Sunday, 23 December 2012

St Claude and the Dragon

St Claude and the Dragon

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, a King and his Queen ruled over a peaceful and prosperous land, with fertile valleys surrounded by high mountains. The people were happy and contented, growing their crops and tending to their flocks.

Unfortunately, it came about that a great inflationary dragon began to prey on the country, wreaking havoc, burning crops and villages. The spears and arrows of the soldiers appeared totally ineffective and no-one knew what to do. The price of food went up and everyone was suddenly much poorer. In the end, the Finance Minister propose that what they should do was to strike a deal with the dragon -  by sacrificing a maiden to it every month so that it had enough to eat and would leave the rest of the people and their livestock alone. These were very politically incorrect times and so it was agreed, that every month there was to be a ballot and some poor young girl was to be left out by the dragon’s lair to be eaten alive. Everyone was very sad, but they all got on with life and things were a bit better than when the dragon was wreaking havoc. The economy prospered, in a sub-optimal sort of way, and prices came back under control. The Finance Minister gave himself a pat on the back for a job well done though the King wasn't so sure - surely they could aspire to do better than this?

So the King promised a huge reward to any brave knight who could kill the dragon. Many tried and they all failed, mostly ending up barbecued. And time passed until eventually, and inevitably, the name of one of the King’s own two daughters was drawn. The Queen screamed at her husband to do something, both his daughters cried and cried and the King summoned one of the last two remaining knights who were willing to take on the dragon.

Sir Al was not a young man, though he had been a renowned dragon-fighter in his youth. Nowadays, he preferred to play his saxophone in jazz bars. Still, he put on his armour and strapped on his sword, before setting off up into the mountains above the town to where the dragon had its lair. There, he found the Princess, tied to a tree, but of the dragon there was no sign. Fearlessly, Al wandered into the cave and crept forwards until he could see a long green snout. It wasn’t moving. Al gave it a poke with his sword. Nothing. He played his saxophone and still nothing. Clearly, the dragon was dead.

Well, that’s a piece of luck, he thought to himself, as he untied the Princess and set off back to the castle. ‘The dragon is dead’ he proclaimed and everyone was so excited at the news that nobody went to check. The King was over the moon and could not thank Al enough. He gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage, and recommended to the church that they pronounce him a Saint. Al went off to write his memoirs and to cash in on the lecture circuit.

For quite a long time everything was fine. The crops grew, the cattle got fat and the people got rich. House prices went up very fast but consumer prices were well behaved and everyone felt very rich indeed. What nobody seemed to realise was that dragons can sleep for a very long time and hardly breathe at all when they do. But eventually, they do wake up and when they do, they tend to be very hungry.

And of course, that is exactly what happened. Eventually, the dragon woke up, looked out of its cave, couldn't find anything to eat and set off in search of breakfast. It burnt down whole villages, killed all sorts of animals and not a few farmers. Everyone was in a state of panic. Immediately, they held a new draw to find a new sacrifice and this time, it was the King’s second daughter’s name which came out of the hat. She cried, the Queen cried, and the King went to call on the last remaining Knight – who had always been the maddest of them all.

Sir Jean-Claude, whose friends just called him Claude, lived at the top of a tower,  down by the main river in the valley. He had never believed that the dragon was dead because he was a historian. ‘Dragons don’t just die, they can sleep for a thousand years’ he had been crying out. You can’t control them by good fortune; you need strict monetary principles and an independent central bank, preferably a German one.’

Well, as before, the Princess was tied to a tree outside the dragon’s cave and Sir Claude was dispatched to do his best. Nobody held out much hope and they all went and hid in the homes.

Claude waited until evening when there was no-one out and about. He put on his armour, for show, and fetched his sword. He also packed a mule with explosives. Then off he set. He crept up as quietly as he could to the dragon’s lair and unloaded a huge pile of explosives inside the entrance of the cave. Then, he attached a long fuse and unrolling it, went and hid some considerable distance away, connecting the other end to an electric ignition plunger.

When Claude pushed the plunger down he set off an almighty explosion. And a huge landslide, which sent boulders the size of houses crashing down the mountain into the town around the castle. It was supper time and everyone was at home. Hundreds of people were killed, not to mention the devastation that was caused to crops and to the animals that were in the fields.

‘Boff’ thought Claude, giving a very Gallic shrug and lighting his thirtieth Gauloise of the day. ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, as they say’. The mountain had fallen down on top of the dragon which really was dead this time. And by some miracle, the Princess was still alive – just. She was very badly injured and would never look quite the same again but she was alive. So, Claude picked her up, put her on the mule, and brought her back down the mountain to the castle, where he expected to receive the same lavish rewards as Sir Al.

The King saw his wounded daughter, looked around at the total devastation and tried to kill Sir Claude, who fled for his life.  That was the last that was seen of him though rumours persisted that he had returned to his native land and was to be found smoking, drinking Pernod and muttering about the need for constant vigilance.

Meanwhile, the destruction of infrastructure resulted in an outbreak of deflationary plague. Many people died, others just moved away, so house prices collapsed and businesses closed. The once-prosperous Kingdom, was now populated mostly by the aged who could not leave, whose pensions were inadequate to live off comfortably and who were saddled with the huge debt the state had incurred in attempting to rebuild the broken homes and the broken economy. But the dragon was gone and they tried very hard to convince themselves they were now better off than before. 

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