Unlike most of his brethren, the dragon Slagadune slept with both eyes closed, for he could smell any intruder foolhardy enough to stumble into his cave. A single blast of his blazing breath would turn the hardest steel to ash and melt skin and bones to butter. What’s more, dragonfire was not the only weapon at his disposal…
And so he snored comfortably through the night, curled atop his mountain of gold.
Until, that is, just after the witching hour, when an unmistakeable stench made his nostrils flare, and snatched him from his sleep, and he woke already knowing that into his domain a familiar creature had come. More than one, in fact, as the odour was overpoweringly strong. Sure enough, six pairs of beady eyes shone through the gloom like gems.
“Dwarves,” he rasped. “Come to steal my gold have you? Slagadune shall steal your souls.”
“Be quiet, dragon,” said one of the dwarves. “Neither the gold nor our lives belong to you.”
In all his thousands of years, Slagadune had never been addressed with such contempt. He slithered down the treasure mound until his head was level with the intruders.
“Whose tongue is it that so brazenly defies me?”
The largest of the dwarves stepped forward. His beard reached his knees. His frame, covered in black armour, was as stout as a cart-horse. When he spoke, his voice boomed throughout the cave.
“My name is Bern. I am son of Wern, son of Pern, son of—”
“Enough,” Slagadune growled. “What do you mean, the gold isn’t mine?”
“You stole that treasure. From one of my forefathers. He was named Vern, son of Cern, son of—”
“Stole? Dragons do not steal. He gave it to me.”
“You lie,” said Bern. “Give us back our gold, or we will take your head.”
The dwarves raised their axes.
“My claim to the gold is true, dwarfling. Your ancestor, er. . . Hern?”
“Your ancestor Vern insisted that I take it. He said I was doing him a favour.”
“Ha! So you admit the gold is dwarvish in origin?”
“Of course the gold is dwarvish in origin. All the gold in the world is of dwarvish origin! You’re the only fools on the planet digging it up.”
“Then give it back.”
“But we had an agreement! Didn’t your ancestor say anything about this?”
One of the other dwarves, Slagadune thought it possibly a female as the beard was quite short, raised her hand. “Well, there is the Lay of Vern.”
“It’s a song. It tells of the fire-breathing dragon who stole Vern’s gold.”
“The utter liar!” said Slagadune, almost falling off his mountain of gold in surprise.
“The fair lady Agrist speaks the truth,” said Bern, confirming that the other dwarf was in fact a female. “But I grow tired of talk. Let’s do what dwarves do best!”
“Dig?” ventured Agrist.
“Fight,” said Bern. “We’re best at fighting. Then comes digging.”
Another voice piped up, “I thought we were best at arguing.”
Then they were all at it: “Arguing? Arguing is just a subset of fighting!” “Digging is what we’re famous for! Even the dragon said so!” “Singing! And I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.”
Slagadune belched forth a stream of liquid fire.
All six dwarves fell silent, slapping the sparks away from their singed beards.
“Permit me to ask a question,” said Slagadune. “Why do you want the gold?”
“Because it’s ours,” said Bern.
“Let’s put the issue of ownership to one side for the moment. What is it about gold that you like?”
“That’s easy.” The dwarf swung his axe into the ground and used the upturned handle to lean upon. “It makes you rich.”
“Of course. With gold you can buy anything you want.”
“I see the problem now.”
“You haven’t been taught the basics of Supply and Demand.”
“A dwarf doesn’t need to be taught anything! All dwarves need to know about is digging.”
“A-ha!” said Agrist. “I had the truth of it! Digging is what we do best.”
With a gasp, Slagadune filled his lungs. This time around the mere threat of dragonfire was enough to get their attention. He relaxed his breath and returned to his lesson. “Let’s imagine you take all this gold back to your kingdom. What happens next?”
“We live like kings!” Bern roared.
“Doing what, exactly?”
“Buying stuff. I don’t know. . . Beer. Axes. Women.”
“And men,” said Agrist, butting in quickly.
“Splendid.” said Slagadune. “Let’s take the example of axes. How much does an axe cost?”
“About twenty farthings.”
“And how quickly can your smith produce an axe, pray tell?”
Bern shrugged. “Agrist?”
