A Dragon in Waiting
by Tom Easton
Dragons are hard to find.
They can adjust their color, and even their shape, to blend in with the landscape while they sleep off full bellies and dream of burning barns, fleeing cattle, and screaming villagers.
And then, when their bellies are empty again …
Shahzi was different. He thought burning villages was far too much work. Chasing villagers was fun but sometimes they stuck you with sharp, pointy things. Or a knight showed up, eager to make his (or sometimes her) reputation.
That was when a sensible dragon blended into the landscape. Even if the belly was empty and growling.
Until the night when lazy Shahzi was strolling through town, hoping for a stray dog or even a drunk snoring in the middle of the street. As he was passing behind a row of houses, he noticed that just a few steps from each back stoop beneath which the dogs were whimpering, was a small structure. He sniffed at its door and snorted in disgust. It stank. But it also smelled of villagers.
A door creaked open a few houses away but Shahzi held still despite his hunger. He darkened his hide. He watched as a villager, carrying a candle, crossed to one of the structures and went inside. A few minutes later, he returned to his house.
Shahzi watched for two more nights before the pattern was clear. Then he gorged himself on a flock of slow sheep, and returned to Dragon Mountain to practice what he already thought of as his new facial expression.
Eventually, of course, a knight came looking for dragons to slay. Shahzi watched as he rode along the mountain trails, searching for signs of his prey, sometimes passing within yards of a camouflaged paw or tail.
As evening approached, the knight sought a place to make camp. He soon came upon a meadow fragrant with wildflowers and ringed by tall trees. There was also, as luck would have it, a privy beneath the shade of the trees.
It was so much like those in the village that the knight wondered at its presence. But, of course, there were woodcutters who might well have chosen to provide themselves with a civilized amenity instead of relying on the nearby shrubbery. And he was in need.
The knight tied his horse to a branch, leaned his spear against another, and began to unbuckle his mail trews.
He could hardly wait to open the door.
Tom Easton is a retired college professor with a doctorate in theoretical biology (U. Chicago, 1971). Since the 1970s, he has published about 60 SF/F short stories and ten novels (as well as 30 years of book columns for Analog). He has also edited anthologies (see jandtbooks.com) and done a great deal of non-fiction. Destinies: Issues to Shape Our Future is currently in proof at B Cubed Press.