“I expect you're wondering why I'm here!”
Coriphylax opened one eye. A small, brownish thing was standing atop a pile of coins toward the end of the chamber. As the thing came into sharp focus, it appeared to be one of those apes from the towns. A very short one. Probably a youngling.
“And I'm not a human child, if that's what you were thinking,” it said. It pulled back some hair. Pointed ears. Not like an elf's. They were rounder, but still pointed. Not so helical as those of the apes.
Coriphylax drew up from his recline magnificently, to his full height. His baleful horns scraped the ceiling and various coins and jewels cascaded from his head and neck. He allowed a few wisps of flame to escape his nostrils, for effect. The smoke curled and twisted in the air.
“And what are you here for I wonder, little thief?
His rumbling tone shook the piles of coins, and dislodged the small person. They slid, whooping like a child at play, to a gentle rest at the foot of a treasure dune. Coriphylax's eye twitched.
“I'm not a thief,” she said, “but I get why you'd think that, so I'm not offended.”
“You're… not? What? Don’t tell me a tiny thing like you is a knight? Trying to beat me in combat will end suddenly for you little ape.'”
“A knight? Hardly. I’m not even wearing armour! No, actually I'm here to give you two gifts, which you are of course, completely entitled to reject, if you wish.”
“You… I… er, what?”
“It’s ok,” she said, “We'll start slow. I'm Helaya. You don't need to introduce yourself, of course. Everyone knows and fears the name Coriphylax, right?”
Curious. Coriphylax blinked.
“If I tried to steal some treasure, your quick eye would make me, and then the jaws with fearsome fangs would snick-snack me in twain,” Helaya smiled, as if sharing a joke, “isn't that how it goes? The Ballad of Coriphylax, king of dragons! With baleful horns on high, who ignites those beneath him—and all are.
The raser of cities, the terror of towns, the killer of kingdoms, the scourge of the continent. All shall bow before he who rides the sky and rains fire and penury. Woe betide thee who gaze upon his countenance, for all are found wanting. He who sits atop the largest hoard, as is his due, and…” she paused and tapped a finger on her lip. “Oh yeah,”, she continued, “…and covets it jealously against those who would purloin from his… oh bother, I had it before. The last bit always gets me!”
“…from his towering desert of loot,” said Coriphylax, “that which was always, and is forevermore his. Even the merest contact with it is seen as…”
“…as a willing forfeiture of life for yourself and anyone else Coriphylax deems worthy of his ire. Yeah, thanks,” she cocked her head on one side, “it gets a little bit contract-jargony at the close there, doesn't it?” Helaya winked and grinned a broad grin.
Coriphylax was prepared to admit he might have lost the upper hand at some point, and wondered when that was, exactly.
“Well I didn't write it,” said Coriphylax, “those apes did.”
“Ah well now,” Helaya said, “perhaps that's why I'm here.”
Coriphylax had had enough. smoke billowed from his nose as flame licked out from his mouth, spreading across the ceiling.
“Foolish mortal,” he bellowed, the sound thundering around the cavernous room, dislodging small pieces of rock from the walls and roof, “why shouldn't I just incinerate you now?”
“Because silly,” Helaya said, “then you wouldn't get your three presents! That was all very impressive by the way.” She pointed to the walls, sweeping her finger in an arc, then made a waggling motion with her fingers
“You said two presents before,” said Coriphylax.
“You're right,” said Helaya, grinning again, “I did. Honestly I had intended to keep the third one a secret, but hell with it, I think you're worth telling,”
“Yeah,” said Helaya, “I do. And c'mon, you're not the least bit curious what the gifts are?”
The question pealed like a bell in Coriphylax's mind. What could this diminutive, possible half-ape creature think she could offer the great and terrible Coriphylax, who has the greatest hoard of wealth ever seen? She was so confident. Even now she was smiling. A perfect 'I know something you don't' face. No, not perfect—there was something else in there. Another mortal emotion. It wasn't fear though. Maybe smugness? No. Oh, was it satisfaction? Greed? No. Wind? These things got that from time to time right?
