The day dawned bright and clear as King Teradoc and I rode off with our honor guard to challenge Pfotor the Dragon. It was the first fresh day of spring after a frustratingly long winter, and I was eager for the hunt.
The winter had been spent pouring over scholarly texts written by ancient masters, and learning from my tutor. Old and stodgy, he forced me to spend more time than I would have liked learning and reciting. Still, however interminably, the winter had passed and I was free again. The Chancellor informed me that the King wished me to accompany him on his quest to suppress Pfotor, and I eagerly accepted the challenge.
Adventure filled the air. I took out my sword and watched the sun glint from its blade.
"Prince Dorn," my father said, surprising me from my reverie, "are you so eager to fight a dragon? Pfotor is a wild beast, and a worthy foe."
"Of course, father," I mumbled, abashed. I noticed a twinkle in his eyes, though, which belied his stern words. He too must have been feeling the sweetness of our quest.
As we neared the town, signs of Pfotor's attacks became evident. Instead of containing fresh plantings, the lands around the town were blackened and deserted. We rode past the charred frames of several farmhouses, but saw no one. At length, we reached a fork in the road. To the right lay the town, to the left lay the route to Pfotor.
"Go to the town and secure lodging for us there," my father said to the guards, dismissing them. "Prince Dorn and I will go confront Pfotor."
I gulped. "Alone?" I asked.
"Yes, my son. Against a dragon, a few guards will not make any difference." He led his horse to the left.
Mystified, I followed. I felt excitement and fear in equal proportions. To face Pfotor alone, virtually unarmed, seemed the height of folly, yet also the pinnacle of bravery.
Eventually we reached the black mouth of an enormous cave at the base of Mt. Fire. Without a word, my father dismounted, lit torches for us, and led the way inside. I followed warily.
The torches provided a dim illumination as we proceeded. The stench of dragon was overpowering, and grew worse as we neared Pfotor. My eyes began to water, making it difficult to see.
At the end of the passage was an immense cavern filled with jewels of every type and description, piled in heaps. To one side golden items were strewn haphazardly. I could identify lyres, goblets, various coins, and scepters of different lengths. These objects surrounded an old, golden throne. In the distance, the cavern vanished into blackness, from whence came a great rumbling.
"Who dares enter the domain of Pfotor the Invincible?" boomed a powerful voice.
I am forced to admit that I immediately froze. My father, however, did not. In a loud voice of his own, he replied, "It is I, King Teradoc, ruler of all the peoples of Bailia. I command you to approach and be recognized."
A low roar filled the cavern in response, and the terrifying green bulk of Pfotor entered the light. He moved to the center of the treasure, extended his wings, and belched fire upward toward the roof of the cave.
"No one commands the mighty Pfotor!" he bellowed. "Do you dare to challenge me?"
"No, I do not," my father replied, his voice returning to its customary low volume. "I have come to talk."
The laughter of the dragon filled the cavern. "Talk? The great Pfotor has no need for talk. His strength speaks for itself."
My father did not reply, and a silenced stretched on as he and the dragon studied each other. The king looked strangely calm, as though he were in no danger. Pfotor seemed puzzled by this. I, on the other hand, was still staring wide-eyed at the dragon. His long, scaly tail swayed back and forth, knocking treasures to each side. At long last, he settled his huge mass onto the ground and broke the silence.
"Pfotor has no need for talk," he said, "but he is curious. Why have you come here to disturb him? Speak."
"Pfotor," the King said, "there has been peace between humans and dragons for generations. Why do you choose to break it now?"
"I did not break it!" Pfotor roared. "You foolish humans did! You breed like rabbits and move into our lands! Three hundred years ago, your puny kingdom did not even exist, yet now you are everywhere." The dragon shook his head. "At first we welcomed you and the treasures you brought, but now there are too many of you, and too few treasures."
The King ran his eyes around the cavern. "If this is too few treasures for you, you are going to be sorely disappointed with Bailia."
"Then you will have to get more," Pfotor demanded. "Bring them from other lands, or I will destroy you! I must have more!"
The King moved to the throne, brushed away the valuables covering it, and sat down. To my astonishment, he winked at me.
"Pfotor, old boy," he said, "there may be a way out of our dilemma." He paused as Pfotor snorted, then continued. "Have you ever considered letting some of your wealth work for you?"
Pfotor raised his eyebrows, which on a dragon is quite an impressive sight. "Work for me?" he asked.
"Yes. Look, you've got an enormous amount of money sitting around here doing nothing. You are also surrounded by ambitious, hard-working people who lack the funds to begin any of the building they'd love to do. I'll tell you what. We'll help you exchange some of your valuables for coinage, which you can lend to the people for their own uses. They then will pay back their loans with interest."
My father's enthusiasm was infectious, and I could see Pfotor considering the plan. My father continued. "By pumping money into the local economy, everybody wins. The townspeople get the capital they need in order to improve their standard of living, and your wealth will increase as they repay their loans."
"And you," Pfotor said, "get a thriving kingdom with peaceful borders. But suppose some of your subjects refuse to pay?"
The King gave him a dour look. "It would be a brave man who would default on a loan to a dragon. Besides, we would set up a group to handle such problems ourselves, wouldn't we, my son?"
The last was directed at me, and I almost jumped. "Yes, sire," I said. Suddenly I realized that my hours spent studying this winter had been neither by accident nor in vain. My father was giving me a chance to take part in a great expansion of his kingdom. "I would be honored to help organize such a project."
He smiled at me. "There you have it, Pfotor. The royal seal of approval. Prince Dorn will act as a liaison between you and the local populace, and will help set up the guilds necessary to acquire, use, and repay the money. What do you say?"
Pfotor leaned back on his haunches, folded his wings, and cocked his head thoughtfully in a manner I would soon come to know well.
"I agree," he said.
The next several years passed quickly. I sold the idea to the town and collected applications for loans. These went to Pfotor, who selected the necessary valuables which were then exchanged for currency at the hastily established Royal Mint. The funds were then distributed to the people. New houses sprang into being almost overnight. Schools, public meeting houses, and even a great cathedral soon followed.
Pfotor turned out to be a pretty good fellow, once you got to know him. Interestingly, he had the same opinion about humans. He really hadn't wanted a conflict at all, but when we started encroaching on his territory he became a laughing stock among the other dragons. Now he was envied. When I discovered this, I started communications aimed at establishing a series of Dragon Banks throughout Bailia, each near a dragon hoard.
During one of my reports to my father in his private council chambers, I told him about the methods we were using.
"One of the beautiful things about the entire system," I said, "is that we never have to spend anything on security. There's no place in the world safer for all that gold than in a dragon's lair."
"Indeed, and not just for the gold," my father replied, the old twinkle in his eye returning. "Can you think of a better guardian for the heir to the throne?"
Ken Kousen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research engineer at United Technologies Research Center in East Hartford, Connecticut. His stories have appeared in Mystic Fiction, Nuthouse, and the anthology The Magic Within.
InterText stories written by Ken Kousen: "Dragon Financing" (v1n2), "Flying Toasters" (v5n2).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Ken Kousen.