The Three

Posted by on Apr 28, 2016 in Blog, Short Stories, writing | 0 comments

The Three

A little 5,800 word short comedic fantasy story I wrote for one of the contests that the forum Fantasy Writers posts monthly on Reddit. EDIT:  Voting is long over, so I removed that link.

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The Three

 “Haur, noo, Reggie, gie us ‘at story again.”  Mouser rubbed his back as he rode stiffly on his grey pony.

“What’s that you say?” Reggie leaned on a long, gnarled staff as he limped on his bandaged left foot, which had the effect of pulling the robed figure towards the left ditch.  He compensated by turning hard back to the right, weaving back and forth across the dirt track like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

“He dost say he wants a story, Sir Reginald.”  The armored figure astride a huge, black warhorse lifted the visor of his bucket shaped helm, which promptly fell back into place, capturing the straggling edges of a thick moustache shot through with gray and white streaks.

“Och quit th’ jobby, ye pompoos git,” replied Mouser, waving at the knight.  “Aam wabbit ay yer airs, ye auld fat dobber.”

“Humph.  I’m neither old, nor fat, and most assuredly not a dobber, whatever that may be, you knave.  I wouldst put glove to your cheek and duel thee should you continue your uncouth discourse.”

“You’re sixty two and you weigh thirty stone if you weigh a pebble,” said Reggie as he gimped along.  “And he’s bested you twice in the two score years we’ve known you, Artie.”

“It t’were luck and a misfortuned step that graced yon varlet with his victories.  And you know by now ye shouldst refer to me as Sir Arthur, good Sir Reginald.”  He lifted his visor once more and gave the walking figure an aggrieved look, promptly cut off when the visor fell again with a squeal of rusty hinges.

Reggie swung his staff, banging it against the dented and stained mail that covered the knight’s leg.  “I’m not a Sir, you pompous, rotund old mingebag.  And I’ll have your liver if you say it again.”

Artie lifted the visor for a third time and held it open.  “Apologies, good S… um… Reggie.”

Reggie wobbled back to the center of the lane, tripping over a patch of dandelions which he glared at.  Two of them smoked faintly, and the remaining bunch had the good decency to appear somewhat wilty.

“That’s better.  No respect, that’s what I’m always saying.”  He tottered along, until Mouser rode his horse up next to him again.

“Whit abit ‘at story, eh?”

Reggie looked at the slight man on his gray mount.  “What?  A story?  Oh yes, quite, many stories, many.  Which did you want, Mouser?”

Mouser adjusted the black silk banding that covered his eyes and pinned back his puffy shock of long white hair.  “Ah hanker fur ‘at tale ay ye an’ th’ auld boonder thaur when ye did th’ mirk laird ay Derry an’ smote some hurt in them reit auld gits.”

Reggie squinted his eyes at Mouser, who neither wilted nor appeared in danger of bursting into a puff of smoke.  “I do wish you’d take some elocution lessons, Mouse.  All these years and you still talk like your mouth is filled with horse shit.”

“Aye,” Mouse said, nodding.  “Ah nae got a bonnie whores gob loch ye.”

Reggie ignored him. “And if you are talking about Derry, you were with us that day when we tore down the castle of the dark lord and cast his minions raving back into the depths of the flaming darkness from which they spewed forth.”  He rested a hand on the flank of Mouser’s pony.

“Och aye, was Ah dain opened th’ locks an’ shafted th’ demon.  Thocht ye probably woods hae given heem a boak tummy.”

Reggie closed his eyes, nodding, not hearing or understanding Mouser.  “You found the hidden door, and while I sat frozen in mystical contemplation to reopen the pathway to Hades, you put your bodkin deep in the shoulder of that demon thing that would have eaten me.  Though I’m quite sure he would have died of indigestion soon thereafter.”

“That’s whit Ah said,” said Mouser.

The knight sniffed.  “Sooth, he didst save thee, but t’was Sir Arthur who smote the ravenous hordes of devil spawn who tumbled down the castle’s hallways.  Ten score of the creatures didst I and my divine sword, Wendell, part from their mortal coils and send shuffling back to the gates of hell that day.  Most fine, yes indeed, a most fine day of battle.”  He removed his helm and wiped the sweat from his bald pate as he lifted and lowered the squeaking visor, squinting at it.  “I wonder if the next village might have some axel grease we may purchase.”

