Here’s a taste of “The Dragon of the Bailey,” one of ten tales from The Last Ereph and Other Stories.
This one is about a dragon. Obviously.
Lhai sniffed the water in his trough. Was the poison in there? He couldn’t tell. He cursed, not for the first time, that the Maker had given dragons such a poor sense of smell. What if he just didn’t drink it? How could they make him? He was as large as any of the guards. Bigger, if one counted his tail. His rough grey hide would be difficult for spears or swords to pierce. What could they do if he would not drink? But how could he refuse when he was so very thirsty?
He extended his wings, stretching nearly six feet from end to end. The cobalt blue feathers had come in fuller and thicker this time. It had been easy for him to swoop up to the perch yesterday afternoon, probably too easy. If he had resisted the urge to be away from these humans for a while, to sit above them and keep watch on their activities, maybe his keeper would have forgotten about the clipping. Another few days and perhaps he could have flown over the wall and away from this bailey. But his regular water and food disappeared a few days ago and the keeper would not let Lhai out of his sight. The clipping was near. His keeper was not so forgetful.
But now it was too late, and he was so very thirsty. He drove his head into the trough and gulped furiously, knowing that a deep sleep would soon overtake him.
When he woke up, Lhai could feel the cold iron and leather muzzle that had been wrapped around his face for the ceremony. It took a few moments before he realized where he was and for the throbbing pain in his wings to come to the fore. He gritted his teeth and tried to stand, but was stopped by a sharp yank on the chain that lashed him to the stone pedestal.
To one side, keeping a safe distance, was a priest. He held a large, worn, brown book in his hands and smiled nervously at Lhai when their eyes met.
To the other side, at the same distance but looking much more certain of himself, sat the one they called Lord Kala. He looked bored by the state of affairs, as if he had something better to do. Lhai hoped his unconsciousness had delayed the proceedings, just to be difficult.
Out in front of him, Lhai could see the crowd that had gathered in the courtyard below, huddled together against the chill of the damp morning mist that was so prevalent in these parts. There were a few dozen people, ringed by another dozen guards in polished armor, creating a makeshift fence out of tall, golden spears. What the Maker had taken from the nose, She had given to the ear, but the crowd murmured to itself, making it difficult for Lhai to hear the contents of any one conversation.
The crowd hushed when the priest raised the book high over his head and began to intone the prayer. Lhai had heard it six times before, every year on the anniversary of his capture, a day that also happened to be Kala’s birthday. For Kala, the coincidence made Lhai’s captivity all the more auspicious.
“And so the Maker, who is just and gracious,” the priest said, slowly and deliberately, “did promise that should any dragon come to your castle, then should you know peace and happiness.”
“Get on with it,” Kala said, slumped in his chair.
The priest picked up the pace, as ordered. “And so long as the dragon remains in your castle, the lord of that castle shall rule, with justice and mercy to his people.” The lines were well worn and got little reaction from the scrum.
As the priest continued, Lhai’s eyes caught some movement near the back of the crowd. He focused on a young boy, no more than nine years old, tugging urgently on the arm of the old man who stood beside him.
“Grandfather,” the boy said, in a loud whisper that was drowned out by the priest’s speech for everyone save Lhai. The old man tried to shush him, but the boy kept on. “Why does it wear a muzzle? Why is it chained down? If it wants to stay, why does it . . .,” the boy asked, before the old man put an end to it with a swift smack up the side of his head.
Lhai grinned, as best he could.
The Last Ereph and Other Stories – featuring “The Dragon of the Bailey” – available March 2, 2015.