“What do you mean... dragon?” asked Laney.
They were all fixated on the large shape wheeling around, occasionally blotting out the sun. I was tempted to slowly back away and hope they were too engrossed in the air show. Unfortunately, the women had formed a ring around me and were still pointing their swords in my general direction.
“You don’t know what a dragon is?” I said.
“I know what a dragon from a storybook is, but they aren’t real.” Laney had one hand on her hip and the other shielding her eyes. I guess you’d want to make sure you were really seeing what you thought you were seeing, but the shape in the sky wasn’t exactly ambiguous. It was a fucking dragon.
“It’s real. There’s loads of them in Monsterland, or there were. I guess they’re looking for a new home now.”
“In her own way, she is magnificent,” said Guardian Telma.
“It’s a he, not a she,” I said.
This news upset Telma, although I’m not sure why. I was just stating a fact. “Just because it is big and strong you assume it must be male.”
“Er, no. I assume it’s male because the females don’t have wings, except when they’re mating, and that one isn’t shagging at the moment, so it’s a he.”
Telma glared at me. Sometimes being right isn’t as important as not getting stabbed in the face with a sword, so I stopped talking. Look how mature I’ve become.
“Are they… dangerous?” asked Laney.
“Yes. Very. You remember Jenny? She got half her face burned off by one of those things.”
“They breathe fire?” said one of the women, scoffing. “You expect us to believe that?”
“No, they don’t breathe fire, they spit acid. And your armour won’t stop it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just wait for it to come down and find out for yourself.”
We were in something of a standoff. We weren’t challenging each other physically (not much of a contest there), this was more about who had more authority. They had the muscles and the swords but I had my knowledge of the world outside of their little settlement. I think they resented the implication that I knew more than they did, as any big-headed control freak would.
Personally, I would have been happy to keep my lights hidden under the nearest bushel and let them take charge, but I really didn’t want to go back with them. I didn’t know what the official motto of their city was, but unofficially I had made it ‘Whatever gets cut off in Requbar, stays in Requbar.’
Eunuch, as a lifestyle choice, did not appeal to me. I don’t want you to think I’m transphobic. Live and let live. You live how you want, and I’ll live how I want—with my balls attached.
Obviously, I was jumping to conclusions. I didn’t know how their culture worked or exactly what kind of eunuchs they had. For all I knew, it may have been a euphemistic term. Perhaps eunuchs were just men who made a vow of chastity, like Catholic Priests. Perfectly harmless, right?
“I think it’s getting lower,” said one of the women. None of them could take their eyes off it, which was understandable. It was quite a sight, if you hadn’t already seen it a number of times. And flown on them. And seen Flossie treating them like oversized poodles.
“It’s probably coming in for a landing,” I said.
“Why?” said Laney, sounding a little tremulous. The closer it got, the bigger it became, which might sound like stating the blindingly obvious, but you don’t really understand the scale of the thing until it gets close up.
“For dinner, I expect.” Which was more than likely. Although I left out the part about them being herbivores and more interested in the grass we were standing on than us. “You should take the Princess back to Requbar.”
“And what will you do?” asked Telma, still fifty percent sneering at me. “Fight it barehanded?”
“I’ll take care of it however I can. I assume your main job is to keep Her Royal Highness safe. Imagine how well it’s going to go down when you have to report you let her get killed. Think they’ll give you a medal for doing your best?”
Guardian Telma showed the first signs of doubt. She clearly valued her job and her honour or whatever it was violent thugs used as an excuse for killing people around here.
“Will you really fight off a dragon on your own to protect me?” said Laney, hearts in her eyes. The idea of someone doing something completely insane was clearly a turn on for her. “You are a strange and wonderful man, Colin the Loser.”
I felt like telling her she was a deranged and demented lunatic, but it would only encourage her.
Telma, at least, was keeping her machismo in check. The idea of losing a princess on her watch was enough to take her focus off me and onto Laney’s safety.
“We will leave,” said Telma. “We will all leave.”
“And lead it back to your city? Have you any idea the kind of damage a dragon can do? There won’t be calling it the Garden City after he’s finished with it, I can tell you that for certain.” Mainly because the flying cow would eat all their hydrangea and devour all the chrysanthemums. I’d seen the way those things munched through a meadow. No flora was safe.
They were still hesitant to go for whatever reason, although I could sense them wavering. It probably wasn’t my convincing words that put the willies up them, more the fact they were facing the unknown and they had no idea how to proceed. You can train for a lot of things, but not the unexpected.
“You better hurry,” I said. “It’s definitely coming down, and it looks hungry.”
I wasn’t lying, it really did look ravenous. I think it even licked its lips. It was a particularly big one, perhaps even the one Flossie had flown.
There was no sign of any Mezzik. They didn’t normally leave one of their dragons unattended, which was a pity. The Mezzik looked up to Flossie, the Dragonrider, and would have treated me with deference for her sake (by which I mean they wouldn’t have killed me). It occurred to me that maybe Flossie had sent it to find me, but that was just wishful thinking. She and the others would have been on its back if that were the case.
The dragon stretched out its wings, slowing its huge mass and it softly landed on the other side of the field, kicking up clouds of dirt. The ground shook despite the air breaks. It really did look like a monster from a storybook and any sane person would shit their pants, if they didn’t know it fed on grass and wasn’t interested in much else.
“Run!” I shouted at them. “Get her away from here. Tell them to batten down the hatches and man the walls.” I tried to sound like the noble hero sacrificing himself for the good of others, but I didn’t have much experience in that sort of thing, so I don’t know how convincing I was. “Raise the barricades, cover the roses with netting!”
The dragon generously helped out by making a weird cawing roar—probably in delight at all the juicy grass he’d found—and the women legged it. They had to grab Laney and drag her off as she tried to run towards me so that we could die together and be immortalised in a ballad. Ode to a Half-baked Fruitcake.