Mouser snickered.  “Wendell.  Ye cannae nam yer sword efter a wee doggy.”

The big knight sniffed again, donning his helmet once more.  “It t’was fitting that I name my sword after he who strode at my side for so many years.  He was a gallant animal and as fine a member of his breed as many a good lord might be.”

“Oh for the love of all that’s holy, he was a yipping little terrier, you fat lump,” said Reggie.  “He kept me awake every night with his ridiculous whining.  I would have killed him myself if he hadn’t charged into King Harold’s front ranks during the battle of the Gangrene Marshes and been trampled by a Shetland pony.”

“He didst think only of protecting his master, brave pup.”

“He was chasing a cat.”

“T’was a devil animal of that loathsome Lord.”

“It was a tabby!”

“A possessed feline of nefarious intent!”

“A flea bitten stray with mange and only three legs to its name!”

Artie’s face turned bright red and he fumbled for the sword at his waist.  “Which doth prove his demonic nature, for he didst run faster than Wendell on but three limbs!”  He managed to yank the scabbard off his belt, and dropped the sword in the muddy roadway beneath his horse’s hooves.

“Oh lay off it, Art, you’re not going to stab me,” Reggie said, wobbling over and picking up the muddy weapon and its sheath, which he handed to the big man, who sputtered and stammered through lips as red as a turnip. “You’re drooling all down your chin again, old fellow.”  He wiped the knight’s mouth and the back of his sleeve and patted his armored leg.

Mouse rode ahead of them, and as the dirt lane rounded a bend he halted his horse.  “There’s a village up aheid.”

Sir Arthur released his held breath with a sigh much like that of a kettle being pulled off the flames, descending in note as the redness in his flesh faded to its normal dusky white coloration.  “Good, we couldst perhaps find shelter for the night, and a small bite to eat.”

“Small?” Reginald asked, glancing at his corpulent waistline.

“There’s naethin’ wee abit ye, ar yer appetite,” added Mouser.

Arthur patted his plate mail covered gut.  “Tis true, I have gained in stature in the many years that we have ridden the length and breadth of this great realm.”

Reggie shook his head.  “How you understand him is one of life’s great mysteries.”

Now all three could see the road descending gently into a valley, the trees opening to either side to reveal fields lined with tumbled stone fences.  There were cattle grazing in some of the fields, and in others green crops grew.

Far down the gentle incline buildings sprang up, and a sizeable town was visible.  The buildings on the outskirts were small and humble, but towards the center they grew larger as they crowded together.  In the middle of the town they could see a large open area with many trees, on the far side of which stood the tall stone tower of a church or small cathedral.

“It dost look promising,” said Arthur, patting his stomach again.

Reggie nodded in agreement.  “It’s getting late in any case, and we’d best be finding a room or else we’ll spend all night stumbling around like three blind mice in the darkness.”

Mouser turned his head towards Reggie.  “Aye?”

Reggie looked away.  “Oh, right, yes.  Sorry about that.  I keep forgetting that you lost your eyes in the dungeons of Baron Klemper.  Although his wife was undoubtedly worth the payment.”

Mouser snickered.  “She was a bonnie hen, an’ reit whorish in th’ bedroom.”

“I’d rather not hear the details.”

“Fair enaw,” Mouse replied with a shrug.

They rode and walked slowly down the slope and into the valley as the sun set behind western peaks.  Twilight had nearly passed into night as they approached the first of the homes.  From the opposite way a figure approached, his form cast in relief by a lantern he held in front of him.  He raised his empty hand and the three old men stopped a few paces from the glow of his light.

“What business do you have here, gentleman?”

Reggie stepped forward.  “My companions and I are seeking lodges and food for the night.  We do not have much, but can pay or exchange services in trade if needed.”

The man stared at them.  He was younger than they, though the hair at his temples faded from black to silver, and his face was lined with creases of worry.  He stepped closer, lifting his lantern high and squinting his eyes as he peered at them.

“Damn these old eyes of mine, but you three look familiar.  I am Dennis Hastington, Sheriff of the village of Salthome.  What be your names?”

“I am Reginald of Gaston, first Mage of the Order of Merlin and Marrow, former Chief Cleric of King Glaston the Gaseous, and Notary Public of Hensleworth.  This is Mouser, known also as Mouse, or M, or the Blind Mouse, or Bannock of Brisbane, or Blind Ban, or… well, you get the point.  And behind me is Sir Arthur of Kingsward, Earl of Fallingstock, a knight of His Majesty’s special order and keeper of the Golden Auger.”  Arthur held up the golden emblem of his rank, which looked suspiciously like a privy plunger painted yellow.

