As you know from previous installments (Part 1, Part 2), Lumpy the dragon was a kindhearted soul, quite different your run-of-the-mill dragon. While most dragons hoarded treasure and stole princesses, Lumpy preferred gentler pastimes like watching bees collect nectar or playing with his friend the boy.
However, Lumpy remained like the other dragons in one important respect: Like the other dragons, Lumpy lived practically forever. By the time he met the boy originally, he was hundreds of years old, with every expectation of living for hundreds more years. So his entire time with the boy was an eye-blink to Lumpy, while to the boy it stretched on for most of his memory.
I mention this because this particular story takes place when the boy had mostly finished growing up. He and Lumpy had been friends for more than ten years, which by the boy’s estimation might as well have been forever. Lumpy didn’t worry about time since he had so much of it; besides, dragons didn’t have clocks, aside from golden ones in among the treasure. He just knew that, since meeting the boy, he’d spent much more time with another creature than in previous centuries.
They spent a good amount of time playing games in the forest when the boy wasn’t helping his family with their pigs. The boy particularly enjoyed hide-and-seek type games, where he would try to hide so Lumpy couldn’t find him, or sneak past Lumpy to some specific target. Any time the boy succeeded, or even partly succeeded, he celebrated! After all, Lumpy, like all dragons, had exceptionally keen senses. It was nearly impossible to hide from Lumpy, who could see, smell, and hear far better than the boy.
But, over time, the boy discovered that dragons do have weaknesses. They can’t smell things hidden underwater, for example, so the boy would hide in a pond with a reed to breathe. Pig smell masks pretty much any other smell, so the boy (who didn’t mind a mess) rolled in the pig pen and sneaked by Lumpy disguised as a pig. Eventually the boy also learned that dragons don’t see well in the dark, and after many hours of playing, the boy became able to sneak and hide even from Lumpy.
The boy also learned all sorts of other useful things from Lumpy — where to find food in the woods; how to build himself shelter; the behavior of animals at different seasons; and how to find his way so he never got lost. They spent hundreds of hours together, and Lumpy became the perfect blend of best friend and loving parent to the boy.
As a result, Lumpy experienced the novel sensation of caring for someone. It’s not that Lumpy was uncaring before, mind you; he had always tried to make his actions have a positive impact rather than a negative one, preferably for the greatest number of other creatures. But that’s is a big, general philosophy. After spending enough time with the boy, Lumpy found himself actively wanting the best for this specific other creature.
In short, Lumpy’s heart changed as he spent time with the boy. One day, when the other dragons kidnapped a Princess to eat for dessert at a feast, Lumpy, for the first time, decided to help the Princess. For all those years before, he had abstained from participating, going for walks in the forest far from the depredations of his kin, but never directly opposing them. Now, though, Lumpy found he couldn’t just sit by and watch his fellow dragons destroy a person for no good reason.
He knew that he could fly faster than any other dragon, even with a person riding him, but he needed help rescuing the Princess from the middle of the dragon town. He sought out the boy, who by now was a tall, strong young man able to move so silently and stealthily through the woods that even a dragon wouldn’t notice him pass.
“The other dragons have stolen a Princess,” Lumpy told the boy, “and they’re going to eat her tonight at our big midsummer feast.”
“Not if I can help it,” the boy answered. “We’ll sneak her away, don’t worry.” After some thought, he outlined his plan for rescuing the Princess. It was crazy, but better than Lumpy’s idea (“grab the girl and fly away really fast”). Dragons are excellent tactical thinkers, but they tend to fall down on strategy. Lumpy and the boy had come up with many plans over the years, and Lumpy had learned to trust the boy’s strategic planning skills.
The sun set very late in the day in summer in the forest, so they waited most of the day before starting the plan, which relied on darkness. When the bottom of the sun touched the tip of the trees, and shadows grew long, Lumpy and the boy went to work.