I waited until they were almost to the trees and then I ran towards the dragon. He was happily munching through the dandelions and only gave me a cursory glance. My hope was he would recognise me as a friend of the Dragonrider’s. Flossie had been the only one to fly one of these things, but I just needed it to get me away from Castration Central. I’d rather risk a faceful of acid than my testicles in a doggy-bag.
I slowed as I got nearer and tried to make myself as non-threatening as possible, which meant just being myself. The dragon stopped eating and swivelled one eye in my direction. It was like a deer at a lake pausing at the sound of a snapped twig.
“Hey, there,” I said, sounding like an idiot. “Remember me?”
There had been a whole field full of them back in Monsterland and I hadn’t introduced myself to them individually, but I was counting on them having some ability to recognise friend from foe. Maybe I smelled like Flossie. I made a note to rub myself against her next time I saw her. For science.
The dragon tilted its head, made a mooing sound, and then went back to eating. I took that as a good sign.
I looked around. There was no sign of the women, but even if they were watching from behind the treeline they wouldn’t be able to reach me before we took off, assuming I could get the dragon airborne.
The dragon’s tail was swishing about, but I awkwardly clambered onto it as it passed and crawled up onto its back. This was a lot easier when Flossie and the Mezzik were around to calm them down. My journey along its back and to the neck was a little haphazard and mostly on all fours, but I got there in the end. The dragon was too busy enjoying lunch to care about the gnat on its back.
The neck had large ridges along it, like a series of shark fins, and not very comfortable to sit between. I finally understood why Flossie was the Dragonrider—extra padding around the bum would have been great about now.
I wedge my bony arse into the gap between ridges and felt like I was being violated, and not in the good way.
“Alright, boy. Let’s go.” I slapped my hanging legs against the neck like a cowboy (like a cowboy in a movie, obviously—fuck knows what real cowboys do). Nothing happened. I tried again and dug my heels in this time. Mistake.
The dragon reared its head up and shook itself a wet dog. I wrapped my arms and legs around the neck as tightly as I could, but it was like being on a rodeo bull. I went flying through the air.
I landed in a heap, but these days a little fall like that isn’t a big deal. I rolled to a stop and spat weeds out, possibly some insects. I sat up in time to see a bulge running up the dragon’s throat. I knew what that meant and got to my feet. Time to do some running of my own.
The spray of acid was millimetres behind me. I could feel specks hit the back of my trousers and sting my skin. I threw myself out of the way in what must have looked like quite a spectacular dive, or it would have been if I hadn’t been trying to dodge dragon puke.
The grass around me instantly melted as pools of acid turned it to sludge. The acrid smell curled the hairs in my nose.
The dragon, unaware it was a weapon of mass destruction, sucked down the sludge like homemade soup. I’d forgotten just how disgusting their eating habits were. Couldn’t they just chew their cud on the inside like a regular cow?
“That was amazing!”
I turned to see Laney peering out from the tall grass that was just out of range of the acid.
“What are you doing here,” I hissed at her. “Where are your useless bodyguards.” I couldn’t believe she’d given them the slip.
“We came back to help you,” said Guardian Telma. Her face appeared next to Laney’s. “Honour forbids us to run from a fight, even if it’s one we cannot win.”
The other women’s faces emerged. Of all the places I could have landed, why did I have to end up in the valley of the annoying dolls?
“I saw you,” said Laney, eyes wide and twinkling. “You wrestled the dragon. You are the Dragon Slayer!”
Probably something she’d read in a book. The last thing I needed was her thinking I was some kind of mythical hero. Let them think you killed a dragon and you know what happens next? Everyone wants you to kill a dragon for them. And then a giant. And then it’s a balrog infestation. Pest control wasn’t where my career ambitions lay.
“Does he look slayed to you?” I said. “I’m just distracting him while you get away. And then I was going to get away. But I can’t do either if you’re sitting in the grass having a f*cking picnic, now piss off.”
“That’s no way to speak to a princess,” said Telma, tightening her face and probably tightening her grip on the hilt of her sword.
“Give me your sword,” I said.
“A warrior never relinquishes—”
“Okay, a dagger, a knife, whatever. Quick.”
She hesitated a moment and then a small dagger came whistling at me. I didn’t flinch as it landed by my hand. By the way, the reason I didn’t flinch wasn’t some ice cold, Clint Eastwood mindset I’d developed, it was because I didn’t even see the fucker till it hit the turf.
I pulled it out and then tossed it lightly into the nearest pool of acid. The blade fizzed and corroded to nothing in seconds.
“Acid. Your face. Get the picture?”
They just stared at me. I really had to improve my communication skills. Maybe carry around an OHP and powerpoint slides.
The dragon burped loudly. I stood up to see it start lumbering away. It was about to take off. Without me.
“That way, run!” I shouted as I pointed over them in the opposite direction. “I’ll meet you in the city, if I survive. Go!”
I turned and ran. If I could get on the dragon before it took off, my escape was assured. I moved as fast as I’ve ever moved. But I was not alone. There was a defiant roar behind me and suddenly I had women charging forward either side of me, swords drawn and some kind of high-pitched battle cry coming from their wide open mouths.
The dragon took one look at the gaggle of shrieking harpies descending on it, snapped out its enormous wings with crack, and flapped them once. The force of the sharp gust was enough to blow us all off our feet.
“Come back here, you piece of shit!” I screamed after it.
Hands helped me up. Around me were faces full of admiration. They had mistaken my shout as a challenge to a terrifying monster, Come back and fight, you coward, but in fact it was more of a plaintive, Come back, don’t leave me.
My escape plan had escaped without me. Balls.