It was joy. This thing, this tiny woman, little more than a mouse, shorter than one of his claws—this fragile, minuscule mite—was gleefully looking up at several tons of angry and confused, top level, tier one, apex predator.
Today was turning out to be an odd day for Coriphylax, that was for sure.
“I'm going to tell you the first one,” Helaya said, “and remember, you can turn it down if you so wish.” She bit her bottom lip as she grinned again. “But I don't think you will.”
“Well, what is it mortal,” Coriphylax roared, “spit it out.”
“No, not until you speak to me as a person.”
Coriphylax spread his massive wings, sending swathes of treasure scattering, His nostrils roared a blanket of flame and everything in the place took on an orange cast.
Helaya raised her eyebrows in return. Coriphylax suddenly felt rather… sheepish. It was an uncomfortable feeling. He folded his wings and cleared his throat.
“I… er, I'm sorry about that,” said Coriphylax, “I'd be pleased if you would continue… er, please?” He winced at his suddenly dry throat that seemed to have abandoned coherency.
Helaya broke into that broad grin again. “Fantastic,” she said, “I knew we were going to be friends. But I've changed my mind…”
Coriphylax's breath caught.
“I'm going to tell you your second gift first! Don't worry, it'll all make sense in the end.”
“Sure,” said Coriphylax, “ok!”
“You second gift from me is…” she paused for another wink, “I am going to give you a better life!” She brought her arms up in wide arcs, and clapped her hands together above her head.
Coriphylax blinked hard, then broke into uproarious laughter that again reverberated off the walls and pillars of rock.
“You, are going to give me, Coriphylax, king of the dragons, holder of the largest hoard of treasure this world has ever known—a better life? I who can do as he pleases, who calls no creature master? I who strike fear in the hearts of all?”
“How? How do you plan to improve the life of he who wants for nothing?”
“Well, that brings me to your first gift, which is I'm going to take meself a seat here somewhere more comfortable than a pile of old coins and gems and the like, and then you and me, we're going to have a talk.”
“Yes, only you'll be doing most of the talking, and I'm going to listen. That's the gift. You talk and I'll just sit and listen. I bet its been a while since anyone just sat and listened to you. And you, the king of dragons no less. Sure, you must have some amazing stories. And I bet no one's ever even asked before, by the looks of it. So let me find a decent seat…”
Coriphylax plunged a clawed fist into a nearby pile, and retrieved a jeweled golden throne, setting it down in a small clearing close to Helaya.
“It used to belong to the human king, Thregorin the Just.”
“Well, if you've nothing else,” said Helaya, “What happened with old Thregorin in the end?”
Helaya looked up expectantly at the massive dragon.
“I descended through the clouds, lighting them up with my fiery breath,” said Coriphylax.
“Ooh, good start,” said Helaya, “very evocative.”
“Ahem, and then I fell upon the town, bringing to bear my full fury! I sacked the town, burned it to cinders and made off with the treasure for my hoard!”
Coriphylax grinned, a wall of teeth.
“Oh,” said Helaya.
“What? That was a good story!”
“Maybe from your point of view,” Helaya said, “but think of those poor people. Incinerated in a second, with no warning or way to defend themselves. They must have been so scared.”
Coriphylax chuckled. “Well not for long!”
Helaya didn't laugh. Coriphylax cleared his throat.
“I hate to ask,” said Helaya, “but are all your stories about ransacking towns, killing defenceless people and making off with the loot?”
“Well,” started Coriphylax, and then tailed off. He suddenly found some scales on his expansive chest that needed attention.
“Wow, so you have all this might and power and you use it to what, bully people and steal their livelihoods?”
“Well it doesn’t sound great when you say it like that!”
“Ok, how would you say it?”
Coriphylax mumbled something.