First, the boy rolled in the pig pen. When Lumpy confirmed that he smelled nothing but pig, the boy gathered up his family’s entire herd of pigs and herded them into the forest. The pigs, no mean tactical thinkers themselves, figured out that they could find all manner of tasty food in the woods, and went along willingly.
When they reached the edge of the dragons’ village, the boy hid carefully in the shadows at the edge of the village, feeding the pigs slops he had brought along to keep them quiet and close.
Meanwhile, Lumpy went back to the dragon village boldly. He started crashing around, shouting: “You are wrong to steal and eat people! It’s evil! And you should stop stealing treasure, too, that’s wrong. You didn’t make it or earn it!” He rampaged around, loudly smashing into things and causing general mayhem, acting as if he’d finally lost his temper after all those years of watching passively.
All the other dragons left their feast and went to subdue Lumpy. He got rather beaten and battered up in the process (the other dragons saw this as their opportunity to get in a few good blows to one they saw as a pathetic disgrace to dragonkind) but put up enough of a struggle for the boy to implement the second part of their plan.
Just as the dragons finally got Lumpy under control and half of the dragons started dragging him back towards his home, the boy released all the pigs, who ran squealing through the village. They smelled the delicious pile of food the dragons had collected for their feast, and went straight for it, not noticing (at first) the crowd of remaining dragons heading back to their feast.
The boy, covered in pig muck, ran along with them, slipping stealthily through shadows as the herd of pigs approached the food pile. In the middle of the pile lay the Princess, tied up and silently terrified. She wasn’t the fainting type, but even the bravest soul would find the prospect of becoming dragon dessert alarming.
The pigs fell upon the food with gusto, and the boy crawled and sneaked his way among them, staying low and getting stepped on with sharp trotters as well as becoming increasingly covered with food filth and pig filth. He ignored all this, worming his way along he ground quickly until he popped up right next to the startled Princess.
“Sssshhhhh,” he cautioned, one filthy finger to his lips. The Princess’s mouth and eyes grew round as saucers in surprise, but she obeyed, remaining still and quiet as the boy swiftly sliced her bonds.
At that very moment, the pigs noticed the dragons and did what any sane animal would do: They squealed loudly and went running in all directions… and with them, amidst the crowd of jostling, stinky pigs, sprinted the boy and the Princess, crouched down to stay below the pigs. The dragons all roared and began chasing pigs, which they loved to eat, but the pigs were quick and disappeared into the darkness of the woods before the dragons could catch them.
Lumpy, meanwhile, had crept into the woods from where the dragons has tossed him. They didn’t care to restrain him, or hurt him particularly; they just didn’t want him bothering them. Lumpy went to his favorite clearing and laid down, nursing his bruises and waiting for the escapees.
The boy and Princess dashed through the darkened woods. While the boy could have escaped easily at any time, thanks to his years of practice with Lumpy, the Princess in her (formerly) white gown was another matter. She stood out like a flamingo in a murder of crows; besides which, she crashed through every bush as loudly as you could imagine, and she almost immediately began flagging as they ran. She wasn’t accustomed to dashing around, having learned instead things useful for running a kingdom — politics, literature, languages, reading and writing, and of course the ladylike arts of instruments and art and sewing, etc. So she was quite skilled, but unfortunately a very slow runner who became winded quickly.
About the time the Princess started gasping–maybe five minutes after they entered the woods–the boy and Princess heard roars of anger saw the woods lit up with bright flashes of flame. The dragons had discovered the Princess’s escape, and it wouldn’t take long for the boy and Princess to be caught.
The boy hadn’t counted on this. He’d planned on dashing to Lumpy’s clearing in just a few minutes, but it became clear the dragons would catch them long before they reached safety.
“I can’t–run–anymore,” the Princess gasped, stopping at the bank of a creek and doubling over to rest her hands on her knees. “Go–without–me…”
“Ha!” the boy snorted, “Not after all the trouble we’ve gone to, rescuing you and all. Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.” He looked around quickly, getting his bearings. The dragons couldn’t see well in the dark woods; and they wouldn’t smell him, but they would certainly smell the Princess, and they could follow her scent anywhere… Except underwater.
