Scales and Fire

Scales and Fire

by Jeff Soesbe

 

After I roasted the apothecary, his wife started talking.

“Bani… Lady Dragon… I swear,” she stammered, staring at the thick green grass under her feet. “I don’t know who bought the poison. My husband takes care of the customers.”

“Your husband isn’t talking any more, Rikilde.” I exhaled smoke towards the smoldering heap of flesh and bone that used to be Theobald the Apothecary. “Not that he was doing any talking in the first place. Just insults and bragging about poisoning the dragon.”

I hadn’t meant to roast Theobald so quickly. But I’d hated that belligerent, offensive lout since I’d arrived in Luttendorf four years ago. He was a dark stain on the village I’d worked so hard to help prosper.

After spending the last three days wracked with fever and pains, fire and acid vomiting from both ends of me because Theobald had decided to poison my sheep, I’d had enough.

Rikilde sniffled. Her pale lips quivered. Tears dripped from her face onto the lush hillside where I’d brought her and Theobald after snatching them from behind their shop.

“Are you going to kill me too, Royal Dragon?”

“No,” I said, softly.

She gasped and fell to the ground in gratitude. “Oh, thank you Royal Dragon, thank you!”

Such a pitiful thing. Married off to Theobald for money at sixteen years of age. Her future would have been hard work and beatings until she died, while he entertained himself with carousing and lechery.

Not anymore. Theobald was done. No regrets about that.

“But stand up,” I said. “I need your help.”

Her sobs subsided as she rose. “How?”

“Someone hired Theobald to poison me. You do all the work in that shop. Do you remember any different customers? Anything out of the ordinary?”

“Yes.” Her bright eyes met mine. “About seven days ago, Theobald sent me into the back for aconite and spider’s milk. He said it was special, for a wealthy customer.”

There were indeed brains behind that meek exterior. I gave a silent thanks that Theobald was so sloppy. Those two ingredients, in the right combination, were lethal to dragons. If Rikilde had made the poison, she would have done it right and I’d be raven food right now.

“Who was the customer?”

“I don’t know. But, when I went outside two knights were standing at the side of the house throwing dice.”

“Knights,” I growled. Not good.

“Their shields were yellow and purple. In the middle was a lion holding a sword and standing like this.” She lifted up her left foot and pointed her right arm forward.

Alphonsus the Clothier knew shields. I’d be going back to the village after this.

Rikilde was sharp. And she held her own with me looming over her, unlike most villagers meeting me for the first time who hadn’t yet realized I was one of the nice dragons.

“You’ve been a big help, Rikilde. You can go back to the village. You’re the apothecary now.”

“Me?”

“Yes. You can do it. You dealt with me, right? If anyone has a problem with Rikilde the Apothecary, tell them to talk to me.”

“Yes, fair and noble dragon.”

“Just call me Bani.” She’d earned it.

“Yes, Dragon Bani. Thank you.”

“Now go.”

At first, she ran down the hillside towards the village. But after a couple dozen strides, she slowed down and walked, back straight, head held high. Good for her.

I had more business in the village, with Alphonsus. But first, I was cranky and hungry and in front of me was a pile of burned meat that shouldn’t go to waste.

I ate Theobald.

As I expected he was gristly and soft, without any flavor.

And overcooked.

Circling over the village, crisscrossing the main plaza like a eagle chasing prey, I finally spied Alphonsus.

I dove down, zeroing in on him as villagers scattered toward buildings.

Carefully, I plucked him up and carried him to the wheat fields north of us, stopping in an open area next to the water channel. As I landed he glared at me and brushed dirt and grass from his previously immaculate clothes.

“Really, Bani? The old snatch-and-fly? You haven’t done that in forever, and now twice in one day.”

“Too many people, Alphonsus. I needed to keep this quiet.”

“You’d better not have torn this beautiful cloak.” He pulled a length of fabric from behind him and nitpicked over the fabric. “I still remember when you put a giant tear in the brocade of my winter cape that was impossible to repair. Mind you, I did rework it into a scarf and a headdress which I sold for a nice sum to two traveling ladies, but still. Furthermore, just now I was right in the middle of arranging a deal for a nice tapestry -”

“I’m sorry,” I snapped.

“Oh, is this a day for killing villagers? You killed Theobald.”

Information spread fast in the village, as usual.

“Theobald has needed killing for a long time.”

“Well, that’s certainly true,” he said with a tsk-tsk sound.

“And someone hired Theobald to try to kill me.” I growled and spurts of fire singed the ground.

