Dragon

By Witt Widhalm

“Tell me again why you’re tying a leather boot lace to my leg?”

“I didn’t tell you the first time.”

“I know. That’s why I’m asking.”

“If I didn’t tell you the first time, how can I possibly tell you again?”

“Quit with the semantics and tell me why you’re doing this?”

“Because I’m wicked, remember.” That’s me. Wyrman the Wizard. Popularly known these days as the Wicked Wyrm. Though I must say it’s not very popular with me. I pulled the lace a little too tight.

“Oww.”

“Don’t be a wimp,” I said, “That boot lace will save your life twice before this day is done. I’ll bet you a steak dinner on it.”

“What am I going to do with a steak dinner?” He was right. As the world’s only owl wizard, Roryl wasn’t going to be eating steak anytime soon. “Make it a mug of ale and you’re on.”

“You know what you’re like when you drink.” As a human, he’d been the greatest drinker in our wizarding class. As an owl, the last time he’d had any ale it took half a mug to see him under the table, literally. He’d nearly been stepped on. Twice.

“If you’re right then I won’t be the one drinking. So where’s the harm in a little wager?”

He had me there and he knew it. He and I were always wagering on things. Wizard games, spell contests, the local orf ball games. Once, when we were young and inebriated, we wagered on which of us a certain pretty barmaid thought was more attractive. She chose the pig in the barn out back. She may have been right. “Fine,” I said, “You’re on.”

He fussed with the leather on his leg for a few moments while I tied the other end to my left wrist, then picked up the Staff of Many Bruises. This is what I’d named my wizard’s staff. I was attempting to learn how to fight with it as a physical weapon, besides using it for spell casting. I was sure the combination of the two would make me a more formidable opponent, but so far most of the bruises were self-inflicted.

“Where are we going, anyway?” Roryl asked.

I indicated the enormous cave entrance a hundred yards to our north. “In there. I already told you that.”

“Yes,” he said impatiently, “But what is it and why are we going there?”

I sighed. “A dragon lives there. We are being paid quite handsomely to get rid of him.”

As I expected, he bolted. For ten feet, then reached the end of his tether. When he pulled up short he was so surprised he fell to the ground. “Oww!”

At least now I knew the tether would work. I used the end tied to my wrist to pick him up and dust him off. “You’re an idiot, you know that?”

“Me? Who’s the guy who wants to walk into a dragon’s lair and fight a dragon? I’m an idiot? Get this thing off me, no sense both of us getting killed.”

“We won’t be fighting him. At least, not if all goes as planned.”

“Not going to fight him.” This may have scared him even more. “You’re just going to ask him nicely to leave?”

I smiled warmly. “Something like that. But when is the last time I was really nice?”

He sat silently on my shoulder for a moment. “You’ve got a plan, don’t you?”

“No, I thought I’d wing it.” Roryl really hasn’t been the same since I trapped his essence in the owl.

Let me explain. Most of a wizard’s tasks are not accomplished by brute magical force. Sure, it can be done, but it takes a lot out of you. I had spells I could use to try to destroy the dragon, but even if it worked, afterward I’d be so weak a four year old could beat me up and take away my staff. And I could be like that for weeks, maybe months. I’d been that way more than a year once.

No, a wizard who’s worth his staff plans ahead. You make preparations, contingency plans, contingencies for your contingency plans. Then you prepare for the unexpected as well. It’s a little like playing chess, the further ahead you can plan the better you are. Of course, I’m lousy at chess…

“So what’s the plan?”

Everything gathered, I patted my pockets to make sure I had all of my supplies. Then we started for the entrance. “The plan is to walk in and ask him nicely to leave.”

Roryl’s head spun. He does that when he wants to get on my nerves, he knows it bugs me. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The cave turned shortly after entry, getting dark quickly. “Lumen,” I muttered and a light appeared on the end of my staff, illuminating the tunnel ahead. The light was supposed to go out in about a fifty foot radius, but the tunnel never went that far without turning or branching off. We wound in and around, coming to several offshoot caves. We always chose the larger one; we were seeking a dragon, after all. Each time we chose a cave I marked it with a piece of luminous chalk. It was possible we would have to leave in a hurry; it would be good if we didn’t have to search for the way out.

After what seemed a long time in the near darkness the air temperature dropped suddenly. Even without the light you could tell we were approaching a cavern. “This must be the place,” I said as I walked in with Roryl quivering on my shoulder. “Let me know when you see the dragon.”

A deep bass voice growled, “I’m over here.”

I still couldn’t see him and I doubt Roryl did either, but my ever-faithful owl companion made like an arrow for the exit. I timed it perfectly, as he reached the end of the tether I jerked with my left arm, saying “Coward.” Without the extra pull, he wouldn’t have been able to get out of the way of the flick of the dragon’s tail. I looked at my owl friend. “That’s once.”

The bass voice growled again. “You’ve deprived me of my appetizer. Now I’ll have to save him for dessert.”

