The Last Dragon by Herb Kauderer

The Last Dragon
Herb Kauderer

The hunters pay no attention to the final truth
but the last dragon knows that she is the last dragon.

Through decades she has run from the chase
hidden in stealthy caves,
hibernated in her own filth in hopes
her race would become reenergized.

But all the barely detectable magical strings
that bind dragonkind
have been broken
one by one
until they are no more.

This is a kind of freedom she never sought.

And, after years of delaying
that which simply must come to pass
she readies herself for the final fight
leading the hunters to her chosen battleground.
The warriors and their entourage
follow with confidence, not understanding
that she could avoid them if she wished.

She has always been
an awkward dragon,
a hybrid of charcoal and glass
able to make herself opaque or translucent at will;
good for hiding almost in plain sight,
but not much good
for combat.

She readies for battle anyway
determined that the last sight of dragonkind
will not be of a trapped giant captured
and executed within some dim and far-off cave.

These hunters are good, but they will not expect her
to lead them back to the plains outside their city.
She takes them to this place they least expect,
and in the mid-day sun
she flies high into the sky and makes herself opaque
casting a huge dark shadow onto a
troop of the finest human hunters
ever gathered to one purpose.

And then she screams down from the sky
looking from below
like a distant and long-tailed crow growing
growing growing growing
becoming a full eclipse of the sun,
night in the middle of day.

Arrows arch upward to bounce off her hardened form.
And the fight is on!

Her power dive turns into a charge that bowls through
the mounted hunters knocking them to the ground.
She charges into a line of heroes with locked shields,
knocking them askew but not before
one lands a smashing blow
with a mace to her right wing. Excellent!
She uses the jagged edges of her wounded limb
as a slashing weapon, cutting through butted chainmail
and into flesh. A Norseman gives a berserker scream
and charges her, and the swing of her sharp-edged wing
cuts his head clean off, but not before
his great axe chips off another piece of her.

Yes!

These men are worthy opponents who will not seek
to capture her. Her death is the quarry for both sides,
and she hunts it with a vengeance for her lost race
hunts it with her own brittle flesh
hunts it with hunger to take
as many of them with her as possible.

She becomes transparent to confuse the warriors
and to slow their blocks of her attacks.
A lucky swing of another mace breaks off more of her wing.
Her head dodges and weaves on her long clear neck
darting in to bite off the sword-arm of one of the leaders.
She kicks behind her at the warriors
who attack from the rear.

As the fight rages on, she thrashes and spins,
kicks, bites, slashes, and slowly but surely dwindles
as pieces of her are chipped, shattered, and broken away.

After her wings are no more than stubs, and
her clawed feet are missing, she reverts to
serpentine warfare, slithering and attacking
with teeth and tail, seeking no escape
and leaving no avenue of retreat to her foes.

By now more than half of the warriors
are dead or crippled, but they fight on.
they are the best of the best
and she is happy they are relentless.
Her story must end today, on this battlefield.
The age of dragons will be no more.

She whips her tail around
knocking a hunter twenty feet through the air.
Squirming, biting, head-butting, tail-swiping ferociously
until so much of her physical form has been broken away
that she can barely move, and the last three upright fighters
attack her head, crashing pieces off of it,
and finally kill her.

On the field of broken glass, the survivors rest.
Servants, nurses, horse grooms, and armorers
venture forth to tend the heroes they follow.

They look at remains of the last dragon. There
are no scales to scavenge for magic armor,
no blood for vitality,
no bones to grind for physicians’ potions.

There is no treasure for their efforts.

But these warriors are the essence of knighthood
and the quest was its own reward.
The bards and skalds among their followers
are already composing stories and songs of greatness
for there will be kings and ladies to impress.

Later.
That will come later.
First the dead must be buried,
the wounded must be tended to.

Over the days to follow
the final battlefield
becomes a graveyard,
as stone after stone is carved
and placed above
the remains of fallen companions.

The largest grave is for the dragon.
Normally remains retaining magic
would be gathered, & the rest of
a fallen foe left to feed animals, but
this foe was too special, too noble, too brave.
All scattered fragments of glass and charcoal
are gathered and buried.

Before leaving for the next challenge
the remaining heroes
place a stone over the grave
that simply reads:

The Last Dragon.

There is a moment of silence.
And they move on.

The Last Dragon by Herb Kauderer 1

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