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Fantasy Funny Speculative

DRAGON POWER

The interior of the ‘Bucket and Firkin’ was a pleasant fug of woodsmoke, ale fumes and smoking weed, and also abuzz with incredulous conversation. “Dragon? No such thing!  Last dragon was yonks ago and that was a fart-arse affair. Not enough breath to light a fag with.” The speaker quaffed his tankard and banked it down on the bar by way of emphasis, looking hopefully into the dregs. 

“I’m only tellin’ you what I heard,” the other speaker said. “Carried off Fred the Forester’s little girl, Amelia.  Fred said it was heading up to the Sawtooths an’ if there are any dragons left that’s where they’ll be.”

The first speaker looked at his empty tankard again. “You gettin’ one in or not?” he said, “or you savin’ up for a dragon hunt?”

The second speaker scowled and gestured to the barkeeper. “Don’t need any savin’ up. Fred’s bank rollin’ anyone daft enough to do it. Apparently he wants his daughter back dead or alive.”

Five tankards down the bar, inquisitive ears pricked up and the ears’ owner sauntered up, dragging a sword bigger than he was and almost as broad. He doffed his hat as he approached. “Filbert,” he said by way of introduction. “Did I hear mention of a dragon hunt?”

Both looked suspiciously down at him. “ ‘s right,” the second speaker said. “What of it?”

Filbert flourished a courteous bow. “Filbert by name, dragon hunter by profession, and in need of a job right now,” he said.

The first speaker scoffed. “Well you would be round here. Last dragon got dispatched years ago, by a hulking great hero three times your size.”

His drinking companion demurred. “Look, I told you, Fred saw it! You wouldn’t make something like that up. Especially not when it’s got your daughter in its talons.” He turned to Filbert again. “Dragon hunter, eh? Looks like you couldn’t hunt a ferret if you don’t mind my saying.”

“Not at all,” Filbert said, hoisting himself onto a bar stool and ordering another round. “Dragon slayers of old might have been big and bold, but the rate of attrition was atrocious.  If you’re small enough you can duck underneath, nip around their ankles and play merry hell with their balls. They’ll do anything with a firm grasp. Don’t be fooled by this sword. My main dragon deterrent is a tourniquet. You don’t need to kill a dragon. Far better to train it.”

The first speaker received the speech with incredulity. “And just how many dragons have you ‘trained’ then?”

“Well … none actually. Like your friend says dragons are like hens’ teeth. But I’m keen to put theory into practice and this seems the ideal opportunity. I tried it on a giant bull and it worked a treat. Docile as you like with a tweak or two.”

By now, a crowd had gathered, most failing to contain their hilarity. Filbert glanced around vexedly. “You can laugh all you like. You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when I come flying back on it.”

The first speaker wiped the tears from his eyes. “An’ how‘re you goin’ to get to the Sawtooths, then? Take you six months on foot.  And then there’s the climb. Fang’s practically vertical and the rest of them ain’t much better. I give you this though: you’ve got some balls.” He almost fell off his bar stool at this jocularity and his companion sprayed a mouthful of ale across all those in the vicinity, provoking a minor scuffle.

Filbert withdrew with as much dignity as he could muster. “You’ll see!” he called over his shoulder as he negotiated his way through the general melee now developing.

As he dragged his sword onto the street, a gnarled man with a ginger beard and calloused fingers caught up with him. “Interesting conversation,” he said. “I only caught the last part but perhaps I can help. Just so happens I know Fred. I can put a word in. Mulkhi,” he said, introducing himself and proffering a hand which crushed Filbert’s own as he automatically took it. 

“Sawtooths, eh?” Mulkhi said. “Long way by foot.” He tapped a conspiratorial finger across his nose. ‘Now, by air, it’s a different matter.”

