Dragons are not good or bad. They are witty and cunning. They might want to eat you. But even more they want to shock you. The love to say "Aha!" and make you say "Oh, no!"
Once I had a talk with a dragon. It did not go well. The dragon, Maxijillian, lives in Arlinac Town. Maybe I should say that he lives on Arlinac Town.
The tallest building in Arlinac Town is called the bank. But it is more than a bank. It is the town's temple to Maw Lute. Maw Lute is the Power that loves collecting and music. The bank is really many buildings together. It has a bank. It also has museums, vaults, a theatre, a concert hall, and the merchant guild house.
Maw Lute makes dragons. So there is a dragon that lives on top of the tallest tower of the bank. He guards the bank. He watches Arlinac Town.
People who want to share what they collect can put it on display in a museum at the bank. People who want to keep what they collect very safe can put it in a vault at the bank. People who want to keep their wealth safe use the bank.
One room has walls covered with poetry. One vault has papers on which people have written their deepest secrets. I am in charge of those two rooms.
My name is Winkton. This is my story.
When I was seven years old I climbed the bank's tallest tower to visit Maxijillian. My hands were bleeding a little when I got to the top of the tower. The climb needed much more time and energy than I planned.
"Happy Birthday," I told the dragon. Then I had to lay down for a few minutes.
"Really?" asked Maxijillian. I had not understood how big he was. He was bigger than my family's house. There was not much room for me on the flat tower roof. He watched me while I rested.
"I came to tell you a poem," I said.
"Tell me," said the dragon.
I stood up and said:
"The Arlinac Town bank has a guard on its tower.
The dragon Maxijillian majestic with power.
Our collections are safe while under his wings.
Some days from below I hear when he sings."
I looked at his face but could not see if he liked the first verse. I kept going:
"Today is his birthday. He deserves a treat.
I cannot make or bring yummy things to eat.
Nor take up a gift tied with ribbon and bow.
Instead with a poem my thanks I'll bestow."
The dragon smiled. "Thank you for the poem. It was a good birthday present. Today is happy." I wanted to smile back. I wanted to tell Maxijillian that I had noticed all by myself that he never got birthday presents, and fixed that. But the dragon's smile was very, very big. It made me nervous. Then the dragon asked, "Do you want me to tell you a poem in exchange?"
"Sure," I said.
His poem was:
"From the tower roof
A boy sees all the town.
A poem in the sky!
His bloody hands are my proof
He has no way to get down."
I took a deep breath. "A tanka poem should not rhyme."
The dragon agreed. "Mistakes were made."
I asked, "Will you please take me down?"
The dragon swished his tail twice. "You could have asked for my help down in exchange for your poem. But you asked for my poem instead."
I stood very still for a minute. The dragon did not move at all.
Finally I said, "Even if you eat me, I am still glad I climbed up here. Giving you my poem was a good thing. I did the right thing, even if you are mean and terrible."
The dragon picked me up and flew away with me in one claw. I saw my parents far below. My father ran and shouted. My mother waved and blew me a kiss, then fell to her knees.
Maxijillian flew to Maw Lute's lair. The entrance is an enormous cave mouth at the top of a mountain. Its flat floor is marble. There are comfy chairs. Elegant yet sturdy wooden tables are there to display artwork.
I saw that most of the tables were empty. People had taken the artwork. Maw Lute lets them. People can take what they want from her lair. Maw Lute has collections of everything: art, gems, coins, tools, magic. But the nice stuff is far inside, where the lair is dangerous. It is a game. How far inside can you go? What stuff can you take? The dangers are bigger the farther you go. But the stuff is better too. Soon you give up and leave. Maw Lute meets you at the entrance to say congratulations.
Not every visitor leaves. The dangers are real.
Maxijillian set me down and bellowed, "Maw!"
Maw Lute appeared. She looked like a dragon but much bigger, and all red.
Maxijillian said, "You will like this one, for a time."
Maw Lute looked at me. Then she put her nose close and smelled me. I was almost sucked into her nose. I was afraid.
Maw Lute said, "He smells like poetry and potential. He thinks he is smarter than he is. He values many things but does not know why."
Maxijillian said, "He thinks all problems can be solved with caring, cleverness, and courage. I let him see that those create problems."
Maw Lute laughed. "My favorite problems can be solved by creating a nicer problem."
Maxijillian asked, "Do you want him? I am hungry."
Maw Lute said, "He is worth fixing."
Maxijillian flew away. I was alone with Maw Lute.
"The first thing to do," she said, "is to wreck your brain."