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Dog and Dragon: Chapter Seven
Last updated: Friday, March 16, 2012 19:33 EDT
“I had not,” said the knight, Sir Bertran, “been aware of the usefulness of dragon fire in kindling a fire in these wet woods.” He was eyeing the dragon with a little more respect.
That was a good thing, probably, Fionn thought. He was a nice enough lad in a society where the nobility had to prove themselves with deeds of courage. Ignorance of dragons — and some might leave Tasmarin now — could be rapidly fatal. It was small repayment for the fact that Bertran was sharing a hind he’d shot earlier with them. Besides, the dog approved of him. Of course, Fionn admitted to himself, Díleas was a shameless beggar from anyone who had food, but he had gone trotting over to the knight before he’d known about the knight’s nearby camp and the deer carcass strung in the tree next to it.
“I had hoped,” said Sir Bertran, “that it might serve as bait and bring the fearsome beasts to me. They are more numerous in the woods than in my father’s time, but still, they are wary of an armored knight. But if not bait, then food, if I can get a fire to kindle.” Fionn had been happy to oblige. Díleas had been perfectly content to eat it raw, and had been provided with a few slices of meat to keep him going while it cooked. If Fionn understood soulful doggy looks, a little drool, and the occasional hrrm noises, it had been wholly insufficient, at least in Díleas’s opinion, and “cooked” should be a relative term.
And then, of course, something scented the bait. The knight’s horse gave first warning, before the distracted dog. But even without that whicker of fear, they would have known, soon enough.
The giant broke trees and shook the earth with his tread. The forest life fled before him — birds, deer, a unicorn, foxes, a cockatrice, squirrels and an ogre.
The giant wasn’t interested in them. It was hunting, in Fionn’s opinion, a dog and a dragon.
In Sir Bertran’s opinion, it was hunting him, and thus the company he was in.
There was nothing wrong with the young knight’s courage, or the agility of his horse. He did manage to place his lance tip in the bellowing giant’s eye, and the horse danced aside from the giant’s club — a ripped-up tree — as the lance tip snapped. Unfortunately it had five other eyes — as it had three tusky heads.
Fionn had yelled at Díleas “Run!” before taking to the wing himself. Dragon fire singed the giant — as he kicked over their fire and sent the partly cooked hind flying.
Dragon fire carbonized the club, but the giant itself merely bellowed in anger and lunged at him. It didn’t burn. It was a siliceous giant A rock giant, as opposed to the frost and fire ones Fionn knew for their bad temper. Normally the rock giants were slow to anger, and slow of reactions. This one was neither. In fact, thought Fionn, as his wings bit air and pushed him higher, this one was a rock giant in its resistance to dragon fire, but looked fire-giantish, with its three heads and brutish nature. And it smelled odd. Like something had died and it had stood in it. That was always possible.
The fool dog, however, was not running. He was standing and barking. And the fool knight wasn’t running either. He’d drawn his sword — which was not going to be a lot of use against the giant. Fionn swooped down and slapped the left outer head with his tail. It might be a rock creature but a blow from a dragon tail was enough to make it stagger. And bellow again, and plunge towards him.
The dog and the knight, instead of running, followed.
So Fionn had to taunt the giant again, because it narrowly missed seizing the teasing dog. Spiraling up again, Fionn looked for answers. He could lead it off and lose it — if the knight and dog would back off. The dog might possibly. The knight wasn’t going to. Which meant that he had to deal somewhat more permanently with the giant. One could poison them — the silicate organic chemistry was quite susceptible to arsenates, and to some of the powerful acids. Heat would not work. One could bog them down, sink them in a lake, but they’d just keep walking, or toss them over a cliff. Or he could smash the giant apart with a hammer bigger and heavier than itself. Or bespell them. Looking at the energy flows, Fionn thought he saw another answer. This was Brocéliande, and this young knight was, after all, the son of the guardian of the fountain of Escalados. Escalados, the red fountain that drew the storms and the stone giant dragged his feet as he blundered through the trees.
Fionn swooped down. “We must lead him to Escalados. To the fountain.”
“I must defend that! And my mother, the Lady Laudine, is within the manor there. There are no tall walls ”
“He’s a stone giant. It is the only way to kill him. He wants us, not the manor or anything else.” The giant proved that by ignoring a small herd of deer that bolted from in front of it, and by plunging after the three of them.
The knight nodded. “It is the better part of half a league!”
Brocéliande’s ancient ferny, mossy forests, full of vast trees and twisted branches were no place to play catch-as-catch-can with an angry, hunting giant. The giant was capable of going straight, rather than around. Still, the trees slowed him, as they might a man pushing through thick brush.
The giant had by now decided that the knight, sheepdog, and the dragon were all part of its target. And it had three tusky-mouthed heads to feed. It must want one each, Fionn decided. The knight was at most risk, as Fionn had the open sky and Díleas could dart through gaps that were too narrow for a horseman. Perhaps it was the color, but the giant was fixated on the dog who in turn was determined to prove that he was as capable of herding giants as he should be of herding sheep, darting behind it — even between the tree-trunk legs, to snap at the giant’s heels. Of course his teeth could not make any impression on the giant flesh, but the giant itself seemed far more interested in trying to reach the dog. On several occasions when the knight was trapped, the dog drew off the giant before Fionn could flame its eyes or bat its heads.