After finding a quieter tavern, Mulkhi expanded on his aerial reference.  “Folks here think I’m mad,” he explained,“but they wouldn’t know genius if it bit them. Thing is, I’m an inventor. I’ve got a workshop up in the hills” he gestured vaguely in the direction of away.  “And what I’ve just perfected is a flying machine.” He took in Filbert’s sceptical look. “No, straight up. I’ve been making gliders for ages. That’s why folks think I’m mad, but they’ve got no vision.” He slipped Filbert a drawing from inside his jerkin. “Here, one of my lads did this.”

What he saw inclined Filbert to agree with the general consensus concerning Mulkhi’s sanity. It depicted youngsters with what looked like bat’s wings strapped to their arms jumping off a cliff. Granted,  it also depicted them landing on the cliff top again, but even so ... 

“Of course, that’s only an artist’s impression,” Mulkhi pointed out. “Well, I say artist, Jonno’s better with his hands than with pencil and paper - unless he’s got a ruler and protractor - but I think he’s captured the essentials. Flying, Filbert - there’s the future.” 

Filbert looked at the drawing again and the only future he could see was a very short one ending at the bottom of a very long drop.

Mulkhi sensed his scepticism. “Tried and tested, Filbert. I’ve had lads flying for years. Trouble is, you’re relying on thermals - and I don’t mean vests although you need them when you’re two thousand feet up - so it’s purely recreational up to now. So, no practical application.” He paused, triumphantly, and flourished another drawing. “Until now!”

This time, the drawing was a schematic: a complicated contraption of ropes, pulleys, struts, wires, sacking, sprockets, gear wheels, pedals and hinged wings - in short, the personification of a madman’s nightmare.

Mulkhi ran a hand lovingly over it. “The Aerambulator! Me and Jonno have been working on this for months. Forget your poxy gliders: this is the future of flying. This is what’s going to get you to the Sawtooths.”

***

Being the only dragon for miles around was quite lonely. Not that Rufus actually realised he was a dragon: the only vague recollections he had of any others of his kind were of cradling, leathery wings, and a nest, before fending for himself on mice and rats until his wings were strong enough to catch a cow or two. That seemed to annoy the two-legged things that looked after them, which tasted as sour as their disposition, as he found when he nipped a couple who were trying to chase him off. He was sick for a week after that. Which is why he wondered quite why he came to be in possession of one of their youngsters. He had only picked her up to stop her screaming when he came across her in the woods and then couldn’t let go because her jerkin was caught in his talons.

And now, here she was - a bit of a quandary. Well, he obviously wasn’t going to eat her: for one thing there was nothing of her and he didn’t fancy a queasy stomach again. But he couldn’t take her back. The two-legged things would be looking for him and they usually had an array of dangerously sharp-looking objects to hand. And she looked too young to be able to look after herself, so in all conscience he couldn’t just dump her somewhere. 

And now, here he was, apparently stuck with a somewhat noisy infant: “”WAAAH! I WANT MY MUMMY!” endlessly repeated at the top of her voice. Of course, the words meant little, it was just the decibels that bothered him. He had tried all he could to make her stop, flapping his wings over his head, nuzzling her with his snout, tickling her with his talons, but that only seemed to make it worse. In desperation he brought over a meaty bone, hoping that would shut her up, but all she did was pick it up and throw it at him. He ducked as the bone missed his head and watched it curve through the air until it clattered at the end of the plateau … and then something totally unexpected  occurred. His eyes glazed, his tongue lolled, his tail wagged and he took off after the bone in a flurry of legs and wings, retrieved it and dropped it at the girl’s feet again, squatting expectantly in front of her, eyes still glazed and tongue still lolling. She giggled, and threw it again, and again, and again … until eventually they both lay exhausted on the plateau.

***

A quick trip to Fred the Forester to cement a deal eventually saw Filbert and Mulkhi arrive at his workshop in the hills where Filbert was introduced to Jonno. Mulkhi wandered off to do some supervising and Jonno looked sceptically at Filbert’s enormous sword. “You’re going to have to ditch that,” he said. “Payload’s crucial on a trip like this.”