“Ah, I knew I knew thee.  I was little more than a lad bouncing upon my pappy’s knees when last you three come to our village, bragging of your prowess.  Did you not think we’d remember you?”  He glared at the three men.

Reginald blinked at the suddenly hostile gaze and leaned close to Mouser. “Um, Mouse old bean, do you remember a village called Salthome?”

“Nay, but Ah min’ a village called Sootham.  Wasnae thaur a body called Santa Clara?”

Reggie shrugged. “Merlin help me if I could understand you, Mouse.  Artie, do you recall a place called Salthome?”

Sir Arthur shrugged.  “Nay, good Reginald, but truths be told we havest visited much of the King’s good and humble lands, t’would be possible we hadst but visited here before in long years past.”

The Sheriff spit on the ground.  “You three miserable old bastards come here hunting the Dragon of Slopshire, the great wyrm of Lord Gramish the slightly gimpy.  You took our gold in exchange for deeds yet unwritten, filling our parents with glorious tales of your prowess.”

“Ah, then perhaps we indeed didst visit your charming demesne and slay the great beast, for we have killed many a fine serpent in the name of King Dewey of Decimal.”

“You did nothing of the sort.”  The man’s face had begun to turn red in the lantern light.  “You high tailed it out of town in the dead of the night, our gold in hand, and the beast continued to ravage our community until, bored and seeking a better flavor of peasant, it moved on down the road to our neighbors to the south.”  He spat again.  “Get you gone, the three of you, before I clap you in irons and throw you into my dank root cellar.”

“Root cellar?” Reginald asked.

“We’ve no money for iron bars and a proper jail, so I keep prisoners in me ma’s root cellar.”  He shrugged and, looking slightly embarrassed, turned and walked back through the village.

“Errr… mayhap it would be best…” begin Artie, but Reginald cut him off with a wave of his hand.

“No, damn it, this is our reputation.  Our livelihood is at stake, Artie.  Does either of you remember this place?  Any details upon which we can reclaim our good name?”

Mouser nodded.  “Och aye, Ah min’ it noo.  It was a stoatin huge beest they said, a foo joostin’ list in length.”

Reginald stroked his chin.  “Jousting list?”

Mouser nodded.

“Finally got one right,” Reggie said. “Well, well, that is… rather big, wouldn’t you say, Artie?”

“Aye, ‘tis a beast of unusual size it t’would seem.”  His helmet squeaked shut again, but he left it closed now.

“Constable,” Reggie called out.  The man stopped and looked back over his shoulder.  “Where did you say the beast currently resides?”

The sheriff spit on the ground again.  “Keep following this here road.  When you came to the fork, take the right side.  You can’t miss it.  But you’re wasting your time.”

“Why?” Reggie asked.

“Lord Archie the Bald, the Lion of Langmere, the Terror of the Trillian Testicles, and first, and currently last, son of Baron Bran Festooned passed through not three hours ago.  He sallies forth to kill the beastie and end his reign of terror upon our lands.”  He turned on his heel and disappeared between the buildings.

“Ah, good, good, we can continue to our evening diversions with all due haste, the dragon has already been accounted for,” said Artie.

“No,” replied Reggie, his fingers twitching.  “We’re not letting some cankerous young welp do our work for us.  We’re going to go find this beast and kill him ourselves before Baron Numb Nut’s kid does.”

“So… there is not to be a warm meal and soft bed this eve?”  Artie asked, his voice muffled by his helmet.

Reggie glared at him.  “No.  Not tonight.  Tonight we finish a job we should have thirty years ago.”

“Dost any of us remember why we didst not defeat yon beastie whence last we came to this village?” Artie asked.

Reggie stroked his chin for a while, his brain firing on all three remaining cylinders, and then shook his head.  “I can’t seem to recall.  How about you, Mouser?”

Mouser shrugged.  “Ah was blin’ blooter’d frae th’ age ay twintie tois until Ah was fifty seven. Ah can’t min’ jobby abit most ay th’ years in atween, lit aloyn some villagers payin’ us tae gang efter their beastie.”

