December 11, 2017

 

The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species

 
 
 

Rocklift the Mage is on a mission to make certain that fools who interrupt her cash flow become extinct.

A dog's yapping interrupted the conversation between Dudalos the dragon and Danner, which involved Lady Seaguard's recent purchase of a pearl and diamond tiara, which Danner thought overly extravagant and also overly flaunted. They both straightened up from their gossiping tete-a-tete to hear the spell-bound little dog shouting, "They're here, Mistress! I found them! Here! Here!"

We leaped forward to see Rocklift the Mage and her apprentice struggling with panicking horses, "Can't go there!" roared a horse in a basso voice. "Let me run! Let me run! Badness!" The mage swung skillfully off the horse's back, and pulled the cocking lever back on a crossbow. "Get the dragon first, kid!" She shouted, not at all impressed by the presence of a dragon in our midst. "Get the eyes!" The young fellow half-fell, half-scrambled off his prancing horse, cocked his crossbow and raised it to aim just as Danner ran forward and piled into his midsection. The crossbow tumbled out of his hands and hit the ground, jarring the firing mechanism hard enough to fire the quarrel -- deep into Danner's right leg.

Rocklift took careful aim, muttering to herself as the dragon hissed and started for her. His belly had begun to rumble as he prepared to breathe flame. Then Rocklift simply disappeared!

Spells to alter appearance were her specialty, and she was using this one to full advantage. Who was she aiming at? Where was she aiming from? The dragon unfurled his wings and arched them forward to cover his vulnerable eyes, but there was nothing to stop Rocklift from running to the side and hitting either of us before we could spot her by her tracks or the drenching rain patterns.

The apprentice had regained his feet and was wrestling his crossbow from Danner when Narsai the baboon barreled out of the cave to tackle the kid, rolling over and over with him down the slope.

The yapping little white dog bounded excitedly, forward and back, forward and back, barking shrilly, "I'll save you, Mistress! I'll bite the snake! Oh, what a snake! I'll save you!"

"There! Behind the dog!" I cried. The canine yelped and sailed through the air, kicked by an unseen foot, and I began throwing cobbles as fast and hard as I could at the air behind the source of the kick to keep the invisible mage off-balance. The dragon hissed a sheet of flame that turned raindrops to steam and scorched the trees. Rocklift's footfalls skidded down the slope away from us. The dog followed the steps, limping a little, through the brush and trees, dripping tail between hind legs.

I ran to Danner, who had dragged herself to sit with her left shoulder against a tree. The rain made it hard to see how badly she was bleeding. "If you had aimed a little higher," I told her, "you could have attained fame far and wide for shooting yourself in the ass with your enemy's crossbow."

Danner explained to me many coarse points about my ancestors and their baser proclivities while the dragon held a wing over us so that I could take a closer look at the wound. There wasn't a lot of blood, but the depth of the arrow was beyond my healing skills. I hoped the bolt hadn't been poisoned. "Now, Danner, don't forget that they're mostly your ancestors, too. Let's try and get you into the cave." I got one shoulder under her left arm and she leaned on the brassy scales of the dragon with her right.

As we approached the mouth of the cave, Narsai came rollicking to us, holding a quiver of crossbow bolts. "I believe we can use these, can we not? I took them from the young man who has knocked himself simple on a tree stump."

"Thanks, Narsai, you may have saved my life," said Danner.

"In the place from which I was taken, I was excellent at chasing off intruders," said the baboon. "It was a pleasure to see action again." He trotted back into the rain to retrieve the crossbow.

The dragon, meanwhile, was licking his scaled lips and twitching his tail. "I have an urgent task to perform," he said, "but I fear that mage will come back and try to attack you again. You are armed now, but you cannot see her."

"True, but Narsai and Guillaume could probably scent or hear her and her yappy little dog, and anyway, she's probably still trying to figure out how to tackle a dragon with one crossbow and a concussed apprentice. She won't know you're gone. Wait, you're not looking for an excuse to eat the apprentice and Rocklift, are you?" I asked him, tugging at one metallic-looking wing.

"Eat them," Danner growled, wincing as she tried to move her leg.

The dragon launched, laughing, off the hill into the rain and disappeared from sight. Narsai left his brother by the fire and set himself as a sentry in hiding under the shadows of a drooping pine tree.

"That was a pretty big risk you took, barreling into the apprentice. He could have shot you. Rocklift could have shot you."