Filbert took immense pleasure in describing how a sword might be seen as an essential piece of kit for a dragon-slayer - but then let Jonno off the hook by describing his own preferred method, by which time Mulkhi had wandered back.

Jonno recounted what Filbert had just told him and he and Mulkhi exchanged bemused glances. “Filbert,” Mulkhi said, “you do realise that dragons are reptiles?”

“Yes, what of it?” Filbert aked.

Mulkhi coughed deferentially.  “Well, I hate to disabuse you, but  reptiles don’t actually have balls. Not the hanging variety. Think about it. With a body that low-slung you wouldn’t want your tackle dragging in the mud, would you? Not to mention creating drag. Very streamlined affairs, dragons.”

Filbert’s face took on a pallor.

“Still, nothing cold steel won’t fix and we’ve got plenty of that. And we’re committed now. At least, you should be, but let’s not mention that. Wheel it out Jonno,” Mulkhi said decisively. “No time like the present.”

Jonno looked worried. “You sure about this boss? We’re dealing with someone who thinks touching up dragons is a route to fame and fortune.”

“Fortune’s the important thing, Jonno. Fred’s cut me in on the reward and the gods know we need the money to develop the next machine.”

***

In the flesh, the clean-cut lines of the architectural drawing was transformed into a mish-mash of misaligned pieces, semi-swinging struts and an awful lot of string. Mulkhi saw Filbert’s aghast glance. “Yeah, needs a bit of refinement, but it works.” He pointed out the details whilst Jonno readied some last minute arrangements. After explaining the workings, which involved a great deal of pedalling, he scratched his beard. “Of course, we didn’t reckon on passengers, but Jonno’s working on that.”

Indeed, he was and soon Filbert was strapped face down on top of the fuselage, wrapped in fur, with two lances strapped beside him and a bow and arrows to hand.  As the contraption dropped off the cliff edge, Filbert screamed … then fainted.

When he came to it was to a total absence of noise, apart from the creaking of wing struts, the soft susurration of wind through the rigging and a lot of technical conversation drifting  from the cockpit. Letting the technical jargon wash over him, Filbert risked a look around and immediately wished he hadn’t. The ground floated by at a seemingly impossible distance and the shadow of the aerambulator cast itself below  looking for all the world like a … well, dragon.

Then: “Here we go, Jonno. Ready for this? Oi. You awake out there? We’re here.”

Filbert raised his head and saw the Sawtooths in front, gaping like an angry maw, as the aerambulator gained height, picking up thermals.

***

Entertaining the two-legged infant had proved exhausting - he’d even taken her on short rides on his neck - but it had also raised in Rufus atavistic feelings that he didn’t realise he possessed. In short, he was feeling … broody. Then, his attention was caught by something in the sky, spiralling up. Something with a head and nose and, admittedly a bit of a squat tail, but definitely bat-like wings that now commenced a slow flapping as it approached. And something even more primaeval than chasing a bone exploded throughout his whole being concentrated, interestingly, on a region that he had never hitherto paid much attention to.

Without knowing why, his mouth drooled,  his ears pricked and his whole body stiffened as he launched himself off the plateau with a joyous shriek.

***

Unless you’re fully conversant with Dragon, a joyous shriek and one of malevolence are difficult to differentiate.  Especially when you’re a thousand feet in the air and the shriek is bobbing and weaving around you in an astonishing aerial display. Then, approaching from behind, there was a thud as the dragon landed on the fuselage … and an outraged cry from Filbert as the whole assemblage was guided in for a not-quite-so graceful landing on the plateau.

Once the dragon had crawled away for a post-coital nap, Mulkhi and Jonno surreptitiously crept out of the cockpit and, in astonishment, Mulkhi whispered: “I never knew dragons mated on the wing”. 

“Well, you do now!” Filbert exploded quietly - difficult to do except in close proximity to a dragon however intimate the relationship. “Get me off here! And if you ever tell a living soul what happened …” he petered out. Safely unstrapped, Filbert crouched behind the aerambulator with the other two, “What now?” he muttered, still seething from the indignity. 

