To Slay A Dragon
“We are forever in your debt.” The fat little village elder pumped Shadaar's hand vigorously.
“Nonsense,” Shadaar produced his warmest smile. “It is our solemn duty to rid good folk such as yourselves of a scourge like that dragon.” Shadaar extricated his hand from the elder's grip. “And as much as my companion and I have enjoyed our stay in your wonderful village, I am afraid it is time for us to move on.”
“'Tis unfortunate,” the elder leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper. “Gretchen has taken quite a shine to ye.”
Shadaar looked past the little man to where his wart-faced troll of a daughter stood watching them talk. She twisted her face into what Shadaar could only assume was meant to be a seductive smile and twiddled her fingers at him.
“A rare beauty she is,” he said repressing a shudder. “Alas, the life of a dragon slayer does not allow for romance.” Gretchen's tongue slid out of her mouth like a slug and ran along her hairy upper lip. Shadaar felt his gorge rise and said, “Although at times like these one does feel some regret.”
“I suppose yer right,” the elder said, reaching beneath his cloak. “Still, here is something I can give ye.” He produced a leather purse and handed it to Shadaar.
“Thank you,” Shadaar said, taking the purse and making it disappear within the folds of his robes. “Your generous donation will allow us to make it to the next village that needs our help. Farewell.” Making a slight bow to the elder, Shadaar turned on his heel and strode to the edge of the village where Gareth stood, leaning on his battleaxe.
“Got it,” Shadaar said as he passed.
Gareth smiled behind his great red beard, shouldered his axe, and fell into step beside his partner.
“Fifty lousy sovereigns!” Shadaar smacked the wooden tabletop, the sound of his palm striking the wood was flat in the noisy inn. “We slay a dragon for them and the best they can do is fifty sovereigns?”
“It's not like that's all they offered,” Gareth grinned over his tankard of ale.
Shadaar glared at him.
“She would have made a fine wife,” he said, his grin splitting his bushy beard in two. “Just think, you could have settled down and started a farm. At night she could warm your bed, and in the morning you could hitch her up to the plow.” Gareth laughed heartily at his own jest, and then raised the tankard to his lips for a drink. Shadaar twitched his index finger and the tankard twisted in Gareth's grasp spilling ale into his beard and down the front of his leather breastplate.
“Hey!” Gareth said, setting the tankard down and grabbing a handful of beard to wring it out. “So what if we only got fifty sovereigns? It's not like the dragon was real, we were in no danger.”
“Do know you what it costs to conjure a golem that size?” Shadaar gestured with his right hand and all of the spilled ale drew itself from Gareth's beard, gathered into a foaming sphere above the table, and fell back into the tankard with a splash. “Just the herbs alone are worth more than that. Not to mention the time and effort we put into making the villagers believe the dragon was real in the first place.”
Gareth picked up the tankard, glanced inside, shrugged, and took a drink.
“Besides,” Shadaar continued. “We get caught doing this and sooner or later a lord is going to have our heads. I don't know about you, but I value my neck at a lot more than fifty sovereigns.”
“Bah, I fear no lord.” Gareth said, setting his tankard down and shifting in his seat. “Besides, no one will ever figure it out. This scheme is foolproof.”
Shadaar and Gareth both looked up to see a young man with a bowl cut, wearing yellow and black livery, standing at their table.
“My lord seeks an audience with the men responsible for slaying the dragon at Ashkleford.”
Shadaar turned a sober look on Gareth, “Must you always tempt fate so?”
Returning his gaze to the liveried young man Shadaar said, “Please tell your lord that we are very weary from battle—“
Gareth let out an exaggerated yawn. “Very weary,” he said, earning him a pointed look from his partner.
“And must humbly decline his invitation.” Shadaar finished.
The young man's smile was accompanied by the sound of scraping steel as swords were bared behind them. “Oh,” he said. “This isn't a request.”
They looked around to see a dozen soldiers, all in yellow and black cloaks, pointing a dozen swords at them. Shadaar turned back to the young man and clapped his hands together. “I'm suddenly feeling invigorated. What say you? Shall we meet with your lord now?”
They followed the liveried young man outside the inn, the soldiers filing out behind them, to find a coach waiting. It was a magnificent white egg the size of a small boulder. Its surface was covered in intricate carvings depicting scenes of battle, landscapes, and castles. The egg rested on a base of highly polished wood supported by wheels made of what looked to be ivory. Hitched to the front were four enormous stallions. The inside was just as ornate as the outside; a nest of velvet cushions the color of blood. Shadaar and Gareth climbed inside the padded luxury of the coach and the young man closed the door.
Shadaar leaned out the window before the young man could walk away and asked, “Boy, what does your lord want with us anyway?”
The young man turned back and said, “Why, to slay a dragon of course.”