Not many years ago, in a land not so far away there lived a great green dragon. He was strong and proud and ruled the forest with dignity and fairness. With his beloved wife at his side they ruled happily for many years. They had but one sorrow in their lives. It had been almost a lifetime since they had seen another of their kind. What they had no way of knowing was that they were the last of the dragons.

Not far away on the other side of the forest was a small kingdom. This town was ruled by a very old king. He too was strong and proud, and he protected his people well. The town flourished and the people loved and respected their fine leader. The king had one son, a tall and handsome prince, who was also well loved by the people. The prince loved and respected his father, as everyone did, but they did not always agree for the prince sometimes wondered if the old ways were indeed always the best ways. They once had a dreadful arguement about the girl the prince had chosen to be his intended bride. The king thought the girl odd and her ideas strange. She was a sweet and gentle girl who couldn't bear the court hunts. The king believed the hunts necessary - that the wild beasts of the forest must be killed to feed and clothe and protect his people. In the end a compromise was reached, the king allowed his son to marry his beautiful love and the king continued the hunts although his son no longer joined him. In time his new daughter-in-law's kindness won over the king, and he learned to love her as his own child.

One day news came to the castle that dragons had been spotted in the forest. An alarm rang through the town. Nothing was more feared than dragons. A single dragon could lay laste to the whole kingsom in a single day. So a hunt was called. All the men gathered in the castle courtyard. They carried all assortment of weapons; lances, spears, bows and arrows. Peasants carried shovels, axes and sling shots- anything they could find. Even the prince joined in the hunt, although he did so with great reluctance, after all this was to protect the town. His wife cried and begged him not to go, but his loyalty to his father and his people forced him to.

Many days they travelled through the forest. The old king led the search for signs of the dragon. They found some, but it was a fortnight before they spotted him. He was flying low looking for food. They brought him down with rocks and arrows and they killed him. They carried him home to mount his head on the wall of the great hall. The princess was so upset she could no longer enter that room. The townspeople however rejoiced, the kingdom would now be safer, yet they still feared the dragon's mate and a new hunt would have to be planned.

Meanwhile deep in the forest the dragon queen mourned the loss of her lifelong mate. All day and night she sobbed great steaming tears. Slowly and painfully she crawled back to her cave and slipped into the deepest recesses to curl up and sleep a fitful sleep. She stayed in the cave many days without moving, not eating, sleeping little. All of the animals of the forest worried for her. They would bring her things to eat and leave them by the mouth of the cave only to find it still there the next day. Word spread throughout the woods of the hunt the people were planning. The animals feared what would happen should the last dragon die. A meeting was called of all the animals and held in a large glade in the middle of the forest.

Unicorns, squirrels, birds, frogs, deer, and all manner of animals came. The meeting was loud and raucous. Everyone argued about what should be done.

"We will do nothing!" Cried the squirrels, "The dragons eat us. What do we care if the dragons are gone? We do not wish to be hunted all the time"

"Hear! Hear!" Agreed the goats and rabbits in chorus.

"But what about us?" Asked the blue tree frogs, "How will the pond be warm enough for our little ones if the dragon does not heat it with her firey breath when she comes to drink?"

On and on the arguing went, finally the great old unicorn stepped to the centre of the glade, and his strong but quiet voice began to speak, all were silent and listened.

"Dragons have lived in this forest for as long as the memories of the animals can recall. They are a part of life here in the woods. Not only do they heat the water for the blue tree frogs. But if they did not eat some of the squirrels there would soon be too many squirrels and not enough nuts and seeds to go around for all the chipmunks and squirrels and birds, and you would fight amongst yourselves and some of you would go hungry. You kwai birds, do you not count on the dragon for the insects that feed on the dust of their scales? What will you eat when they are gone? And we unicorns depend on the culcott tree for food and nesting material for our babies, the culcott trees will not grow properly without the dragon's waste products to help them"

The kwai birds and others nodded thoughtfully at the unicorn's words, but still the squirrels and goats were unsure.

"Life in the forest is a delicate balance," the unicorn continued, "each animal is dependant on each other animal in some way. If that balance is intterrupted everything goes into chaos and can take many years to sort itself out again. Sometimes things are never quite right again. For once something is lost, it can never be regained."

