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I Hate Dragons Chapter Four


Chapter Four

No, that’s not an error. Brandon wasn’t happy with the third chapter, so he didn’t share it. I believe it introduces the sorceress character, but you can read straight from chapter two to chapter four without noticing any gap.

Skip sat down on a large stone near where the dragon had been slain, and Paro—the hunters’ short, wide-smiled supply master—brought him a cup of warmed cider and a blanket to put around his shoulders. Paro always took care of him. Though it was early spring, and the weather hadn’t seemed too cold when Skip had begun this, he was now shivering, and not just from being doused with water.

The hunters backed away from the dead dragon. Skip didn’t look at the corpse. He’d seen a lot of dead dragons by this point, and they always filled him with a sense of melancholy. They were majestic creatures. When they weren’t threatening you, eating you, or attacking your village.

He’d always thought they should somehow be able to find a way to get along. They had a lot in common. They were both sentient, could both have conversations, and both races seemed to have trouble spelling things properly.

He sipped the cider, holding the cup to keep his hands from shaking. He’d really thought, for a moment, that this time would be his last. That Master Johnston and the others would move too late. Most young men Skip’s age had an inflated sense of their own safety, presuming themselves immortal. Not Skip. Live through as many dragon attacks as he had, and you start to get a sense for the fragility of life.

He looked up as someone walked past. The sorceress. She was tall and solid, with aged hair turning from black to silver like the leaves changing with the coming of fall. Her face bore a few lines, but they didn’t make her look old. Just . . . powerful, somehow. She passed eyes over him, her face expressionless, then walked past Master Johnston.

“I must say,” Master Johnston said, “this was a big fellow! Most dangerous we’ve tackled for you, mistress. It might be worth a little bonus, don’t you think? For our efforts?”

The sorceress ignored him other than to reach down to the huntmaster’s waist and grab the hilt of his sheathed longsword. She yanked it free with a snap, causing him to stumble back, pale-faced. She merely continued on, lifting up the sword to rest it on her shoulder.

She’s a cold one, Skip thought. Rarely said a word. Never participated in hunts. He didn’t know much about Dawnfacers like her, other than that—instead of simple knacks—they were said to have very powerful magics.

Not that she ever used hers to help the hunters.

She strode over to the dragon, waving away the hunters gathered there. Then she rammed the sword into the beast’s belly to open up its stomach.

Skip turned away. What was she searching for? Something in the bellies of the dragons, something she was willing to pay extraordinary amounts of money for, hiring a full band of hunters and running an expedition that had now lasted months. She didn’t seem to care for the everyday riches often found inside a dragon’s stomach. She tossed aside diamonds and gold as if they were worthless. She wanted something else.

Whatever it was, she didn’t find it. She soon walked back past Master Johnston and handed him a bloody sword, though some sort of spell or magic on her part kept her hands and dress free of gore. Her expression had grown frustrated. She walked into the shadow of a nearby rock formation, then folded her arms in contemplation as the hunters gathered around to sift through the contents of the dragon’s stomach, looking for riches.

Dragons actually had two stomachs, one that digested food and another that stored things. That made sense to Skip. Dragons didn’t wear clothing, which meant no pockets on the outside. So they kept one on the inside instead.

“I presume,” Master Johnston said, walking up to her, “that this beast was not the one you were searching for.”

The sorceress gave no comment.

Master Johnston seemed pleased. He rubbed his hands together and glanced at the others, looking through the dragon’s swallowed possessions. Caliber, the hunter’s accountant, stood to the side, carefully keeping record of every item of value discovered. He had eyes like a rabbit—small and constantly flicking to the sides, watching everything, careful not to miss even the slightest detail.

The hunters called themselves servants of the greater good, protecting men by slaying dragons. They were really just fortune hunters. Every man who got a stab in on the dragon got a share—again, Caliber kept watch and count. Anyone not lucky enough to strike a blow got nothing, unless they were Master Johnston. He always got a share.

Of course, the ones who rushed in often ended up dead. There was a lot of turnover among the rank-and-file men of the hunters. The smart ones retired with some money. The lucky ones kept accumulating more and more cash.