Reggie stared at him for several minutes, and then blinked rapidly and shook his head.  “Nope, no idea, still don’t understand you.  In any case, we need to finish the job before some trumped up little shit with a ludicrous title wearing a tin can does it first and steals our thunder.”  He glanced at sir Arthur and noticed his armor.  “No offense, Artie.”

“None taken,” said the big knight, whose voice said that, indeed, offense had been taken but he knew better than to admit it because being turned into a cabbage really wasn’t a life goal.

Reggie began tottering down the road and the two other men followed.  The stars wheeled overhead and the night was silent but for the breath of the horses, the clomp of their hooves, and the snuffling of Sir Artie whose sinuses had begun acting up again.

After the seventh or eighth snuffle, Reggie wacked his leg.  “Would you pipe down the nasal symphony, I can’t hear myself think.”

“Sorry,” Artie said.

They reached the side track and turned right, following a narrow, winding trail that led through a copse of gnarled trees, bare branches reaching up into the night sky.  Beyond the trees, the ground opened up to a huge field, the vegetation burned down to the dirt beneath, and beyond the field rose a cliff, towering high above them.  In the middle of the cliff they could see a darkness darker than dark, a blackness that became bleakly blinding.  All except Mouser, who saw the same thing all the time everywhere and would have been at a loss to use appropriate alliteration to describe said scenery.  Not that Reggie would have understood him if he had.

In the middle of the field stood a beautiful white stallion, its mane stirring in the light night breeze.  This was truly the king of horse kind, a stallion that only a real noble would own and ride.  If they had been horses, the three friends would have worshipped at its hooves and marveled at its beauty.  They were still suitably impressed, though only human and thus unable to truly grasp the magnificence of its handsome countenance.

Kneeling beside the horse, his hands resting on the pommel of a great sword that was thrust into the ground in front of him, was a knight, his head bowed in prayer.  Even in the dark Reggie and Artie could see his golden curls cascading down over his shoulders, his silver armor gleaming under the stars.  It was a magnificent sight to their tired old eyes, so Reginald spat on the ground and Mouser let loose with a veritable cannon of a fart.  Arthur snuffled again.  Thus fortified against the charms of ignorant youth, they walked forward.

The knight started, looking around until he spotted them.  “Ah, good Sirs, have you come to see me vanquish yon beastie so that thou may revel in mine glories?”

“He talks like you,” Reggie said, elbowing Arthur in his leg and then rubbing his arm where Artie’s armor had bruised him.

“Well met, good Sir Archie,” said Arthur.  “I am Sir Arthur-”

“-Oh bugger the introductions, they take too long,” said Reggie.  “We’re here to kill the beast, so you’ll just have to wait your turn.”

The young knight stood and turned to look at them, his eyes narrowing.  “Forsooth, my good man, but t’was Sir Archie who didst arrive at the Cliffs of Peril first and, thus, have’st the honor of slaying the dragon.”

“Cliffs ay Peril, damn guid nam,” said Mouser, who slid off his horse and stretched, his back cracking loudly in the quiet night air.  “Makes me hink ay th’ Hillock ay Moles, ur th’ Precipice ay Extreme Discomfort.”

Sir Arthur looked at him and shook his head.  “The Mountain of Molehills is south near Bannbrockboroughshireville, and the Precipice of Extreme Discomfort is a myth of the pigmy ladies of Monmouth.  Thou art repeating falsehoods, good sir Mouser.”

“Reit, sorry Artie,” Mouser said.

Reggie stood before the young knight who was still scowling at them.  His eyes glanced at the curtain of hair that flowed over his scalp and down to his shoulders, then his brow furrowed and his fingers wiggled.  There was a brief sound that reminded Arthur and Mouser vaguely of the word “poof” and then a tiny flame sprang from the top of Sir Archie’s head, smoldering feebly and threatening at any moment to retire from its work, cash out its 401k and take a long holiday in Bermuda where it would drink copious amounts of rum and dance with the native bonfires.

The younger man seemed not to notice, and he pulled his sword from the ground and approached the three companions, swinging it lithely in front of his body.  “I say again to thee, this beast is sir Archie’s to kill.  Thou midst as well be gone, for I yield to no man.”

“Errr… a thousand pardons, but Sir Archie?” Sir Arthur said politely, lifting one hand.

“This quest was laid upon mine shoulders by the Lord God himself, casting his divine light upon my prayers as I didst kneel before him in solemn tribute, silently fasting and watching over my arms as they lay upon his altar,” Sir Archie continued.

