How the Orange Dragon Found His Cook (Part Two)

Yesterday, I promised two things: the rest of my story, and the theme of the 24 words that made up the original prompt. As promised, here they are:

The theme: Brown (it was a children’s word search book, I think; the categories were goofy like that!).

The rest of the story:

How the Orange Dragon Found His Cook (Part Two)

As they approached the palace after entering the city, Collin began to feel nervous. What if the Orange Dragon wasn’t interested in trying new foods? Worse, what if the guards were lying to him and only meant for him to become the dragon ruler’s next meal? He needed to come up with a plan.
“What are you going to do with me?” he asked his escorts.
The younger guard glanced at him. “We will bring you before His Highness, and you will state your case. If he likes it, we’ll have a chance to change things.”
The other guard snorted. “But if he doesn’t agree, which is more likely, then you’re his next meal on charges of insulting him.” He paused, and wrinkled his face. Collin noticed for the first time that he looked rather like a gorilla when he scowled. “Maybe we should just save time and charge you with treason ourselves, so we don’t get in trouble for bringing you here.”
The younger guard elbowed his colleague. “Don’t talk like that! We will do right by this man, and he may make things better for a great deal of people.”
Right about then, they reached the palace gates. Collin had never seen such a huge structure up close before—his excursions into the city kept him far from the royal district. It only made sense that a creature as large as a dragon would require a large space, but that didn’t keep him from staring at the wide, tapestry-hung hallways and high, gilded ceilings they passed.
Too soon, they reached the great hall. There, Collin found himself before a dragon for the first time in his life. He knelt before the Orange Dragon as the guard whispered something in the great creature’s ear.
After a moment that felt too long, a deep voice said, “You may rise.” Collin slowly stood and looked his ruler in the eye. The Orange Dragon was huge. Where some countries had throne rooms with a raised platform for the throne and advisory seats, this raised platform was completely filled by the scaled form of the dragon. Collin had heard that the wisdom of a dragon was obvious in its eyes, but all he could see now was a creature who might eat him if he didn’t think fast.
“Your Highness,” he said, “I have heard of your strong, ah, taste for justice, and that there is growing to be a shortage in the criminal numbers that you require. I have heard some suggest war as a way to restock, but I have a solution that would save many lives.”
He hoped he hadn’t been too bold in getting to the point, but there it was. The Orange Dragon just looked at him.
“Go on,” it said.
Collin could do nothing but just spit it out. “I’m a cook, and I think I can help you find a new favorite dish.” The silence in the hall lasted a full two minutes. Finally, the Orange Dragon spoke.
“Very well. You have one month.”
So began the most stressful month of Collin’s life. He assumed that he needed to find a new meat to replace the Orange Dragon’s diet of human flesh, so he started  by fixing raw and cooked versions of some animals common to that region: beaver, armadillo, and (naturally) horse.  The Orange Dragon sent them back untouched, with a message—Too common! I hate the very stench of these creatures! I hope this isn’t the best you can do!
The second week, Collin had a live lion and bear brought in. Perhaps the taste of a predator would appeal to the strong nature of the dragon. But the Orange Dragon, upon testing these dishes, shook his head and demanded something less tough. Collin was running out of options, so at the end of the third week, he had a monkey population and even a kangaroo shipped in from neighboring countries. Could it not be that something new and exotic would please the dragon?
Get this out of here!” bellowed the dragon after both of these dishes had been sampled. So Collin’s last hope had failed after all. “You bring me all this meat! It is sickening me—there is no meat like human flesh. None!” He lowered his voice, and narrowed his dark eyes into slits. “Now find something different, or this experiment will be over. And so might you.”
Too soon, it was the final week of Collin’s trial month. He would die soon; he knew it. One afternoon near the end, he prepared his favorite treats for himself and went to sit in the palace courtyard and eat through his despair. When he heard the Orange Dragon (who often wandered outside) approaching, he didn’t even turn until he heard the ruler stop right behind him.
“What is that?”
“My… lunch?”
“I require a taste.” With that, the Orange Dragon cleaned the bowl and cup, looked Collin in the face, and said, “You are hired—permanently.”
Confused but hopeful, Collin hurried back into the palace and made a larger version of his snack, which he immediately sent to the Orange Dragon. The word that he got back was simply “Good.”
In this way, Collin became the official palace cook. Furthermore, humans breathed more easily at night knowing that only the very worst crime would prompt the death sentence in the future, and the Orange Dragon discovered his immense love of coconut pudding with chocolate cola. Collin still missed his tree house from time to time, but otherwise, everyone lived reasonably happily ever after.
THE END.

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