idol season 11 | week 18 | 2170 words
The Glass Cliff
One of the best kept secrets of the last few millenia is the true story of Christmas.
There was no Santa when it started, no North Pole or flying reindeer or even a sleigh.
But there were claws involved. The spelling has been altered, mainly out of confusion, but in the beginning there most definitely were claws…
Once, there was a very large dragon who made his home high above the sea. The dragon's name was Grizmak, and he had chosen the location for its beautiful view and for the ability to see everything around it for miles—for dragons cared about such things. His cave was in a cliff that had once been made of sand, but no longer.
Having lived in a similar setting before, the dragon was well aware of the fragility of that substance, and had used his fearsome breath to heat and re-heat his caves and their surroundings until they attained the much sturdier form of glass.
Once the dragon's home was secure, he set about raiding and pillaging and amassing his horde—all of the usual dragon hobbies. But then, he grew bored. His caves were so crowded, he could never find anything, even after making this set of caves much, much larger than his previous ones.
How did other dragons manage the clutter, Grizmak wondered. Did they even care that there was hardly room to turn around?
And what, precisely, was all of that horde for?
It was pretty , certainly, and Grizmak loved a good bejeweled bracelet as much as the next dragon. But really, it was just too much. After two hundred years of gathering trinkets and gems, there was a certain sameness to it all.
Then one day, an idea occurred to him. It was a strange sort of idea, but then, Grizmak was a strange sort of dragon.
He pushed huge quantities of his horde out of his caves and into the sea, where it all sank beneath the waves. With room for new treasures, the dragon embarked on his new plan for acquisition.
Down he went, across the farmlands to the little cities of the seven kingdoms. Most of the villagers ran away at the sight of him, as was typical, but he cared not. Hovering overhead, his great wings filling the streets with dust, he reached down and plucked the roofs off of various buildings, searching for artisans and craftsmen inside. He took the ones he found, and flew them back to his lair in the glass cliff high above the sea.
There, he compelled them to apply their skills to making treasures for him in miniaturized form.
The results were marvelous. The craftsmen whittled majestic horses and sculpted porcelain statues, every one of them as perfect and exquisite as jewels. The dragon enjoyed having each of them brought to him to approve and cherish, after which he added them to his much smaller horde. It was a happy time for the dragon, with his store of treasures growing but taking up far less space. It was a worrisome time for the craftsmen and artisans, trapped in a place that was too high and too slippery to escape, and where the very large and dangerous proprietor now referred to them as his 'minions'.
But then one day, the inevitable happened. The dragon was condensing his horde mounds when he stepped on a tiny metal replica of himself, pointed wings and all, that sent him hopping in pain. Drat! he thought, it's all piling up again!
In that moment, Grizmak suddenly realized that it was the acquiring and admiring of treasure he enjoyed, not so much the actual having of it. He had already seen and experienced the things taking up space in his caves right now, and there was no joy left to be had from them. He would have to throw them out, just as before, in order to make room for the new things yet to come.
Still, it seemed a shame to dump his old things in the ocean. He'd noticed that human children seemed to have the same fondness for miniaturized objects as he, and he rather liked children, as they never tried to attack him with spears or arrows. Why not parcel out the contents of his old horde to them?
Grizmak went out in search of a small boat, and brought it back to his lair. He had his minions tie tethers to it and load it with sacksful of his treasures, and then he poked a couple of minions aboard. Gripping the tethers in his mighty jaw, the dragon flew out into the night, looking for houses where he might share his bounty with the children who lived inside.
When he spotted a likely house, Grizmak would alight and one of his minions would run up to the house and deposit a trinket on the doorstep. If there were more houses nearby, the minions would visit each in turn.
It wasn't long before Grizmak realized that taking off from ground level again and again was really quite taxing. He began hovering over the smaller houses and landing on the rooftops of the larger ones. Those inside the larger ones might have heard the roof creaking or the scratching of his talons, and who can say what they thought those sounds actually were?
The second problem was that, having been trapped in the glass cliff's caves ever since the dragon first stole them, his minions tended to run off as soon as they reached the ground. Grizmak had them tie ropes around their middles, and he didn't hesitate to pull on the ropes and drag the minions back to the boat when their deliveries seemed to be taking too long.
Finally, the dragon's treasure sacks were empty. He flew wearily back to his cave, deposited the boat and minions at the entrance, and then climbed into the topmost cave and slept through two sunrises. Yet somehow, he felt that his expedition had been a success.
The minions continued to make treasures for him, but the dragon realized that a few of his most talented minions had been among those who had escaped during the gifting excursion. He went out in search of more craftsmen, and found that when he brought in new artists, they came with new ideas.
They also had stories to tell of surprised villagers and farm-folk who had woken one morning to find astonishing offerings laid at their doors, an experience everyone had been talking about since.
The dragon was well pleased.
