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|This story was originally going to be a baby shower gift for someone I worked with named Leilani. Then Leilani got fired, then it morphed into something that you just don't give an expecting mother. One thing led to another and this got put on the back burner for two or three years. Then I got a better job with less stress and better pay, and I finished my story. Boo-ya. Part 5 of 6||
Well, Venisholm and good King Wenceslas gave up and sued for peace. Smart thing to do when your enemy's backed up by a dragon. Now it was up to the diplomats – or what passed for diplomats amongst humans.
But it was out of the peasants' hands, and they couldn't have been happier. I'm not sure what kind of weirdo taboos the Dystopians had against sex, drugs and anti-social behavior in general. But they got thrown out the window the night that Venisholm surrendered.
I could barely hear it, but I heard much the same noise coming from Venisholm, too. It was a little more subdued; no one wants to be a loser, after all. But the attitude was much the same: we might just make it through the winter.
I wish I could've joined in.
"Why aren't you in town, Leilani?" Stephen asked me, as I lay back to look at the stars again. "They want to thank you."
"I know," I said.
"If you think they're scared of you, they're not. You saved the life of every man down there. You're their hero!" There were the remnants of superstitious fear in voice, but he said it anyway: "They'll practically worship you as a god, I bet!"
"I know, Stephen. But I'd rather stay out here." And I turned my head to him. "Personal reasons. Dragon reasons."
"Please, Leilani. Just a quick turn through the town. Show your face, say hi and all that."
I sighed, starting to get aggravated. "It won't be just a 'quick turn through town', Stephen. It'll start out that way. But it'll turn into something else, trust me."
"They're not afraid of you anymore, Leilani."
"That's what I'm afraid of, Stephen." I shrugged, rubbed the fuzz out of my eyes.
"Well, can you blame them for feeling that way? The war's over!"
"No. I can’t. So what about next year?"
"What do you -"
I turned over on my side to look at him, and not without a little sadness.
"Oh, you've awed Venisholm and the surrounding kingdoms, Stephen," I said. "But Wenceslas'll soon forget his awe – or, if his rotten old heart doesn’t survive the shock, one of his randy little princes. I'll even lay you two-to-one that he'll be probing your borders as soon as the thaw next year."
"But you'll destroy Venisholm, march on his -"
"I never said I'd lay siege to anyone, Stephen." The heat in my voice hit him like a slap in the face. "I just said I'd stop a war – this war. Lay siege to every possible enemy of Dystopia? No. Stop this one war? Yes. And in return you'll make sure I'm not bothered up in my cave. That was the deal. I've fulfilled my half of it. Hell," and I shook my head, "I shouldn't even have done that much."
"But – but, Leilani..."
His elation had quickly soured. His hands were raised in pleading to me, and his green eyes shone in the darkness, wide and insistent. His little eyes pierced mine, and didn't waver.
I tried not to look away, but I did, for all of one second.
"You want to do something about Roland or Wenceslas, then you do it, Stephen," I said. "They're your problem. You have the will of the people behind you and a decent harvest to tide you through the winter. I suggest you use them."
And I sat up, wrapped my wings around myself, and then flopped on my back.
"I fulfilled my part of the deal, Stephen. My conscience is clear."
I wished I could believe that.
But my eyes wouldn't leave Stephen, no matter what I did. I saw the dawning horror mount him, watched it slouch his back and shoulders and slacken his features – and tighten his chest. Those panic attacks were coming back. He ran a hand through his hair. Then he lowered his eyes, turned and walked away. But not towards Dystopia.
He wasn't as dumb as the rest. His mind could apprehend implications – too late, but he could apprehend them.
But he had a good head. If he used it, if he just thought...
Oh, who was I kidding? He was going to be meat for Al and Roland.
But I'd done more than enough for him. There was going to be some kind of backlash from this. I just knew it.
That's why I lay on the outskirts of town, when by all rights I should have been back at my cave already, sleeping a well-earned sleep – that, and the fact that I couldn't get the look on Stephen's face out of my mind.
Because I was Al's cash cow – or more importantly, the monster-hunting business in this valley was. He wasn't going to give it up lightly.
I'd be a fool to fall asleep while the little shmuck was still in my valley.
“So, this is the result of your great master plan, Merlinis?”
Speak of the devil.
“Well, Your Highness, as you’ve probably guessed, our plan hasn’t gone quite the way we had hoped,” said Al – from Castle Dystopia. And here it was after sundown, my my. Well, I wasn’t going to knock down the castle just to get at him. Better to wait till he came out.
Besides, this was going to be interesting. He must’ve forgotten how good my hearing is. Couldn’t really blame him, though. After all, he was dogging a hundred in a time when most people didn’t live to see fifty. You tend to forget the little things when you get that old, like the fact that a dragon can hear your secret plans from up to two miles away.
“Now, I’ll admit,” Al continued, “that, well, there’s been a small and really quite unforeseeable setback –”
“Small!” the other voice, thin and wheezy – good king Roland – hissed. “We have a dragon bivouacking not a mile from these very walls, and you call that a small setback!”
“Please, please, good King Roland –”
“You told me it would kill that little rabble-rouser!” He started to screech like an owl. “I knighted a peasant just so he could go a-questing after that dragon! Instead, he winds up making some kind of deal with it to help our armies!”
“Well, you have to admit that it gives you a, uh, a superior tactical advantage in your war against –”
“Hang the war!” The good king was almost supersonic. “Wenceslas we can handle! Kings we can deal with! It’s this little… pissant that’s the threat! Him and his viper’s tongue spreading treason amongst the peasants! Just because they might not get in the harvest because this year’s war is going longer than we expected! So a few of them starve, so what! People have to make sacrifices in time of war!
