--Chapter Twelve: Aftermath

For half an hour, silence reigned over The Windmill Road. None of the people hiding inside the hotel dared to come out onto the street, even though the dragon clearly appeared unconscious to everyone looking out of their windows.

Eventually, Diamo woke where he lay in the mud. He stood up and shook himself off, and then he looked around to try and figure out what had happened. First, he ran over to where the dragon lay on its side. Diamo saw the creature breathing slowly but steadily. Then the elf looked at the place where the battlefield and, for that matter, the road had been. All of it was laid to ashen waste.

At first, Diamo wanted to kick himself. He had not meant it to be this way. If his plan had been successful, there would have been only a few deaths—twenty at most—and the rest would run away at sight of the dragon. Then Diamo would have shouted a warning to the fleeing armies. Basically, that warning would have been along the lines of, “Whoever attacks this town has to deal with Crispo here! So stay away!”

It would have been great if it had worked... But why would plans matter now? Diamo had underestimated the dragon’s power—even the dragon had underestimated the dragon’s power—and here was the consequence: thousands dead, the fields destroyed for at least half a kilometer.

Well, it really did not make that much of a difference for the soldiers whether they died by sword or by fire, because in the normal course of battle, everyone fought until the other side was dead or had run away, and in practice, the grim reality remained that very few ever ran away. So most, if not all, of those dead on the burnt land now would have been slaughtered anyway, in many cases much more slowly and painfully than by the dragon’s fire.

Diamo sighed and went to the tavern in search of Isa. The Windmill Tavern was empty, so he went next door to the hotel and walked inside. He saw three very frightened friars and the hotel manager in the lobby.

“Peace,” Diamo said. “Is everyone taking shelter here?”

“Yes,” answered one of the friars. “Is it safe to come out now?”

“Not... just yet. I need to speak with a young woman named Isa. Is she here?”

Isa went with Diamo at once when he came to her door. Her family and Brother Waller stayed behind at the elf’s request.

Once Isa and Diamo were headed down the stairs, the former asked, “How did the battle go? And why are you so dirty?”

“The battle’s over,” said Diamo. “That’s really all I can say about it... And the mud? Well, let’s just say that a little uncleanliness is nothing compared to what most of the soldiers got.”

Diamo explained his plot to bring the dragon from the South to chase away the warriors. Ordinarily, no dragon would ever openly attack a human (much less an army), but the elf was able to convince Crispo that if the war could come to The Windmill Road, it would just as easily come to the South, West, or North. Dragons liked to live in peace unless they were either attacked or plagued by short food supply—in that case, they would fight to kill and show no mercy. The last winter had been hard on everyone, including the dragons and their backup storage of meats collected over the years and frozen within electric freezers hidden in the mountains. While no dragon was starving yet, there were worries that the reserves would not be sufficiently replenished by next winter. Because of this, Diamo was able to make a deal with Crispo: if the dragon would help to protect The Windmill Road, the elf would let him (and the other dragons) keep any soldiers killed as a stock for the future. The only condition of the deal was that no civilian should be attacked.

(At this point, Diamo and Isa exited the hotel to stand before the sleeping giant blocking most of the road.)

The elf then explained to Isa that he had never expected the dragon to kill this many people; Crispo himself had said that while he had no sympathy for soldiers and people who lived by war, he preferred eating less intelligent beings, like mountain goats or deer, since when they died, it felt more like hunting food and less like killing. Even dragons had consciences, after all.

The sheer extent of the damage amazed and frightened Isa. She had never witnessed death this closely before, and now it was right in front of her in all its morbid glory. The creature that did this, Isa decided, must either be very evil or at the least very violent.

Yet, not all of the dead people on the road had been killed by flame. Many had arrows in them or limbs missing, suggesting that the people who fought here were just as evil and/or violent as the dragon.

Just at that moment, Crispo woke up. He did not stand, but a simple snort got the attention of the elf and human in front of him.

“Don’t worry,” Diamo said to Isa. “He won’t hurt you unless you attack. Right, Crispo?”

The dragon, for all his obvious might, looked very weak right then. His eyes were bloodshot and his voice soft and grainy:

“Water. Please. Water.”

