There was once a village, quaint and serene, with pleasant little homes, orderly little shops, and clean little cobble streets; nestled between a glimmering river gliding calmly by, a peaceful forest singing softly in harmony with the breeze, and mighty mountains standing tall and proud. The people moved about with charming smiles that seemed to never have wilted since birth, and many “How do you do’s”, and an equal number of “Very well, thank you’s”. And all was, indeed, very well. The children grew up healthy and strong. The shops never had dusty merchandise. The constable’s greatest worries were finding stray dogs and assisting elderly folk with their parcels. The days of life flowed peacefully along, much like the gentle river.
But danger and doom ever hovered over the village, unknown to even the eldest and wisest of villagers. High in the mountains, where the snow refused to fade, a dragon raged within its cave. The cave walls shook with its roar and the water droplets vaporized under its breath. The beast had been beaten again. At the mouth of the cave stood one man, one man who defied the dragon in a never ending battle through the day, on into the night, and through the day again. Through heat and blizzard the man was firm and undaunted, fighting the dragon whenever it revealed its ugly head. Day after day, year after tiring year, the man battled against the dragon’s scorching breath and great strength, knowing that he was the only one keeping the danger back, knowing he alone kept the village safe, though he was as unknown to the villagers as the dragon.
Then one day, a new enemy appeared and challenged the man. It was only a thought, a weakness, a small thing. It challenged the man’s zeal and tested his true strength and will. The thought entered the man’s mind and whispered soothingly to him. It said he had done enough, that he had earned his place of honor. It reminded the man of how long he had fought and insisted he should rest for his own good. He deserved a respite of his own. After all, why should he be denied what he provided for the village? A moment of peace? A second without worry? A brief indulgence of neglect? Would that not be pleasant? After all he had done, he should have some time to his own.
The man succumbed. He lowered his sword, and he stepped to one side. The dragon, who had been watching from the darkness, saw its chance and rushed forward. It breached the mouth of the cave and took to the air. In an instant, the dragon was among the villagers, consuming and destroying. It crushed the little shops. It dislodged the little streets. It tore and it burned. The man, upon seeing the carnage below, fell to his knees and wept bitterly, and he wished he could undo that fateful step. But the moment was gone. The choice was made. There was nothing he could now do to stop the dragon.
In a few minutes, the village lay in ruin. The buildings smoldered and crumbled. Blood stained the churned-up cobble stones. Smoke defiled the air. But suddenly, as the dragon gnawed on the carcass of the last fallen villager, a legion of soldiers thundered from the forest and moved against the dragon to its demise.
With the fall of the dragon, the legion commander approached the man who had so long protected the village and asked why the man had let the dragon pass unchallenged. The man explained he had battled the dragon for many years, knew its every weakness and strength, and how to repel it with little effort. But in a moment of foolishness he had thought about his great task and how he had gone on without recognition, without encouragement, without support, and without a moment to his own. In that moment he had even thought he had done enough. The people had had their time of peace. He thought he had earned some peace of his own. But as soon as the dragon had passed, he had recognized his folly.
The commander looked on in disappointment and pity. “Your actions did not go unnoticed,” said the commander. “Though the people in the village knew nothing of you, word had reached us of your enduring valor, your lasting faithfulness, and your great love for the people you so long protected. We came to grant relief, to slay the dragon, so that you would gain the recognition and peace you have earned through these long years. Had you persisted a few moments longer, you would have had your greatest desires, and would have been able to live among the people you served so long. Now your last service to them will be giving them their burial, your greatest work now destroyed. My friend, you should have kept up the fight.”