Over time, his horde grew too large again, and Grizmak decided to redistribute his treasure once more. This time, in the interest of expediency, the minions dropped the gifts down the homes' chimneys before the dragon hauled them back into the boat and flew on. The whole process went much faster, and was much less tiring than before.
Still, the dragon lost a couple of minions again. One untied his rope before leaving the boat, and then chanced sliding off the roof and running away as soon as he hit the ground. The other untied his rope in-flight and simply jumped as they passed over a deep lake after leaving the last town.
Grizmak was not pleased about those losses, nor his minions' impudence. But he chose to regard them as an opportunity to collect new craftsmen to replace them.
This time, the stories the new craftsmen told were less glowing. Many people had been pleased with their gifts as before, but others—who were not so fortunate as to have their presents land in cookpots or cauldrons of water—were mystified or even heartbroken at receiving broken dolls or charred wooden animals or otherwise-beautiful offerings covered in ash. When the gift was most obviously suited for a child, it was particularly saddening.
Hmm, the dragon thought, a bit disturbed by this last news. He would have to find ways to improve the process for the next time around.
Soon afterward, the winter weather grew dreary, and Grizmak took it upon himself to reorganize his remaining horde. He divided everything into two piles, one to be used as gifts for children, and the other the small group of things to keep for himself. He had minions write the rune for 'child' on scraps of parchment and attach them to everything in the larger pile, in hopes of the gifts better reaching their intended recipients. As the craftsmen brought him new trinkets in the coming months, the dragon appreciated each in turn for several weeks before then assigning it to its chosen pile.
Grizmak's Nacht, as the dragon thought of it, came even earlier than the last time, and he was well-prepared. He had stolen several dwarven craftsmen the last time he collected new artists—their metal-working skills were unmatched—and it was those minions he took with him. With presents in hand and ropes tied around their waists as before, he lowered them down chimneys. Where fires burned, they left no gifts, but the next morning there were even more happy children than before.
During the trip, one of the minions had untied his rope inside a house and tried to escape out into the night, but his triumph was brief. Grizmak had made the men don red suits before beginning the night's journey, and that had made the little fellow much, much easier to find.
The event was such a success that Grizmak went out and brought back deer for feasting, as a means of thanking his minions for the hard work they'd put in all year. Grizmak himself preferred cattle, which were slow-witted, slow-moving, and large enough to be satisfying. Their weight made them a bit hard on the talons, but no dragon with any sense of pride ever complained about such a thing.
As the men ate and drank, Grizmak listened to them talk. He learned that there were stories about his exploits, and that the people referred to him as "Cinder Claws," because of the gifts that were fire-damaged after his previous trip. Grizmak wondered how anyone could be aware of his part in the whole scheme, but then realized that the information must have come from his escaped minions. Oh, well, he thought. Can't be helped.
What was more surprising was discovering how many of his minions hated being torn away from their shops and families and made to work in his caves. Although that did explain why so many of them kept trying to escape…
"Quiet—he has the ears of a bat!" one of the minions whispered. (Which was essentially true).
Grizmak had never thought about how his decisions might seem to someone else. He was a dragon—he took what he wanted, whether it was jewels, trees, minions, or cows. Perhaps he was going about this all wrong?
No. Ridiculous! Others were bound to be envious of his power and abilities. What could one expect?
Still, he couldn't help thinking about it.
What if he were to steal the men's wives and children and bring them to his caves as well? Although surely the children were too fragile for him to transport, and really, it all seemed like a great deal of work.
No, best to keep things as they were.
"Why do you suppose he does it?" one of the dwarves asked.
"Who can know the mind of a dragon?" another one said.
Precisely, Grizmak thought.
Years went by, in which a few minions were lost and later replaced. Grizmak thought himself quite generous for passing over the woodcarver who had had cried out "Not again!" when his roof was pulled up, and he did make a modest effort to expand the territory from which he took new craftsmen. The number of farm, village, and city homes increased during that time as well, until the Grizmak's Nacht journeys became utterly exhausting.
Then, after Grizmak's longest delivery-excursion ever, he awoke after several days' slumber to find a long, long handmade rope extending from his main cave to the bottom of the cliff. His entire crew of minions had escaped.
He was not a young dragon by then, and chose to see it as a new opportunity. He retired his tradition, and spent his days flying, stealing cattle, and cherishing and re-cherishing his remaining horde.
His minions went back to their lives and families, and told stories of their time in the dragon's lair. Word of the dragon's exploits spread through all the places he had stolen his artists from, and beyond. Some missed the joy of receiving the dragon's gifts, but none regretted the end of the means by which it had happened.
If, years later, someone else—a magical person, such as a wizard or large elf—happened to take an interest in resurrecting the dragon's tradition, well, what of it?
The history would surely be maintained. People would still celebrate the occasion, and wish one another Merry Grizmak's in the dragon's honor, just as before.
Well, wouldn't they?
If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.