Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 25

The dragon perched upon the castle wall, its multicolored body glittering in the sun. Far below, in its valley, the Wisconsin River, blue as a forgotten summer sky, flowed between the shores of flaming forests. From the castle yard came sounds of revelry as the goblins and the trolls, for the moment with animosity laid aside, drank great tankards of October ale, banging the tankards on the tables that had been carried from the great hall, and singing ancient songs that had been composed long before there had been such a thing as Man.

Maxwell sat upon a deep-buried boulder and gazed out across the valley. A dozen feet away the edge of the bluff cut off above a hundred feet of cliff and on the edge of the cliff grew a twisted cedar tree, twisted by the winds that had howled across the valley for uncounted years, its bark a powdery silver, its foliage a light and fragrant green. Even from where he sat, Maxwell could catch the sharp tang of the foliage.

It all had come out right, he told himself. There was no Artifact to trade for the knowledge of the crystal planet, although there was the dragon and the dragon, after all, probably had been what the people on that planet wanted. But even if this should not prove to be the truth, the Wheelers had lost out, and this, in the long run, might be more important than the acquiring of the knowledge.

It all had worked out OK. Better than he could have hoped. Except that now everyone was sore at him. Carol was angry at him because he'd told Harlow to go ahead and kick Sylvester and because he'd told her to shut up. O'Toole was sore at him because he'd abandoned him to Sylvester and thereby forced him to give in to the trolls. Harlow more than likely still was plenty burned up because he had messed up the deal for the Artifact and because of all the busted pieces in the museum. But maybe the fact that he'd got Shakespeare back might make up for some of that. And there was Drayton, of course, who still might want to question him, and Longfellow, at Administration, who wouldn't like him any better no matter what had happened.

Sometimes, he told himself, it didn't pay to care too much about anything or to fight for anything. Maybe it was the ones like Nancy Clayton who really had it made- feather-headed Nancy with her famous house guests and her fabulous parties.

Something brushed against him and he turned to see what it might be. Sylvester reached out a rough and rasping tongue and began to wash his face.

"Cut it out," said Maxwell. "That tongue of yours takes off hide."

Sylvester purred contentedly and settled down beside him, leaning hard against him. The two of them sat and gazed across the valley.

"You got an easy life," Maxwell told the cat. "You don't have any problems. You don't have to worry." A foot crunched on some stones. A voice said, "You've kidnapped my cat. Can I sit down and share him?"

"Sure, sit down," said Maxwell. "I'll move over for you. I thought you never wanted to speak to me again."

"You were a nasty person down there," said Carol, "and I didn't like you much. But I suppose you had to be."

A black cloud came to rest inside the cedar tree. Carol gasped and shrank against Maxwell. He put out an arm and held her close against him.

"It's all right," he said. "It is just a banshee."

"But he hasn't any body. He hasn't any face. He is just a cloud."

"That is not remarkable," the Banshee told her. "That is what we are, the two of us that are left. Great dirty dishcloths flapping in the sky. And you need not be frightened, for this other human is a friend of ours."

"I wasn't a friend of the third one," said Maxwell. "Nor was the human race. He sold out to the Wheelers."

"And yet you sat with him, when no one else would do it."

"Yes, I did that. Even your worst enemy could demand that you do that."

"Then, I think," the Banshee said, "that you can understand a little. The Wheelers, after all, were us, still are us, perhaps. And ancient ties die hard."

"I think I do understand," said Maxwell. "What can I do for you?"

"I only came," the Banshee told him, "to tell you that the place you call the crystal planet has been notified."

"And they want the dragon?" Maxwell asked. "You'll have to give us the coordinates."

"The coordinates," said the Banshee, "will be given to Transportation Central. You will want to go there, you and many others, to transfer the data. But the dragon stays on Earth, here on Goblin Reservation."

"I don't understand," said Maxwell. "They wanted"

"The Artifact," the Banshee said, "to set the dragon free. He had been caged too long."

"Since the Jurassic," said Maxwell. "I agree. That is far too long."

"But we did not plan so long," the Banshee said. "You moved him before we could set him free and we thought that we had lost him. The Artifact was only to preserve and hide him until the colony on Earth could become established, until it could protect him."

"But protect him? Why did he need protection?"

"Because," the Banshee said, "he is the last of his race and therefore very precious. He is the last of the-I find it hard to say-you have creatures you call dogs and cats?"

"Yes," said Carol. "We have one of them right here."

"Pets," the Banshee said. "And yet much more than pets. Creatures that have walked the Earth with you from the very early days. The dragon is the pet, the last pet, of the people of the crystal planet. They grow old, they will soon be gone. They cannot leave their pet behind uncared for; he must be delivered into loving hands."

"The goblins will take care of him," said Carol. "And the trolls and fairies and all the rest of them. They will be proud of him. They will spoil him rotten."

"And the humans, too?"

"And the humans, too," she said.

They did not see him go. But he was no longer there. There was not even a dirty dishcloth flapping in the sky. The tree stood empty.

A pet, thought Maxwell. Not a god, but a simple pet. And yet, perhaps, not so simple as it sounded. When men had first made the bio-mechs, what had they created? Not other men, at least at first, not livestock, not freaks engineered to specific purposes. They had created pets. Carol stirred against his arm. "What are you thinking, Pete?"

"About a date," he said. "Yes, I guess I was thinking of a dinner date with you. We had one once, but it never quite came off. Would you like to try again?"

"At the Pig and Whistle?"

"If that is what you want."

"Without Oop and Ghost. Without any troublemakers."

"But with Sylvester, of course."

"No," she said. "Just the two of us. Sylvester stays at home. It is time he learned."

They got up from the boulder and started back toward the castle.

Sylvester looked up at the dragon perching on the castle wall and snarled.

The dragon lowered its head on its sinuous neck looked him in the eye. It stuck out at him a long and forked tongue.