Oss was sitting in his cave, resting atop one of the piles of gold and absently sorting out the various coins by year. No reason, really, he was just bored.
How the did I manage to get so much? he wondered. It wasn't like he ever actually left the cave.
He sighed and thought about taking another nap. Or maybe he'd go do a flyby of the local village. Give the locals something to talk about. He was just wondering whether or not it would be worth the trouble when he caught the faint sound of footsteps. They echoed through the mass of tunnels connected to his cavern. Oss grinned.
Oh boy, he thought eagerly. Company! I hope it's a knight. Knights were always a fun way to kill a couple hours, what with all the bantering and swordplay. Sometimes they even left horses outside for desert. Peasants with intent to rob were okay, too, but they always ruined the fun by screaming and wetting themselves.
He curled up onto the pile and pretended to sleep, his tail winding around himself in a way he thought to be picturesque. There was nothing so satisfying as seeing the look on a knight's face when it realized that he was, in fact, awake. He perked his ears up perked as the footsteps grew closer.
There was something . . . off about them. It took him a second to realize what it was. Most people who came to his cave tried to be sneaky (though how some of the better equipped knights thought they could be sneaky in metal shoes was beyond him). These steps. . . weren't.
So it's a pompous little bugger. Fine. More fun. He tried to keep his face still. The edges of his mouth turned up in the first hints of a toothy grin. Maybe this one would try to banter with him.
The footsteps were in the cavern proper now. He heard them walk up close to the pile of treasure then – inexplicable- turn in the other direction.
Strange. He opened one of his eyes a crack and saw a small human walking across the cave. Away from the treasure piles.
Oss prepared himself for the big reveal. He unwound his tail and let it cut through the air like a whip. His wings unfurled and fanned out behind him. He rose up as straight as he could and said, in his most dramatic voice;
"Mortal! You dare trespass here?"
The human turned around. It had missed the whole thing. Oss fought back the disappointment and waited for an answer.
The little human shrugged. "I guess so."
It was small. Very small. And it didn't look the least bit impressed. He tried again.
"Fool! You dare steal from me?" He let loose a roar loud enough to make the entire mountain shake. The little logical part of his mind told that the smart thing to do would be to fry the squirt and quit wasting time. The rest of him wasn't going to stop until the human was properly scared first. Besides, well, he hardly ever got the chance to show off these days.
It didn't work. The human waited patiently until he was done. It dug around in its satchel and brought out a book Oss didn't recognize.
"I was just looking for a place to read," it said.
"What?" Oss dropped the thunder.
"My book," it said flatly. "I want to read it. I've tried everywhere else- behind the chicken coop, in the orchard, even on the roof. Everyone always finds me. This is the only quiet place I can go where nobody will bug me."
"So, you're not here to steal my treasure?" said Oss, a little put out. "You're not interested in the gold?"
"Not in the slightest."
As though to drive the point home, the human headed over to the opposite side of the cavern- well away from the loot- and sat down. It flipped open to a page in the book, and began reading quietly by the light of one of the torches Oss had set up to encourage his flow of knights and thieves.
Oss stared, not quite sure what to do. On the one claw, there was an intruder in his home whose kind were notorious for trouble and trickery. This was obviously some scheme and he would do best to eat the kid right now. On the other, it was sitting quietly in plain sight and totally ignoring the beguiling piles of gold that happened to be around. There wasn't any of the usual scent of fear he had come to expect from things smaller than himself, which only served to complicate matters.
Quietly, Oss watched the human read for a few minutes. Nothing happened but the occasional turn of a page.
"Well, all right," he said eventually. "Just don't get any funny ideas."
The human nodded, but otherwise ignored him.
* * * * *
An hour passed. Oss watched the human like a hawk, part of him screaming to tear it into shreds just so it would do something interesting, the rest of him trying to figure out what its game was. There had to be some trick. The fact that he couldn't see it must've meant it was either incredibly clever, or incredibly stupid.
Casually as he could, Oss flicked a coin over near the boy. It rolled along the ground and stopped right in front of where it was sitting.
The boy didn't even look up.
"Oops," said Oss pointedly.
Without ever looking away from the book, the kid grabbed the coin and tossed it in Oss' direction. It hit another pile and caused a suit of armor to slide down onto the ground. The clattering of metal sliding and clattering filled the air.
"So," said Oss eventually. "Whatcha reading?"
Oss waited. When it became clear nothing more was going to be offered up, he said, "About?"