“I said I use my great power to spread my dominion over the land… as is my right!”
Helaya blinked. “Why?”
Coriphylax blanched. “Well because… that’s what we dragons do! It’s what we’ve always done!”
“Oh right. Well that’s ok then. I mean, tradition is a good reason I suppose. If you can’t think for yourself, I mean.”
Coriphylax sneered. Wisps of smoke escaped his nostrils again.
“You realise you’re barely even a snack to me, not-ape?”
“Yep. Anyway, I guess we’re done here. You’re happy murdering innocents and ruining the lives of the survivors in order to steal treasure and the put it in a big pile. Sounds healthy. And you are happy right?”
Coriphylax narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
“So then I’ll be off before I outstay my welcome and you decide to eat me, like you threatened.”
“It must get awful lonesome up here. Sat in a dank, abandoned castle. I mean the treasure brightens it up somewhat, but… yeah. Still your next visitor should be along soon. I mean, I can’t be the only visitor you’ve had here just to chat.”
Coriphylax looked down at the treasure pile. “Actually… aside from ‘gallant’ knights coming to kill me… and thieves,” he stared up from under his brows that sat like the stone mouths of kilns above the furnaces of his eyes. Helaya sat on her temporary throne, swinging her feet, smiling in rapt attention. She suddenly sat up.
“Oh you’re done? I thought for sure there’d be more. So just would-be killers and would-be plunderers then? I can’t imagine they have a lot of good conversations in them. The thieves probably try to sneak in and go unnoticed, so no conversation there. The knights… well I imagine there’s some declarations of intent to slay you, perhaps some reasons as to why, maybe a ‘forsooth’ or two and then a ‘Have at thee!’ Sound about right?”
“So not any real sort of conversation at all. What about the other dragons?”
Coriphylax cleared his throat. “We are… solitary creatures. The last council was many decades…” Coriphylax stopped. His stone arch brows knitted together. “Actually I was about three hundred and sixty years ago,” he said.
Helaya blinked. “So the last real, proper conversation you had before today was over three and a half centuries ago?”
Coriphylax let out a long sigh.
“So the solitary thing,” said Helaya, “is that a choice, or another tradition thing?”
“Honestly, dragons don’t really enjoy each other’s company much. We tend to grate on each other’s nerves.”
“Hmm,” said Helaya, “I’m a bit like that with my family. And yet here we are—hardly two peas in a pod—and yet chatting up a storm! Anyway, I’ve already outstayed my welcome, so I’ll be off. Fingers crossed the next council comes in the next few centuries!”
Coriphylax frowned as the short woman slid off the golden throne. She planted her foot into a treasure chest by accident, and spent a moment trying to dislodge it without avail. Coriphylax reached over and gingerly placed a massive claw either side of the chest to hold it in place. Helaya managed to free her booted foot.
“Thanks,” she said, then held up a finger. She reached into her boot and rummaged around, one eye closed and her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth. Finally she held up a bright opal that had slipped in there. She placed it on top of the heaped mound still in the chest.
“Told you I was no thief,” she said, “anyway I guess I… probably won’t see you around. Unless you come to pillage my village—pardon the rhyme—which I hope you don’t, no offence intended. It’s just that we’re a very small place and a peaceful people. We’ve no real weapons to speak of, just farming gear. Ah listen to me, I’m probably selling it to you! It must sound ripe on the vine. I should learn to shut me trap. Ma is always saying, ‘It’s your tongue that’ll do for you in the end Helly,’ and she has a point. Anyway I’d best be getting back before they hold my funeral, and you’ve already threatened to eat me once, so…”
“I…” began Coriphylax. He faltered.
“Is it far? Your village I mean?”
“No, not really,” said Helaya, “barely thirty-five leagues. I’ll be back home in a day and a half. Ach, listen to me running my mouth again. I might as well draw you a map! I’m going to be an awful fool if I’ve led you right to our door. Although not for long I suppose. But if anyone survives, my name will be spoken of only in cursed whispers.”
