In a place called Rule, at the foot of a mountain called Ragnost, there lies a town called
Pent, the City of Dragons. It was so named for the inside the mountain, where among the
endless pits and caverns weaving about below and above its roots, there was said to live a
horde of scaly beasts.
Every year in what we call July, but was to the Pentish called the Month of Dragons,
legions of warriors swarmed to Ragnost to slay themselves a good wyrm.
In those days, it was of very high regard to slay a dragon and live to tell the tale,
because it was said that if you returned with its head, the king would mount it up on his
wall and make you wealthy and famous, and good luck and strength in battle would follow
This did not matter to the people of Pent, who were themselves quite sick of dragons, not
to mention worthless warriors, and would rather live a life without the hubbub. Instead,
they made themselves a decent living conning and selling worthless merchandise to the
foolish warriors who often came passing through in search of fame and glory.
The dragons were quite all right with all this because they have nastily sharp and
There were two ways by which one could enter the mountain: The first was to pass through
the tunnel at the bottom which opened up into a wide interior chamber where most of the
smaller dragons roosted, waiting to ambush the next warrior and have contests to decide
which would get to eat him. The second way was much more strenuous, and involved hiking up
the spiraling trail to the summit of the mountain where the most glorious dragons made
their home by a cave mouth. These were the more arrogant dragons who tended to get all
washed up in their glory and put themselves above the others as a show of dominance.
At the return of every Dragon Month the people of Pent would elect a watchperson to guide
the warriors and keep tally of how many went in, or if necessary, came out.
One year, a year when the number of warriors was rather less, the people of Pent elected a
young woman named Pagent Magestrar to be headcounter. She was a rather bored girl and
found little more excitement than was usual in sitting on the dais between the two paths
into the mountain with a pen and paper, counting the fools who came to the mountain.
Instead, she opted to doodle with her pen, making little smiling knights getting their
heads chomped off by vicious scaly monsters.
One by one the champions began to file into the tunnel, and it became evident that the
hiking path was less popular this year. Though she took little notice of the armor-clad
warriors marching into the darkness of the tunnel, it seemed to Pagent that most of the
year’s combatants were scrawny young things quivering their boots, the clanking of their
metal suits echoing up and down the entrance tunnel. None seemed to return, which wasn’t
unexpected on such a year. Perhaps, she thought, all the experienced warriors had already
killed themselves in years past.
Then came a sterling young man of about eighteen who called himself Arbalest, and made
such a clamor throughout the town of Pent that even Pagent heard about him before he
reached her dais.
He marched up to her, head held high. “Greetings, Lady of the Mountain,” he said, giving
her a curt bow. She nodded in return.
Pagent scribbled on her list. “I suppose you’re that Arbalest fellow, eh? You seem loud
“Indeed I am,” said Arbalest, swishing his crimson cape gallantly. “Tell me, which of
these ways seems preferable to you?”
Pagent yawned and pointed with her thumb to the tunnel. “First-timers usually take that
way. The macho ones like you tend to take the hiking path.”
Arbalest scratched his chin for a moment. “Though I am quite skilled, I am certainly not
an unwise man.” He looked at her and waggled his eyebrows as if to be impressive, which
Pagent found disgusting. “Because this is my first time, I think I shall take the tunnel
path. Is this not sound logic?”
“So sound I can hear it,” said Pagent. “Go in, please.”
Arbalest took his complementary torch from the pile sitting outside the entrance and lit
it before beginning his journey into darkness.
“Five minutes until he screams and turns back,” Pagent said to herself, “or else he goes
in and gets killed.” She waited. Five minutes passed, and she scribbled his name off her
list and yawned. An hour passed, and no more warriors had arrived. Pagent was about to get
up and take a late lunch when she jumped at the sight of Arbalest reemerging from the
tunnel. “What are you doing?” she screamed. “It’s not right, you know, exceeding people’s
expectations! Now I want you to get back in there and don’t come out until you have a
dragon’s head. Why did you come out, anyway?”
“Because that’s just the trouble,” said Arbalest. “There aren’t any dragons.”
“They’ve buggered off somewhere. There’s bones and armor and everything down there, but no dragons.”
“No dragons!” she cried in anguish. “That would ruin the economy of the whole town.” She
huffed and jumped down from her dais, then lit a complementary torch for herself. “Take me
down there. Show me.”
Arbalest shrugged. “If you insist.”