“Yes indeed, ‘tis is a fine story, but if I may trouble you, Sir Archie?” Sir Arthur tried again.

“Indeed, mine own father, his eyes lit with the holy spirit within, didst this fine steed purchase for me that very day so that the quest I might pursue, and add glory and honor to my family’s name in my duty for our Lord god,” he went on, ignoring Arthur.

“Errrr, yes, but Sir Archie,” Arthur started-

“-Yer heed is oan fire,” said Mouser, interrupting the knight.

“What?” Sir Archie asked?

“Ah said yer heed is oan fire.”

“I can’t understand a word you’re saying.  What’s he saying? Does anyone understand this strange man?”

“He’s saying your pretty wig is burning up on top of your head,” Reggie said, nodding at the flame on top of Sir Archie’s head that was growing bigger.

“Wig?”  Sir Archie’s face turned dark as he stepped closer.  Three tottering old men backed away.  “Wig?!  I’ll have you know this is my own hair, I grew it myself! Ask anyone, seriously, ask them!  These are my own, natural, gloriously flowing locks, and I’ll have the guts of anyone who says otherwise!”

He reached up to his hair and his hand was singed by the now spreading flames that were rapidly enveloping his curls.  With a yelp of surprise and pain, he ripped the golden wig from his shiny bald pate and tossed it onto the ground, jumping up and down on the flames with his mailed feet to extinguish the blaze.

“A body hin’ abit th’ festooned fowk, they ken hoo tae cut a rug,” said Mouser, cocking his head as he listened to the stomping of Sir Archie’s size seven sabatons.

“He dost dance a jig with grace, too,” added Sir Arthur.

“That’s whit Ah said,” replied Mouser testily.

Once the misfortuned head gear had been doused of its flames, Sir Archie turned and glared at the three men who stood before him.  “Thou art varlets and knaves, consorting with dark magic that flows from the demons of hell.  I wouldst challenge thee to a duel if but thy bodies were not as old and feeble as threshed wheat on a barren field.”

“Errrr… Sir Archie?” Sir Arthur said, trying to be helpful again.

“Shut up!” the young knight said, spittle flying from his lips.  “Stop interrupting you doddering old embecile!  This is my kill.  Mine!  I got here first, and I’m going to kill that dragon myself, and then I’ll kill any of you who are still hanging about this here… this… you know…”  He waved his hand in a gesture of futility.

“Field?” offered Reggie helpfully.

“Yes, field!” the knight continued, glaring at him.

“But, Sir Archie,” Sir Arthur said again, pointing back towards the cave mouth.

“Shut your festering gob, you prancing old pervert!  I know you, yes I do, you empty headed tosser.  My father told me all about you, Sir Arthur the bloated.  Oh yes, you and your little terrier, that flea bitten little mutt of yours.  I heard he got taken down by a cat of all things.  A cat!  Hah, that’s a true laugh!  I bet you fight as badly as he did.”

Sir Arthur’s face turned as dark as the cave mouth and he crossed his arms, his mouth shut tightly.

“Oh right, nothing more to say you old fart?  Just going to sit there like a fat old boulder while your broken down nag chews on its own festering sores?  Come on, why don’t you come over here and-”

The dragon ate Sir Archie.

Unbeknownst to him, though quite beknownst to Sir Arthur, who had been trying to warn the obstinate youth, and Reginald, who didn’t care if he knew, and to Mouser whose ears were much sharper than either of their eyes, the dragon had slipped out of its dark cave and crawled up behind him as he screamed at them in righteous indignation, its rest interrupted by the young man’s raspy, high pitched voice.  Sir Archie would be mollified, if not grateful at least, to know the dragon soon suffered from a bout of cramps brought on by trying to digest a fully armored knight and his sword.  His horse promptly ran off and was never seen again, though it was said to be living quite comfortable in Yorkshire with a harem of mares at its beck and call.  It was quite a handsome stallion after all.

“Serves the young whelp right,” Sir Arthur said as he drew his sword.  “No respect, just as Reginald hath repeateth many a time.”

The dragon belched and looked at the three of them.  It was an old beast, its eyes milky white with cataracts, its scales no longer as lustrous and shiny as once they were when it was young and in the full flush of its strength.  Once it was strong and mighty, a fearsome creature that ruled its lands with iron sharp claws and razor like teeth, and breathe that flamed like the mountains of death.  These days it suffered from gout and arthritis, and periodic bouts of depression brought on by nearsightedness and distemper.  And now its stomach had begun to ache as Archie digested.