Coriphylax shuffled and pawed idly at some treasure. “I could… I could maybe avoid your village I suppose.”
“Really? Oh that would be great,” said Helaya, “It would really help me not be despised by everyone. Thanks. It's called Humblefoot. Terrible name for a village really but named after Bezille Humblefoot, one of my abncestors. Like I said, about thirty-five leagues, and to the northwest. Well, I’d better be off if I’m going to get home.”
Helaya turned to look back over her shoulder.
“You should at least eat something for the journey,” said Coriphylax, “Do you like roasted mutton?”
Helaya's eyes seemed to sparkle for a moment. “Roasted mutton is my favourite!”
“Wait here,” said Coriphylax, and with a flick of his tail, disappeared suddenly upward, the wind from which blew Helaya into a nearby pile of coins.
Coriphylax squeezed his wings tight to his body to slip through the hole in the top of the tower. Once clear, he stretched them out to full span and beat the air, hovering in place. It was still mid morning and clear. Coriphylax spotted a filed of sheep a couple of leagues away, and rushed through the air toward them.
After decimating the flock for his own breakfast, Coriphylax scooped up a couple more into his massive hands. Their bleating on the flight home bothered him, but he kept his grip loose enough not to crush them.
He landed on the roof of the long-since abandoned castle, now taken to ruin, and slid back into the hold. Even on the descent, he knew something was wrong. He scanned the treasure room—no Helaya. He cursed himself for being taken in so easily, and by a tiny not-ape person! He reared up onto his hind legs, the fiery roar building in his throat.
Helaya burst from under a smallish pile of treasure. She had her hands out in front, and was laughing.
“You should see your face,” she laughed, “oh it's a picture.”
Coriphylax was stunned into silence.
“It was a joke,” said Helaya, “what did you think I'd filled me pockets and fled? Not. A. Thief. I told ya.”
The glow began again in Coriphylax's throat, but what came out was not a roar. He threw his head back and a plume of fire accompanied every laugh, making the room flicker. The shadows on the walls stretched and blended back into the darkness with each burst. Helaya grinned and clapped her hands. She wondered how many other people could say they'd made a dragon laugh?
Coriplylax calmed, his throat glow dimming along with his mirth. “That was oddly… exhausting,” he said, “but immensely enjoyable!”
“Was that… wait, do dragons not laugh?”
Coriphylax cocked his head to one side. “We do, but seldom. Like you said, we are generally to be avoided, and it is only a fool who would try to play a prank on us…” His brows knitted.
“Well I'm no fool,” said Helaya.
“No, you are not. And yet you played a prank on the king of dragons.”
“Perhaps the truly wise play the best fools?”
“Perhaps,” said Coriphylax, “and perhaps I should listen to more of this wisdom while you eat.” He swept a section on the floor clear of treasure, about thirty feet across, and gently put the two sheep down.
Helaya frowned and bit her lip. “Ooh, that's really nice of you, but I generally eat my food cooked…”
“I know,” said Coriphylax, and shot forth a glut of flame, enshrouding the sheep. Helaya could feel the heat, but Coriphylax had angled it away from her to minimise the danger.
Once the smoke cleared, the scent of perfectly roasted mutton wafted through the room.
“Well, that was… I've never had mutton cooked like that before!”
Coriphylax nodded slightly. “Eat,” he said, “I've already had mine. I worried maybe seeing me eat might spoil your appetite.”
“Well that's very considerate, thank you!” she was already tearing in to one of them with a short sword she'd found. Coriphylax pointed out a gold fork with a gem encrusted handle. Helaya picked it up and held it at arm's length.
“Wow,” she said between mouthfuls of mutton, “who needs a gold fork?”
“I think that was from the court of King Maoumer of Thessillium.”
“From the court? You mean this wasn't even the king's? Oh I suppose he was too good to hold a fork himself. I expect someone more like me had to spear morsels onto an ostentatious trident and feed him!”