Alphonsus danced to the side, nervous look on his face. “You think I have some part of this? Bani, you and I and this town have a very profitable relationship. Information, scales, theatre, money. I’m not stupid enough to mess that up, unlike Theobald.”

“I know,” I grumbled. No need to take my anger out on my best contact. “Knights visited Theobald a week ago. Their shields were purple and yellow with a lion, leg up, holding sword.”

“Hm.” He paced back and forth, stroking his beard. “Purple and yellow for coloring, lion rampant, dagger presentation. Of course, if we were back at my shop… ”

Impatient smoke swirled from my nose towards him.

He snapped his fingers. “Yes. The Knights of the Order of Saint Ehrlich. Based in Edenburg.”

Curse the rain. Edenburg was the home of Shathyss. The one time I went to Edenburg, I barely got out with my life.

“Excuse me, Bani.” Alphonsus stood with arms crossed, the brocaded tip of his right shoe bobbing up and down in impatience. “Are we done here? I have business.”

“Yes.”

Alphonsus held out his hand. “Payment, please.”

Using my claws, I scraped a loose scale from my front limb and flicked it over to him.

Holding it in the morning sun, he smiled. “Just lovely. Sapphire, with a rainbow reflection. This would look wonderful set in a brooch against onyx. Yes, with a gold filigree. I bet Lord Sewall would pay a pretty price for – ”

“You’re in a hurry.” I held out my claw. “Jump in, and I’ll take you back.”

“Oh, no thank you. I’ll just walk back. Good day, Bani.”

Like a mountain cat, he spun and hurried down the path next to the ditch. His cloak waved in the light breeze. Sunbeams cut through the grain stalks, reflected off the flowing cloth, and produced glittery sparkles and shines that caught my eye.

It was indeed a beautiful cloak.

As beautiful as sun reflecting off scales. Scales of a young male dragon, say. A very pretty young male dragon, sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean, flexing his wings, looking fetchingly at me over his left shoulder, his bright grey eyes inviting me to come flying with him over a jade blue sea, to a small island where waves beat unceasingly against the shore and foam cascaded through the air, a small island where we could be alone, and there we could –

Great Mother’s Egg! What was I doing?

Oh no.

Crankiness, upset stomach, hunger, a general all-over feeling of energy going in the wrong directions.

I wasn’t just suffering from the poisoning.

I was in my reproduction cycle.

I’d been alone since coming to Luttendorf, and constantly busy since then. I had no time for romance or sex.

I wasn’t going to have time now. I had a poisoner to find and to punish.

I pushed off hard from the ground, wind biting into my eyes and clearing my thoughts, and turned towards my cave. If I was going to meet up with the most powerful dragon within seven days’ flight, I needed to bring something as tribute.

Food worked just fine.

Rule number one of being a dragon: Don’t intrude into another dragon’s territory.

When my mother first kicked me out of our cave and made me find my own way in this world, I went looking for a place to call my own. A town without a dragon, one that I could attach myself to and, in exchange for protection and assistance, the town would give me tribute and tasty lambs and goats.

But I was brash, and young, and full of myself. I didn’t want just any old small village. I wanted a big town with clean buildings, beautiful lush golden fields, and a church with a tall spire. A town that was worthy of me.

I found all that in Edenburg. At the intersection of two trade roads, on a broad sparkling river, Edenburg had multiple central plazas busy with people, wide vast grain fields, clusters of cows grazing on lush grass, and the smell of bread baking and meat cooking. All nestled against the Smaragd Mountains. Edenburg was perfect.

I strode into town, plopped down in a plaza, and announced myself as the resident dragon.

What I hadn’t known, and hadn’t bothered asking about, was that Edenburg already had a dragon.

Shathyss.

The next day, I was soaring over the town looking for another sheep to nab for my ever hungry stomach. Suddenly flames engulfed me, something big tackled me from the back, and I was dragged into the Smaragd. After that was a lot of burning and beating, all from the largest dragon I’d ever seen. Stathyss extracted from me a promise to never come back and left me sprawled on a crag of rock on the other side of the mountains.

I crawled until I could walk, walked until I could take small hopping glides, and slowly flew away. After days blurred by hunger and pain, I found Luttendorf.

The people there were kind and didn’t have a dragon. They took me in and I, in turn, took care of them, protecting them against marauders, providing shows for traveling lords and ladies, staging fights against wandering knights, dispensing fire and wind and justice when needed. All in exchange for regular deliveries of sheep and goats. I never went near Edenburg again.