“And now he’s ended the war in a day! He’s done what the king couldn’t do! They’re feting him as a conquering hero!”
“This was too damn complicated,” said someone with a raspy voice. “We should have just trumped up some treason charges against him. Only one sentence for treason.”
Only one sentence for about ninety percent of the crimes in Dystopia, you putz, I thought. I’d never met Raspy before, and already I didn’t like him.
“The people were turning against the war,” Al said. “Partially, yes, it was the kid’s fault. But you needed a hero, Roland. This war needed a hero. And executing him might, just might have turned him into a martyr. Not a useful martyr, but a real martyr, the kind that starts religions and revolutions. This would have killed two birds with one stone.”
“Yeah, we really gave the peasants a hero, didn’t we?” said Raspy.
“Do you have any idea what that tomb cost, Merlinis!” Roland shrieked. “Grander than even our own! A peasant’s tomb that’s grander than the king’s! And now we can’t even stick him in it! Hell, I might as well use it myself when the peasants lay siege to the keep!”
“Now now…” Al said.
“And they will, Merlinis!”
“And all because a farmboy outsmarted mighty Merlinis! All because you helped him to recruit a dragon into the army!”
I smiled. I could see it in my mind’s eye: Roland’s face beet red, spittle flying from his toothless mouth, the good king on the verge of full cardiac arrest, and the royal guards edging ever nearer to Al. Heh, maybe I wouldn’t have to kill him, after all.
“Please, sire, do you really think I didn’t foresee this?”
I lifted my head off the ground and looked at the castle.
“The dragon will not be a problem, I assure you. In fact,” and I could picture the twinkle in his eye, “I’m sure that your people will be cursing the dragon and Sir Stephen by sundown tomorrow at the very latest.”
“What do you mean?” Roland said, suspicious.
“Just that I know of someone that can defeat the dragon and that, I assure you, is more than willing to.”
I narrowed my eyes. He didn’t foresee any of this. I doubt anyone could have.
But I was sure he’d found someone. Al wasn't that clueless.
Trouble was, I couldn't think of who his ringer could be.
I mean, yes, I could think of one or two humans who might have given me trouble. I doubt, though, that they'd drop everything and come to the aid of, really, a penny-ante con man. And I'd kept my head down with other dragons, made sure they didn't have a reason to -
"By the stars above and the demons of Hell below," I said, as it hit me. "No, Al. You didn't. Please tell me you didn't."
I got up, snatched up the drakeblade and the dueling helmet and ran off after Stephen. It didn't take me long to catch up; he hadn't gone far.
He was sitting on a small boulder on a rise overlooking Dystopia. The panic attack had left him. Now he sat, back to Dystopia, staring glumly off into the darkness. He looked like a man with a lot on his mind. And I was about to dump a whole 'nother load on him.
He heard me come up. Hard to be stealthy when you're as big and agitated as I was. He turned to me, and those verdant eyes were filled with betrayal.
“What do you want,” he said, and turned back towards the darkness.
“Listen to me.” He heard something in my voice. He turned back to me, his eyes questioning now. “You have got to get everyone out of Dystopia and up into the hills, and you’ve got to do it now.”
“What are you talking about? Venisholm is –“
“Forget Venisholm, Stephen.”
He was standing up on the boulder now.
“Al’s made a deal with someone to get rid of me,” I said.
“Al? You mean Merlinis?”
“But why –“
“The reasons are too complicated to tell you now. But believe me, if we all survive this, I’ll be more than happy to fill you in. The important thing is that you have to evacuate Dystopia now.”
“Leilani, you’re starting to scare me.”
“Good. Be scared.”
I caught a glimpse of my drakeblade. My rational mind told me that I’d sharpened it just this morning, that I hadn’t hit anything to dull its edge. But something in me whispered, no, it’s still not sharp enough. Not for this.
I obeyed that whisper, got out the whetstone and started grinding the edge again.
I looked. Stephen was still there. I was about to shout at him to get going, that seconds counted. But then he asked it.
“What’s coming? I mean, who’s coming?”
All the fight left me, and I just slumped.
“Stephen, I’m asking a lot here, but please, don’t ever ask that. I can’t…” And I shook my head.
“But if it’s a threat to Dystopia…”
“It’s a threat to the entire valley, Stephen. The entire region. Everything.”
“Let me help. Let us help you. The people of Dystopia won’t mind –“
“Meddle ye not in the affairs of dragons, child!”
And I was right in his face in the span of a second, the majesty thing on like a switch and at full power. My fangs were bared, my eyes were narrowed, and I surrounded him in the miasma of my predator breath. He backed out of it, coughing. Took it better than Al, though. I think that’s because he was getting better at reading my face, and he could see the fear there.
He stumbled back into clean air, fell to one knee, coughing.
“Dragons?” he managed to get out. “What – what do you mean? You mean – you mean more than one dragon?”
“Do you pray to any gods, Stephen?”
“What kind of a –“
“Because if you do, then pray that’s not what’s on the way to Dystopia.”
He actually stopped coughing at that. Then he turned for Dystopia, yelling for the town guard.
I just leaned up against the drakeblade, the whetstone forgotten, and concentrated all my energies on staying awake. I managed it, barely.
But I couldn’t keep myself from dreaming.
|Leilani - Part 2||Brother of Rat|
|King Joe Eats Breakfast||What a Superhero Thinks About at 3 a.m.|
|Leilani - Part 3||A Fairy Tale of New York - Part 4|