December 11, 2017

 

The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces

 
 
 

The winter rains are good only for keeping one's person clean. Day after day, shower after cold shower, the rain poured down until only the semi-somnolent salamanders were smiling with the moist air, the mud, and the lack of predators -- almost all of whom were staying close to their dens. My choice was to stay in my cave under the tree or go out to get wet sitting under the hedge along the road, the better to leap out to cry outrage at passers-by, should they voice injudicious opinions. In rainy weather I would rather be indoors.

I was standing in the doorway of my cave beneath the tree, listening to the ghost of Garfer Miller curse about how the rain was leaching the soil from the planter in which he was temporarily interred, when a great golden-bronze dragon landed in the clearing with a flurry of flung droplets of wet and a sloppy "whump!"

"Aaaiiieee!" wailed the ghost of Garfer Miller, and withdrew into the soil of the planter.

The dragon sniffed the planter. "I don't know what he's so worried about. There's not so much as a pork chop on his bones."

"I thought you were hibernating, or napping for a couple years, Dude," I said by way of greeting.

"The roof of my lair sprung a leak and flooded my sleeping chamber." Dudalos the Dragon of Gothwold Lake snapped his jaws together in a series of amazingly fast clicks for jaws the size of a butter-churn. "Oh, for the days when a dragon could just take over a castle and stretch luxuriously in about ten feet of gold in a spacious hall!"

"They must have been some days," I replied, looking at my fingernails. "That is, before the people that built the castles started getting pissed."

"Yeah, go figure," said the dragon. "You'd think they'd have capitalized on the sight-seeing draw."

"Maybe one or two of your dragon cousins could have refrained from capitalizing on the sight-seeing draw and not eaten so many sight-seers."

The dragon sat on his haunches and tapped a talon of his front right foot against a fang. "You've been reading biased histories again, haven't you?"

"Yes, I recently re-read the account of The Swallowed Swordsman: How My Father Was Et By a Dragon by Eemer Eodingswarg. Very enlightening."

"Oh, fiddle," the dragon sputtered, vaporizing little clumps of rain into steam with his escaping flame, "didn't that first appear in The National Conspirer? Total trash, not a jot of truth to it."

"Oh, fiddle, indeed," I countered. "The same author did an expanded story in The New Orc Times, and won an award for the reporting."

"And that means what, exactly?" asked the dragon, tapping his right hind foot in the goopy mud.

"It means that Eemer Eodingswarg was himself eaten by a dragon about three months after the article appeared."

"Coincidence."

"As were all his heirs and relatives."

"Bad karma."

"Well, don't eat this village. I have to live here, you know."

"Now, Aser, who said anything about eating people? Did I say anything about people eating?"

Just at that moment a crow flew into the top of the tree over my cave and screamed, "AW!" The dragon and I looked up at the cawing crow, both of us ducking automatically, because the crow had just given the crow-language call for "intruder!" In the distance another crow answered with the same inflection.

Within seconds, five crows began swooping at Dudalos' head, smacking him and pinching him with their hard beaks. He could have breathed fiery breath at them and toasted them all, but he wouldn't have been able to keep it up, given that crows were arriving by the dozens, and hundreds, taking up perches in the trees around my home, all calling "AW!" over and over again.

The dragon covered his head with his wings, only to have a crow dive and pluck a scale out of his arse and carry the shiny piece off to the canopy of the trees, cawing triumph. The rest sought to imitate the brave and annoying act, and the dragon was surrounded by a cloud of swooping, attacking crows.

Dudalos, Feared by All Who See Him, was forced to leap up into a thickly-branched tree where the crows could not bite or pinch him as easily. Dudalos cursed so eloquently and violently that I expected to be able to see runic-lettered words outlined in flame on the air.

Dragon and Potential Village-Eater he might be, but the woodland birds had his number, because they were willing to drop their own quarrels over whose dead squirrel or dropped hashbrowns belonged to whom and take up common cause.

I've seen the same sort of thing happen in the marketplace, when the butcher weighs a fatty leg of mutton and the goodwife objects to the amount of tallow clinging to the meat. "I don't want to pay for extra fat," she tells him.

