The dragon Midz-Aset crept to the mouth of the cave, high up on the mountainside between the treeline and the year-round frost line, and looked out over the valley. It was different, as it is always different: one town grown, another shrunk, a new road cut through the trees here, an old one fallen into disuse and reclaimed by forest there.
The castle, the castle of the valley Kings, of Roldgang and Walford, of Haff and Isenette, was crumbled and abandoned; he could see no other within the valley. But there was life, here, there, at the crossroads and by the waters. He climbed out into the weak winter sunlight and took wing.
He soared over both villages before moving on to circle high over the port town — now virtually a city — lingering in plain sight, watching as people spilled into the streets with heads upturned or fled hurriedly for cover. More the former than the latter: almost as if they were surprised, as if he were unexpected, unknown.
Enough sightseeing: he was hungry.
Even the Abbey was not unchanged: a new roof, an extension. He circled it twice, gliding on outstretched wings before settling to earth just outside the wall. "Abbot!"
There was commotion within the walls, but no immediate reply. Being well-rested, the dragon was patient. Eventually the doors opened and a short, balding man stepped cautiously into the open. "My Lord."
"How long have I slept?"
"My Lord, I… I know not. I was told — forgive me, My Lord — I was told that you were just a story, the dragon in the mountain, that you weren't real." The man was terrified, trembling, dappled with sweat.
It had happened before. "The Abbot when last I took my tribute was called Merrett, I think. He raised tulips in the yard."
"The tulips have spread throughout the grounds, My Lord; we pick them for our tables when they are in bloom. But Brother Merrett has been dead these eighty-six years."
"A shame. He always saved the pick of the herd for me. And the castle?"
"My Lord, Isenette's daughter the Crown Princess was married to Raiegan heir, now good old King Yash… the valley is ruled from Castle Burdl, to the North."
"I know it."
The Abbot swallowed, averted his eyes, worked himself up to speaking his admission: "My Lord, we have no cattle… the Abbey has not raised them for some years. I can send a brother to buy some, from the village—"
"No, never mind. I'll find something else." He lowered his head to man-height and stepped close to the trembling monk. "But see that the Abbey resumes honoring its obligations. Or next time, I will simply eat the brothers."
"Y— yes, My Lord."
Midz-Aset leapt for the sky, beating his wings, sending the Abbot tumbling from the sheer force of the moving air. Perhaps he would find a farmhouse or cottage to plunder, a family to devour. Remind them I'm real, so they don't forget so easily.