“You wouldn’t want to do that,” I said. “You’ll get feathers in your teeth. And you’ll taste owl when you belch for the next three days. You don’t really want that, do you?” You’d think it would be hard to hide something the size of a dragon, even in a cavern of this size. But he was a black dragon and he was adept at using the shadows. I knew he was there, I’d seen him vaguely, but it was almost like talking to an empty cavern.

“Perhaps not. But what’s to stop me from having you for dinner. Of course you are rather scrawny.”

“Several things. For one, I’m a wizard. You don’t chew me properly and I’ll throw a firestorm in your belly. You’ll have heartburn for weeks. And, as you well know I’m sure, wizards always give dragons diarrhea. Do you really want to contend with that as well? Heartburn and diarrhea on a draconic scale?”

The dragon didn’t hesitate. “So I just kill you and let the rats eat your bones.”

Roryl chose this moment to regain his senses. “Can we go now?”

“Hush up and stay close,” I told him, “We’re just beginning negotiations.”

“And what, pray tell,” the dragon’s voice rumbled, then echoed off the walls, “Are we negotiating?”

“The terms of your surrender.”

As I had expected, this brought a blast of the dragon’s fiery breath down upon us. You’ll note I said I expected it; I was prepared. The blast broke on my shield spell and spread two yards to our right and left. Roryl would have gotten himself toasted if I hadn’t held on to his right foot. I growled at him, “Now will you stay close?”

“Yes, sir. You’re the boss.” He didn’t mean that for a minute, but at least I had his attention. Now I could return my focus to the dragon.

“Where were we?” I asked calmly. “Ah, yes, the terms of your surrender.”

“Why should I surrender to you?” There was genuine curiosity in his voice. “It would be so much easier to destroy you.”

“How?” I asked with no fear in my voice. “I just turned away your breath, your single most devastating weapon. My hair wasn’t even singed.” Of course, my shield spell was almost completely spent. There was no way I could survive another blast like that. But what the dragon didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. I hoped. “What about you, Roryl?”

“What? Oh, no. Nothing. Big bad dragon didn’t hurt me at all.” He could be really annoying. To him annoying was an art form. This was one of those rare times when I actually approved.

The dragon smiled. You could see the white teeth almost glowing in the darkness. “Your shield spell is nearly spent. And it would be a fairly simple endeavor to physically tear you limb from limb.”

Great, I got the one dragon in a hundred that knew something about magic. “Okay, go ahead and try. But I must warn you, I know where you’re ticklish.”

The dragon’s response was one of surprise. The evil smile had disappeared. “What?”

Roryl turned his head sideways and looked at me incredulously as well. “What?”

Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with children, you have to say things three times before they remember them. “I said I know where you’re ticklish.”

“Who are you?” The bass voice sounded hesitant. My remark had served its purpose. I’d gotten his attention, and we were going to talk rather than fight. At least for the moment.

“I am Wyrman the Wizard.”

“Ah, the Wicked Wyrm. People referred to me that way once upon a time. I had heard you were dead. Killed by Syroll the Savior in your second duel.”

I sighed. “I get that a lot these days.” Syroll and I hadn’t had a first duel yet. Unless you count drinking contests when we were in wizard school. And even then he couldn’t beat me. “And you bear a name that’s seventeen syllables long, so to speed things up a bit I’ll refer to you by the popular usage of Vigar. If that’s okay with you?”

I saw a dark wing move in what I took to be an offhand manner. “That will do. So how do we proceed from here?”

“We have a couple of options. First, we could duel. I slay you and keep the reward and treasure for myself.”

The dragon replied, “I’m not fond of that option. What other choices do we have?”

“We could duel. I wound you and you flee, barely escaping with your life. Again, I keep the reward and treasure for myself.”

“I’m not overly fond of that option either. Continue.”

“The final option is you could leave now, peacefully. I collect the reward and spend the evening hanging out in a tavern with some local maidens with the objective of turning one or more into maids.”

Vigar seemed to ponder for a moment. “How about we duel, I kill you and keep the reward and treasure for myself?”

“That,” I said quickly, “is not an option.”

“And why not?”

“For one thing, I don’t have the reward yet. I don’t get the reward until you’re dead or gone.”

“I see.” Silence reigned for a moment, then he spoke again. “I’ve made my choice. I have no desire to duel with you, wizard. I’m certain you would do me serious harm before I slew you. So, we will not duel. I will allow you and your pet to walk out of here alive. I keep my treasure, your reward goes unpaid, but you leave with your lives.”

When I didn’t immediately respond, Vigar added, “This is a short term offer. I suggest you accept before I change my mind.”

“I too do not wish to duel. It would be long and weaken us both greatly. I will do as you say.”

I turned and slowly retraced my steps to the entrance. Roryl spoke as we were leaving, “But what about the reward?” I walked on in silence.

When I reached the place where an hour earlier we’d stood while I tied a tether to Roryl’s leg, I turned and faced the entrance. Ever inquisitive, he asked, “What are you doing now?”

I raised my hands. “Collecting our reward.” With that I began an incantation. When I had finished, I pointed my arms at the entrance to the cave. The hill started to shake, the rocks shifted and rolled about. Soon there were stones of all size, up to quarter ton boulders rolling about. It was quite impressive if I do say so myself. The end result was I brought the hill down upon the entrance, sealing it shut with a final rockslide.