Coriphylax chuckled, his chest brightening slightly.
“Seriously though. No one needs a gold fork. Iron is good enough I'd say.” She cut another large slice of meat and stabbed it with the fork. “I mean,” she swallowed hard, “I'd be using iron if you had it, instead of this…” she held the fork up to the light and turned it, “insanely expensive looking piece o' cutlery.”
“Wouldn't you like to be rich?”
“Me? Well yeah, I suppose. Maybe. I mean I don't really need much, and what I need I have already. I'm sure it has its benefits, being rich. But then again, I bet there's loads of downsides too.”
“Well,” said Helaya, “rich people always seem to be worried about money. I don't worry about money because I don't really have any, but rich people always seem terrified of losing even a single coin. That sounds stressful.”
“Hmm, “ said Coriphylax.
“And I don't want gold forks and gold plates and for all I know a diamond studded gold chamberpot. That sounds both ridiculous and cold on the arse!”
Coriphylax snorted through his nose, sending tiny wisps of flame and smoke dancing into the air.
“Listen,” said Helaya, “can I ask you something?”
Coriphylax raised an eyebrow.
“This hoard of yours. What’s it for?”
Coriphylax blinked. “For? It’s treasure. It’s my hoard, as is my right.”
“Sure, I understand that,” said Helaya, setting the fork down, “but what is it for?”
Coriphylax looked nonplussed. “It’s a treasure hoard. You hoard it. It’s in the name.”
“Yes, but what does one do with a hoard? I can’t imagine you have a lot of outgoings. Your food you… source from nearby areas. You’ve claimed this place—it’s not like you had to buy it, and no one has managed to evict you yet. You don’t wear clothes or armour. You have no servants to pay…”
“It’s a symbol of my wealth and power!”
Helaya broke into a loud laugh. “Wealth and power? What an odd thing to say!”
Coriphylax frowned. “How so?”
“Well,” said Helaya, still chuckling, “gold and gems are self-evidently wealth. If you have them, you’re wealthy. Do you really need to prove it?”
“And as for power,” she chuckled again, “if anyone can’t tell that you’re powerful… I mean, you’re a dragon for Pete’s sake!”
“Who is Pete?”
“You’re missing the point. Everyone knows you’re powerful. Dragons are inherently powerful, and you’re the king of dragons. The other dragons bow to you! You’re about as top of the heap as it gets. If anyone questions your power, they need their head examined.”
Coriphylax chuckled. He settled into the pile. “I suppose that’s true.”
“So then, power and wealth are pretty much taken care of. So what’s it for?”
“We’ll it’s comfortable to lie on. Gold is a very soft metal.”
“So’s lead,” said Helaya, “Why don’t you hoard that? Or straw? Straw has to be more comfortable to lie on than any metal?”
Coriphylax shrugged. “We’ve always used gold.”
“The thing is,” said Helaya, “while all this gold and treasure is sitting up here with you… no one else can use it.”
“Because it’s mine.”
“Well yes, of course. But say you gave a gold coin to… a baker. In a nearby town.”
“But why would I just give one of my coins away?”
“Ok, just bear with me for a second. It’s a thought experiment.”
“I don’t like it so far,” said Coriphylax.
Helaya sighed and looked up at Coriphylax, frowning. “Anyway—you give the smith a coin…”
“It was a baker,” said Coriphylax.
“Right,” said Helaya with a smirk, “a baker. So you give him a coin. Do you know what he does with that coin?”
“Puts it in his lair with the others?”
“What? No! He uses it. Perhaps he spends some of it on new equipment for his bakery. Maybe some on ingredients. Some for clothes for his family, or something for his home. My point is he uses it. Some will help his business provide for others, and some he will spend with other local merchants or artisans, which will help them live and work and provide goods and services to the community as well. And that’s just one gold coin.”