Isa’s heart beat as fast as it ever had. “What’s he saying?” she asked the elf.

“He wants water,” Diamo answered.

“Water...” The dragon really did look pitiful, but Isa thought that no matter how it looked, it was still a very dangerous creature. And when it said it wanted water, would anyone be wise to deny the dragon its wish? Crossing such a monster could prove very dangerous indeed.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Isa said. Then she ran as quickly as she could into the tavern. She grabbed a glass and a pitcher, but then she remembered the dragon’s size and realized a bar glass would not be sufficient. Next to the broom in the kitchen’s cleaning closet were a mop and large pail. Isa grabbed this pail, quickly rinsed it out, then hand-pumped water in to fill it.

When she returned to Diamo and Crispo, ten minutes had passed. Crispo was still moaning for water. Isa struggled to lift the giant pail and not spill its contents. Diamo ran to help her carry it, and together they presented it before the dragon.

To Crispo, it seemed as if he were being offered a shot glass when he had asked for an ocean. Regardless, he needed all the help he could get, so he reached forward with his right front claw, grabbed the pail, and swallowed the contents. A small amount of steam came from Crispo’s nostrils when he was done.

The dragon coughed but set the pail down and said, “More...”

The process repeated three times before Crispo had at least enough to calm whatever pain he was feeling. He stood up and thanked the two for what they had done.

“I’m sorry, I really am,” he said. “I’ve never had a fire that big before. How many people did I—Oh my...”

Crispo looked out on the destruction and added, “Oh this is not good... I wanted a few dead, just enough to keep the rest from coming back.”

Diamo gave him an expression that read plainly, “You too, huh?”

“Although... at the same time, I must admit, I’m kind of impressed. All of this, done with natural fire—no machines, no flamethrowers, no cheating—and in one shot!”

Isa was clearly not so impressed. In fact, she was on the verge of tears.

“Aw, hey... Don’t cry,” said Crispo. “We did this to save your town.”

“I don’t care,” Isa said, wiping her eye with the sleeve of her new dress, the dark green one Garroner had sold her. She sniffled and continued, “Why does there have to be so much killing?”

Crispo did not know if he could truly answer that question, but he tried anyway. His voice still cracked from the soreness in his throat, but fortunately, he did not have to speak very loudly for Isa to hear.

“Well... I guess I understand why you’re upset. You’ve probably never seen death like this before. On Mt. Bertrice, where I live, I see death all the time... have since I was barely out of my egg.”

Crispo shifted his position so he could lie down and rest while he faced Isa and told the remainder of his side of the story:

“I think it’s just part of being a dragon: someone, usually a knight or the like, is trying to hunt any one of us down. They come into our territory and they try to kill. Why? Is it because they need food? No. A warm hide to use for clothing? No; dragon scales aren’t much good for that, and they aren’t in fashion anyway among humans. So what is it that brings these people to want to get us? Fame. Honor. The fulfillment of some ancient ‘prophecy.’

“Dragons are carnivores, and there’s not much we can do about that. However, over the generations, we’ve learned to kill only for food or in self defense... and often, ironically, both at the same time. The idea is that if we only kill humans in defense, eventually they’ll learn not to attack us and leave us be. I’ve always thought that idea was pretty dumb, frankly. Some humans can’t even learn to let their own species be.

“I’ve also thought, though, that there’s some good to every being in Aren Country. I can see that plainly enough in all the humans like yourself who are being attacked, like my kind are, for no good reason whatsoever... and yet cannot defend themselves as dragons do. I hate watching those people suffer, I really do...”

Diamo, figuring he could not get much dirtier, had sat down on the muddy road. In a way, he envied the dragon for having scales that repelled the muck instead of clothing, which absorbed it. He watched Isa’s reactions, though, and he saw her eyes slowly drying up. Isa wanted to believe the dragon, but at the same time the image of what had been part of the eastern Windmill Road only that morning was still fresh in her mind.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Crispo. “You don’t want to see anything like this happen outside your town again, right?”

“Right,” Isa said.

