by George Potter
Many, many years ago -- in the days before Emperors and Empires, the days when Dragons still strode the land and rode the air above it -- there existed a rich province by the Silk River. This province was a large and populous place, home to a strong and prodigious folk, healthy of body and sharp of mind. The fields grew food as rain falls in summer, and the forests were thick with game. The Silk River itself was a treasure: the fish so plentiful that a single cast of the net would feed a family for a week. For time out of mind, life was good.
Then, as happens, the province fell under the rule of a greedy and contemptuous Lord.
Not satisfied with the wealth of the province, the Lord forced his people to labor, taxing them to weariness. He demanded they build him a vast and ornate palace, sumptuous in its luxury. He took from them the finest of the harvest and left only what did not appeal to him. From their daughters he chose the most beautiful and innocent to feed his ravenous and depraved appetites. He warred with the neighboring provinces and soon the people knew want and starvation, plague and fire.
To this situation, drawn by the bait of such misery, came a dragon.
The Lord, secure in his own self opinion, rode out with his army to rid his land of this danger to his rule. This was his undoing, for the dragon was as powerful as it was clever. It made short, bloody work of the cocksure Lord, and sent his army to ragged flight.
This accomplished, the dragon settled among the ruins of the once luxurious palace. When hunger struck, it would help itself to a wandering, random person. Though fearsome, the dragon was honorable: it did not harm children or the elderly. Dragons have their own code of conduct -- odd to humans, but sensible in its own right -- and the dragon bound itself to it.
All in all, the people counted themselves luckier than when the Lord ruled.
Some years later, there came a wandering ronin to the province. This ronin was so young and untried that he did not even own a sword. But he was a smart man, and kind spirited.
Sensing the honorable soul within, the elders of the province begged the wanderer to free them from the dragon. The young ronin considered the request. He agreed to try.
Being a sensible man (and knowing a thing or two about dragons), he approached the ancient creature and bade it to converse with him.
"The people of this province tire of their loss to your hunger, good creature." the ronin informed it. "They bid you to leave them in peace."
"To be honest, I tire of their stringy flesh and bland marrow." the dragon admitted, answering honesty with honesty. "But I came to this place with a purpose. I shall only surrender my rule to a worthy lord. One who understands the true nature of governance."
"I am young, " the wanderer admitted. "But I think perhaps I know something of that nature."
"Speak the true nature to me in a whisper." the dragon told him. "If you are correct, I shall arrange the ritual. If you speak false, I shall eat you and dream poorly."
The ronin did so. As much as a dragon is able, the beast smiled. "Well and truly put, young one."
And so the ritual was arranged. Certain ceremonies had to be observed, for among people there are expectations of Lords and expectations of dragons and these expectations must often be met before either can be taken seriously.
Since the wanderer had no sword, the dragon fashioned him not one, but two -- from its very own fangs.
Then, as dawn broke the next day, they began a fierce battle that drew the folk of the province in a mighty crowd. All day long they feinted and fought, roared and yelled, until both were exhausted.
Finally, as dark fell, the dragon fell to the earth. It shuddered and was still.
The exhausted ronin was carried away by the jubilant crowd, and proclaimed Lord.
When all eyes were turned, the dragon crawled away, trying its hardest not to laugh at the silliness of humans.
The new Lord surprised his people by declaring that he himself would construct his own home. Over the course of weeks he labored and cleared the ruins of the old palace. There he constructed a simple hut to shelter him from the weather. He whiled the days away in meditation and study, stopping only to fish for his own supper.
The people of the province -- free now from the depredations of tyranny and the fear of a beast -- returned to joyous work on their own. Soon the province was as rich and healthy as the old days.
Still, there were problems. Often there would be disputes and violence would be threatened. Rather than see blood spilled, the elders would send the aggrieved parties to the hut of the Lord, who would hear both sides and weigh a judgement. His reputation as the most intelligent and fair of men was soon established. So esteemed was his opinion that to ignore his judgement was considered dangerously foolish and any who did so would lose face and reputation with all who lived in the province.
After several years, the people decided that it was a shame that their wonderful Lord lived in such a small and humble abode. They took it upon themselves to build him a large and comfortable home. When the Lord assured them he needed no such thing, they held their ground firmly.
"We wish the honor we hold you in to be reflected for all to see, Lord."
Humbly, the Lord assented.
More years passed and life flowed along beautifully. When bandits raided, the Lord would raise a force of volunteers and -- wielding his mighty Dragonfang Blades -- would ride into battle against those who would harm his people. After the threat was ended, he bid his army to return to their work and families, as he resumed his meditation, study and duties as judge of disputes.
"Such a fair and brave Lord deserves the loveliest and kindest of brides!" the people declared. And so a Festival was held to find just such a companion.
Fierce was the competition between the young women of the province in their desire to be the chosen Lady.
When presented with the winner, the Lord assured them he was quite content living alone. But the people brooked no argument.
"Woe to us if you should pass before producing an heir to teach your fine ways, Lord!"
Humbly, the Lord assented.
Soon a fine Lordly family inhabited the Palace, and things were happy in the province.
A neighboring Lord, jealous of the wealth he saw near him, invaded the province with a vast army.
Rather than raise his own army, the Lord instead issued a decree:
"Every person in the province shall take upon them a blade and be taught the use of it. When harassed, they shall defend themselves and their neighbors with righteous fury."
And so it came to pass. The invading army found it had no helpless folk to terrify, and was soon routed. The word soon spread that only a madman would invade the province where every child and grandmother fought with the heart and skill of a samurai.
All men die, and it was no different for the worthy Lord. As he lay on his deathbed, he heard the weeping and distress of his strong and wealthy people, and smiled upon them. He bid them to wipe away their tears and go on with their lives.
"For so long as you follow the ways I have taught you -- of living through voluntary means, defending yourself, and each doing what it is that you do best rather than what you are commanded to do-- I shall live on within you. My ways shall keep you free and rich."
Humbly, they assented.
His funeral pyre was majestic and burned for a full month.
And live on they did, some say they still live, even now in our colder and crueler age. That they have found a way to hide themselves from this corrupt and dragon-less world.
For they follow the way of the worthy Lord, who taught them the only true lesson of governance:
How to govern themselves.