Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Story: "Over the Hill, Under the Hill"

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 you've just done. So what is your name? Tristan? Oh, SIR Tristan! I do apologise: no offence intended. And my name? Well, my real name of course couldn't possibly be pronounced in your language, but I seem to recall that at one time, very long time ago, it would be, men called me Chrysophylax. Chrysophylax the Golden, whose wings beshadowed the sun. Rather poetic, don't you think? though perhaps a trifle overblown. And while we're on the subject, Sir Tristan: that sword you're 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 be of ancient lineage; made by the dwarves or whatever; or even to be magical. Absolute tosh, of course; but still quite romantic. Ah well; times change.
Now if we want to do this properly, you shaould challenge me to fight. Denounce me as a thief and murderer, and vow to kill me and take away my ill-gotten gains. But I must point out that, although the accusation is by and large true in substance, I haven't actually done any plundering and slaughtering for a great many years. It was all a very long time ago; and in any event I don't see why it should give you any right to take my treasure for yourself. Or you could be more up-to-date and talk about the serious deflationary effect of keeping all this gold locked away out of circulation, and how international liquidity would be improved by releasing it onto world markets ...... What? You've never even heard of economics and monetary theory? No: clearly not. Forget it: it's my fault. I just presumed things out there must be more advanced than they actually are. Heigh-ho.
Moving on: may I ask, Sir Tristan, why you decided to come here? Because dragon-slaying used to be a game for young warriors. Teenage heroes: many of whom, frankly, were just kids with more guts than sense. Don't say they're letting the oldies in on it nowadays: that would not be a great idea! I admit I'm no expert on humans: but it's obvious to me that you're not exactly in the first flush of youth, are you? Take the way you swung that sword at me when you came in: quite an effort, wasn't it? I can tell you're not as fast as you once were. Shoulders getting stiff? Bit of the old back trouble? Knees start to hurt if you stay in the en garde position too long? And maybe the old mailcoat feels a bit tight round the waist? So why did 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 maybe a bit of both?
Now don't get offended. I quite understand, because I'm getting old too. I'm not quite sure how old, but it must be hundreds of your years, if not thousands. The idea that dragons are immortal is a myth: we age just like everyone else, though it takes much longer. Look at me: I haven't been outside this cave for I don't know how long. I'm amazed anyone even remembered I was here. And these wings, that once beshadowed the sun: I don't know whether they'd fly at all now. Not so much golden as rusty these days! Huh!
So there you have it: we're both of us well past our best, aren't we? All washed up. Headed for the scrap heap. Here we are together, in my lair under the hill; but at the same time we're both of us over the hill! That's a nice little ironical paradox, isn't it?
I'm not going to fight you, Sir Tristan. Maybe I'd beat you, or maybe you'd beat me; but either way it'd be an embarrassment. Two old cronks bashing away at each other till they both run out of breath or one of them drops dead from a heart attack! Not good! So I've got a better suggestion for you.
This treasure now. It took a lot of burning, looting and general mayhem to accumulate it all, and I won't pretend I didn't enjoy doing it: in fact it was tremendously enjoyable. But as I said, that was all a long time ago, and nowadays I don't seem to do anything except lie here and count it. And I can tell you; hunting down and collecting something is much more fun than spending years just owning it. Sometimes I wonder why I bother to keep it; and do you know, I really can't think of an answer? When you look back on life, you realise you set yourself various goals, and some of them you achieved, only perhaps they didn't prove as exciting as you hoped, and the rest you have to accept you'll never achieve now. So what I'm proposing to you is this: instead of fighting for my gold, why don't you just take as much as you can carry and go home? You can tell everyone you've killed me, for all I care. They'll probably believe you, and I doubt very much whether anyone will bother to come up here to check. And who knows, when you're really old, you might come to believe yourself that you'd really killed a dragon. And if everyone including you believes it happened, then it's just as good as if it really did happen, isn't it?


Some time later the dragon woke from a doze and thought to himself: Really that all got pretty tedious, didn't it? I sometimes wonder what the world's coming to, when you 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 don't get more patient and tolerant, but less!
But then he thought: No, it's not fair to blame poor old Tristan; it's not really his fault he was so ignorant; it's just that no-one ever bothered to teach him these things.
In any case, he may have been over the hill, but he still tasted quite nice!


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