Really? It's like Christmas come early!

Not really. I'll throw an old one (about a year and a half old now) out there for the wolves to fall upon and devour. I've heard mixedd reactions, so I want total honesty about this one.

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He galloped to the top of the hill, his banner streaming behind him. “Lo! Yonder lieth the dragon's foul lair! Let us valiantly sally forth and destroy the savage beast, for it hath slain many of our gallant comrades!”

They charged down the slope, vaulting off of their noble steeds, and there they met the despicable wyrm in battle. First, they used a most brilliant stratagem, causing the brute to impale itself on spikes that they had bravely laid outside its hole while it slept. Then, they boldly pierced the vermin's wings with a flawlessly aimed hail of arrows. Next they heroically struck the creature from a distance, using spears and javelins. Their next tactic was using heated pokers to poke out the beast's eyes before they used butter knives to boldly chop out its liver... why are you crying? It's only a story. Oh, you feel sorry for the poor dragon? Alright then, here's another story for you.

Once upon a time there was a knight, with armour that shone like the sun over a snowy field-bright, sharp, and cold. You can see him, can't you? He has a face like an eagle's beak, and when he looks down at the cave-and only a little cave mind, as like to a proper dragon cave as a cottage is to a big house. Well, when he looks down on that cave, it is just like another mousehole to him. His trusty squire helps him as he slides off his horse (because it is impossible to jump off a horse in heavy armour) and he walks down the slope. Of course, he walks down slowly, taking care not to fall and get his lovely gilded armour, which he bought especially for a very dear friend of his, dirty. He gets down to the cave and calls into it. There is a doorbell, a lovely doorbell which plays a little song when you ring it, but he is far too important to use doorbells. A dragon comes out, but it is an old dragon, and its scales are like lead and its throat is black with soot, so that it coughs and wheezes as it is coming out. The knight picks up his sword and calls out all the silly things that people say in such situations, like “en garde!” or “have at thee!”, the way that his old albino teacher showed him. But the dragon is old and tired, and it has forgotten to put contact lenses in, and so it smiles and holds out its front legs to give the knight a hug. When the knight sees that, he takes his chance and charges at the dragon like a bolt of lightning. The dragon is still smiling, just a small, happy smile, and then it is dead.

The townsfolk are all showering the knight with praise, while his squire looks on with a tinge of disgust in his eyes. The knight tells the townsfolk the story, and he comments “It must be a stupid dragon, because it is still smiling.” Everything goes quiet, because no-one should speak ill of the dead, even a dead dragon. And the very dear friend of his is the most silent of all, his squire is already too far away to hear, and his old mentor is quietly shaking his head with his sharp red eyes more like a sunset than a forest fire. But more people come to watch, and his words are forgotten, and he goes on to have a long and glorious career. Despite that, he never saw his friend or his squire or his mentor again, and he always feels a bit of an empty place inside.

Do you like the story? The way that the dragon was happy afterwards? You don't think that it could really happen? Well then, perhaps I should tell you another story, a story from some time later.

Once upon a time there was a knight, with armour rusted into a dull red, like the sunset over a desert-old, tired, and dim. You can see him, can't you? He has a face like an old dog's, and when he looks up from the castle-only a little castle, mind, like the little cave-well, when he looks up from that castle, it is like he is looking at a cat, ready to pounce. A dragon swoops down, but slowly, taking care not to ruffle his mane, which he has combed especially for someone he desperately wanted to impress, in the wind. His scales are shining after the polishing that his aide has given them. He gets down to the castle, and crashes right through the ceiling, because he is far too important to use a trapdoor, even a nice trapdoor made of rare woods from strange places. The knight comes out, but he is a very old knight, and his eyes have lost their sparkle and his joints have worn out from using swords and carrying heavy armour, so that he creaks and groans as he emerges. The dragon grins at him and

shows its white teeth and roars and snarls and all the other silly things that dragons do in these situations, in the way that his old coach had shown him, but the knight doesn't know what a hearing aid is, and so he smiles and offers the dragon a cup of tea. When the dragon sees that, he moves like the wind and eats up half of the knight in one gulp, and the knight is smiling, just a small, contented smile, and then he is dead, and the dragon flies away.

When he gets home, he is very proud, and tells all of the other dragons that he has killed a knight while his aide looks on in loathing. He tells them the story, and then he says that the knight must have been a silly knight, because he died smiling. All of the other dragons stand around shocked, because dragons know you should never speak ill of the dead. And the dragoness who he wanted to impress is showing more shock than any of them, and his aide is already on his way to the other side of the world, and his instructor's scales shine more like a pool of tears than a storm as he turns away, lithe as a gecko. And the young dragon goes on to be a great wyrm, but he never sees the dragoness or the aide or his coach, and he is never quite happy with all of his accomplishments.

Ah, now you understand. The old knight was the same as the old dragon, do you think? Close, very close. But of course, stories are not all the same. Let me tell you a story from some time later again, when I was a young man with a head full of glorious tales.

Once upon a time, there was a soldier, with armour like a field in full bloom-beautiful, fresh, never the same from one moment to the next. He walked slowly down a steep slope, because he didn't want to trip and crush the little snowdrop that the cobbler's daughter had given him. He came to the lair of an old dragon, and he rang the doorbell, because he had no illusions of being important and so he had no servants to do it for him. The old dragon, who had once made a living of coaching younger dragons, came out of his lair, and although he was an old dragon, he was still slim and agile, like a gecko or a sparrow, because he exercised regularly. The young soldier said “Good morning! I am very sorry, but I have come to duel you to the death,” because his master had told him to always be polite. The old dragon muttered something about having left the kettle on, and went inside, and got down one of the many books on his library shelf. After a little while, the young soldier was getting impatient, and so he called out to the dragon to come out and fight. When the old dragon came out, the young soldier brandished his sword, and he tried to stab the dragon. After a brief struggle, the soldier was trapped in the dragon's coils, like a fly in a spider's web. He closed his eyes and waited for the massive jaws to close, but the old dragon didn't eat him. Instead, he picked up the book, and began to read a story, a story which was written to make you feel for the poor dragon, a story which started with “Once upon a time, there was a knight, with armor that shone like the sun over a snowy field-bright, sharp, and cold...”

The young soldier thought about the story for a while, and wondered what his master would think, and then the dragon let him go and he thanked him and went home to take up carpentry. He married the cobbler's daughter, and he told stories to the children, and he was very good at making the finest furniture and telling the best stories. But he kept his favourite story for the special children, because they felt sorry for the poor dragon.