“Look I get it. That hoard took work to aquire, and it is your right to have it, but it’s not really doing anyone any good sitting up here in this mouldering, abandoned castle—including you.”
This was the gamble, Helaya knew. If she could persuade this massive creature… it could change everything.
“But it’s mine!”
“And no one is challenging that. I’m just saying, while it’s up here, it can’t be spent. And it’s basically money. What good is money if it can’t be spent? Other than as bedding and a demonstration of wealth, it’s not really doing anything for you either. I’m just saying.”
Coriphylax sat in contemplation for a moment. Helaya made sense, but it flew in the face of everything the dragon had known.
“Can I ask you something?”
Coriphylax stirred from his thoughts. “Ask.”
“What is the king of dragons afraid of? I know you fear no mortal and I doubt you’re much afraid of other dragons either. What is it that troubles you on dark evenings as the rain lashes the castle?”
“Honestly? I’m afraid of being forgotten.”
Helaya cocked her head. “Coriphylax, whose deeds live in infamy…” she recited. “Can I give you a hug?”
“You know what a hug is right?”
“Of course. Dragons don’t hug.”
“Why ever not? Don’t be silly, c’mere.”
She hopped onto one of his fingers, and nimbly ran up his foot and pressed her tiny body against his leg, arms spread. Coriphylax felt oddly soothed.
“See? Nothing bad happened.”
“Ah shush,” said Helaya, “You liked it. And I know how to kill your fear.”
“You do,” said Coriphylax, “how?”
“Let me tell you a story. It’s about a wicked king from long ago.”
“What was his name? Perhaps we crossed paths,” said the dragon.
“His name isn’t important,” said Helaya, “for now, just listen.”
Coriphylax huffed again, but said nothing.
“This king ruled his lands with an iron hand. Any perceived transgression was met with cruel punishment. He revelled in wealth while his people scratched in the dirt, hungry and penniless, for the king took everything from them in taxes and tithes.
One day a leader of a settlement in his kingdom refused to pay the tithe. The leader’s community were already starving and paying would deprive them of everything they had left.
The king dispatched his knights to bring the leader before him, and thus they did, dragging him from his home in the night.
When he was brought before the king, the leader tried to reason with him.
If the crown continue to demand such impossible amounts, the leader said, the community would die and then there would be no more tithes or taxes, for the dead cannot pay.
The king listened to the leader and scoffed. Of course they would pay, he said. They were his subjects. It was not only their duty, but their honour to serve him. He waved the leader’s life away with a wave of his hand. Dawn broke to the removal of the leader’s head—an example from the king.
What the king didn’t know was the leader had expected this and given instructions to the settlement’s other leader—his wife—to leave the kingdom if he didn’t return.
And leave they did. They packed up everything and went to a neighbouring kingdom, whose king was benevolent. Along the way they passed through other villages in similar straits and convinced them to leave with them.
The king of the neighbouring kingdom welcomed the refugees and ensured they were taken care of while they found their feet in their new home.
Meanwhile, word spread about the execution of the leader and the exodus from the kingdom. More communities followed, leaving their old homes and moving to the new kingdom. They too, we’re welcomed and supported.
Eventually word got back to the king that his people were abandoning him. He sent out a new decree that stated that anyone found attempting to flee the kingdom would be killed on sight.
For a while it worked, but as people became aware that nothing else would change, they decided a chance at life elsewhere was better than a certainty of death if they stayed.
People can be very resourceful when pressed. When their routes were discovered, and knights patrolled, killing anyone who got too close, they changed their routes. When pathways to the neighbouring kingdom became too dangerous to cross, they went over the mountains. When the king blocked the mountain pass, they went through the mines.
When all routes had been exhausted, they crossed through the forest, desert or tundra of the north to get into different kingdoms—any kingdom in fact, regardless of how accepting they were of outsiders. When death is the only alternative, penury and xenophobia become bearable.
In a matter of years, the wicked king was left without a people to govern, such was their hatred of him.”