The rest ended up dead. Which is where I’m headed, Skip thought. Sure, it had been nice to first be discovered by the hunters—finding a place where a young man who attracted dragons was an asset, not someone to be run out of town with swords and torches. But how long could he last?

“We will need to move farther into the mountains,” the sorceress said. She always spoke in a hissing whisper. It gave Skip chills.

“Farther . . .” Master Johnston said. “Mistress, that’s where the great drakes live! This fellow, he was a large one by our standards. But he’s still small compared to the ancient beasts! We ain’t gonna survive if we try that.”

Aren’t, Skip thought to himself, mostly for his own peace of mind.

“Greater risk,” the sorceress whispered, “means greater reward.”

That was the argument she’d used weeks ago to get them to come this far in to the highlands where the dragons lived. They ravaged all of Drakeface, of course, and many had even moved into Dawnface these days. Dragons could fly quickly, for all their awkwardness on ground.

Going deeper into their lands, however . . . that did seem suicidal. The fact that her promises of greater wealth didn’t seem to tempt Master Johnston was a testament to just how dangerous it was. He moved off to see what the men had found, looking at his bloodied sword and seeming troubled.

Skip watched him retreat, then turned back and was chilled to find the sorceress watching him.

“I heard what you said earlier,” she said in her whispered voice, walking up to him. “About wanting to stop being the one who baits the dragons.” She wasn’t taller than he was, but she seemed so. Of course, he was sitting down. Maybe that was it.

“I was thinking that avoiding being eaten would be a good career choice.”

“I chose this group of hunters precisely because of you, young man. Your membership makes this group not only more successful, but more likely to encounter dragons. I don’t have time to spare; already this takes too long.”

Skip suppressed a shiver. Everyone knew that sorcery was bad. Oh, they didn’t speak it, particularly when a sorcerer was around. But they knew it. Magic was meant to be used as knacks, things granted by the cube for the benefit of men. Sorcery, manipulating magical power and using it however you wanted, was like theft.

He didn’t say that. Despite taunting dragons on a regular basis, Skip did have a small measure of self-preservation instinct.

“Does not the lure of wealth tempt you?” the sorceress said. “Think of the riches you could obtain if you continued just a little longer.”

“I suspect they’d tempt me more if I got to keep any of them.”

“Oh, I’m certain you’ll survive long enough to use them.”

“That’s debatable. But I’m not talking about that, mistress. I don’t get paid.”

What?”

“You have to stab the dragon to get paid. I don’t do any stabbing.”

“But you’re whom the dragons come to us to eat!”

“I know. No pay for me, though.”

“Whose behind this?”

“Who’s behind this.”

“I asked you.”

“No, that was a correction. ‘Who’s’ is the form you wanted. It means ‘Who is.’ Whose is the possessive of who. It’s something not a lot of people understand.”

“But . . .”

“I can hear apostrophes.”

“Really?”

“It’s my knack. One of them, at last. The other is smelling tasty to dragons.”

“But the words sound exactly the same.”

“You had them mixed up in your mind.”

“But I knew what I meant to say.”

“Still came out wrong.”

She looked at me, arms folded. She didn’t seem to think highly of knacks, but that was common for Dawnfacers. They had apparently not been pleased when the Border was finally breached and they’d found another Face full of magical people—but ones who knew nothing of harnessing the power in the way they did.

“Master Johnston is quite firm on the point,” Skip said, changing the topic back to his pay. “It’s in the group’s charter. If you don’t stab, but are still valuable, you get to eat—but you don’t get paid. Except for Johnston himself.”

“I will have words with him. This must change. You must continue doing what you have been doing.”

“If what I’ve been doing is survive, I agree. But even with pay, mistress, I’m not sure. I don’t know that I have much luck left in me. I think it’s time to be done.”

“But you can’t.”

“Actually, my contract says—”

“I don’t care what your contract says.”

“Really? Because I rewrote it several times, and used some very fined punctuation and interesting words. It’s quite marvelous, I must say.”