“Hello there,” the wrym said and belched again.

Reggie waved his hand in front of his face, wrinkling his nose at the stench.  “By hades that’s foul.”

“Aye, ‘tis true,” said Arthur, holding his sword in front of his body.

“Well,” said the dragon, “it’s all about the diet of course.  There’s really nothing I can do about it, can I.  You try eating half burned meat all your life and see how your breath smells.”

“That’s a fair point,” said Mouser.

Reggie cocked his head and squinted at him.  “So now you can speak clearly?”

“Och shut yer trap, Ah spick jist braw,” said Mouser.

“That’s more like it,” said Reggie, turning back to the dragon.  “And as for you, you great heaping lump of rotting llama droppings, do you surrender or do you wish to face the wrath of the Three?”

The dragon rubbed his chin and burped again.  “Ummm, which three would that be?”

“Us three,” said Reggie.  “Artie, Mouser and myself.”  He pointed at each of them in turn as if confirming he had their names right.

“You three?”

“Yes, we three.”

“A fat knight, a blind man, and a doddering old wizard?  Did you happen to bring an army as well?”

Reggie looked around.  “We didn’t think we’d be needing one.  The Three should be all that it takes.  You’re only one dragon.”

A soft rumble of laughter escaped from the dragon’s throat as he smiled.  “Well, then, shall we begin.”

“First, we must needs establish the rules of this engagement,” said Sir Arthur, dismounting from his horse.  He slapped it once on the rump and sent it trotting back in the direction from which they had come, and walked over to where Reggie stood facing the dragon.

“Rules?  What rules?  This is a battle to the death, there are no rules.”

“Right, fair enough,” Arthur said and swung his sword, cutting the dragon across one of his legs.  The creature howled in pain and reared back, twisting away from the sharp blade that had wounded him.

Reggie was looking at Arthur with what appeared to be surprised, and Arthur grew increasingly uncomfortable beneath his lingering gaze.  “What?” he asked, as he watched the dragon spinning away from them.

“I’ve never known you to cheat, Artie.  I’m surprised at you.”

“I giveth yon beast all opportunity to set the terms of our engagement and he didst.”

“You tricked him.”

“I didst no such thing.”

“Yes you did.”

“Well, that is but thine opinion.”

“I’m trying to compliment you, you rotund old fart.”

“Oh, well,” Artie said, lifting the visor of his helm and biting his lip.  “Errr… thanks?”

“You’re welcome.”

The dragon turned towards them again and they heard a rumble in its throat, like the sound of a huge cat purring, assuming the cat was the size of a small house and really pissed off.  A wind sprang around them, blowing towards the maw of the creature as it sucked in a great gulp of air, dust and small branches flying in a swirl around their bodies. It opened its mouth wider, and two of the three figures could see the glow appear at the back of its throat, a dark orange that grew brighter, shading towards red and then bright yellow.  Mouser, of course, could see nothing of the sort, though he assumed correctly that it was about to use its most potent weapon.

“Dragon breath!” yelled Reggie as he dove in a staggering sort of tripping fall to one side.  Mouse leapt lithely from his horse and fell into a prickle of gorse bushes, cursing vigorously.

“Oh bother,” said Artie as he turned ponderously in his heavy suit of armor as the flames shot from the black mouth of the foul creature and licked across his body.  He stumbled to his knees as the heat subsided and the dragon began coughing hoarsely.

“Damn it,” the dragon cursed, still hacking loudly.  “Haven’t done… cough… that in… cough, cough… a long while… cough, cough…”

Reggie staggered to his feet and tottered over to Artie.  He reached to help the large man up and hissed, yanking his hands away from the armor which was hot to the touch.  Arthur rolled onto his back groaning and lifted his visor up with a smooth motion.  He paused, looked confused, and then raised and lowered it a few more times.

“Yon beastie’s breath hath cured the ills of mine visor,” he said.

“Quiet,” said Reggie, patting his leg where the armor wasn’t too hot.  “You’re probably delusional from heat stroke.”

The dragon’s coughing had subsided but it was still wheezing, one leg clutching its abdomen.  “Damn, but that hurts,” it said.

“What’s the matter with you?” Reggie asked, glancing up at him.

“Emphysema.  My Dracologist says it was from smoking too much and I should lay off.”