So finally it was decided, they must somehow protect the last dragon, but how? Many suggestions were bantered back and forth, but no one could figure out how to stop the hunt.

"Wait!" Cried the wife of the old unicorn, "sometimes at the edge of the forest I see the princess. She is kind and good, and often brings small trears for me and you other animals. Perhaps we can convince her to aid us."

"If you will go and meet this human, then we will agree." Nodded the others.

The next morning the unicorn and her faithful husband crept carefully to the edge of the forest and tried to slip towards the castle. Once they were inside the courtyard they were spotted by castle gaurds and the men chased them with spears and shot at them with arrows. Shooting down a unicorn was considered great luck. The princess seeing the uproar ran immediately to put a stop to it. When she finally managed to send the men away she turned to the unicorns and offered them apples and spoke gently to calm them.

"Why have you come into the castle courtyard, where you know these men will hunt you?" She asked as she softly stroked their noses.

"We have come to seek your help," said the unicorn, "a great crisis threatens our forest and you are the only one who might stop it." And they told the princess of the last dragon.

When the princess heard the story, and understood the threat to all the animals she was appalled, hugging the unicorns' necks she vowed, "I will do everything in my power to protect you all and to stop this ghastly hunt!"

Later with a great many tears, she explained the unicorns' visit to her husband the prince. "My darling, we must protect these creatures, as we protect the townspeople. Life in the royal forest is our responsibility too."

The prince held his wife tightly. "My father will not approve of this I fear, but together we will go and see him and we shall see if we cannot convince him."

The king, who had taken ill since the first hunt, was very angry at the idea. The arguement went on for many days. The prince was torn, he loved his wife and knew her to be right, however, he still loved his father and wished to honour him. As the days passed the king grew more and more ill. At last the prince and princess went to see the dying king one last time to plead for the dragons's life.

"Father," the prince begged the old king, "The people have plenty of fur and leather for clothers and meat to eat from the animals they raise on their farms. The last time a dragon stormed the kingdom was over 300 years ago during the times of great famine. There was no food for anyone, not even the dragons. They came looking for something to eat. The dragon has no reason to wish to harm us, if we leave her alone."

The prince knelt down by his father's side. His heart was breaking. He laid his head on this father's arm and cried. He cried for the dragon who was now dead, he cried for the dragon the people meant to kill and he cried for his dying father. He cried for every living thing that has ever faced a needless death.

The king holding his son's hands was finally able to see all of his pain. "Go my son. Go and stop the hunt. Save the dragon. Tell her I have promised her safety." And with those words he died.

The prince sat at his father's side all night, weeping quietly and saying goodbye. In the morning he went to see the palace holy man. It was his sad duty to arrange both his father's funeral and his own coronation. Later he sought out his wife and they made ready to go and see the dragon queen.

As they made their way to the edge of the forest the unicorns came to meet them and led them to the dragon's lair. When they reached it they saw that still the dragon had not eaten any of the food left for her. They stepped cautiously into the cave calling out to her as they went. When they reached the very back of the cave they found her. She too had died in the night. Some say she died of starvation but everyone in the forest that day knew she had died of a broken heart.

All of the animals were cathered at the entrance to the cave.

"She is gone, died in her sleep," the prince told them choking back tears.

"Oh no! Oh my! Whatever will happen to us now?" The animals all cried together.

The princess reached out and hugged each animal and her husband, and many tears flowed.

"There is some good news," the prince said quietly, "in the cave we have found a pair of dragon eggs. If you creatures of the forest will vow to raise these dragons, to hide them and protect them, to feed them and keep them warm through the long winter then I will vow to you that my first act as king will be to make this forest a protected place. No man, woman or child shall ever hunt here again."

"Yes! Yes!" Cried all the animals. "We will raise these dragons, the forest shall live as it was, we will all be safe."

And they all were as good as their word. The animals kept safe the dragons and hid them well. The prince and the princess ruled many happy years as king and queen. Often they walked in the forest and talked to the animals and no one hunted in those woods again. Still more than that no one knows, but I like to think that somewhere, in some not so far off corner of the world, one might still find a unicorn, a blue tree frog, a kwai bird, or maybe even a dragon or two.

Vicky Fraser - 1996.