Until now.

I didn’t want to return to Edenburg. But I needed to. Someone tried to kill me. I had to know why.

Dragon killing was the one subject that could make allies out of dragons. Dragon killing and two plump, juicy goats from my private herd. Slowly I soared towards the Smaragd Mountains, nerves gnawing at my heart and stomach, as the goats bleated their concern.

By the time I crested the last of the Smaragd and caught the river to Edenburg the goats had quieted down, perhaps resigned to their fate. I, however, was a twitchy collection of nerves and concern.

The tall church spire emerged from the glare of the early afternoon sun. But it was dirty, stones missing in the facade, and on the edge of crumbling. The other buildings in town had the same look: falling apart, dotted with dark charred pieces. The fields were a patchwork of brown and bare areas burned to the ground. No smells of bread and meat, just smoke and dust.

What had happened to Edenburg? To Stathyss? Had whatever tried to kill me succeeded here?.

Two peasants in tattered clothes crouched in a makeshift hut on the edge of a field with a few thin stalks. I swooped down and hovered over them, wind fraying the edges of their roof.

“No,” a woman shouted as she waved her hands at me. “No more dragons. Leave us be!”

“I’m not here to hurt you.”

“That’s what dragons all say.”

“Where’s Stathyss?”

“She’s where she always is. Holed up in her cave in the mountains.” She pointed east.

“Just what we need”, said her companion, a gaunt man with missing teeth and face marked with sores. “Yet another dragon.”

I flew back to the east. If Stathyss was injured, or perhaps weakened by poison, she could use my help. Hopefully it would keep her from tearing me apart.

The cave was easy enough to find. Set into the base of a large cliff, in front of it was a flat plain dotted with remains of cows and pigs and sheep.

I landed a respectable distance from the cave entrance. The goats squealed. They smelled another dragon. So did I.

“Stathyss? It is Bani, from Luttendorf. Are you there? I want to help you.”

Shuffling and snorting echoed from inside the cave.

What emerged from the cave was not the imposing Stathyss, but a smaller, young, male, dragon. A very pretty young male dragon. The kind of dragon that I would like to watch fly.

Pleasing to the eye, and to the urges swelling inside me, but not who I wanted right now.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

Slowly he sauntered from the cave entrance towards me, sunlight dancing off his scales. He knew he was pretty.

“You’re out of your territory, Bani of Luttendorf. What do you want?”

A pretty male with a pretty big attitude. As usual.

“I’m here to see Stathyss. There’s danger to us both. All three of us, if I bother to include you. I brought two goats for her.”

A deep voice echoed. “Let’s see these goats.”

A burst of fire spewed from the mouth of the cave followed by Shathyss, snorting smoke trails that curled around her face.

The terror of our encounter four years ago rushed back at me, like it was fresh and new. I took a step back, despite myself.

She strode towards me, and I noticed the uncertainty in her step, the fading of the color in the scales around her face. The last few years hadn’t been kind to Stathyss. She seemed smaller than I remembered. Still imposing, but vulnerable.

“Young, brash, Bani,” she huffed in between coughs. “Looking for trouble again?”

“I want to talk. In peace.” I watched her carefully. “I brought two goats for you.”

I shoved the goats forward. They froze when confronted with Stathyss, then ran into the gap between us and went sideways

Stathyss grabbed at them, twice, and missed both times. Not as quick as she used to be.

But just when the goats looked to have escaped, she exhaled a long narrow flame that enveloped them both. The smell of expertly cooked goat billowed around me. Stathyss stumbled over to the goats and gobbled them both up, a few bites for each.

The male dragon watched, hungrily. Looked like Shathyss didn’t share too often.

“You have your peace, Bani. Talk.”

“Someone tried to poison me. The poisoner was hired by a person traveling with two knights from the Order of Saint Ehrlich.”

“Those knights,” she coughed. “They’ve been trouble here for us. Sounds like they decided to find another target.”

“I want to know who hired them. I figured I should ask you first.”

“You figured right.” She settled down on her haunches. The male dragon nestled into her side, a smirk on his face.

Stathyss thought for a while, licking the last bits of goat from the edges of her mouth.

“Go talk to them,” she said. “Feel free to burn them if you want. Can’t have dragon poisoners running around.”

“Where are they?”

“They usually camp in the Lichtenwald forest, along one of the bends in the north fork of the river. Freizos knows where to go”. She nudged the young male to standing. “Freizos, help Bani with her problem.”

Freizos grinned. “Of course, my queen.”

