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So, one thing we didn't talk about was the political ramification that'd arise from kingdom A using a dragon in battles.

Kingdom A seems to be able to make the dragon do just about anything they say. The Dragon can rebel to a degree and choose his own method of doing things, but he can't disobey a direct order (without punishment).

The most reliable way to determine if having a dragon would just make more enemies is to look at what nobles and the church are thinking.

A quick rundown on the dragon

Combat value: While nowhere near as malicious or powerful as your typical Smaug, the Dragon is obviously much more powerful than any individual human he may encounter. He usually isn't fighting on the front lines, as his ability to fly allows him to wreak havoc deep within enemy territory then get out fast. So, he usually does stuff like attacking supply lines and tracking enemy movement.

Obviously, the Dragon isn't invincible, he can still get exhausted and poison works on him, though usually to a lesser degree when compared to humans.

Social Standing: Despite that, the Dragon is considered to be a pet at best and a slave at worst. The only people who treat him like an actual person are his handlers, who themselves are nobles, but are still pretty low in the hierarchy.

Reputation outside of combat: While the Dragon indeed likes to appear regal and is actually pretty smart, he's too stubborn and confident for his own good. He also does not understand human social norms often talking down to people that are several rungs above him and sometimes he also ends up being accidentally lewd when he forgets he isn't supposed to sniff strangers, lick friends in the face, or preen them, even if those are perfectly acceptable for dragons.

The general opinion considers him to be a beast/monster that's ultimately below humans. His handlers consider him to be simply childish and the church thinks he's a demon from hell.

Reputation in combat: Though he's willing to spare just about anyone who surrenders (read: runs away), there are three big problems:

  1. If someone manages to make him angry enough (usually by threatening his loved ones), he won't care if they're a noble, or even a king and tear them to shreds.
  2. His breath weapon is concentrated sulfuric acid that's sprayed in a fine mist, while usually not lethal, it can quickly cause permanent eye damage, blindness and lasting respiratory problems. The dragon will use it when his life is in danger, regardless of the target.
  3. Though the Dragon has no incentive to and takes no pleasure from hurting humans, that's completely irrelevant to people who are afraid that kingdom A might send him on terror missions like a Red Wedding.

Other than the Dragon, the setting has no fantastical elements (as far as humans know, there's only one dragon) and is more or less a carbon copy of high medieval Europe.

How could kingdom A minimize the "bad press", using the Dragon would give them?

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    $\begingroup$ So he has the personality of an average house cat...seems legit. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Mar 4 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ You described a lot about the dragon, but not how the society sees dragons. This would determine the exact nature of "bad press". The works of Tolkien, George Martin and Anne McCaffrey show different options. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 4 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ How prevalent are dragons? Are they incredibly rare and therefore mythically terrifying? Or are they a known danger of the world, and therefore dragon hunters are an entirely likely profession? $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Mar 4 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ It's not clear to me why the dragon invokes more bad press than any other method of warfare. It's also unclear why Kingdom A would want to minimize this - it's an advantage if your enemies live in fear of the dragon. If you're talking about bad press within Kingdom A, it seems like a living superweapon would be revered rather than reviled. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Mar 4 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with "political ramifications" is that they can be anything you want them to be. Crazy Count Frankenberry, historically an ally, my have a rabid fear of dragons, and suddenly become an enemy. Meanwhile, scheming Count Chocula, historically a minor threat, may decide to ally himself...in the hopes of selling one of his daughters for a big dowry to Emperor X over the next mountain range. Politics is multi-dimensional, which seems to make this question (as currently written) opinion-based. You can have it come out any way you wish for the plot. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Mar 4 at 23:24
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Other than the Dragon, the setting has no fantastical elements (as far as humans know, there's only one dragon) and is more or less a carbon copy of high medieval Europe.