“Well, I’m no expert,” Mulkhi said, ‘but I rather think he’s expecting you to lay an egg right now.” Jonno barely restrained Filbert this time, but the commotion roused the dragon, who lifted its head … and revealed Amelia curled up beside it.

Mulkhi nudged Filbert in the ribs and gestured with his head. “Well, go on then. You’re the hunter, we’re just the transport.” Gently unhitching a spear he handed it to Filbert and motioned Jonno to begin a surreptitious repositioning of the aerambulator for a quick getaway … only to pause in the process as another dragon hove into view. 

***

Following on so closely after his recent encounter, Rufus could hardly believe his luck. Although he would be forever grateful to the creaky old bag of bones that had so willingly popped his cherry, the vision now approaching held no comparison. Not that pure aesthetics were in mind as Rufus scrambled up and launched himself into the air, zooming over an open-mouthed Filbert who just had the presence of mind to throw his arms around the dragon’s neck before he was swept over the edge of the plateau, dropping his spear but fortunately retaining his tourniquet, which he somehow wrapped around the dragon’s neck and his own body to secure himself

Mulkhi and Jonno, joined by Amelia, watched the  elaborate mating display taking place above their heads in amazement, with Filbert’s screaming counterpointing the raucous screeching of two dragons locked in rapturous embrace. The actual act was over in a moment and the two dragons swooped in to lie, exhausted, on the plateau. Carefully, Filbert extricated himself from the dragon’s neck and tiptoed away, then paused to examine the other dragon’s leg. It displayed an identification tab.

Meanwhile, Mulkhi was trying to load the squirming Amelia into the aerambulator. “NO!” she screamed. “I WANT TO RIDE MY DRAGON!” 

The words, still unfamiliar though they were, aroused an obedient response in Rufus who dragged himself from his repose and, despite being somewhat bemused by the sudden infestation of two-egged things,  trotted over still half-asleep, completely ignoring Filbert who was examining the identification tag. The dragon knelt down in front of Mulkhi with drooping eyes and Filbert sidled up in excitement. “Hey, Mulkhi”, he whispered, “I think these dragons are tame! At least, that one over there has a name tag and an address - somewhere foreign by the looks of it. Must have run off to find a mate.” He hesitantly ran a hand over Rufus’ neck and Amelia shouted, “NO! MY DRAGON! NASTY MAN!” squirmed out of Mulkhi’s arms and clambered onto the dragon’s neck.

Roused from her slumbers, the female dragon raised her head at Amelia’s voice and immediately lumbered over to nuzzle her and then sniffed inquisitively at the rest of the party. 

“Well, I’ll be …” Mulkhi rubbed his head in wonder. “I think you’re right. Listen, hop on behind Amelia …”

“Hop on yourself!” Filbert retorted, “You’re the one who wants to fly!”

But the invitation wasn’t actually necessary because the female dragon had knelt down obediently and Jonno was already enthusiastically climbing aboard.  The two dragons took off together and soared majestically into the skies with their respective passengers, whilst Mulkhi rubbed his chin deep in thought.

When they landed again, Jonno spoke to Mulkhi, wide eyed. “Are you thinking what i’m thinking, boss?” he said.

“I’m way ahead of you, Jonno,” Mulkhi replied. “How soon can you design a gondola that we can string underneath a dragon? Or maybe more,” he added as he spotted the female dragon feverishly rooting out a nest in a cave.

***

Suffice it to say that once Amelia was safely returned to her family, riding on the neck of her dragon, Filbert’s fame as a dragon hunter rose exponentially at the ‘Bucket and Firkin’, much like Mulkhi’s business. But, instead of pedal power, it was dragon power that eventually propelled his passengers through the air, once all the eggs had hatched and the dragonlets had been trained. Filbert had been right all along. You don’t need to kill a dragon. All you need to do is train it.

September 27, 2023 09:35

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