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|Wet Bedsheets, warrior women, wise merchants, and an angry dragon. What more could you ask for in a fantasy tale? And the best part is, EVERYONE in the story speaks perfect American English.||
A Fantastical Tale Concerning a Dragon, A Merchant, and A Warrior-Woman
When the merchant came upon the girl she was sitting cross-legged in front of a smartly dancing fire and right next to what appeared to be a large pile of dirty laundry. She was working so intently upon the project that occupied her attention that she didn’t look up, despite the heavy thuds of the workhorse’s hooves and the intermittent squawk of the wagon-wheels.
The Merchant pulled back on the reins, and the workhorse slowed, and finally stopped. Still, the woman did not acknowledge his presence. Judging from her revealing attire, the merchant decided that she was one of those warrior-women who lived in the Woods of Asgath. Normally, they were peaceful enough, unless provoked. The problem was that it didn’t take much to provoke them, and that was precisely what the merchant was trying to avoid.
“Good Lady,” he said, mustering up his most pleasant voice. “I wish to pass by you on the road to Callon-Drugal, but you appear to be of the Asgathi and I would not wish to offend you by passing behind you.”
The woman still did not look up. “You may pass,” she said.
The merchant heaved a sigh of relief, and got the workhorse going again. Before the woman passed from his view, curiosity got the better of him. In all his years of traveling between Callon-Drugal and Kandra-By-The-Sea, he had never seen a warrior woman sitting alone in a copse of trees next to a man-sized pile of dirty laundry.
The merchant knew that he really ought to leave well enough alone. Asgathi warrior-women didn’t usually like conversation, especially with men, and even more especially with fat, bald- middle-aged merchants whose sole reason for living was laying up the biggest pile of gold he could get his hands on. But that pile of laundry was simply too curious, and he could not allow himself to simply pass by without finding out why it was there..
“Good lady, I hate to be rude, but I can’t help but notice all that laundry.”
“It isn’t laundry,” she replied.
“It looks like laundry.”
“It isn’t. Go on your way before I decide to split your skull.”
The merchant had no desire to have his skull split, and so he started on his way again. But that little perverse imp inside of all of us, the one that gets us to take that last flagon of wine, or to drop that copper piece out of the second-floor window of the inn just as the guard is passing beneath, overpowered the merchant’s intact-skull leanings and he stopped again.
“Good Lady, I have no intention of making you angry, nor am I judging your actions. I am merely curious. Even you, who has no doubt seen all manner of strange things, must agree that an Asgathi woman with a pile of what appears to be laundry is curious indeed.”
Finally, the woman stood up and turned around. She was beautiful, as all warrior-woman were. She had rippling, toned, but not too bulky muscles, flaming, long red hair that drifted in the slight breeze, and the nice, angular bone-structure that men seemed to like. The merchant had often wondered about how those Asgathi women were all so pretty. It seemed odd that women who spent all their time sleeping in the dirt and fighting with people could be so uniformly beautiful, and yet they were. She wore a leather cuirass that only covered her to the midriff, a strange, furry, skirt-like garment that only covered her to mid-thigh, and tall leather boots that went up to her knees.
Her sword lay in its scabbard a few feet away from her, which did little to set the merchant’s mind at ease. These Asgathi warrior women were famous for their ability to grab their weapon off the ground very, very quickly. This one, however, didn’t seem angry. A little impatient, perhaps, but not angry.
“If you must know,” she said, with an air of imperiousness that she shared with all her Asgathi sisters, “I am tying together these bedsheets.”
“Bedsheets?” the merchant asked, incredulous.
“My I ask why?” asked the merchant.
“You might as well. It appears I’m either going to have to answer your questions or kill you, and I’m not in the mood for killing right now, because I just ate.”
“I’m glad,” said the merchant. He lifted his ponderous bulk out of the wagon and took a couple of tentative steps forward. She didn’t grab her sword and smite him with it, and he took it as an invitation.
They sat down by the fire together, and the merchant offered the Asgathi woman some fine wine from his wine-skin. It was a special kind of non-alcoholic wine, imbued by magic with the unique ability to be wine, without inducing any kind of intoxication. The merchant did not get to be rich by offending people, but he also didn’t want to offend anyone by not drinking with them, and so he enjoyed the best of both worlds. She accepted the wine with a smile, drank a bit, and then returned to her bedsheet project.
The woman was indeed knotting together bedsheets, one after the other. She already had what appeared to be ten or eleven bedsheets tied together, and judging by the pile in front of her, had a couple hundred to go.
“That is quite a lot of bedsheets, good lady,” said the Merchant.
“You know, you could call me Asweth-Algani-Maihala.”
“I didn’t know that was your name.”
“You didn’t bother to ask. But it is a long name, so you may call me Wilma instead.”
“Because Wilma is short.”
“That’s all right with me. May I ask what you intend to do with those bedsheets, Wilma?”
