew that he had to have her for his own.

Returning to his dragon form, he took her in his claws and flew away, leaving the cries of her human kin behind them. She, too, cried out, in fear and in wonder, as he stole her away to his den. There, using his claws and the magic inherent to his kind, he carved out a place for her to live.

He showed her with gifts and affection, telling her hourly of her beauty and how much he coveted it. He made a comfortable life for her, allowing her to have anything she asked for other than her freedom. He knew she had no true happiness, there, but it didn’t matter to him, because she brought him joy.

After a year, the dragon came to wonder whether there might be other humans in the world as beautiful as her. There were many polished river stones which held beauty, and many gems, cut and uncut, which were lovely to behold. With such thoughts in his mind, he went among the humans once more, and sought another to accompany his first.

The dragon found one: a man with clear eyes and hair which caught the light as though it had been polished by a master craftsman. He took the beautiful man to his den, where, as he had done for his first captive, he carved out a spot for him in the stone of his lair.

As he had done and as he continued to do with his woman, so he showered the man with affection and praise, granting his pet everything within his power, other than his freedom. He allowed the man and the woman to interact, under his watch, because he quickly learned that it brought them more happiness than being kept apart.

Humans, he realized, enjoyed companionship. He watched as the woman, who had begun to grow weaker despite his attention, grew in strength once again. And so, in the interest of both growing his collection and keeping his pets happy and healthy, the dragon began to explore the lands, seeking out new, beautiful people to join those he already possessed.

Towns and villages and kingdoms began to fear and hate him, for he took from them not only their most beautiful people, giving no regard to their class or station, but also their food and their wares, as his pets demanded. Soon the people cried out for retribution, and the nobles echoed their cries, and the kings heard them and decided to take action.

The leaders of the lands convened, and each sent forth their strongest warriors. They would not send an army to topple the dragon, but an elite group, formed of their mightiest men and women, those with strength of arm and cunning. They placed enchanted swords in their hands and covered their backs with enchanted armor, and sent them against the dragon in his lair.

The dragon, who had never struggled in his life to take something he desired, found himself fighting for his life. His claws knocked the warriors down, but they rebounded, saved by their armor. His breath of flame flowed around them and broke, turned aside by their magic shields. And his scales, hard as stone, parted easily beneath the blades of the warriors. The swords pierced his heart, and he fell, dead.

To the warrior’s surprise, the dragon’s pets wept at his demise. They beat upon the warrior’s armor with their bare hands, and curled about the dragon’s body, stroking his scales and mourning him with all the fervor of a child who has lost their mother. They refused to leave, when the warriors tried to take them away.

From within the cave, where the dragon had hewn the rock into homes, the warriors heard the cries of children. The people who had been taken had begun to make their lives here, supported by the dragon’s gifts and by his love and protection. Though they had been captured, they had come to love him in return, for his fervor in granting them their desires, for the benevolence he had shown to them, and for the heartfelt praise he had given them hourly.

The dragon’s captives never left his den, but instead, in honor of his memory, made their lives their, preaching in his name to their descendents and passing down through the ages the good he had brought to their lives. The warriors left, bemused and disturbed, and though they explained why they came back empty-handed, the kings and the nobles and the people could not understand, and the warriors were hanged for their failure in returning what was lost.

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