Ever wondered where dragons come from?

Harald’s mistake was finding out; my mistake was accompanying him.


Harald, my earliest friend, is Mage’s apprentice; I’m prenticed to the cooper. My master says ill comes of following Harald, which is no lie.


Harald tells he’s found a dragon’s lair, and he has plans.

“What kind of plans? I ask.

“Well, dragons are nocturnal.

“Meaning what?

“Meaning it’ll be out of its lair tonight, when we sneak in.

“We?

“Sneak in and pillage. Quick hour’s work, couple of sacks, we’ll be richer than Baron up in castle.

Well, that holds appeal. Cooping’s sore hard work, and Baron has it easy. But cooping’s not the way to dismemberment, severe burns, catatonic terror, or all of the above. “Look, Harald, I’ll just stay home tonight.


“You at least have your invisibility cloak? I whisper.

“Must’ve put it down somewhere. Couldn’t find it.

“Well, what have you got?

“Sacks and glow-wands. All we’ll need. Nocturnal, remember?

Vegetarian, too, I’ll bet. He passes me a wand. Its light’s as sickly as I feel. We enter the cave’s maw.

I follow him down. A broad twisting passage, craggy shadows flickering. Our footsteps echo alarmingly.

“Think these sacks are big enough? Harald asks. “For the treasure.

Other things are on my mind. “This stinks, I say.

“Look, it’s a safe plan -

“No, really, stinks. Getting stronger too. Something up ahead.

We round a bend, emerge into a far greater cavern. Cathedral-vast; but rank, foul. The smell’s source takes time to espy. Then I gag. The corpses, hook-hung, are recognizable as the townsfolk missing this last week. “Burghers, I comment.

Dead a few days, it seems. “Dragon must want flies with that, says Harald. Crass, but we’re not here from respect. Harald’s looking for loot in the barren cave. There is some, but not what I’ve expected. Many candles, some spent. Stout chains of fine silver, richly elaborate woven rope, a large shape in gold chainmail that won’t go flat. Four openings in the chainmail.

We’re arguing the chainmail’s purpose when I note flickering light from the cave’s entrance. Red light. Harald sees too. We scamper.

There’s a long crevice, drop of three metres, back of the cavern. We jump, crouch, dispel the glow-wands. Wait.

The light brightens, still flickering. Heavy treads, loud rough breathing. Voices.

Conversation? Harald and I exchange baffled stares. Braver than I, he climbs out, I lose sight. The noise, the flamelight, is terrifying. How long I wait I cannot say. Too long. I wonder why I chose this, it’s sheer folly. I’m sick with fear. Dragonsick.

Harald returns. Outwardly unharmed, but he is a broken man, hollow; his eyes show it. Finally he whispers, to ask: “Ever wondered where dragons came from?

“The western wastelands, sure, I murmur, but he means not this.

“Man was not meant to see such things, he replies quietly, shaking his haunted head. I see, now, that he clasps something in his fist, and not his wand as first I thought.

It is a whip.

With this, suspicion dawns, and I re-appraise the chainmail seen earlier. Two round openings for the hind legs, a third for the dragon’s tail: then the fourth opening, the slit, located between these three, would be for -

“Oh, I say, as the full horror of our predicament is revealed. “Oh.

There are two dragons in the cavern.

And now begins our abject vigil. No tavern-housed traveller, adjacent to the courting couple’s bedchamber, ever suffered such a sleepless, dread-filled night as we now share. I become both impressed and appalled at the stamina of these creatures, and my ears ring until last I am told, disbelieving, by Harald that the noise has stopped.

He says it has been nine hours, but it seems much longer.

We wait; the silence holds. My bladder is strained to bursting. Harald’s may have gone already.

We will die if we linger. Harald delicately rekindles the glow-wands. I crawl up out of our crevice, and stare, for the dragons are asleep. Entwined asleep.

I pray I live to forget that image.

To creep to the cave’s mouth seems endless, unendurable, but at length we achieve it. All dreams of treasure abandoned, yet we survive. We return to our meaningless lives.


I’m prenticed to the town cooper: mindless work, but fairly safe. Harald? He’s between apprenticeships, for now. He’s thinking librarian.

And that question answered:

Well, when a mama dragon and a papa dragon love each other very much …

 

# # #

Dragonsick by Simon Petrie
originally published March 3, 2008

 

 


Simon Petrie is an Australian writer whose work has previously appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Yog's Notebook, the AntipodeanSF and Worlds of Wonder webzines, and Annals of Improbable Research..

Big Pulp credits:
Dragonsick

 

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