“I am going to use them to scale the wall of a castle,” Wilma said.
“Why don’t you just get some rope?”
“Rope? What is this ‘rope’ that you speak of? I have not heard of it.”
The merchant was taken aback. Hadn’t heard of rope? Everyone born in the last fifty years had heard of rope. The invention of rope had revolutionized the world. It had made overseas travel possible, and had assisted in the creation of everything from fishing nets to castles. And this woman had not heard of it?
The merchant sat in thought for a moment, and then spoke.
“Rope is a fantastic invention, Wilma. It is used for the very same purpose for which you are knotting together those bedsheets, and yet it is much easier to handle, and requires no knotting whatsoever.”
“And where can I get some of this rope?”
“Well, you can get some in Callon-Drugal, for a pittance. It’s surprisingly inexpensive, despite the amount of labor required to create it.”
“Well, after I plunder that dragon’s hoard, I will buy myself a large pile of this “rope” for my next venture.”
“Well, how did you get the sheets?”
“I killed a merchant for them.”
This was enough to elicit a small shiver from the merchant. But if she was going to kill him, she would have done so already, and so he pressed on.
“Did you say, Dragon, Wilma?”
“So you are going to take those bedsheets, scale a castle wall, and then fight a dragon?”
“Yes,” said Wilma, busily knotting together more sheets.
“You are aware that dragons breathe fire, are you not?”
“Of course I am. What kind of woman do you take me for?”
The merchant would not divulge what sort of woman he took her for, because that would probably earn him a smite on the head with her sword. But she hadn’t heard of rope, and was willing to fight a dragon dressed in less clothing than normal people wore to bed, so he was reasonably certain that the sort of woman he took her for was exactly the sort of woman she was.
“Well, I suppose you must be very brave, and quite ambitious. And you seem to have a knack for finding unique solutions to problems.”
“Thank you,” Wilma said. She even smiled at him, which sent a shivering thrill through him. He was still a man after all, even if he was old, bald and fat.
The merchant took a stick and began to poke around in the fire. For some reason, he liked Wilma. It was probably because she was fantastically beautiful, but the merchant did not take time to ponder the whys and wherefores of it.
Without warning, he took the smoking end of the stick and touched it gently to Wilma’s exposed leg. Naturally, she made the appropriate “I’m being burned” noise, leaped up, grabbed her sword, and was just about ready to separate the poor merchant’s head from his neck, when he cried out for mercy.
“Wilma, wait! Listen! I am but a humble merchant, and I just put a big ugly burn on your leg with nothing but a stick from the campfire. Now imagine if I were a dragon!”
Wilma paused and lowered her sword. She put it back in the scabbard and sat down again.
“That is something I hadn’t thought of,” she said as she returned to her knotting.
The merchant was astonished. “Are you thinking of actually going through with it?”
Wilma didn’t look up. “Of course. I always do what I set out to do.”
“But dragons breathe fire. You’re practically naked. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I’ll wet myself.”
He admitted to himself that that was probably an accurate prediction. If a fire-breathing dragon was standing in front of him, he’d probably wet himself too.
Wilma did not seem to be the slightest bit worried about the prospect of being roasted alive. She also didn’t appear to be put off by the gigantic pile of sheets, or the fact that after she knotted them all together, she would have to figure out a way to transport the ungainly mass to somewhere near the castle wall.
The merchant shook his head. The sun was creeping slowly toward the trees, and he had to get his load of spices and exotic alfalfa to the market at Callon-Drugal before the moths spoiled it all, so he heaved himself to his feet.
“Well, thank you for your company, merchant,” Wilma said.
“Thank you for not hitting me with your sword,” said the merchant. He climbed up into the wagon, which groaned in protest, and started off.
“Aren’t you going to wish me luck against that dragon?”
“Good luck, Wilma. Perhaps if you wrap yourself up in a wet sheet, you’ll last longer.”
“That’s a splendid idea!” she cried. The merchant rounded the bend and Wilma disappeared from view.
The merchant spent a week in Callon-Drugal, and then made his way back to Kandra-By-The-Sea. He half-hoped to find Wilma sitting cross-legged in front of that fire where he had left her, but he was disappointed to discover her, and her big pile of linen, gone. He had no doubt that he would never see her again. If she had actually sat there and knotted all those sheets together, then must have gotten them to whatever castle that dragon had holed up in. In short, Wilma was well on her way to becoming dragon-poop.
The thought of it depressed him.
He spent the next couple of weeks in Kandra-By-The-Sea, haggling for fragrant spices and alfalfa. Then, one day, the most amazing thing happened. A merchant from across the sea, Sui-Kwonese by the look of him, walked right up to the merchant and greeted him, placing a well-crafted linen bag in his hand. It was heavy, and tinkled in that intoxicating way that only cold coin can tinkle.
“What is this?” said the Merchant.
“That is from Wilma,” said the Sui-Kwonese. “She sends her greetings.”