They walked side by side for ten minutes down the dark stretch of tunnel until they came
to the wide opening of the lower chamber, where it became very smelly.
“Ugh!” Pagent cried. “What is that?”
“Corpses,” said Arbalest. “Haven’t you smelled a dead body before?”
“Why would I have? I never come down here.”
“I was only asking,” said Arbalest. “And since you asked, here we are. See? No dragons.
Not a single one.”
The chamber was lit by a bright pyre in the center made of leather armor and flesh and
other repulsive things, presumably built by the dragons from their earlier prey. The floor
appeared to be cobbled by uneven bits of white. Pagent tested one of them with her toe.
“So that’s what’s been crunching under my feet. Bones!” She looked about the chamber for
any sign of a scaly head or spiked tail, but there was nothing above or around that bore
any resemblance to one of the beasts. “I guess you were right. No dragons.”
Then there came a sudden roaring and flapping from above, and two shadows seemed to be
descending from the cavern ceiling far, far above. “A fine time for them to come back!”
Arbalest shouted as a pair of the smaller variety of dragons alighted near the pyre of
warriors. “Taste the sting of my blade, wretched demons!” He brandished his sword and
began to charge toward them, hollering a barbaric war cry.
“You’re sure you left it here, George?” said the first dragon, sniffing about for
something and overturning bones with his nose.
“Yeah, positive,” said the second dragon. “I can’t think of anywhere else I may have left
it.” Then George looked up and saw Arbalest running toward him as Pagent quivered in the
“Death!” Arbalest screamed. The dragons looked on, unamused. Then George sneezed, and
suddenly Arbalest was forced to leap sideways to avoid the burst of flame that followed.
George sniffed. “Sorry about that. Look, I’m sorry, but we can’t be bothered with you
right now. We’re already late.”
“—Ah, here it is,” said the other dragon, lifting up a great dragon skull large enough to
fit over his own head.
“Thanks, mate,” said George, slipping it on as a mask. “I love this thing. It makes me
feel so much more terrifying.” He growled sharply at Arbalest, then laughed has he
trembled fearfully on the ground.
“Y-you said you were late,” said Arbalest. “Late for what?”
“To meet up with the others,” said the other dragon. “We got so bored with picking off you
lot as you came in to see us that we decided to take a more straightforward approach.”
“So instead of you coming in here to slay us, we’re going to a place of yours to slay
you,” said George. “Now, we’d love to stay and eat you, but we really must be off. We
already had our fill today, anyway.” He nodded to Pagent. “Thanks for that.” Then they
both poised to take off.
“Wait!” Pagent shouted, running up to stand near Arbalest. “Where exactly are you going?”
“No idea,” said George. “We were just going to follow the scent of the others.”
“Well, take us with you!”
Arbalest was aghast. “Are you crazy?”
“I can’t just let you go off to pillage willy-nilly,” Pagent said firmly to the dragons.
“At least take us to see where you’re going.”
“It couldn’t hurt,” the other dragon said to George. “It’d be handy to have them along in
case we need a snack.”
“I suppose,” said George. Then he craned his neck toward Pagent until his head was low to
the ground. “Hop on.” Pagent smiled and climbed up to sit at the base of his neck.
Arbalest shook his head. “Madame, you are braver than any knight I have ever met.” He
walked over to the other dragon, who craned his head also. “You mount a dragon after he
just told you he might devour you long the way. I am Arbalest the Great, and I cannot let
a simple maiden of Pent appear braver than I!”
And so, Pagent riding George, and Arbalest astride the other dragon, who was called Henry,
they flew far up into the darkness where only dragons can see, and emerged at the summit
entrance. They sailed off into the reddening sky, the two humans in bewilderment over the
sight of the ground far below. They rode the wind until dawn with Pagent and Arbalest
suddenly feeling a keen sense of royalty.
“This is it,” said Henry when the sun had just crept over the eastern hills. “The scent of
our comrades is strong here.”
“Yes, just over that last line of mountains, I think,” said George.
And at last they overtook the mountains and soared over the valley beyond. Then both
riders gasped. “Is that…” Pagent said, covering her mouth and pointing.
“It is,” Arbalest said nervously. “The Royal Valley. And that’s the king’s castle.”
“Oh, is it?” Henry said jovially, looking at the large castle in the little green valley
below. “This ought to be fun.”
