15. Coming of the Dragon
A rumble shook the mountain. Boulders were knocked aside as mere inconveniences. Huge leathery wings unfurled as a brisk breeze blew through the tunnel. A scaly snout emerged into blinding eastern light.
Smaug snorted and a curl of smoke rose from a nostril. "There is very little to look at here," he grumbled, gazing this way and that across the barren wasteland. He strained to remember what the strange little human had told him. Go west. There are dwarves in the west. And where there were dwarves, there was gold.
Smaug licked his lips at the thought of gold. And dwarves. Dwarves were quite tasty. Though gold made a better bed. But what good was a bed without a full stomach?
He stretched his wings to their full extent and tested the air. It had been so many long centuries since he'd taken to the sky. Not since the wars of Morgoth had he flown, and that was only to fly away. He'd fled to this small, pathetic mountain where he lay, hidden from the Valar's wrath. But in the cramped quarters of the cave, he had stopped growing. He would be dwarfed now by younger cousins. Provided he wasn't the last of his kind.
The thought of extinction didn't worry Smaug. Unless, of course, it included himself. He didn't think much of other dragons and never had.
Inhaling a deep breath of the air, Smaug frowned, as much as a dragon could. There was nothing in the wind but dust and dirt. The land of the dwarves must be far off indeed. Unless the human was lying.
A low growl issued from Smaug's throat as he ran across the ground, his claws digging deep rents into the earth. With a powerful leap he took to the sky, wobbling slightly as he struggled to remember how to fly.
How sad. A dragon that did not remember how to fly.
Smaug stabilized himself within a few minutes. Some things were impossible to forget.
He flew west, following the human's directions. He wondered briefly what had happened to the human. Died, obviously. They all died. But she was strange. She smelled very odd. Very…old. Too old for a human. And too human for an elf.
Perhaps it was a new breed. Perhaps humans had achieved immortality.
Just as long as dwarves weren't fireproof and coated in steel, Smaug had no problem with the new developments of the world.
Days passed and Smaug's stomach gnawed with hunger. There was nothing to eat out here, and flying exhausted him. He felt weak and tired. All he wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep for several more centuries.
Gold! he reminded himself. Gold! There is gold, and where there is gold, there are dwarves! A bed and a snack!
It was nearly a month since Smaug set out from his cave, but at last he saw hills in the distance. He flew faster, mouth salivating. These hills were abandoned though. He could smell it even from this distance.
"Damn the human!" Smaug snarled. She had lied to him! If she still lived, Smaug would find her, would make her pay.
But on the horizon there was an edge of green. A forest. Perhaps there was more to this land than empty hills.
Smaug flew toward the forest. He never reached it.
Standing alone amidst the flat lands, near a great lake, was a mountain. A single high peak of stone. Smoke issued from it and for a moment Smaug wondered if it was inhabited by a dragon.
No. He recognized the smell.
There was a settlement by the lake, but what did that matter? They were mere humans; they could not hurt a dragon.
Smaug descended with an ear-splitting roar. His wings pinned across his back, he plummeted like a rock, jaws open, teeth flashing. He was flying death.
Some noticed the noise, but none saw him. It was dark, and humans never saw well in the dark.
The flames were the first indication that something was wrong. The screams started up soon afterward. Then the bells. Smaug had always hated bells. He made sure to decimate the belltowers quickly.
Smaug wrought destruction in the small town, battering and incinerating anything that moved. No one had dared to stand against him. They fled at his approach, running shrieking to whatever safety they thought they could find.
And now that the troublesome humans were taken care of, Smaug could turn his attention to the more important matter of the dwarves.
He took to the air once more, having briefly reveled in stomping through the ruined town. Like an arrow he flew at the mountain. There were plenty of dwarves outside of it, watching the burning of the human village with mutters and concern.
The fools! Did they not know that Smaug the Golden was upon them? Smaug the descendant of mighty Glaurung himself!
Most of the dwarves were burned alive as Smaug set them alight. Almost half a dozen others were scooped up with a snap of his jaws. The crunchings made him feel warm inside, and the blood trickling down his neck was like an elixir of life.
He roared again, and now the dwarves truly knew a dragon was upon them.
Smaug attacked viciously, ferociously, battering down dwarven resistance wherever it was found. He shattered the front gate and stormed the mountain itself, breathing great clouds of flame down the halls, killing all in his path.
And then, suddenly, the mountain was empty.
Smaug searched up and down the mountain, peering into every room, sniffing at every crack, but there was not a single dwarf to be found.
Chuckling and congratulating himself, Smaug set about picking up every piece of the treasure he found in storerooms and massing it together in the former dining hall. It was quite a mound of treasure, and he particularly liked a large golden goblet and a bright white stone.
As he was just about to settle in for a nice, long nap, Smaug decided to go back to the ruined human village and see if they had anything valuable. He returned with a much fuller stomach – though humans didn't taste as good as dwarves – a small mound of coins, and a very nice emerald necklace.
He rolled a boulder in front of the gate. He couldn't take the chance that some adventuring fool might try to kill him. They might even succeed in injuring him while he lay in slumber.
Smaug wriggled on his treasure, trying to get comfortable. At last he breathed a contented sigh and closed his eyes. Sleep came quickly, and as he slept, smoke drifted in lazy strands from his snout. The mountain still smoked, but not from the smithies of the dwarves.
Far away, near the border of Mirkwood, a middle-aged dwarf patted his young son's shoulder.
"We of Durin's folk seem to be driven from our every home by foul beasts," Thrain said. "It was Durin's Bane in Moria, and now it is a dragon here in the Lonely Mountain."
"I will not let that beast get away with this!" Thorin snarled, his fists clenched. "I will not!"
"Our people are not as strong as they once were. Besides, the world does not care for the troubles of the dwarves. They are far more concerned with their own petty conflicts."
"They will listen to me! I will make them help me take back our kingdom!"
Thrain chuckled softly. "Well, perhaps. In the meantime, we shall go to the Blue Mountains. There are riches to be made there."
As the few surviving dwarves turned toward the west, Thorin lingered, watching his home. Former home, he amended. The dragon was King Under the Mountain now. But for how long? Not long at all if Thorin had his way.