The merchant only spent an instant pondering how this strange man had recognized him. He also thought it was strange that this man spoke his language perfectly. In fact, everyone did. The Algathi, the Sui-Kwonese, everyone. He bet that even the dragon that Wilma was going after spoke his language. That dragon could probably speak his language so well it could compose epics that dwarfed the work of the most celebrated human bards. The Merchant thought that the whole thing was rather odd.
“What is this?” said the merchant.
“That is your share of the dragon’s hoard,” said the Sui-Kwonese. Wilma said that you had earned it.”
The merchant was astonished. How had that woman slain a dragon? She hadn’t any notion of the existence of rope, and her big plan to defeat the worm was to wet herself! And yet, the heavy, reassuring weight of gold in his hand told him that her plan had succeeded.
“Do you know what happened?” the merchant asked.
“Of course I do! Everyone in Sui-Kwon is talking about it!”
The merchant wondered what language they were using, but didn’t ask.
“Well, I would love to hear the story,” he said.
The Sui-Kwonese smiled. The merchant could tell that the man had been eagerly awaiting that question.
“Wilma told me about you. She said that after you left, another merchant came along the road. She cut him in half and stole his wagon, and used the wagon to move her bedsheet rope down to the port. She then sold the wagon and used the money to book passage on my ship. I took her out to the castle, and my men helped her unload her cargo. Wilma told us to come back in three days, and if she wasn’t on the beach, it would mean that she had been killed by the dragon.
“Well, after three days, we returned, and there was Wilma, sitting in a pile of gold the size of three oxen! When we asked her how she did it, she told us that she had dipped all the sheets in the sea, and then dragged them six and a half miles to the castle wall. By that time, most of the sheets were dry, but it didn’t matter, because there was some water in the moat, and so she just dipped them again. She tied a rock to the end of the last bedsheet, and heaved it over the wall. Luckily for her, the rock got caught in a cleft between two stones in the battlements, and so she was able to climb up.”
The merchant believed the Sui-Kwonese. He especially believed the part about Wilma dragging those sopping wet sheets six and a half miles. The Sui-Kwonese continued.
“When she reached the top, she pulled the sheets after her. It took her several minutes, because she apparently had overestimated the height of the castle wall, and had twenty or thirty excess sheets to deal with. She must have been tired after all that dragging. Especially considering that the sheets were wet.”
“Indeed,” said the merchant.
“Well, she used the sheets to lower herself down into the castle, but then the rock slipped from the cleft and nearly brained her on its way down. The noise was enough to wake the dragon, who immediately emerged from the tower where he was sleeping to find out what the disturbance was.”
The merchant marveled at the Sui-Kwonese man’s mastery of his language. The man didn’t even have an accent! It was nearly as amazing as the man’s story.
“So there is Wilma, wrapped in a filthy, wet sheet, squaring off with a large, ugly red dragon. The dragon takes one look at Wilma, standing there dripping dirty water all over the flagstones, and it just starts laughing. Of course, this upsets Wilma, who apparently doesn’t enjoy being laughed at, so she takes the rock, the one attached to that last sheet, and hurls it at the dragon.”
“And it hit the dragon right on the snout, I suppose,” said the merchant, who was beginning to get into the spirit of the man’s story.
“Exactly so!” said the Sui-Kwonese. “Right on the snout. Of course, this changed the dragon’s mood, and he took in a deep breath to shoot fire at Wilma. She was so frightened she wet herself and then hid under the pile of sheets.”
“She told you this?” asked the merchant.
“No, but I could smell it,” said the Sui-Kwonese. “She did admit to hiding, however. The dragon, who was now really angry, let loose a tongue of fire that would have burned her to cinders if she hadn’t been covered by sixty or seventy pounds of wet bedsheets. After the smoke and the steam cleared, the dragon noticed that the sheets were still there, and that made him even more angry. He lumbered over to them and took a big bite. Wilma said she could smell his rancid, sulfuric breath and even feel his scratchy tongue on her leg. It especially hurt in the spot where you burned her.”
The merchant could barely contain himself. “So how did she get away?”
“That’s the best part!” said the Sui-Kwonese. “The silly thing tried to swallow the sheets, thinking that Wilma was hidden inside. But the sheets were wet, and all knotted together, and they got lodged right in his windpipe. It choked! It choked on the sheets until it was dead! Have you ever heard of a more unique way of killing a dragon? I haven’t! By the time Wilma found the courage to crawl out from underneath what was left of the pile, that dragon was stone dead, with a disgusting string of filthy, singed bedsheets trailing out of its mouth. Now she’s the proud owner of her own castle, located on her own island, funded by her very own dragon hoard. And she said she has you to thank for it.”
It was odd, very odd. And the merchant knew it. He wondered what sort of language they’d speak on Wilma’s island. He had a pretty good idea which language it would be.
He also didn’t rule out the possibility of Wilma making a law against rope.
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