And that was it. For the next hour and a half, that was it.
Eventually, the human set the book down, stood up, and stretched. Oss perked up, hoping that maybe now something interesting would happen.
"Are you ready to try and steal my stuff and try to fight me?"
The kid picked up the book and put it into its bag. "Nope. It's dinner time."
Oss didn't ask how it knew that. "So you're leaving."
"Well, good. You didn't do a thing today except read."
The kid looked up at him and shrugged. "You didn't do anything but watch me."
Oss scowled and angrily flicked a few coins off his pile, hoping to hit the kid. "That's beside the point."
None of them hit. "What," said the boy. "Am I here to entertain you?"
After a moment, the kid pulled the book back out of his bag and went up to Oss' pile. He very carefully laid the book down on top of a coronet, and then backed away.
"There," he said, turning to go. "Now you'll have something to do."
"Don't you need that?"
"No, I already finished."
And he was gone.
Slowly, as though he were afraid it might bite, Oss picked up the book . He sniffed it. No scent of magic. It was just a normal book. He swiveled his head around the room, making sure there wasn't anyone around, then began to read.
* * * * * *
Sometime the next day, the boy came back with another book. He walked into the cavern without a second thought. Humming to himself, he went across the cave and to the spot he'd been in yesterday. It was only after he'd settled down that he noticed that there was something different about the room. It took him a moment to figure out what.
The dragon was gone.
He waited a few seconds. Nothing happened. After a long minute of silence, he sighed and got to his feet. "Hello?" He started wandering around the piles. "Hello? You here?"
"Shhh!" said a voice somewhere behind all the gold. "I'm getting to the good part."
The boy navigated through the piles and found the dragon in the back. Behind all the piles was a small offshoot of cave that was filled with cushions. The dragon was curled up inside, very carefully trying to turn a page with his claws. The boy could tell he was trying desperately not to tear them. The book was utterly thrashed.
"Enjoying it so far?"
The dragon looked up with partially glazed eyes and nodded. He blinked a few times before finally seeming to register that the he had company.
"Oh good, it's you! Listen, I need you to run some errands."
The dragon got up (making sure to put the book down as gently as possible) and rushed to the closest pile of gold with surprising speed for a creature his size. He began sifting through the pile, picking out coins and tossing things like swords and jewelry aside.
"Your little bag thing, the book bag, how much do you think you can hold?"
"How many books?"
"No. Well, yes, that too, but you can always hire a cart for that. I mean gold. How much?"
The boy stared at him blankly.
"Uhm," he said eventually. "Not much, I'd think. It's an old bag-"
"Then buy yourself a new one."
The dragon snatched the satchel still hanging around the boy's neck and began pouring coins into it.
"Hey!" said the boy, wriggling out so as not to be choked. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going to want more by this author. He has written more, right?" said the dragon hopefully.
"Good. I want more by him, and the back of the book has recommendations, so I want you to bring me those as well."
The dragon noticed the new book still in the boy's hand. "Oh good! This will tide me over until you get back." He took it.
"I'm not done with that!"
"Then get yourself another copy while you're out. There should be enough in there, right? If not, then just come back for more. " The dragon looked around the cavern and made disapproving clicking noises. "We'll have to hire people to put in shelves. Probably nobody willing to. I've certainly eaten enough of you lot to make them suspicious, but we can try. Maybe get people from out of town."
"What's all this 'we' business?"
"Well you're my new librarian, of course! You know more about this than I do."
The dragon shoved the bag into his hands and began ushering him out towards the exit. The boy tried desperately to deal with the new weight and unscramble what had just happened at the same time.
"But you don't have a library," he said.
"Well that's your job, isn't it? Go on, shoo. Come back when all the gold is gone and you've got a cartload of books. Go on, hurry up. I promise you can read them once I've finished."
With that, the boy found himself standing outside at the mouth of the cave. Around him a cool breeze was blowing the tall grass along the hillside. The sun above shone brightly. He looked down at the rather heavy bag he was now holding and blinked a few times.
"Oh!" called a voice from inside the cave. "I almost forgot," the dragon's head poked out from the darkness. "I'm Oss. What's your name? I'll need to know if we're to be working together."
"Ethan," said Ethan.
"Good, good. Well, off you go, then. I'll be making room."
And he was gone.
Slowly, Ethan made his way down the hillside, wondering where in the world he was going to find people willing to carry books up to a dragon's cave.