Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Next Big Dragonslayer

The Next Big Dragonslayer
"Thing is," Ril tells Norry, "I'm not even sure she wants a new broom. But day after day--"
"Lannald will give you credit," Norry says. "Let tomorrow worry about itself. A happy wife makes a happy husband, I say."
Ril shakes his big head ruefully. "I'm more than this," he says, sweeping his hand to take in all of Slayer's Rest. "One day, Norry."
"One day we'll all eat cake and--hold on. Who's that, then?"
That is the tall, fierce-bearded man leaning casually against the bar, talking to Jick, the owner.
"Dunno." Ril squints through the torch-smoke. "Looks tough enough. Think he's a slayer?"
"We're about to find out," Norry says.
Baltor the Mighty is coming up behind the stranger, his chest puffed out almost as far as his belly. Jick tips the stranger a warning look, and the big man turns just in time to look way up at Baltor.
Norry chortles to himself the way only a man who isn't about to get stomped can rightly chortle. "This is going to be interesting." 
"Poor guy," Ril says. "Prob'ly just needs a--Sacrem's hairy nuts, Norry, did you see that?"
Norry did. As did everyone else in the Rest, judging by the turned heads and the wincing. "Who is he?"
The air in the Rest has filled with the smell of toasted leather. Ril doesn't know where it's coming from, but it's making his stomach rumble.
"If he doesn't have any better friends, Norry, old pal, I'd say he's about to become our meal ticket."
"Meal ticket?" Norry chuckles. "Big as he is, he still wouldn't last you more than a few days."
"One day, Norry," Ril warns idly. But then he's shouldering his way through the crowd, and it's all Norry can do to trail after.
"What do you know about managing a slayer, Ril?"Ami asks. Her face is red, of course, but it's mostly from scrubbing. This isn't the worst idea Ril has brought home. It isn't even the worst idea he's brought home today. 
"What do I know about managing a slayer? What do I know about managing a slayer?" Ril is bellowing already. Ami grits her teeth.
"Yes, Ril. What do you know about managing a slayer?"
"What's to know?" Ril says. "You find someone with a dragon problem. You point a slayer at it and wait. And then you collect. Thirty percent off the top, plus expenses. And we don't put in a single shaved copper."
"When you put it that way," Ami says. "What's the catch?"
"Catch?" Ril gives her a long-suffering look. "Why do you always think there's a catch?"
"Because there's always a catch." 
"All we have to do--"
"--And here we go--"
"--is hide something for him."
"Hide something."
"A token, sort of."
Ami puts her hands on her hips. "Token or not, Ril, you only hide something when someone's looking for it."
"Perfectly safe, he tells me. One little drake. Preserved with the best magic. If you can't trust a man named Fearless Arrem, who can you trust?"
Ami has thoughts on that, but Ril's made up his mind. Best to see where it goes. There's always time to be right later. 
She checks the tiny drake's corpse in its charred leather sack, then she climbs atop their rickety chair to secrete it in the thatching. Safe as houses, she tells herself. As long as no one thinks to look.
"I'm telling you, Jick," Ril says. "I've trained this guy myself. He's the real thing."
Scrubbing at his spotless bar, Jick shakes his head without looking up. "I've heard this pitch before. It never ends well."
"One contract," Ril says. "If he doesn't prove out, you can--you can ban me from the Rest."
"Tempting," Jick doesn't look up.
Norry chuckles. "He has you there, old buddy."
A voice interrupts them. "I've seen him, too."
Ril looks down the bar at Old Cob, who's got his stump  up on the bar, a tankard in the crook of the elbow. 
"You'll speak for him?" Jick eyes Cob quizzically.
Cobb shrugs.
"Huh." Jick thinks, then thinks some more. "Two hundred, then."
Ril grins a grin that he figures would make a land-shark shiver. "Four. Plus expenses."
"I can get you three and a quarter," Jick says. "Expenses out of that. Take it or--"
"He'll take it," Norry says. "That's a lot of brooms."
When the paperwork is signed, Old Cob limps down the bar. "I could have gotten five. Look, Ril. You're out of your league. Sell me the boy's contract."
Ril laughs at that, loud enough to turn heads. "That's one hell of a try, Cobber. But I'm getting rich off of him, I can tell you that."
"I'll give you six," Cob says.
"Not for an even thousand," Ril tells him. "Not for two."
"Not for two?" Norry double-takes. "Ril, are you--"
"Not for every shaved mark old Cobber can beg, borrow, and steal," Ril says. "Which isn't to say I'm ungrateful for the assist."
He spins a silver coin down the bar toward Cob, who disappears it with a grin. "Can't blame a man for trying. Good luck to you, Ril."
But Ril is turning over mountains of gold in his mind, and has already dismissed him.
"Left," Ril says. In the courtyard, Arrem's massive broadsword clatters against Norry's kite shield, and Norry curses. "Now the thrust."
After an hour, Norry's arm was a mess of bruises. After three, he's barely able to stand.
"I think he's ready," Norry grunts at last. 
"He still seems a little weak on his--"
Norry's shield splits and falls from his arm. "I think he's ready."
"All right, then. Arrem, come--"
A sound fills the courtyard, like a raw ham dropped  atop a pile of boards from a great ways above. "Arrem," the thunder growls from the wooden gate.
Arrem, big as he is, barely comes to the stranger's hip. Still, his face is impassive as he turns.
At first, Ril barely notices the burning smell. The town is full of strange smells. What's a little burning--
"Thatch!" Ril yells when he realizes. "Fire!"
Arrem is still looking up at the newcomer. "Marek." His voice is the grinding of stones. "I should have known." 
Marek rumbles again. "My drakeling, Arrem. You stole--"
Westward, in the direction of Ril's house, flames shoot thirty feet in the air. 
"You don't think--" Norry says.
But Ril is already moving. 
"Yeah," Norry says to his back, "Probably not."
Behind him, Arrem has begun whining, and is currently cowering before Marek's huge fists. 
"Fearless," Norry says to himself as the punches land. "Huh."
Ami doesn't want to say she told him so. But she did tell him so.
"An enchanted drake," Ril is saying. They're re-thatching the roof themselves, to save the coin it would have cost for a professional job. The roof will leak when they're done, but a leaky roof is better than no roof at all. "Who would have thought you could enchant a drake to take away fear?"
"Some of the straw didn't burn," Ami says at last, when Ril runs down. "Lannald says he'll bind it for me for half a copper."
"Half a copper?" Even now, Ril's too stubborn to look defeated. "Half a copper. Huh."
"Or I could do without," Ami says. Not too quickly.
"Half a copper," Ril says again. "That sounds about right."
And so, Ami thinks, it does. 
Another Chuck Wendig challenge, this one about hiding a body. I'm thinking of expanding it to a full-length short; as a flash I think the number of scenes require it to be written too thinly.


  1. Not bad. The flash fiction format is a bit too restrictive for this story idea, in my opinion. Some parts of it feel a bit abrupt or sketchy. I think it would make a good full length short story.

    I thought your idea for the MacGuffin was excellent. Not your normal magic item.

    I also thought the "adventurer" as a hard luck husband trying to get by was nicely done.

    1. Thanks!

      It's actually modeled off of a Honeymooner's episode - I haven't seen the HMs in years, but I thought it'd make an interesting frame.

      It needs to be a full-length, I agree.