“You can’t, because I need you to find the right dragon for me. What will it take to make you stay here? What is it you want?”

“You really want to know?”

“Yes.”

“I want to be a lexicographer.”

“I didn’t figure you for the dancing type.”

“That’s choreographer. A lexicographer is a person who gathers words. More accurately, I want to be a lexicographer, a grammarian, and a philologist. But I’ll settle for just the first.”

“Words.”

“Yes.”

“You want to gather words.”

“What about gold?”

“That’s a word.”

“No, I mean, don’t you want gold?”

“Too heavy.”

“Jewelry.”

“I already have dragons chasing me. If I were rich, people would want to rob me. No, I’ll stick with words. They’re valuable, but they’re light, and nobody else seems to want them as badly as I do.”

“But what will you do with them?”

“That’s the exciting part! I’ll put them all into this big book, you see. A book that contains all the words in the world, and includes all of their proper spellings.”

“What good would that do?”

“Well, it would make my life a whole lot less annoying, for one thing. Have you heard the spelling of most of those hunters? It’s atrocious!”

“Most of us can’t hear spelling.”

“Yes, but you write it. Incorrectly. With this book, you see, everyone could look and see how every word is spelled. And then nobody would be confused. These days, everyone has to stare at a document for hours, trying to figure out what all the words are. Nobody uses the same spellings. Why, just today, I’ve heard the word dragon spelled ‘dragoon,’ ‘daragon,’ ‘dragen,’ ‘deragin,’ and ‘blarsnaf.’”

“Er . . . ‘blarsnaf’?”

“That was from Pug the cook. He speaks Lukarvian, but the word should actually be spelled ‘blarsnef’ in his language. You see what I have to put up with?”

“No.”

Skip sighed. It was the same story. The world seemed quite willing to accept misunderstood artists, misunderstood thieves, and even peasants who dreamed of royalty. But nobody knew what to do with a misunderstood philologist. Other than run him out of town for bringing the dragons down on them.

He still hadn’t found a way to explain it to them. A book of all the words in the world. A . . . wordbook. He’d need a better name. Anyway, it was all about people understanding one another. Right now, they had trouble. He could solve that, could help them all get along.

“Did you know,” he said to the sorceress, “that fourteen thousand people died last year because of a misspelling?”

“For some reason, I find myself skeptical, young man.”

“It was in a peace treaty. The scribe wrote the word ‘peace’ as ‘piece.’ ‘We, the people of Kalvonia, will continue to dwell in freedom, and you of Tarseldia will continue in piece.’ It started a war. They thought he meant ‘continue in pieces.’ Fourteen thousand died before they found the problem. The scribes then argued for three weeks about which word had been meant. Both spellings are used. It’s a problem.”

“Look. If you’ll continue on as bait for a few more weeks, I’ll help you with your book thing.”

“I don’t know. What help could you be?”

“Lots. I know lots of words.”

Something was different about the sorceress. He regarded her, thoughtful. It’s her voice, he thought. She’s gotten so involved in the conversation that she’s not whispering. She’s started to let her voice sound. It sounds . . . less frightening that way. Kind of melodic.

“There,” the sorceress said. “It’s settled than. I’m glad we had this conversation.” She patted him on the shoulder, then walked away toward where their camp was.

“Then,” he whispered. “You meant then. And I didn’t agree.”

She wasn’t listening.

So, that night while the hunters were sleeping off the beer from the celebration after having slain the dragon, Skip packed his things. He slipped out of camp unseen. This dragon-bait stint had been nice, in some ways. It had been good to find a place where he was wanted and needed.

The next step was to find a place where he was wanted and needed for something otherthan being devoured. He had decided that he was done being bait for dragons.

It was particularly ironic, then, that about two hours out of camp, he found himself cornered by one. This time without a single hunter around to kill the thing for him.

And that’s the end of what Brandon has shared publicly. There may be more in the future, or there may not. This was mostly a quick writing exercise for Brandon to play around a bit between projects and freshen his palate.


|   Castellano