* * *

It was well after midnight. It was a moonless night, I’d chosen this day for precisely this reason. After collapsing the entrance to the dragon’s cave, I had walked through the foothills for the remainder of the day and much of the night. I’d only stopped about an hour earlier.

“Tell me again why we haven’t gone to town and collected the reward yet?”

“I didn’t tell you the first time. If I didn’t—”

“Yes, yes, I know. If you didn’t tell me the first time you can’t tell me again. But why haven’t we collected the reward for slaying the dragon.”

Vigar’s basso rumbled out of the darkness. “Perhaps because the dragon isn’t dead.”

Startled, Roryl bolted. The tether prevented him from flying blindly into a boulder the size of one of Vigar’s wings. “That’s two. You owe me a mug.” Roryl, lying stunned on the ground, did not respond.

Vigar laughed. It was good to hear the dragon laugh. I hadn’t heard it in such a long time. “He owes you a mug? Still wagering I see. Will you never learn?”

“Ah,” I smiled. “But I have learned. I no longer wager with dragons. Were you able to collect all of your treasure?”

The dragon dropped a large sack in front of me. “All but a few trifles. Feel free to help yourself to what I left. I wouldn’t touch the silver cup, though, it seems to be cursed.”

“I thank you for the warning, but it is needless. The town is paying me quite well to be rid of you, I won’t be returning for that which you chose to leave behind.”

“And I thank you for driving me away. It was time I moved on anyway.”

We were silent for a time, then I asked, “Where will you go?”

“North. I have kin in the Frule Mountains. I can’t live with them, we get on each other’s nerves after a year or two, but I will visit for a time. I’ll move on and find a new home in a few years. And you?”

“I’m headed back to Jorn.”

“Ah, storm the city again. What a great idea.”

“Yes, I’m sure when I leave I will have lost three of the greatest duels of all time.”

Vigar let out a dragon-sized sigh. “You could take him, you know.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but who wants to rule a country? Not I.”

“Well, it was good to see you again old friend. I’ll send word when I’ve found a new home”

I smiled and waved. “Do that. I will stop by and visit. It would be nice to talk once without having to chase you out of your home.”

“Agreed. Farewell.” With that, Vigar leapt into the air and flew out of sight.

Roryl, who had recovered his senses some time ago and had listened to most of the conversation, said in a perturbed voice, “Just what the hell is going on here?”

“I was just saying goodbye to an old friend.” I strained in the darkness, but with no moonlight it was impossible to see the black dragon against the night sky. This was why I’d chosen this night, so his departure would go unnoticed. Last thing he needed was some farmer getting lucky with a bow. And the last thing I needed was someone claiming the dragon I had ‘slain’ was alive.

“But what about all the duel talk and the burying him alive bit?”

I began to gather my things. “Merely a charade to satisfy the townsfolk.”

“What townsfolk? There was no one there but you and me.”

I sighed and wondered for the thousandth time if he would have been this dense if he were still human. “The townsfolk put a large enough bounty on Vigar that some serious dragon slayers were bound to start arriving. He may have had to contend with one or two already, I noticed a new scar on his left flank. Sooner or later one was going to come that was good enough or lucky enough to kill him. This way he leaves with what treasure he wants and I get a nice payoff from the town.”

“What about all of the duel talk? And why did you collapse the cave if he was just going to leave?”

I try to be understanding, but sometimes he really tries my patience. “Sit still, let me remove the tether.” I began to untie the leather as I continued my explanation. “If I didn’t collapse the cave, they would worry he was still alive and send someone looking for him. This way he gets away clean. No one will see a black dragon flying on a moonless night.”

“And the duel talk?”

I sighed. “Once after doing this the townsfolk gave me a truth potion to verify I’d actually slain the dragon. This way I can say I confronted him and when he refused to leave I buried him alive.”

“But he had another exit.”

Once he was freed from the leather I started on the end tied to my arm. “I won’t tell them that. Now please be quiet, I need to get moving. We need to get to the tavern by sunup.” Freed from both Roryl and myself, the leather strap was placed into one of my pockets.

“Why do we need to go straight to the tavern?”

Walking briskly down the hill, I answered. “Two reasons. They make great eggs.”

Roryl had to ask, as I’d known he would. “What’s the other reason?”

I grinned. “It’s been a long night and someone owes me a mug of ale.”

__________________

Witt’s real name is Robert John Widhalm. He prefers Witt, though many people still call him Bob.  Robert is not a popular choice. It’s only used when he‘s done something wrong or he owes someone money.

Witt was born a long time ago in a galaxy not far away. Norfolk, Nebraska to be precise.

He’s an avid reader, particularly of Roger Zelazny and Jim Butcher.  Despite his affinity for Zelazny’s Dilvish the Damned and Butcher’s Harry Dresden, he rates Dune as the single best book he’s ever read.

And he’s the father of two incredibly, wonderfully, fantastically beautiful daughters, but he’s known to be a bit biased.  His favorite way to spend a Friday night is with his daughters, a bowl of popcorn and a B sci-fi movie, the B-er the better.


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