In medieval Europe, dragons were typically seen as evil and malevolent beings on par with or analogous to demons. In christianity, Satan himself is called a "dragon" in the Book of Revelation which the people of the time would have taken very literally. Best case scenario, dragons would be viewed with the same level of mistrust as black cats, and anyone who tries to domesticate them would risk being accused of witchcraft. Worst case scenario, commanding a dragon would be considered irrefutable proof that you've sold your soul to the devil, and being subsequently tortured to death is pretty much guaranteed. There being only 1 dragon is actually much worse than there being many since people are more likely to assume that the dragon is THE devil rather than a naturally occuring animal that symbolizes the devil.

For a king, the prejudice would be far worse. A world leader who commands the one and only dragon would so closely resemble Christian belief in the end times that religious scholars from across Europe would accuse him of being the Antichrist himself. Fear and superstition would lead to his excommunication, which in Medieval times, strips a leader of the Divine Right of Kings. Without this protection, his enemies would have no qualms about killing him in battle or having him assassinated. Even if he does somehow maintain his status as king, his lords will likely rise up against him given the first chance, and crusades will be launched against him from all across Europe.

A Norse or Muslim King would not be much better off. Pretty much every religion in Medieval Europe considered dragons to be the enemy of both God(s) and man.

How to minimize bad press?

The only really positive depiction of dragons in a medieval setting is the White Dragon. In British mythology, there is the conflict between Albion the White Dragon and Ddraig the Red Dragon. In this mythos, both good and evil are represented by dragons. If your king were to paint his dragon white, he may be able to convince enough people that his dragon is the living embodiment or champion of goodness, and that he must raise this dragon up and make it ready for the day that its evil counterpart arrives.

In this case though, he must be very careful about how he deploys his dragon. If it uses it to raid and destroy his political rivals, the public image of it being a champion of goodness won't last for long. However, if he uses the dragon in religious wars such as the Crusades or the 30 Years War, the dragon could come to be a symbol that God is with the king in question and help him rally allies of the same Creed to help him destroy the heretics/infidels.

Another option to convince people that the dragon is the "good" type is to constrict its use to defensive and political affairs. If the dragon's only military duties are to guard the capital city and greet political guests, then neighboring kingdoms would feel a lot less actively threatened and be more likely to choose an uncomfortable peace than to risk threatening this kingdom to the point that deploying the dragon offensively becomes necessary.

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I'll call the army with the dragon Team Dragon and any army they are opposing Team Toasted.

It's hard to imagine what poor public image Team Dragon could be concerned with. Warfare in this time frame was beyond brutal. Forces sieging a city would hurl carcasses -- animal or human -- over the walls with the hope of starting an epidemic. When bio-war is your starting point, and you pay your troops with the promise of rape and pillage after a city falls, the leaders are not viewing the world through the same lenses of morality and ethics that we judge societies today.

Given that Team Dragon is using the beast in the fashion of a very modern strategic air campaign the number of people that will come in direct contact with it will be small. Assuming some live to tell the tale, the fast strikes and their vulnerability to attack from the sky should cause the moral of draymen and teamsters moving the food and livestock to Team Toasted to be very low. And, if the War on Logistics of Team Toasted is effective, then troops the will likely be very demoralized as well.

I would like this to the US invasion of Iraq in 1991. The month-long air campaign denied the Iraqi soldiers food, water, and fuel. When the ground attack came, most just gave up.

If Team Dragon moves on a city or fortress after cutting off their resupply for a month or two, the city will likely be not inclined to sustain a siege they know they are going to lose. In the 13th century Scottish War's of Independence, the sight of the trebuchet Warwulf would cause fortified cities to surrender. There was no point in fighting if you had no chance of withstanding the siege.