Agrist stroked her beard. “I’d say a week or so. For a good axe, that is. Freshly mined ore, solid oak handle, fine jewels and all that.”
The other dwarves muttered their agreement.
“So he wouldn’t be able to produce six new axes at the drop of a hat?”
Bern laughed. “No. He’d get in a right state, would old Hagrin.”
“Then who would get the first axe?”
“I would,” said Bern.
“You would not,” said Agrist.
Then each dwarf was claiming the right to the first axe. Finally, Slagadune lobbed a fire bomb into the middle of the group and order was restored.
“Let’s look at things from Hagrin’s perspective, shall we? He has six customers screaming for a new axe, and they all want it now. But he can only produce one axe every seven days. That means most of you would be waiting for weeks or even months.”
“Months? For an axe?” Bern was incredulous. “He can stick that up his mining passage.”
“Exactly,” said Slagadune. “Not wishing to lose customers, Hagrin would have to step-up production. He’d hire more hands to help. But then he’d have to pay them. So that means his costs increase. If he sold you an axe before for twenty farthings, maybe he’d have to push the price up to thirty farthings or more to cover his expenses.”
“Thirty farthings? That’s a bit steep.”
“It gets worse,” said Slagadune. “Presuming your village, like all dwarf villages, has full employment, the only way Hagrin could get more staff is by offering higher wages than other employers. The workers he’s taken on are now getting more money than they were before. And what do they with it?”
“Spend it?” said Agrist.
“Exactly. And the same forces work their magic all over again. The sudden influx of such an enormous quantity of gold means that pretty soon you have a General Price Rise.”
“But we’d still be rich. We’d have all the gold.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” said Slagadune. “Before long, the cost of everything would go up so much you’d be paying a king’s fortune for a loaf of bread. At some point your gold, being a finite resource, would simply run out. And then, my friends, then you’d be witnessing a Complete Collapse of the Market.”
The dwarves shuddered and cursed. Bern drew them into a huddled circle, where they talked amongst themselves for a good while. Finally, their leader turned back to face the dragon:
“My financial advisers have found a way around this magical price rise.”
“Yes. We don’t spend any of the gold.”
“Excellent. That would be the perfect solution. Well, I’m glad we figured it out in the end. Can you find the way out on your own?”
“Surrender the gold, dragon!” Bern raised his axe and roared a battle cry. His fellow dwarves clattered their shields.
Slagadune shook his head in disbelief. “You just said you weren’t going to use it.”
“We’ll hoard it,” said Bern. “Dwarves are good at hoarding.”
“It comes right after digging,” said Agrist, fists on hips.
Before another fight broke out, Slagadune got the conversation back on track. “Am I to understand that you intend to take the gold back to your village, and then not spend it?”
“That’s right,” Bern nodded.
“So what good is it to you?”
“Well, it’ll be there. For an emergency.”
“You’ll have tons of gold just sitting around in your houses?”
“Yes. No. Under the bed, maybe.”
“You don’t think someone might steal it?”
Bern’s eyes popped. Once again the dwarves dropped into a huddle. After what seemed like an hour, Bern turned to the dragon.
“My security experts have come up with a solution.”
“Of that I had no doubt whatsoever.”
“Can you guard our gold?”
Slagadune smiled his biggest smile.
“But before we agree,” said Agrist, “how much would it cost?”
“Well, for how long do you wish me to guard it?”
“Forever?” said Bern.
“Forever is quite a long time. How much money have you got on you?”
The dwarves dutifully turned out their pockets, opened their money bags, and rooted around in other hiding places. The resulting hill of gold coins was quite, quite pleasing.
Slagadune gave his assent, and with the contract agreed upon, the dwarves thanked him most graciously for his help.
“I shall write a Lay in your honour,” said Bern.
“And I shall keep your gold safe,” replied Slagadune. “Forever.”
The dwarves left the cave singing a happy song and Slagadune climbed back on top of the newly-swollen mountain of gold. It had been a rewarding night. He shut both eyes and went back to sleep.
RICHARD J. DOWLING is a writer who hopes to bring a smile to the faces of life-forms throughout the galaxy and in all dimensions. Born in England, he currently resides in Spain and, for the moment, is happy living on Earth. You can reach him at his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RichardJDowling