The Gold Drug (HTML)
 
No, dragons are not instinctively attracted to gold. Who told you that? Those so-called friends of yours? Those depraved hoodlums already lining their lairs with the blasted stuff? Well, they would, wouldn’t they? No one likes to admit they have a problem. Much better, much more pleasant, to make of their sickness some sort of draconic virtue, something that everyone knows is only natural. Misery loves company, remember? They’d rather drag you down with them than face up to their addiction.

Baseline is, there is no cure. There is only inoculation. Which is why I’m taking the time to educate you, you ungrateful wyrmlet. Listen up!

The first known victims were accidentally infected by a human, what they call a knight. We never knew its name, but we call it “Saint George” after the figure popularized by human dragon-slaying legend. All those legends came later, by the way. Before this Saint George, humans didn’t hunt us, nor us them. We existed back then in an uncomfortable state of estrangement: they did not seek us out, and we did not unduly disrupt their lives. Both species feared and despised the other, but for the most part mutual toleration was the rule of the day.

Saint George was not content with this. Why, he asked, should humans cower when dragons fly overhead? (”Why, indeed!” we would have said, had we been asked.) Why should humans so meekly bear attacks upon livestock and habitation? (”Attacks?” we would have retorted; “for shame! If we take the odd bull or goat, it’s only in place of the wild beasts you keep driving away to make room for your farms and industry. And your habitation would be perfectly fine if you didn’t turn every encounter into a full-pitched battle!”) Why, Saint George insisted, shouldn’t humans rise up and show the dragons who’s master? He resolved to slay a dragon, thus to prove the endeavor possible.

More easily said than done, of course. The odd unavoidable skirmish had already demonstrated that force would not avail; guile, therefore, was Saint George’s ally. The next dragon he saw, he followed her home to her lair.

It wasn’t hard; we had no reason in those days to hide our dwelling places. We had no secrets to guard. Still don’t, those of us who’ve had the sense to keep clear of gold. Those friends of whom you think so highly—have they ever invited you round to their caves? Do you even know where they live? Ever wonder why not? In any case, Saint George remained camped in the vicinity of our foremother’s lair, observing her movements and, when she left, inspecting her cavern. But no draconic vulnerability nor knightly stratagem was forthcoming. Then, one day, oh, maybe a week into his vigil, he was startled by our foremother’s early return and, in a hurry and a panic, he left his cloak lying on the floor of her cave.

Now, our foremother, spotting the cloak, suspected the intruder and raised the alarm. Her sister, laired nearby, came at her call. Together they examined the cloak for any clue as to who had violated her home. The cloak itself was nothing special—a heavy fabric woven of wool and dyed by means of some drab plant—but the gold brooch attached to it was another story. The sisters quickly became fascinated by its heft and gleam. At first they passed it back and forth whenever one asked the other for another look. But slowly, Saint George observed a change in their behavior. A strange reluctance to relinquish the bauble seemed to grow over them. They grew snappish about it and began to bicker as dragons never do over those truly important things, like meat or shelter.

Sound familiar? Sound like how those exalted friends of yours have been behaving themselves? Just wait. It gets worse.

When one of the sisters actually struck the other for getting too close, Saint George decided he’d seen enough. He went back to his miserable human village and demanded gold, gold by the hundredweight, as much gold as his horse could carry. The village had little enough; Saint George took all that they had. He boasted that he would return every piece of it with the head of a dragon as interest on the loan.

In fact, he came back with two. As to how he acquired them, you should be able to guess by now. But here is the story he told, and that all the human world has told since. Saint George returned to his secret camp so that, whenever he judged it safe, he might fling more and more gold into the cave. The more gold that he scattered, the more heatedly the sisters quarreled over it. The one accused the other of holding out on her, of hoarding more gold than she’d let on; the other accused the one of scheming to steal it. This went on for several days, during which neither sister left the cave to hunt food or drink water, each being too wary to leave the other alone with the gold for a moment. They hunkered down on the coins, ran gold chains through their talons, and hissed across the cavern floor at each other. Tension rose, and rose, and finally broke when, in a savage fight, one of the sisters dealt the other a mortal wound.

The survivor gloated over her fallen sister and crooned a victorious song over the gold. When Saint George darted into the cave, sword drawn, she barely noticed him. And when he swung that sword at our foremother’s throat, her head came off at a single stroke, so weak had her scales and so brittle her bones become, corrupted by the so-called incorruptible metal.

So. There you have it. This is why those dragons who hoard gold become violent, vindictive, jealous, belligerent, and prideful out of all proportion to their worth. And this is why they are so easily killed. If you don’t believe me, watch how your friends act. See if they don’t bear out the truth of the story. Learn by their example, daughter of mine, and just say no to gold.
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This has been an the Friday Fictionette for February 10, 2017. Since it's also the Fictionette Freebie for February 2017, anyone can download the full-length fictionette (1035 words) from Patreon as an ebook or audiobook regardless of whether they're subscribers.

Cover art features original photography by author, who can't bear to throw away those tokens despite the video arcade that issued them closing down more than a decade ago.