“Yer story is a sad a body, maister wyrm,” said Mouser.  “Eh’d feel sorrier, thocht, if ye werenae tryin’ tae eat us.”

The dragon shrugged.  “It’s what I do.”

“Fair enow,” said Mouser and launched himself at the dragon, who had opened his mouth to cough again.  A dagger appeared in Mouser’s hand as he leapt into the air and disappeared into the great creature’s open maw, the teeth closing after him with a loud snap that sounded like a portcullis slamming shut.

The dragon raised his vast head and grinned a terrible grin, that turned into a small smile, that morphed into a pout of puzzlement, that transformed into a fearsome frown.  Then it screamed, quite loudly, and Reggie and Artie – sitting up now with his back against a boulder for support – saw the saliva covered form of Mouser inside the dragons mouth stabbing away blindly with his weapon, blood streaming over the monster’s massive maw and dripping onto the ground.

The dragon spit Mouser out and he hit the ground with a wet thud, rolling through the dirt until his head cracked against a rock and he lay still.  Reggie felt his brow contracting until his vision had narrowed to a tiny slit, whereupon he blinked because the bristly hairs of his eyebrows were blinding him.  He stood and pulled back the sleeves of his robes and stepped towards the dragon who was retching now, great blobs of blood spewing onto the ground.

“Say you’re sorry,” Reggie said, his voice a growl.

“Pardon?” replied the dragon.

“I said, say you’re sorry.”

“Sorry?  For what?  He’s the one who should be sorry, stabbing me in the mouth like that.”

“Apologize now, or else.”

The dragon smiled and lowered its head until it was inches from Reggie’s glowering face.  “Or else what?”

Reggie punched him.  Given his age, decrepitude and his slight weight from years of not being able to digest anything beyond green leafy vegetables, there wasn’t much force behind the blow, certainly no more than the touch of floating dandelion dander upon a blade of new spring grass.

The dragon’s head shot back like a boulder fired from a catapult, his entire body arching in the middle as the magic gathered in Reggie’s hands exploded against his serpentine jaw.  His face plowed into the cliff wall behind him, his neck twisting with the force of the blow until it shattered with a sickening crack like a massive tree trunk splitting near the base and toppling to the ground.  He fell limp to the dirt in front of his cave mouth and lay still, blood still seeping from his wounds.

Reggie slumped, suddenly tired.  He felt every last one of his seventy seven years, and the arthritis in his joints began to flare with pain as he toddled over to Mouser, whose head was now cradled in Arthur’s lap.  The old knight was weeping openly, his helm tossed to the side, stroking the blind man’s dark hair.

“Oh my friend, my dear friend is dead. I’m so sorry I didst not protect you, that I failed you in this hour of our greatest need,” Arthur said.  Reggie let himself slump to the ground next to them, and he patted Artie on his back.

“There, there, Artie, it’s alright.  We all have to die someday.  If you keep crying, you’re going to have to spend a month getting the rust of your armor’s joints.”  He pulled a handkerchief from one of his many hidden pockets and handed it to Artie, who wiped his tears and then blew loudly into it.  He made to hand it back but Reggie shook his head.  “You keep it,” he said.

“He was a kind man, always so generous with others,” Arthur said.  “It was my honor to have been counted amongst his friends and companions-”

“-Quit yer greetin’, ye auld divit, aam nae deid yit,” said Mouser weakly as he stirred.

“You’re alive!” Arthur said, crushing Mouser into a hug.  “The good lord in his divine glory hast saved thine life so that we may, once more, be three.  Oh, it is with great joy that I great thee, Sir Mouser-”

“Gie aff me, ye stoatin boonder,” Mouser said, pushing away from him and scooting back. He groaned in pain and rubbed the back of his head.  “Och, ‘at hurts.”

Reggie was watching him, his eyebrows arched.  Mouser cocked his head as though listening for something.

“Nope, still can’t understand you,” said Reggie.

“Fair enow,” said Mouser.

From behind them came a dimly muffled groan, and the three looked at the dragon.

“Mayhap we should retire to a more… comfortable location?” suggested sir Arthur, voicing the same concern that each of them had.

“Get… me… out of here!” a muffled voice yelled.

Reggie grinned.  “Arthur, can you go cut the bald headed little blighter out of the dragon.  Then we’ll go back to that town and get cleaned up, and he can buy us a meal for saving his life.”

 

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