“Quick!” the boy whispered. He slashed some reeds with his knife and handed one to the Princess. “There’s a pool just a little ways down. Get in the water and run to the pool. We’ll hide underwater. I’ll show you.”
They splashed through the creek until they came upon the pool, a place the boy had spent many hours catching fish and playing with Lumpy. He showed the Princess how to use the reed to breathe, and they both submerged. The boy put the Princess up against the muddy bank beneath a bit of an overhang, while he himself pressed against her, using his dark peasant’s clothes and the creek mud to hide the brightness of her white gown.
They slipped underwater not a moment too soon. Seconds later, dragons went by, splashing and roaring and flaming in anger. The dragons found Lumpy, innocently laying alone in his field, and they roared at him in anger, too. “You know something about this!” they yelled, but Lumpy just said, “About what?” and they stormed off on their fruitless search.
A long while later, shivering and cramping and half-suffocated from sipping air through a reed, the boy and Princess emerged from the pool. The boy came out a bit cleaner than he went in, the water having washed away the pig and food muck, while the Princess came out quite a bit messier. Her gown was indubitably ruined. But as the boy helped her from the pool, grasping her hand to keep her from slipping on some mossy rocks, his heart turned over in a way he’d never felt before. She looked beautiful to him right there, bruised, dripping wet and muddy, hair tangled in a mess — nothing like a fairy tale Princess. But, as a true Princess would, she remained poised and surprisingly calm throughout the entire escape, never once screaming or fainting or doing those useless things that girls usually do.
And when she reached out to hold the boy’s hand as they stepped from their watery hideout, the Princess’s heart did a little flip, too. He certainly wasn’t a fairy tale prince, he was young and strong and clever, and he had risked his life for her, a complete stranger. It was a good start.
Fortunately, neither one let the skipping, flipping heart-leaps distract them from the fact that a village of angry dragons still sought them. It was only a few more minutes’ quick walking (in deference to the Princess’s tired legs) to Lumpy’s special clearing. The sun had just started rising and the sky turned just grey with a tinge of gold as the boy and Princess stepped out of the trees. Lumpy lay, waiting patiently.
The Princess balked. “Wait, a dragon? Didn’t we just escape from dragons?”
“Don’t worry, he’s my friend,” the boy explained. “Lumpy, meet the Princess. Princess, Lumpy.”
“Oh… well… all right,” the Princess agreed. She wasn’t entirely sure of the wisdom of this plan, trusting a dragon and all, but she did trust the boy. So she went along as Lumpy extended a leg for them to climb onto his back.
“Hurry,” Lumpy said. “You had to hide in that pool a long time. We need to be gone before the sun rises much more, or they’ll easily see us on the horizon.” The boy helped settle the Princess and swung up in a practiced, easy motion. In a trice Lumpy had launched straight up, powerful legs and wings carrying them high into sky.
The Princess directed them to fly east; she came from a land far beyond the eastern mountain range in the distance. Lumpy flew swiftly toward the rising sun and none of the other dragons saw him. By the time they flew in search, Lumpy and his passengers had become just a tiny dot in the blazing ball of the midsummer morning sunrise.
After a long flight and other adventures not covered here, they reached the Princess’s home. By then she and the boy had truly fallen in love. It wasn’t long after the King and Queen had finished celebrating their daughter’s safe return that the entire kingdom celebrated the wedding of the Princess and the boy, who became a Prince.
As for Lumpy, he found he enjoyed the Princess’s country far better than his own. She lived in a tropical land, always warm, with fruit growing abundantly. They had vast sandy beaches and warm blue water with beautiful exotic fish and fabulous underwater gardens. The Princess and the Prince (as we must now call the boy) made a special home for Lumpy in the palace grounds, and he got to eat whatever delicious things he wanted from then on.
They lived happily for a number of years. But, as you know, nobody lives happily ever after. There are more stories of what happened with Lumpy and the Prince and Princess, and maybe I will tell them some time.