The humans grimaced and clung tightly to the necks of their dragons as they swooped down
for the attack. The castle was already swarmed with countless dragons from the mountain of
Ragnost, and burning projectiles were flinging from the catapults and ballistae lining the
walls and parapets in an effort to keep them at bay.
George and Henry first burned some fields for practice, and then pulled up to soar over
the front wall, roaring happily with the laughter of beasts. Being careful not to let
their riders get burned, they went mad with happiness and mirth at the destruction, and
fought hard against the soldiers below, to whom Pagent and Arbalest tried to give
apologetic looks. When they had had their fun, and all the catapults were smashed and
burned, they joined their comrades at the roof of the keep, beneath which lay the throne
room, and began to tear at the stone with their frightening diamond-hard claws.
A giant green-and-purple dragon the size of three houses together, who was one of the
prideful beasts that lived at Ragnost’s peak, bellowed in triumph as he became the first
to punch through. His roar was so loud and elegant that the humans were forced to cover
With each blow following, the hole became wider until most of the roof crumbled all at
once, and the mad dragons poured inside like water into a basin.
Then they all went quiet as they looked around the walls and beheld the heads of countless
of their kin, killed by warriors past and preserved by the magic of the court wizard. A
new feeling seemed to sweep over them, and they howled again, this time not in mirth, but
There had been no one in the throne room when the dragons broke through, but now the court
wizard came stumbling in, armed with magic that glowed in his hands. He became suddenly
fearful at the sight of the dragon horde and tried to turn and run, but the great green-
and-purple dragon snatched him up in his jaws before he could reach the door. The dragon
gave one final roar in triumph before settling down.
By this time all the people had fled the castle, including the king himself, and the
energy of the dragons was apparently spent. They bent their heads in exhaustion and then
growled as they noticed Pagent and Arbalest perched atop their kinsman’s necks.
“Who are these filth?” the great green-and-purple dragon said in his rumbling voice to
George and Henry. “Do you carry them willingly?”
“Of course,” said George. “At first we brought them along as a snack. Do not worry, they
can be trusted. At any time from yesterday to now this one on Henry could have slain
either of us.”
Pagent glanced nervously at Arbalest, who said calmly, “Of course. One quick blow to the
base of the skull is enough to just paralyze you, but it would have been cowardly to win
fame and glory from the king in such a deceitful way. I decided you deserved better.”
The great green-and-purple dragon grumbled in acknowledgement and then fixed his gaze hard
on Arbalest. “I still have my eye on you, human.”
George and Henry lowered their necks to let their riders dismount. “Please,” said Henry.
“These humans are our friends. We beg for them to be treated justly by the council of Lord
Then another dragon, red and gold and as tall and majestic as his green-and-purple
kinsman, stepped out from behind his comrades. He inspected Pagent and Arbalest so closely
that they could feel his scalding breath enfold them from his nostrils. Then he pulled his
head back up and closed his eyes intently.
After several minutes, he seemed to come to a decision. “Are we all agreed that we quite
enjoy pillaging and obliterating the places of men?”
The others nodded in agreement.
“Then I propose a bargain with these humans. They are to rule as the new king and queen
with us as their subjects under the condition that we are free to plunder and destroy as
we please. If they refuse, then this land falls to anarchy and chaos, and we still plunder
and destroy as we please. Are all in favor?”
“Aye!” came the chorus of harsh dragon voices.
“I could never sit back as you slaughter and burn the people of my kingdom,” Pagent
protested. “And I find this man unattractive.”
Arbalest frowned as Anthrax grumbled, “Fine. Then separate but equal parties of rule, one
in the east, and the other in the west. The law of obliteration by dragons still applies.”
“Please consider,” Arbalest begged her. “You know, he’s being awfully lenient, considering
Pagent frowned, thinking that Arbalest had probably wanted to be king for some time, but
could see no way around it. Her two choices were to either let the dragons run amok in a
land of terror and lawlessness, or try to maintain some semblance of order while they
still could wreak havoc. The former king was well-known for his cowardice and would
certainly never return. “I accept,” she said at length.
“As do I,” said Arbalest.
“Then we are agreed,” said Anthrax.
And so Queen Pagent Magestrar took the East of the land of Rule while Arbalest took the
West, and a castle was built for her at Pent from which to command her subjects. No
warriors now ventured to the mountain of Ragnost, but sometimes still the dragons would
return to their old roost.
And they lived happily ever after.
Or so the dragons say.