“Well, I’ll never come back, then. You have my word. Any military attempts to reach your town will be stopped at a point so far east, you won’t ever have to worry about it. And in addition to this, I promise that from this moment on, I will never kill unless I am attacked first. How does that sound?”

At this point, it was all Isa could hope for. “Sounds good,” she said, sniffling again.

“And in return, I only ask for two small favors,” said the dragon.

“What do you want?”

“First, I want you to remember never to attack a dragon. And any dragon slayers who come by this town, do them and me the kindness of guiding them in the wrong direction. It’ll save their lives, and it’ll make mine less stressful. That’s the first favor.

“The second favor is a little more fun...” Crispo could not help himself; he had to ask while he had the chance: “Before I leave, could you please tell me a story?”

“A what?”

“A story. Surely you must have heard some pretty amazing tales from people traveling all across the country. Pick your favorite. Or better yet, tell me something you made up. Perhaps something about dwarves... and a prophecy...”

Isa opened her mouth slightly, confused.

“If such tales exist, that is,” Crispo said.

Isa sniffed and said, “Well, there... there is this one I know...”

Even though she was definitely not in the mood to tell a story, Isa found it easier to do as she got into it. She repeated, to the best of her memory, her story of the dwarf and the dragon. She missed a lot of the earlier details, but she did not forget who won in the final battle. And while Isa was nowhere near the level of cheer she had been in that night when she first told the story at the tavern, when she finished, she at least felt a little better.

Crispo smiled and stood. “That’s about as good a story I’ve ever heard, Miss. Thank you. And now that you’ve held to your end of the bargain, I shall hold to mine. The first step will be cleaning up this whole mess I made... Hm...”

Just then, some figures showed up on the south horizon, and they were headed quickly toward the village. Crispo looked up at them and said under his breath, “Whoa... This is handy...”

Four dragons, each much smaller than Crispo, landed in the battlefield. They were red, brown, orange, and yellow, respectively, and from the way they talked, Isa was able to deduce that they must have been fairly young—at least for a dragon; however many human years that meant they had, Isa could not say.

“Check it out!” the red one yelled. “Old Crispo did all this?”

Crispo sighed and walked over to them. “It was a necessity you kids wouldn’t understand. Normally, dragons are never to attempt anything like this.”

“Oh we know,” said the yellow one. “We saw you take off earlier, though, and we thought you might need help. So we asked our mom, and she told us we could help you as soon as we’d cleaned our caves, and then when we did that, we said, ‘Can we go now, Mom?’ And she said—”

“Enough,” Crispo interrupted. “I get the idea. And you know what’s ironic about this? You finished cleaning, and now you’re going to do some more clean-up work!”

The children immediately greeted this with simultaneous groans.

“Don’t worry, I’ll help. We’ve got to get all these bodies home for winter storage, and we’ve got to clean up as much of the ash as possible. And we’ve got to do it today and tomorrow. We should be done by the next day’s sunset. Understood?”

Four sad but compliant voices said, “Yes, Mr. Crispo, Sir.”

“Alright, then: get to it!”

Crispo started walking away from the village, but Isa called him back. He looked over his right shoulder and waited for her to say something.

Said Isa, “I... I think I should say... Um...” She sighed. “Look, what I want to say is, thank you. This is all very hard for me, and it’ll be hard for everyone here, but... I know you were at least trying to do the right thing... in your own way.”

Crispo smiled. “That’s the first time a human has ever thanked me... You’re welcome, Miss.”

Isa went back into the hotel with Diamo and told everyone there that although the battle was over, they would have to stay inside while “things were cleaned up.” Many of the people in the hotel had watched the exchange between Isa and the dragon. These friars and citizens nodded in understanding and commended Isa just for looking a dragon in the face and not fainting.

When she reached the third floor, Isa hugged her mother and father and Brother Waller (so he would not feel left out, Isa said).

In her mind, Isa only had one thought. It was more than a wish, but less than a prayer, since it could not have been said to target any deity’s attention. In a way, it was a plea to every being in Aren Country, though she kept it to herself and never breathed it out loud:

May this never happen again.

However, in her heart she knew that things could have been much, much worse. So another half-prayer running through her mind added, But if it does happen again, may we always have a dragon on our side.