Then they broke from the woods into what was obviously the home farm of the knight. They’d cleared a bit of land since Fionn was last here. You could see the thatch of the walled manor house, low down along the shallow swale that ran from the standing stone against the ridge. There was a good reason for the house being low down and far from the standing stone, Fionn knew.
The magic fountain was at the base of the standing stone, some half a mile across the fields. The knight’s tenants were in the fields — or at least running from the fields. Someone had the ability and courage to flight an arrow so Fionn took to the ground, making it very obvious — with shouts and cooperation — that the dog and dragon were working with their overlord, dealing with — or at least taunting — the three-headed giant. It would seem to Fionn that the giant had no understanding of human speech, which was odd, as most other giants did. It was either that, or it was very stupid, because they kept it away from the mill and away from the barns and away from the cattle, leading it on — on towards the bleeding fountain. The bleeding fountain was once nothing more than iron in the rock the water oozed through — but superstition and magic often built on each other, and Fionn wouldn’t be surprised if it really was some kind of blood now, with all the belief in it being that.
It was a numinous spot, with the squat misshapen monolith and its altar stone above the old stone-carved basin into which the ruddy water seeped. It was surrounded by blackened and dead oaks. That, Fionn knew, had nothing to do with mysterious powers, but everything to do with the energies channeled here.
“It’s your fountain, Sir Bertran,” he yelled. “You’d better scatter the water.”
The knight leapt from the saddle of his steaming, tired horse as Díleas and Fionn teased and taunted the giant. It was, Fionn knew, a dangerous game. They were still faster than the giant, but they were both tiring.
The siliceous creature was not. He would pursue them relentlessly. Fionn was willing to bet he now had the scent of their essences, and would follow, no matter how fast or far they fled. Eventually it would catch them.
This smelled, and not just faintly of dead things.
Sir Bertran scooped a handful of the red water and poured it out on the altar rock, respectfully. He ignored the giant as he did this.
And then he mounted again and charged back towards the fray.
Above, already, the thunderheads built, as with a magical speed the sky darkened. The air seemed to thicken.
“We need that idiot in the iron suit off the horse and further away from the giant,” said Fionn, sotto voce, to Díleas. “Because any minute now ”
Then lightning, blue-white and so close there no pause between it and the terrible rattling boom of thunder, carved a ragged, jagged line to the tallest point.
Sheeting rain began to fall.
But that was of no concern to Fionn because he was under a shivering dog, and he had to pick up a knight who had fallen from his horse, as more lightning hissed down, hitting the giant again and again.
Nothing, not even siliceous proteins, could survive the lightning bolts. Dragons had found out the hard way that lightning could be survived in the air but not when they landed.
Now Fionn just had to deal with minor problems — an unconscious knight and a dog that really, really didn’t like thunderstorms. And he had torrential rain to cope with, of course.
That was still a better deal than the three-headed giant had got. Fionn was fairly sure it was now dead, the neural circuits fried. It was probably a large lump of glassy rock now, for people in later years to laugh at the superstitions of their ancestors.
The rain began to ease off, and Sir Bertran sat up. “What happened?” he asked muzzily.
“I think I’d tell your adherents that you struck it a thunderous blow. Some of the braver ones are approaching now, and I’d appreciate it if you told them that there is no need to pinprick this particular dragon with arrows and that the quivering sheepdog is no threat. It’s all right, Díleas, the storm is over.”
Sir Bertran stood up. “My mother,” he said resignedly, looking at the palanquin approaching. “Sir Fionn, you and your dog strove bravely with me today. I give you thanks. I am in your debt, as I am aware the giant could have caught me on several occasions had the two of you not drawn him off.” He patted Díleas. “Seldom has the world seen a braver, cleverer dog, Sir Fionn.”
“As long as there are no thunderstorms,” said Fionn. “Anyway. One of your grazing paddocks now has a new rock formation, I think. Let’s go and inspect it before they come and fuss about you. You took a quite a toss there. Got something of a shock, too, I shouldn’t wonder.” Fionn didn’t point out that he thought the knight had got off quite lightly, all things considered.
They walked across to the late three-headed giant, now a vast tor of blackened glass, with the evil tusky faces distorted and twisted into something even uglier. The giant glass statue was somewhat the worse for having suffered multiple lightning strikes, but that didn’t stop the peasants and men-at-arms approaching cheering their lord, or Díleas lifting his leg on its foot. He was still rather new to this lifting of a leg instead of squatting puppy- or girl-dog fashion, and nearly fell over in the process. That could have been awkward, as the foot was still cracking with internal heat.
Maybe the loyal retainers might have been approaching a little less fast than they might if their lord was not being supported by a dragon. And even from here Fionn could hear the hero’s mother. He was a brave lad, this Bertran. Best to leave him to be brave alone, decided Fionn, but it appeared he was not going to be that lucky.
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