"Ah, the apprentice is slower than molasses on Solstice Morning after a snowstorm. He could only do what Rocklift told him to do, which was aim at Dudalos. And no way would she have taken her attention off the dragon to shoot at me -- by the time she got the next bolt cocked, he'd have had her barbecued and half-eaten. Sometimes you just have to seize the moment, Aser." Danner picked at the cloth wrapped around her leg, trying to see the wound.

Yes, sometimes you do. Sometimes you just have to give and give and not tally up the cost ahead of time. To save some animals from a degrading existence, we barged in and wrecked Rocklift's place. They didn't ask us to do that, we just saw something that needed to be done and did it. Now granted, it got us on the painful end of a hunting party, but neither of us regretted the action.

I met an old lady once in Great Well who hobbled painfully around on crutches, her legs nearly useless after she'd shoved a small child out of the way of a carriage, only to be crushed by the wheels herself. "Oh, I get by, Shaman," she told me as I carried her groceries one morning, "and I thank the Life That Guides the World for these crutches every hour. These things remind me that I saved another's life, and how many people can say that?" She came to the step at the end of the sidewalk, stopped, and looked at it. "Well, most every hour."

And Marten Tanner from my village proposed to his wife-to-be after overhearing her tell his older brother that she was with child. His brother, Bear Tanner, had enlisted with Lord Stonewall's army, and brushed her off, saying that a military man could not afford to be tied down. Her sobs after Bear left her moved Marten to make the grand gesture, and after fifteen years of peaceable marriage, he's forgotten whatever risk there might have been.

All of us are in danger, every day, all the time. When the spirit moves us to protect each other, why, that's a good thing.

Narsai coughed an alarm from his hideout and started forward menacingly as the apprentice stumbled up the hill out of the bushes. I picked up the crossbow, but Danner waved at Narsai to retreat and said, "Put it away. He's no threat to us."

"Can I share your cave until the rain stops?" The young man asked miserably.

"No, get lost," Danner told him with authority.

"Oh, all right," the apprentice said. "You don't have to be so bitchy about it. You see a woman come by here?"

"Dressed in hunter green, with a nice hat? And a dog? And a couple baboons on leashes?"

"Yeah, that's her! Where is she?"

Danner pointed up the side of the mountain above us. "She went thataway."

"Thanks," said the bruised fellow and started to climb up through the rocks between the trees.

"That forgetfulness spell still," Danner replied to my questioning look. "He can't even remember he attacked us, and he won't remember he talked to us two minutes from now."

Flapping rain into a stinging spray, the dragon Dudalos returned, landing rather heavily. "Here you are, some trinkets for you." He handed us the saddle bags from Rocklift's horses. "Much better, so much better. You know, the talking dog was amusing, and the talking baboons show a lot of promise as conversationalists, but talking horses don't have a whole lot more to say than horses who don't talk. Didn't even try to reason with me."

"You ate the horses."

"Breakfast of champions," he agreed, and belched. "I'll fly over to Oceanwind tonight and try to get a message to the wizard master without getting my tail shot off. Might as well help you out -- I'm going to have to leave this place anyway, and you did get hurt defending me. Not that I needed the help, of course, but I'm not totally insensitive."

"Listen," I said to him. "If you can work out a non-eating-people pact with my clan, I bet they could raise some extra herd animals and hire you on as security. I'd even go negotiate, myself. How would I get in touch with you?"

"Oh, don't worry, Shaman, I'll be keeping an eye out for you." He launched himself again, headed south.

When darkness was well upon us, and I had dosed Danner with goldenseal to try to hold off infection, I asked her, "So, why didn't we see any wizard moves during that fight today?

"It's a long story," Danner mumbled. "And I don't want to tell it."

"I've gathered that," I responded. "But I still want to hear it so that I know what to expect when Rocklift's muttlet picks up our trail again."

A small voice from the stream that flowed out of the cave carried in the night. "You needn't worry about the dog, Shaman." Fisher came forward into the entrance to the cave, handed his sack to Guillaume and shook himself. His mate followed him, sheer adoration in her eyes. "We met the animal on our way back. He barked at us," Fisher said, standing on his hind legs and puffing his damp fur out, while Marjorie sat and extended one hind leg to lick a scuffed spot on her foot. "And had the nerve to nip my lovely wife."

Marjorie gazed at him glowingly, then put a paw to her muzzle. "I'm so sorry, Shamans ... there just wasn't enough to share."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-11-12


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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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