Trying to keep up my “on-time” record, here…
The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
© 2011 Sheila McClune
“Ew,” said the dragon. “He doesn’t smell as good now.”
“Um, no.” I tried to cover my nose with my sleeve and failed. “Did he smell good before?”
“Oh, yes, quite. Not as good as you do, of course, since I gather he’s a male. But still very tasty. Like fresh grass, and the sea, and the new moon, and determination. And he smells a bit like delbow blossoms, too. I wonder if that’s because he is also a virgin?”
“He is?” I shot a glance at the man lying on the floor below, but he was shivering too hard to be paying attention to the conversation. “Oh, damn it! Dragon, let me down. I need to help him.”
“Why? What is wrong with him?”
“I think he’s going into shock. I need to help him.” Though, frankly, I wasn’t sure what I could do, besides elevate his feet. But I had to try. “If I don’t, he could die.”
The dragon’s head swiveled to scrutinize me more closely. “You hoo-muns are fragile little creatures, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” I held up my still-bleeding hand. “We have thin skins and breakable bones and internal organs that don’t take kindly to squeezing.”
I didn’t really expect the dragon to show any sign of remorse for nearly squeezing me to death, and it didn’t disappoint me. “Hmph. Then how do you survive?”
“Sometimes I wonder that myself.” I looked down at the man on the cave floor. He did look awfully frail, all of a sudden. “Please, Dragon. Let me help him.”
The paw holding me started to move closer to the floor, then stopped. “Wait. How do I know you won’t try to run away the instant I set you down?”
It was a fair question. I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t. “What if I promise that I won’t?”
The dragon snorted, and I smelled gunpowder again. “According to all of the legends, hoo-muns are very bad at keeping promises.” It bent down to look closely at me again, its eyes now shading more toward purple than red. “Or has that changed in the last thousand years?”
I couldn’t help wincing. “No. I can’t really say that it has. But I do keep my promises. At least–”
The man below whimpered. “Help me. Somebody. Please. Help me!”
I pushed frantically at the claws around me. “Please, Dragon. Isn’t there some way I can convince you to let me help him?”
The dragon hesitated for a long moment, still studying me. “Very well,” it finally said. “But first, you must look into my eyes and promise me that you will not try to run away.”
Looking into the dragon’s eyes wasn’t hard. After all, they were right there in front of me, and mucking huge to boot. They had changed back to the deep, soothing red I had seen first, and I felt the racing of my heart slow just a little. Calm, I told myself. Everything would be all right. “I promise,” I said, and meant it.
“Thank you, little hoo-mun.” The paw holding me lowered me gently to the cave floor, waiting until my feet touched the stone before unclenching from around me. “There. Now, can you save him?”
“I’ll try.” My knees felt a bit rubbery, but I was able to take two steps toward the man without either one buckling. I knelt beside him and gently stroked his hair out of his eyes. “Hey,” I said, softly. “What’s your name?”
He opened his eyes, squinted. “Oh. You.” He swallowed hard. “I’m Max.”
I gave him a smile. “Max, I’m Maddie. And I’m going to see what I can do to make you a little more comfortable. But you have to trust me. Okay?”
“Do I have a choice?” But the corners of his mouth flickered upwards in a hint of a grin.
“Well, you could just lie here and wait for the paramedics to arrive,” I teased.
“Okay, okay. You were right about the sling. I should have taken you up on it.” He groaned between chattering teeth. “I’m so cold, Maddie.”
“I think you’re going into shock. We need to get your feet elevated, which means turning you onto your back. I’ll be as gentle as I can.” I scooted around so I was squatting behind him and slid one arm along his shoulders, grabbing his hip with the other hand. “Ready?”
“No, but do it anyway.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
Taking that as my cue, I rolled him onto his back. I did my best to go easy, but I still jostled his arm a little. He only screamed once, though.
“There,” I panted. “Now I just need something to tuck under your legs.” Fortunately, there were plenty of rocks around; it took me a couple of tries to find a pair that were small enough for me to move, but I found them and shoved them under his feet.
“S-s-still c-cold,” he chattered.
“I can fix that,” rumbled the dragon from above. I’d almost forgotten he was there. I heard him shuffle a short distance away, then make a funny sound, like a garbage disposal clearing its throat.
Then a bright blast of fire filled the cave. I threw a hand in front of my face to shield my eyes from the searing glare. It stopped after just a few seconds, then started again, then stopped.
It took a moment for my eyes to readjust to the dimness of the cave. When they did, the first thing I could make out was one of the dragon’s paws coming at me from the darkness above. In the very tips of its claws, it held a charred-looking rock about the size of a pilates ball, which it carefully set down about four feet away. A moment later, the other paw deposited a second rock on my other side. I could feel heat radiating from both boulders.
“Will that help, little hoo-mun?”