In the outlands there lived a dragon named Snarl. Snarl never received a proper dragon’s upbringing, and as a result, he was kind and gentle. Oh, the nearby farmers did not think him either of those things, because Snarl was notorious for carrying off their sheep at night. Even kind and gentle dragons must eat, after all. And though he had quite a bit of treasure for a young dragon, it had come from the hoards of other dragons or from forlorn places where the owners had hidden it. He was always careful to protect it from other dragons and could make a little treasure go a long way.
But the fact that he had never carried off a princess bothered Snarl. As he talked to other dragons, especially when they visited him to spy his treasure and maybe pilfer a little when he wasn’t looking, Snarl learned that it was the custom of dragons to do so. Many of his friends, it seemed, made a decent living carrying off princesses and fighting the princes who came to rescue them. Some of them even ate the princesses, much to Snarl’s surprise. While he had no intention of eating a princess, the idea of fighting a prince appealed to him. So one sunny morning he left his cave and flew off in search of a princess to carry off.
It did not take very long to find one. She was riding in a long baggage train with soldiers before her and carts of clothing behind her. Snarl glided silently in from the sun and snatched the princess, who was sunning herself atop a very large cart. Several of the soldiers yelled and shot at Snarl with their bows, but their arrows bounced off his hard scales. They could do nothing else but note which direction he flew off. Snarl flew straight toward his cave, hoping his obvious path would give a pursuing prince a good idea of where to find him. When Snarl reached his cave, he was pleased to see that no other dragons had visited him in his absence: his treasure was still there.
He put the princess in a golden cage he had saved for just such an occasion. It was in the back of his cave, out of sight of his treasure room but otherwise within listening distance. He locked the door and hung its key on a gold chain near the cave’s wide mouth, where a rescuing prince would be sure to notice it.
The princess was not pleased with Snarl, not even a little bit. In fact, she called Snarl many names to which he was unaccustomed and which he thought mostly untrue as well. She complained about the cage, even though it was a very nice one with a good view of the cave. She said she was thirsty, even after Snarl gave her a pitcher of stagnant water from a puddle in the back of his cave. It had just the right number of larvae in it for peak flavor, and Snarl was very hurt when she would not agree to drink it. He had to fly down to the river to get some water she would drink, and she even drank it cold! She said she was hungry, even after Snarl roasted the hind leg of a sheep with his fiery breath and gave it to her. That was the best part of the sheep, Snarl knew, but she complained that it smelled like burnt hair. After a few days her incessant fussing, Snarl began to look out from his cave continuously, dearly hoping whatever prince was coming would hurry up already. He decided that if one did not arrive soon, he would simply take the noisy princess back and go find a sheep to eat. That would make him feel better.
On the third day of his vigil, just when the thought of sheep was becoming something of an obsession with Snarl, a very young prince approached the cave. The prince was dressed for battle, but his helmet was so big he had a hard time seeing out of it (it kept turning sideways) and his sword was too heavy (he could not hold the tip up very long). After a formal exchange of credentials, the prince straightened his helmet, lifted his sword as best he could, and ran yelling straight toward Snarl, who was very surprised. The reason he was surprised is that the prince stopped about five feet from him and would come no closer. Rather, he shivered with fear and held his shield over his face. The princess squealed from the back of the cave. Though she could not see the battle, she heard the prince’s yell and knew she was about to be rescued. After a few quiet minutes, Snarl reached up and flicked the shield away with one of his claws. The prince looked up at him.
“I have to kill you,” the prince said.
“Of course,” Snarl replied. “But it would be a lot more fun if you would get on with it. I’m not used to waiting like this.”
“Well, there’s a problem,” said the prince. “You see, I’m not sure how to go about killing a dragon. I’ve never done it before. But I need to do it in order to rescue the princess so I can live happily ever after.”
“I see,” said Snarl. “If you kill me, you’ll take the princess away, as well as my treasure. But if I kill you, which is far more likely, then I keep my treasure. But in that case I still have a noisy princess on my claws. Plus I have your dead body to deal with, and I don’t think I should be able to digest all that armor, though it is fine to look at. Perhaps we can reach a compromise.”
The prince looked surprised. This was not what he was expecting at all.
“I’m not sure how you mean…” he said.
“It’s rather simple,” said Snarl, who was using his best dragon whisper lest the princess overhear him. “We’ll stage a fight and you can win, so long as you promise to take the princess. You yell and I’ll growl and roar and blow. Afterwards, you can fill a bucket with treasure and go. That will save me the trouble of taking her back myself.”
The prince pondered the offer briefly, trying to discern if this was some dragonish trick (he had been warned of such), but decided that he might as well play along since he was not sure how to kill the dragon anyway. He shouted “Die dragon!” and beat his sword loudly on his shield. The dragon roared and stomped and thrashed his treasure pile with his tail. They both tried very hard to suppress their laughter when the princess screamed in fright, cheering the brave prince who had come to her aid. Then Snarl gave the prince the key to the cage and lay down atop the treasure with his wings spread out. He held his breath so no smoke arose from his nostrils.
The prince reached the cage to see that the princess had fainted straight away. He unlocked it and carried her past where the dragon lay. She awoke in time to note the dead dragon atop the pile – Snarl was covering his favorite items – and to help the prince fill a bucket full of precious stones and gold. Then she and the prince left the cave and lived happily ever after.
Once word of Snarl’s demise spread about, many of the other dragons decided to pay his cave a visit to liberate whatever treasure the victorious prince had left behind. They were unpleasantly surprised to find the songs celebrating his death were greatly exaggerated. Snarl was alive and well, if a little poorer. And though he never managed to fight a prince, he did have a prince – and later a king – who would occasionally sneak up to his cave for a good laugh.