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So, how Team Dragon is perceived politically will be determined by the degree they use their winged WMD directly against the non-fighting folk of the lands that they are attacking. If they minimize the carnage and loss of life and property — and it sounds like they are since they attacking Team Toasted’s supply trains — then I’d think they’ll be regarded more in the vane of Richard the Lionhearted or Henry the IV (Shakespeare’s version) and less like Vlad Tepes or William Longshanks (Braveheart version)

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  • $\begingroup$ <edit reverted> Really? Clearly you (EDL) are not a fan of Orson Scott Card 😛. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Mar 4 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew, I like his writing. Big fan of Ender's game. And I've read most of his books on being a writer. Very influential $\endgroup$ – EDL Mar 4 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ ...well, I see you didn't approve of the obvious chance for an Easter egg in your answer. (That said, I like "Team Toasted". Nice alliteration...) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Mar 4 at 21:56
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Who controls the spice dragon, controls the universe.

The political troubles you have aren't going to be external. As usual, the threat is inside.

The dragon represents a lot of concentrated military, and therefore political, power that resides more or less solely in its handlers. If they tell it to eat the king, will it do it? As the king, do you believe them when they say it wouldn't?

Having a large, organized bloc of military force that can remove the government on a whim is, to put it mildly, not the most stable form of governance. For instance, it gave Rome the Year of the Four Emperors, mostly because of successive emperors displeasing the Praetorian Guard (nominally their bodyguards) and other legions, which led to them being deposed in short order.

Your kingdom could easily devolve into a similarly troubled state. Any tension between the king (or other noble leaders) and the dragon's handlers could erupt into violence. The usual method of smoothing out these troubles is to have so many nobles that anyone who upsets the status quo will almost certainly be hauled back into line by the sheer numbers of the opposition... but in this case the opposition doesn't really matter. Only the dragon matters, at least if you want to continue sleeping in your own bed at night without worrying about a faceful of acid coming through the roof.

Your international political outlook would be similarly rough. If you're the country next to the man-eating dragon, do you really trust them not to invade? Especially when their political situation starts looking dicey? And if you have the opportunity to remove that threat, say by covertly backing the nobles who want to kill the dragon handlers in their sleep, wouldn't you be tempted to take it?

Having too much concentrated military force (viz, a dragon) in one place destabilizes the status quo that a medieval kingdom relies upon. People will fall over themselves to seize control of this power and use it on their rivals, before their rivals do the same to them. And since a dragon (unlike, say, a Roman legion) can't be disbanded or bought off, this cycle seems likely to continue until it dies or escapes into the wild... or someone manages to control a second dragon in a balance of terror.

Edit: since @Nosajimiki was kind enough to point out to me that this question is about solutions rather than problems.

If your world doesn't have enough dragons to go around, you can work on the next step, his handlers. If these people are actually calling the shots - and people trust that they can do that - then "all" you have to do is make them not partisan.

Of course, this is easier said than done. One option might be to gather a diverse set of handlers from around the kingdom, say, one from each noble house. If each house thinks that their scions among the handlers will stop the dragon from attacking them, that might go some way towards calming their fears. However, this solution revolves around the dragon remaining passive if there are conflicting orders from multiple handlers. If the dragon doesn't, this could just make things more dangerous.

Another option is to get someone completely outside the political squabbles of the kingdom. Mercenary fighters were popular for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that they didn't have any loyalty to any particular faction. As long as you paid them, they'd fight for whoever. (This was, incidentally, the eventual solution to the Praetorian Guard problem, with the Eastern Roman Empire phasing out elite local troops for foreign mercenaries like the Varangian Guard.) A group of mysterious foreigners also provides a simple answer to the question of why there aren't any other dragons around: this is the only one that's been brought this far into civilization.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a very good overview of a few ways the dragon could be bad press, but the OP asked about how to counter said bad press. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Mar 5 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Well don't I have egg on my face. I'll leave this up in case it's helpful to someone at some point, but... oops. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Mar 6 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ It's still a good first half to a possibly good answer. You basically liken the Dragon to the Praetorian Guard which lasted for ~300 years; so, if you answer how the Praetorian Guard protected thier own public image through all of its clear abuses of power, then you may be able to answer how to do this with a dragon. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Mar 6 at 15:54

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