(a Dutch folktale)
Once upon a time, a knight was traveling through the forest when he heard in the distance a blood-curdling howl. He could not resist exploring, and when he did, he found a dragon wailing in despair. The dragon’s claws were caught in the split of an enormous elm tree.
When the dragon saw the knight rounding the corner, he stopped his wailing and turned his gaze upon the knight. “Please, sir, won’t you help to free me?”
To the knight’s amazement, despite his size, the dragon seemed meek and lost, and because the knight had a big heart, he decided to help the poor creature. He pulled a roundel and a sword from his belt and this he thrust into the split.
The dragon quickly pulled out his claws, and he turned menacingly to face the knight, breathing out a venomous plume of flames.
The knight leaped backward. “What?” he cried. “This is the way you show your gratitude to one who would help you?”
The dragon nodded. “It is the way of the world,” he said coolly. “Every day good is rewarded with evil. Why should today be different?”
“You are wrong!” the knight cried. “I can prove you wrong. The way of the world is to repay goodness with kindness and generosity.”
They argued back and forth this way for a while — the knight telling the dragon of all the good in the world, the dragon insisting there was little else but evil to be seen, far and wide.
At long last the knight said, “Let us ask some others their opinion, for it is clear we shall never agree on this point.”
“Very well,” the dragon said, “but if I am right, you may regret your own kindness.”
And so the two began to walk through the forest together. Before long they came upon a wild sheep standing at the edge of a pond.
“You there, sheep!” the knight cried, but when the sheep saw the dragon, he turned to run away.
“Don’t run!” the knight cried. “We only want to ask you a question.”
Keeping a safe distance, the sheep answered, “What question is that?”
“In this world, is goodness repaid with evil or with goodness?” the dragon asked, closely eyeing the sheep.
The sheep bowed his head. He did not like the way that dragon was looking at him, and he recalled all the evil he had seen in this world. “The answer is easy,” said the sheep. “No good deed goes unpunished!” He was thinking of his innocent lambs going to slaughter.
“Never mind,” said the knight. “He is only a creature who is preyed upon. Let us ask some others.”
Soon they came upon a goose, and though the knight would’ve liked to have asked a less timid creature, an agreement was an agreement.
“Tell us, goose,” said the knight, “do you think goodness is repaid with evil or is it repaid with goodness?” He looked into the goose’s eye, hoping to convey his kindness.
But the goose quickly stepped backward, out of reach of the dragon. “Evil, evil, evil, evil,” he said over and over, hurrying away.
“There you are,” the dragon said. “That’s two for two.”
Just at that moment, a fox happened to trot by, and the knight turned to the dragon. “The fox is smart,” he said. “Everyone knows that. Let’s ask him.”
“Very well,” the dragon said, for he was confident the fox would agree with him. If he showed his claws, everyone did.
“Fox,” the knight cried, “excuse me, but we wonder if you might settle a disagreement I’m having with the dragon here. You see, he was trapped in a tree, and I set him free, but he repaid me with his fiery breath. Isn’t it true that goodness should be repaid with goodness?”
The fox was a canny fellow, and he looked the dragon up and down and thought long and hard about this. At last he said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What is your question?”
The dragon roared. “We’re asking a simple question! This knight freed me from a tree and therefore expected my kindness. But isn’t it true that every day good is rewarded with evil?”
The fox scratched his head. “I’m so sorry, I’m having trouble understanding the problem. Perhaps you could recreate the scene, and then I might be able to understand.”
The fox’s stupidity infuriated the dragon. “Very well, watch,” and he lumbered back to the tree where he had been caught and once again thrust his claws into the split. Once again he was trapped. “You see, here I was. Trapped in this tree. The knight shall show you what he did.”
The dragon turned his gaze upon the knight, a pleading gaze, but it was too late. He realized he had been tricked, for the knight simply kept his distance.
The fox grinned that sly grin of his and said, “Now I see! Here is my verdict! Everything ought to remain as it once was.”
The knight bowed to the fox. “Thank you, sir,” he said, but the fox shrugged and answered, “No thanks required. I simply wanted to understand.”
And the knight and the fox went on their way, leaving the dragon behind, wailing once more.