Simon had started his duties as a servant almost as soon as he could walk, and in his eighteen years, he’d suffered countless swats, boxed ears and insults. The soldiers would set him to polishing a mountain of armor, and then punish him for taking too long. The head cook would whack him with a large spoon for bringing her moldy produce. The court physician would send him on deliveries to the far corners of the castle, and punish him for getting lost. It was a rare day that nobody tripped him, or taunted him.
Simon had always taken great pains to hide his magic. He’d been able to do things since he was a little boy – float stones over his hand, make girls trip, that sort of thing. As he’d gotten older he’d used his powers mostly for a lark, and to get him the odd piece of candy here and there. When he could, he’d use magic to complete his servant chores. But never openly, never in a way that would expose him as a magician.
Everyone knew the story. A witch had taken the queen’s life, and in a fit of loss and rage, the king had barred magic from the kingdom. He had methodically hunted down all magical people and beings, and had them executed, and now, years later, there was no magic in the Kingdom of Llarn.
“Biggest joke in the kingdom,” Simon thought. “Wouldn’t even BE king if it weren’t for magic.” Truly, while the king believed that he’d purged magic from the land, he was in reality surrounded by the stuff. His physician made magic potions and elixirs as a matter of course. Most of his advisors had prescience, or the second sight. Without magic, the king would have long ago been deposed.
All of which paled in comparison to the sight that Simon now beheld. In a cave far beneath the castle – even beneath the dungeons – there lived a dragon, chained to the rock with an enchanted elven chain. All of the children in the castle heard the rumor; parents used the dragon as a mock threat – “eat your mutton or I’ll feed you to the dragon under the castle,” that sort of thing. Simon, though, had stumbled on a parchment, and followed it down many narrow, dark passages, and now he stood in shock, his torchlight flickering in a golden eye as tall as he was. The eye blinked.
“Hello, Simon.” The voice was gentle, yet hid great strength. Simon swore the voice was inside his head as well as in his ears.
“You know my name?”
“Of course. I’ve been waiting for you for quite some time. Watching you, really.” The dragon rose up and looked down at Simon from quite a few feet above.
“Watching me? How? Why?” Simon’s questions were incredulous, and high-pitched.
“Because magicians make the best snacks,” the dragon said, and breathed a plume of roiling, orange-yellow fire at Simon. Simon threw his hand up reflexively to shield himself…
…and stood in a bubble of calm, surrounded by wickedly twisting flames. He could feel the searing heat as if from across a room, but the dragon flames did no more than raise a stray drop of sweat on his forehead. When the dragon had exhausted its lungs, they both stood and stared at each other.
“Well, that’s odd,” the dragon said. “You should be medium-well right now.” It blew another jet at Simon, and again Simon warded it off. The dragon stopped sooner and again looked at Simon. “One more,” it said, and blew again…and a third time, Simon formed a reflexive shield. When it had done, the dragon closed its eyes, and knelt.
Two days later, Simon marched up a clean, flagstone-tiled hallway in the castle. A guard held each arm, and they propelled him forward, toward the office of the kingdom’s sheriff. They passed the open doors to the throne room, fifteen feet tall and ornately inlaid with gold and filigree, when Simon dug in his heels and said “Stop.” Surprised, the guards did. “Let go,” Simon said, and the guards felt their fingers pried apart by unseen hands. Simon turned and marched into the throne room, where the king sat, consulting with his staff.
“What means this intrusion?” The king’s voice boomed in the high-arched chamber. “A servant boy—“
“That’s enough,” Simon interrupted, and a hush fell over the room. The king’s mouth fell open, and his lips started to turn white. ‘I, for one, have heard quite enough from you,” Simon continued. “With your tirades against magic, and your purges, you are out of touch.” The king pointed a finger at Simon.
“I can have you executed for such speech,” he said slowly, in a flat, menacing voice.
“You can do nothing,” Simon barked back. “You rail against magic, but you have no concept of the subject, and what it’s done for you.”
The king uttered a single word: “Guards.” A half-dozen armored men marched on Simon from either side of the hall, pole arms in hand. Simon turned to the right and swung his hands as if throwing an invisible ball, and the guards on his right were swept back to clang against the stone wall. He whirled to his left and did the same. Simon looked into the king’s eyes.
“You have no idea how powerful magic really is,” Simon said. “It’s kept you in power all these years, and you’ve never even seen it. You command men…but I command…a DRAGON!” Simon whistled, and a dark shape appeared outside the gigantic window behind the throne, flapping its wings. The people in the hall gasped, and the dragon crashed through the window, alighting behind the throne. People screamed and ran for the door, which Simon slammed shut with a flick of his wrist.
“Silly humans,” the voice was in the heads of everyone there. “You don’t command me, no mortal does.” Simon spun and stared at the tall, scaly lizard. “Oh, what’s the matter, Simon?” the dragon asked. “YOU set me free, after all. And in the end, that’s all I really wanted. So thank you, Simon.”
This time it was Simon’s mouth that hung open, as the dragon rose as high as it could in the tall throne room, drew a deep breath, and as Simon threw up his arm, filled the room with fire.