Every night the dragon came and every night Keri fought it. At first, it was a minor nuisance. A small little lizard that appeared at sunset, scratched at her window and was easily chased away. But in the past months, it had grown. Not only was the dragon larger and more fierce, but it was fighting longer and longer. Still, it was always beaten back by sunrise.
Keri continued to deliver wood to the villagers. A few of them whispered of seeing strange lights and noises coming from Keri’s land at night, but few thought much of it. Keri continued to bring wood and what business of theirs was it? After all, nobody really believed in dragons.
The monster continued to grow and Keri’s battles now stretched throughout the night. While once, she had been simply able to chase the dragon away, she now spent the evenings fending off its attacks. She no longer troubled herself with trying to beat the dragon back but simply tried to survive until the dragon grew bored and fled. Worse yet, the dragon now brazenly stayed until the first rays of sun stretched over Keri’s land.
Keri began having difficulty making her deliveries on time. Most of the villagers quickly forgave her, but whispers began. Some wondered why Keri continued to wear long tunics in the heat, but others caught glimpses of the bruises or the long, bloody claw marks that ran the length of Keri’s arms from where the dragon had raked her. While Keri’s deliveries had once been a source of peace, she now caught glimpses of the dragon stalking her. Even during the day. A tail disappearing beneath the underbrush beside the road. A curl of smoke coming from behind a pile of rock. Always there. Always waiting for sunset.
At the town festival, a battered Keri was approached by the Men in Orange. Her head swam from her drink, but she eventually told them that she was fighting a dragon. To her surprise, they did not mock her. They believed her. They slammed their steins on the table and swore their allegiance. The Men in Orange told her to light a signal fire when the dragon next attacked. They would come riding and together they would kill the dragon.
For weeks, Keri lit a fire every night that the dragon arrived. As the dragon pummeled her, she stared down the road desperately searching for a sign of orange. It never came and she stopped lighting fires. Occasionally, a neighbor would wander by and throw rocks at the dragon, but it had grown far too powerful to be repelled by stones. Finally, at dawn, the dragon pinned her to the ground. The morning sun hit its face and it was unfazed. It leaned forward and hissed into Keri’s ear, “This is the last time I leave. You will never be rid of me” and flew off.
Keri delivered wood and feared the coming night. She did not know if the dragon’s threat was a promise to torment her forever or if it intended to carry her away. Her last stop was a reclusive old man. He noticed Keri’s bruises and told her that he had seen the dragon following Keri. He pitied her and produced a sword that he claimed had killed dragons for generations. Keri skeptically took it and and returned home.
That night, the dragon came and Keri killed it. There was no battle. The dragon approached and the sword easily pierced its scales. Keri looked at the dead dragon in disbelief. Its body began to shrivel and shrink before her. She quickly cut off its head and hid it away.
Every night, Keri slept beside her sword but no dragons came. With the dragon gone, smaller monsters that troubled all of the villagers began to occasionally approach Keri’s land. Goblins, spiders, and trolls were quickly disposed of. What chance do they stand against a sword that kills dragons? Eventually, even they stayed away from Keri and nothing bothered her.
A year later, Keri no longer slept by her sword and had it safely hidden underneath her floor boards. The village prepared for its annual festival. As the people danced in the commons, Keri rode into town and mounted the dragon’s head on a stake in the village square. The crowd momentarily hushed before everyone began talking at once. The children ran to the head in order to see a monster. Some sat in silent disbelief as they had never believed in dragons. Others murmured that they had thought they had seen dragons around. Neighbors apologized for not having better weapons than stones. The Men in Orange swung their swords in the air and roared that they would stand beside anyone to kill dragons if they would only light a signal fire. Some claimed to have killed dragons themselves.
The festival wore on for days and the dragon became less of an oddity. Merchants traded goods. People gamed. The Men in Orange filled their cups and danced. Someone produced a chicken with two heads. Children flocked to see a dancing bear. Keri removed the dragon’s head and threw it in the lake.
Keri lives quietly on her land now. She delivers wood to the village. Time has passed and she barely remembers the dragon. Occasionally, she is startled from her sleep by a scratching noise at her window but it is always a branch from a tree. A shadow falling over her causes her to flinch but she knows the shadow is only a hawk and not dragon wings. Still, she watches.
The village exists. Its wheels turn. They still gather every day to work, talk, and play before returning to their own lands and whatever waits for them there. Keri believes there may still be dragons out there but does not believe they will bother her again. She delivers her wood with a smile and confidently walks through her lands unarmed.