Having a pretty young dragon full of attitude was a complication. But I wasn’t going to argue with Stathyss.

Stathyss turned her back on the both of us and lumbered back into the cave, coughing smoke all the way.

“Well, Freizos, lead the way.”

Freizos grinned then leapt into the air, wings beating. I followed, taking a position above him. Since we were going north, the afternoon sun would highlight his back and wings and give my urges free rein to admire him.

I was right. I did like watching him fly.

We made good time back to town, then caught a cool breeze from the South that would take us along the river towards the forest. On second viewing, Edenburg was a bad as it seemed earlier. Houses burned or decrepit, filth in the streets, central plazas virtually empty.

Freizos glistened in the sun as we glided, and I fell into daydreams of islands, and surf, and caves, and other things involving dragons.

Mother’s eye! Stay focused, Bani.

I dropped down to fly at Freizos’s left

“Freizos, what happened to Edenburg? Last time I was here, it was beautiful and busy.”

“Those stupid peasants. They don’t know how to treat a dragon. I’ve had to crack the tail and bring the flames with them a lot.”

“You?” Standard behavior for young male dragons usually wasn’t much more than lie around a cave, eat, and look pretty. “What about Stathyss?”

“She stays at the cave. She’s doesn’t get around like she used to. Good thing I came along three seasons ago, isn’t it?”

Mostly, male dragons fly around from town to town, looking for an available female to take care of them in exchange for those things a male dragon offers. I’d had a few come by Luttendorf in the past. I ran them off. And, putting a male in charge of a town definitely did not happen. Freizos wasn’t helping Edenburg at all.

Give him credit for trying, but what he needed was a strong female to rein him in. Staring into his bright purple eyes, feeling the pull of reproduction and loneliness, I was wondering if maybe I could be that female.

“Fair Bani,” Freizos said. “Have you fought knights before?”

“Yes, both for sport and for real.”

“I don’t like knights,” he said, his voice quivering. “They have pointy things that slip nicely in between a dragon’s scales. And sometimes they’re coated in poison.”

Dragons and knights have complicated relationships. Staged, dramatic battles can be a real draw for travelers, and a source of good money. But there’s a history that neither side forgets, and a staged battle can get real fast. There were also the knights looking to make a name for themselves by killing a town’s dragon. Like the Knights of St. Ehrlich.

“You just have to be careful, Freizos. Keep your eyes open.”

“Good thing I have big strong Bani here to protect me.”

Freizos fluttered his wingtips and batted his eyes.

For egg’s sake. Playing the charming young male with maximum effort, he was pretty and unsubtle. This one had promise, but a lot to learn.

I caught the scent of campfires and meat cooking. Tearing myself away from Freizos’s eyes, I scanned the forest. Smoke curled up from the trees to our left.

I pointed. “There’s their camp. No surprises here. We’ll pass over them high, then swoop down low and land in that clearing by the river just south of the smoke. Follow me. I’ll do all the talking.”

“Certainly, big strong Bani. As you say.”

Freizos did some extra wing fluttering and grinning, but my mind was on other things as we angled towards the smoke.

When we first flew over, the knights were gathered around a big fire in the center of a circle of brown tents. When we came down low, everyone was in armor with weapons and watched us very carefully. Not a good start.

We landed in the clearing. Freizos shuffled to stand behind me.

“I’m Bani from Luttendorf. I’m not here to fight. I want to talk,” I shouted into the trees. “I have permission of Stathyss. Freizos, her mate, is with me.”

“I’m not really her mate,” Freizos whispered to me. “She’s hasn’t formally-”

“Quiet, Freizos.”

“Just letting you know.”

A voice from the pines on the other side of the clearing. “What do you want, dragon Bani?”

“I need some information. I ask for peace. Who is your leader?”

A large man in dark armor emerged from the trees, sword and shield at the ready. Two knights moved to flank him. One held a long lance with a thick green fluid dripping from the tip. I caught a hint of fresh aconite.

“The lance is poisoned, Freizos. Be careful.”

“Will do,” he said in a quiet voice.

The knights’ shields were purple and yellow with a lion standing tall, sword held high. Definitely the ones who visited Theobald.

The large knight put his sword in the scabbard, then flipped up his visor to reveal a craggy, scarred face with a thick red beard. He’d certainly fought a few dragons in his lifetime, and lived to fight again. My respect for him grew.

“I am Sir Konrad von Scheutzel, leader of the Knights of Saint Ehrlich. Dragon Bani of Luttendorf, you have pax.”