“What about his loyalty-sworn knights? Surely they stayed to fulfil their oaths,” said Coriphylax.
“Even the knights left in the end,” said Helaya, “when there was nothing for them to do and little food left in the land because all the farmers had left. The king, embittered to the point of madness, stayed alone. Even his wife the queen left with their children, to seek their lives elsewhere. The land was left fallow and nature reclaimed it. Vines and creepers overtook the castle. The king lived on what he could forage for a while, but starvation claimed him in the end.”
“Did anyone go back?”
“A few. Those hardy enough to scratch out a living in a land with no masters, but most had made new lives elsewhere.”
“Why didn't the king leave?”
“It was his kingdom. He clung to the old ways, and suffered for it.”
Coriplhylax laid his head down on his front feet and puffed a plume of smoke from his nostrils.
“Hmm,” he said, “what was the king's name? I feel I remember the bones of this tale.”
“I don't know,” said Helaya, “and neither does anyone else. The king was so hated by his people, that they refused to speak his name. Eventually, over a generation or two, it got forgotten.”
“Hmm,” said Coriplhylax again. He shifted uneasily.
“What do your people look for in a leader,” he said.
“Us? We look for kindness and compassion. Someone who doesn't see themselves as apart from the community, but a part of the whole. Empathy, that sort of thing.”
“That's what you value in a leader.”
“Yep. And we still talk about the kindest ones, decades after they lived.”
“And you say that a single gold coin could sustain a family for a while?”
“Probably a month or more.”
Helaya allowed the silence to lay a while over both of them. This might be the turning point. It would be better if he made the decision himself.
Coriphylax sat up suddenly, causing a shift in a nearby treasure mound.
“I have an idea,” he said, “I'll fly you to your village, and we can take all my treasure with us. I can give it to your people!”
“Woah, wait now,” said Helaya, “my little Humblefoot would become the richest village on the continent overnight! Remember how I said that riches bring problems? We'd be raided until we were all dead and had nothing left as soon as word got out!”
“Oh,” said Coriphylax, “yes you're right. So maybe just some of the treasure?”
“Just a handful of coins should help us out, but the treasure is not the only way to help people.”
“What else could I do?”
“Well you're a huge dragon! You could lift things that are too heavy for us. Help with building things. Help fire up furnaces for pottery, furnaces for the smithy! There's lots an amazing creature like yourself could do. You could help defend against bandits and raiders.”
Coriplhylax's eyes gleamed. “I could help!” He stopped. “But what of the rest of the treasure?”
“Well,” said Helaya, “There's a lot of towns and villages out there, and lots of them have lost treasure to dragons and bandits and enemies over the years, and mines have run dry and closed in many parts. There's a whole continent of people out there, and most of them would benefit from your help. I imagine a treasure-dispensing dragon who helped with civic projects might make quite a name for himself!”
Coriphylax beamed, the wall of teeth seeming less threatening now.
“People are going to love you for this Coriplhylax,” Helaya said, “and people rarely forget those who are kind to them, and never forget those they love. I told you—I really am here to give you a better life, where people anticipate your coming and miss you when you're gone. You're going to be very busy for a while, but I'll come with you and explain that you're there to help. One day, you'll be able to turn up anywhere on the continent and be welcomed with open arms and a sea of smiles, whether I'm with you or not, and you'll have many more friends like me.”
Coriphylax grinned again. “No,” he said, “I'll never have another friend quite like you.”
They gathered up a smallish pile of treasure, and some extra mutton for the trip, which would be much shorter this time for Helaya.
Humblefoot's residents would talk of the shocking day that Helaya—the foolish girl who set out to befriend a dragon and actually returned sat astride it, for many, many seasons. In fact, most of the continent still tells the story of Coriphylax the benevolent, the king of dragons who shared his hoard—and Helaya Silvertongue nee Humblefoot, the clever little halfling who convinced him to.