Once upon a time there was an enchanted kingdom, full of magic and fairies and tame dragons that slumbered safely under the mountains. The people of this kingdom lived in great happiness and prosperity, for out of the ground bubbled a magical elixir that could make their every wish come true.

Unfortunately for the people of the kingdom, there also lived in the enchanted land an evil witch. Evil, of course, being a relative term; one cannot help but suspect she was merely very tired of everything that was going on. At any rate, she grew angry and cast an awful curse on them. The magic elixir, the source of all the kingdom’s power and wealth, now came with a deadly side effect: it had the power to wake dragons.

 And so it was. The reports were hazy at first- disappearing sheep, scorch marks on the ground, huge lizard footprints in the forest. But soon it became clear. The evidence was incontrovertible. A dragon was loose in the kingdom.

The king, panicked, assembled a group of learned women and men to ask what could be done about the dragon menace. They conferred amongst each other and agreed that dragons, all told, were unlikely to positively impact the kingdom. They hinted, rather timidly, at a connection between the elixir and the dragons.

The king and his counselors accepted the report and did nothing. They were confident that the high walls of their castle could withstand any dragon attack, and if a few peasants were eaten or incinerated, what was it to them?

Years passed, and the dragon became harder to ignore. Sometimes its hot breath razed the countryside, and sometimes its flapping wings whipped the angry seas and coastal winds into a frenzy, destroying fishing villages and the beach where the king had hoped to spend his summer. The wise men and women were summoned once again. How, they were asked, could the kingdom be kept safe? Nervously, they suggested that the optimal number of dragons was, in fact, no dragons. But since that was hardly a possibility now, the kingdom should do its best to at least not add another dragon. Two dragons, the heralds proclaimed. The kingdom must not exceed two dragons. The king accepted this, and prepared, once again, to do nothing.

But some were not satisfied with this pronouncement. What if, they said, the kingdom could slay the second dragon? Well, if not slay it, perhaps wound it? Cut it, perhaps, in half? Think of that, they said. Half a dragon. Like a lizard separated from its tail, it would survive, dangerous but diminished. It would take a Herculean effort to even half-slay a dragon, and it would come with no promise of safety. But, suggested the wise men and women, it would be worth it.

The ending of this fairy tale, being purely fiction, is still to be written. Any ending is possible except, of course, the happy one. A possibility is this: the kingdom does nothing. Slaying dragons is expensive work, and what would be the use in trying? The seers prophesy catastrophe for the kingdom. And they are right. Another dragon appears, then another, then another, and the kingdom is reduced to rubble, smug in the knowledge that it foresaw its own doom.

Another goes like this: half the kingdom pretends not to see the dragons. The wise men and women protest, but they are easy to ignore. After all, is there any job description more obnoxious than “wise man”? Others protest, but in vain. The dragons multiply, but it doesn’t matter: the kingdom tears itself apart first.

But here is another ending. It’s not a happy one. No one slays the dragon, not even by half. It rises up, more powerful than even the wisest woman had predicted. Villages burn; the land is alternately parched and flooded. Fairies go extinct in the wild. But the kingdom does not retreat. Heroes challenge the dragon, repeatedly. When they fall, others rise to take their place. They know their quest is a doomed one; they set out nevertheless. They did not all live happily ever after. But they lived. And, most importantly, they had something to live for.