Saturday, 26 August 2017

Under the hill,over the hill

"Look, you might think me very old-fashioned, but I always understood there were certain formalities to be gone through on these occasions. You should tell me your name and then boldly challenge me to come forth and defend my hoard: not try to sneak in like youve just done. So what is your name? Tristan? Oh, SIR Tristan! I do apologise: no offence intended. And my name? Well, men once called me Chrysophylax: Chrysophylax the Golden, whose wings beshadowed the sun. Rather poetic, dont you think? If a touch overblown. My real name, of course, I couldnt possibly pronounce in your language, so I wont even try. And while were on the subject, Sir Tristram: that sword youre swinging about; does it have a name too? No? not even something crude and vulgar, like Skullsplitter? Sad. In my younger days, the warriors who came to challenge me all had swords with names; and some were supposed to have ancient lineage, made by the dwarves or whatever, or were even said to be magical. Absolute tosh, of course; but still quite romantic. Ah well; times change.
   "Now, if we want to do this properly, you should challenge me to fight. Denounce me as a thief and murderer, and tell me youre going to kill me and take away my ill-gotten gains. But I must point out that, although the accusation is by and large true, I havent actually done any plundering and slaughtering for a great many years. It was all a very long time ago; and in any event, I dont see why it gives you any right to take my treasure for yourself. Or you could be more up-to-date, and talk about the serious deflationary effects of keeping all this gold locked away out of circulation, and how international liquidity would be greatly improved by releasing it onto world markets .. What? Youve never even heard of economics, or monetary theory? No, clearly not. Forget about it; its my fault. I just presumed things out there must be more advanced than they actually are. Heigh-ho.
   "Moving on from there: may I ask, Sir Tristan, why you decided to come? Because dragon-fighting is a game for young warriors, or at least it was. Teenage heroes: many of whom, frankly, were just kids with more guts than sense. Dont say theyre letting the oldies in on it nowadays: that would NOT be a great idea! Im no expert in humans, I admit; but its obvious youre not exactly in the first flush of youth. Take the way you swung that sword at me when you came in; quite an effort, wasnt it? I can tell youre not as fast as you once were. Shoulders getting stiff, are they? Bit of the old back trouble? Knees start to hurt if you stay en garde too long? And maybe the mailcoat feels rather tight around the waist, but getting a bigger one would be too much of an admission? So what made you come here, and try to get your hands on my treasure? Do you need the money? Or are you trying to recapture the glories of your youth: prove to yourself you can still do it? Or perhaps a bit of both? Thats my suspicion anyway.Now dont get offended; I quite understand; because Im getting old too. Im not sure quite how old, but it must be hundreds of your years, if not thousands. But the notion that dragons are immortal is mythical. We age, just like everyone else, though it takes much longer. Look at me: I havent been outside this cave for I dont know how long. Im amazed anyone even remembered I was here. And these wings, which once beshadowed the sun; I dont know whether theyd fly at all now. Not so much golden as rusty these days! Hah!
   "So there you have it: were both of us past our best, arent we? All washed up. Headed for the scrap-heap. Here we both are, together in my lair under the hill, but at the same time were over the hill! Thats a nice ironic little paradox for you, isnt it?
   "Im not going to fight you, Sir Tristan. Maybe Id beat you, maybe youd beat me; but either way, itd be an embarrassment. Two old cronks bashing away at each other till they both run out of breath or one of them drops dead with a heart attack! Not good! So Ive got a better suggestion for you.This treasure, now. It took a lot of looting, burning and general rapine to accumulate it all, and I wont pretend I didnt enjoy doing it: in fact it was tremendously enjoyable. But, as I told you, that was all over long ago, and nowadays I dont seem to do anything except lie here and count it. And I can tell you for a fact, hunting down and collecting something is much more fun than spending years just owning it: its not the same thing at all. Sometimes I do wonder why I bother to keep it all, and do you know, I really cant think of an answer? When you look back on life, you realise that you set yourself various goals, and some of them you achieved, only perhaps they werent quite as exciting as you expected, and the rest you realise youll never achieve now. So what Im proposing to you is this: instead of fighting for my gold, why dont you just take as much of it as you can carry, and go home? You can tell people youve killed me, for all I care. Theyll probably believe you, and I doubt very much whether anyone will actually come up here to check. If you want, you could make the story more exciting by saying I put a dying curse on the treasure, or something like that. And who knows, when youre really old, you might come to believe yourself that you once actually killed a dragon. And if everyone, including you, believes it happened, then its just as good as if it really did, isnt it?
   "So go ahead; take what you want: I won't stop you".


Some time later, the dragon awoke from a doze and thought to himself, Really, that all got pretty tedious, didnt it? I sometimes wonder what the worlds coming to, when I have to explain the most obvious things, practically spell them out word for word, not just to children but even to adults. I think that as I get older, I dont get more patient and tolerant, but less! But then he thought, No, its not fair to blame poor old Tristan; its not really his fault he was so ignorant: its just that no-one ever bothered to teach him anything.
   In any case, he may have been a bit over the hill, but he still tasted quite nice!

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