The faint clink of armored bodies carried from the trees. The other knights were close by. I needed to be careful, or this could go bad. Fast.

“Someone tried to poison me. The poisoner was hired by a person using your knights as bodyguards. I want to know who it was.”

Konrad’s mouth set into a straight line, and his eyes shifted back and forth, like he was considering something.

“I’m not blaming you,” I said slowly. “You were just doing business. Who hired you?”

“Our clients must remain secret.” He lowered his visor.

My anger rose. “All I want is a name.” I took a step towards Sir Konrad. The lance and both swords tilted up. “This doesn’t have to get nasty.”

Konrad’s eyes, just visible through the slit in his visor, shifted to the left.

I turned.

Three knights ran out of the trees, swords raised, screaming, and way too close.

I burned the ground at their feet to hold them off for a second, then turned and whipped my tail across their legs, scattering them. I aimed low. I didn’t want to kill them. Yet.

“Freizos. Back me up.” No reply. “Freizos?”

I glanced back. No Freizos. Curse that boy. He’d run at the first sign of trouble.

The knight with the lance charged. I immolated the lance from his hand, stench of burning aconite scalding my nose, then head butted him and sent him tumbling backwards.

Konrad raised his sword. Before he could strike I reared up, grabbed him in my right claw, knocked the sword away with my left, and pinned him to the ground.

“Anybody moves,” I shouted at the clustered knights. “Anything else flies in my direction, Konrad goes up in flames then I torch down this forest and kill and eat each and every one of you. No one is dead yet. Let’s keep it that way.”

Konrad squirmed in my grasp, trying to move his sword.

I looked him in the eyes and suppressed the urge to bite his head off right now. “Right now, Sir Konrad, I’m willing to let you live even though you broke pax. If you cooperate. Tell them to stop.”

With a resigned look, he took a deep breath and spoke forcefully. “Knights. Cease.”

Armor clattered as swords and shields lowered.

“Thank you for being reasonable. What in the sky is going on here?”

“As you said, Dragon Bani, business. We were hired to have you killed. Thought poison would do it, but that apothecary in Luttendorf was incompetent.”

“The apothecary is now in my stomach. I’m sure you’d like to avoid his fate?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s try again. I’m going to let you up.”

I backed up out of sword range, keeping a little chuff of fire flowing from my nose. Peace was uncertain. Without Freizos I was in a rough spot.

A tough silence sat on us all as Sir Konrad got up and took off his helmet. These knights had broken pax and attacked two dragons, one of them the mate of their town dragon. Sure Freizos ran, but they didn’t know he would.

Or did they?

Of course. This meeting was a trap. Freizos led me to the knights and left them to take care of me, after the poison didn’t work. The whole thing was organized by one dragon.

“Stathyss hired you. Right?”

Konrad let a grim laugh. “Through Freizos, yes.”

“But why?” Stathyss had everything, why go after me?

“Far be it from me to know the minds of dragons,” Konrad said. “I do know life isn’t good here. Stathyss takes and takes. She doesn’t fulfill her duties. Every year we have more problems with crime and raiders. Then she brings in that young Freizos, and lets him run free. We’re having trouble supporting one dragon, much less two. Never mind potential baby dragons.”

With me gone, Stathyss could take Luttendorf and leave Freizos here to run Edenburg, ruining my village as well.

“I didn’t like the proposal,” Konrad said. “But it’s her town. She makes the deals.”

“Mother’s egg!” Fury welled up in me like flames. I wanted to rampage and burn it all down. Knights, forest, Edenburg.

But that was the wrong focus of my anger. Stathyss was the problem. Revenge was the answer.

Even if Stathyss seemed old and decrepit she was still big and bad and tough and she had another dragon at her side. If I was going to beat them, I needed some help.

“Sir Konrad, what if I offered your knights a new deal?”

He smiled. “I think I’d much rather do business with you than with Stathyss.”

“It’s going to be dangerous.”

“Good.”

We started planning.

Stathyss and Friezos were waiting for me when I returned to her cave, bleating ram clutched in my left claw.

I landed far enough away that I’d catch any sudden moves on their part.

Freizos had a look of impressed surprise on his face. Stathyss was as impenetrable as before.

“Well,” she grumbled. “Find your dragon killer?”

“Yes. The knights didn’t give me any trouble.”

“Maybe you’re tougher than I thought.”

I was. I knew it. I could leave now, but Stathyss would just keep coming after me. There was only one way this could go.

“Stathyss, thank you for your help. I brought you this fine ram.”