"As is or ye can buy yerself a chicken," grumbles the butcher, irritably.

A second woman looks up, sees the blubbery roast, and adds her voice to the conversation. "What? Are ye now requiring yer clients to buy garbage?" She looks the first in the eye and nods. They're speaking the same language now, with the same point and the same object.

"GAR-bage," cries the goodwife, "I'm not paying good silver for fat I can't even use for soap!"

"You tell him, Sister," says the second, who then turns and shouts into the market throng, "This butcher's refusing to trim the tallow from the meat! He wants us to pay for what we can't eat!"

A third woman, broad and red-faced, with three children holding onto her skirts stops. "What? What? You're no longer trimming your wares for the customer? Why, I guess I know a farmer who does his own butchery and cuts the joints just as we needs them! Come on, ladies, let's pay him a visit and let this curmudgeon try to sell meat to the flies!" Off they all go, a sudden coalition of power. The grumpy butcher has mere days to count before the ladies have convinced each other that all the other women in the village ought to know about the underhanded tactics. Perhaps he will have to move on to a new shop, or change his ways and make amends.

The lords of the desmesnes, accustomed to bickering with each other over yardage of territory when the winter rains divert the streambeds which mark their boundaries, sit at a banquet table together in the silent hall. Someone from the north has been moving the standing stones south, encroaching on all their lands little by little. Not a one of them wants to admit that he's only just decided to take action, or that he's afraid that the superior force to the north will wipe out his army and people. One of the lords clears his throat, and says, "There's a threat to the north."

"Aye," another shouts, "and what do ye think is going to happen to those who oppose that threat?"

"What if we all oppose the Northerner together? He can't hit us all at once!"

An alliance is formed; where before they were just uneasy neighbors, now they are a force. Where one may have been vulnerable, two and more are strong. The mere neighbors send their people north and move the standing stones back where they belong, and become an alert and powerful line of defense making sure the stones don't dance in the night. The northern boundary stays where it has been for decades, and peace is ensured.

"Shaman, run! I'm going to torch the lot of them!" the dragon snarled in the extremes of vexation.

"Don't do that. What are you doing here, anyway?"

"I told you, I got rained out! Last time I saw you I saved your sorry ass and you promised to help me find a new hideout, remember? Aghhh! Damned crows!"

I ducked back into my cave and grabbed my two blankets. "Here, Dudalos! Hop down here!"

"Are you crazy?"

"Look, you can either accept my help or you can just flap off on your own. I don't care. Hurry up, I'm getting soaked."

The dragon leaped back into my clearing, muttering, "You're just damned lucky that crows and scrawny shamans aren't worth eating. What in the seventh ring of hell are you doing?"

"Hold still, tuck your tail around your feet," I told him, flipping one blanket across his hindquarters and the other over his folded wings. "Once the crows can't see you, they'll leave. They're not fond of this rain, either." Shrugging off my cloak, I draped it over his glittering head. "Perfect!"

Within minutes, most of the cawing had changed from "AW!" to congratulatory calls, and the flock began to disperse. "This is the most humiliating experience in all the centuries of my life," said Dudalos. "What if someone sees me like this? I'd be ruined."

"Just be thankful I don't go in for ruffled quilts, Dude. If anyone sees you, I'll tell them you're a big, lumpy horse."

"So what did you have in mind in finding me a new hangout, Shaman?"

"Well, I thought we could find you a welcome in the mountains past the Jennan Lands where I grew up, but I didn't know about this thing you have with crows."

"That's why dragons have lairs, don't you ever read your lore books? he asked waspishly.

"All my lore books said about dragons was that they talk a lot and eat people. Look, let's head out for the coast and see if we can get Cloudraft the Great to help us."

"Wonderful," said the dragon. "My bed turns into a bathtub, I'm immobilized by a bunch of stupid birds, and the best plan we can come up with is to go off to see a wizard. All I need is for you to start skipping and singing. What a life."

Traveling with a dragon was not going to be very easy, but fortunately we had one more ally: the darkness of night. At least I wouldn't have to worry about how to keep a torch lit.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-04-27


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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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