The ram dashed away me and straight towards Stathyss and Freizos.  It had only a moment to realize its mistake before Stathyss toasted it.

Mouth agape, she approached the ram.

Please just eat it, I thought.

She stopped, took a long inhalation, then glared at me as she burned it up to ash. “Aconite. Not much of a thank you.”

So much for the easy solution. “One poisoning deserves another.”

“Freizos,” she growled to her side. “Take care of her.”

Freizos walked out between us, looked at me, looked at Stathyss, then turned to the side and flew a short distance away. “I’m going to wait and see what happens.”

“Males,” Stathyss chuffed.

I laughed darkly. Stathyss joined. This was business for female dragons. We both knew it.

Keeping a careful distance, we circled each other.

“You tried to have me killed, Stathyss. Dragons don’t plot against dragons.”

“You haven’t seen enough of the world, girl,” Stathyss roared. “If you were going to be around any longer, you’d learn the way things really work.”

She was trying to get Freizos at my back, and I didn’t trust him enough to let that happen. If I was going to win this, I needed to act first.

I rushed her, fire first, then claws.

She responded, a great gout of flame that just singed my ears as I jumped to the side.

I tried to get at her belly. She caught me with a shallow slash down my left foreleg that burned and brought tears to my eyes. I slipped away before she could cut me more.

Not good enough, Bani. You need to be quicker.

Relentlessly, she charged me again and again. I danced in all directions, catching her legs and face with quick shots of fire. She was trying to back me up against the forest.

Good thing that was where I wanted to go.

She charged hard. This time, I slipped under her wing and aimed for her tail. She thrashed out her back foot and caught me in the haunch, tearing deep. My vision swirled as I tried to focus against the pain. Get the tail, Bani.

I grabbed her tail in my mouth, dirty hard scales rasping against my tongue, and dragged her around.

I was uphill and her back was to the forest.

She reared up, and I grabbed her front legs, keeping her back exposed.

“Now,” I roared, around a mouth full of Stathyss’ tail.

Three knights charged from the forest, holding lances with tips dripping green. Two of them caught Stathyss square in the back and plunged in deep.

She screamed. Fire seared from her mouth past my face, temporarily blinding me.

I stumbled, and we fell side by side.

My eyes cleared. Her open mouth was in front of me. Fire bellowed up from her belly.

I ducked, fast, grabbed her throat, and bit down hard.

Two teeth broke as I tasted blood.

“Bani,” someone shouted.

I glanced to see Sir Konrad beside me, holding a sword dripping with poison.

Grabbing the hilt with my tail, I whipped the sword around and into Stathyss’s chest again and again until it slipped between two scales and into her heart.

She fell backwards, strength fading quickly.

“Nice work, kid,” she gasped. “You were tougher than I thought. Good luck. You’ll need it.”

She coughed out two small bursts of fire and smoke, then sagged into a lump.

I held her throat in my mouth until I could no longer feel her blood beating.

Finally, I let go and staggered backwards a few steps before falling down.

It was over. I did it. I beat Stathyss and was still alive. Pride and relief gave me a little energy, then exhaustion took hold.

Freizos sauntered up. “I knew you could beat her.”

A weak laugh escaped me. “Sure you did.”

“What happens now?”

“I’m going to drink, eat, rest, and then I’m going home. In a couple days I’ll come talk to the town leaders. See how I can help.”

“And me?”

Freizos was eager to please, I could see it on his face. With some work, he could turn into a reasonable companion. And, he certainly had pretty wings.

“I’ll think about it. For now, get the knights and bring me a couple sheep and some water.”

“You’ve got it, Queen Bani.”

Queen Bani. I liked the sound of that. Bringing Edenburg back to life would be a lot of effort, especially without neglecting Luttendorf. Freizos could learn to help. And one, day maybe there could be a daughter to share the work.

But this was too much thinking right now.

I sat back, took a good deep breath, and burned some fire into the air over the dead body of Stathyss, my red joining the streaks that crossed the evening sky as the sun set on a long, hard, day.

_______________

When Jeff Soesbe isn’t writing stories, he writes software and simulations for subsea robots, runs math contests for students, coaches math teams, and goes on bike rides along the American River. Jeff’s stories have appeared in Diabolical Plots (upcoming), Factor Four, Andromeda Spaceways, and Flash Fiction Online. Jeff is a graduate of the Viable Paradise Writing Workshop (Elevensies!). He is currently at home in Northern California with his pandemic roommate, Taz the border collie mix.

 

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