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A Most Auspicious Day

by Aaron Moskalik

Sir Godfrey pulled on the reins. “Whoa, Mallet. What have we here?”

Mallet ceased his plodding. His back ached from the fully armored weight of Godfrey. The ground was stony but offered a few tough blades to eat. He shook his head and groaned, his teeth throbbing from Godfrey’s indelicate commands.

Godfrey heaved himself from the saddle and clanked to the ground. “Greetings, fair maiden. What manner of peril do I find thee in?”

A woman was tied to a post, with little more than her lashings for cover. “Well met, good sir, and God bless thee. I am the Lady Gretchen and I am to be the dragon’s sacrifice this day.”

Godfrey led Mallet toward her and tied his reins to the same post even before working at Gretchen’s bonds. Cool air assaulted Mallet’s nostrils, bringing with it a foul and alarming stench. The source was a cave mouth strewn with the bones of sheep and men and not a few horses. Mallet snorted and attempted to back away, but the reins held him fast. He thrashed his head and screamed his fear.

Godfrey grabbed the reins in a mailed fist and, with a vicious tug, hauled Mallet to his knees. He brought his lips near Mallet’s ear. “Easy, thou cowardly nag, or thou shalt be kibble and breeches.” In a louder voice, he continued, “Today is a most auspicious day. God has set before me a noble task, which will win me great honor.” Godfrey unlimbered his sword and strode into the cave.

Mallet nickered at Gretchen. She should wish to be away, and Mallet was more than willing to assist her.

Gretchen patted Mallet’s neck. “We will make friends later, dearie.” She skipped away and busied herself behind some scrub whilst whistling in a most unladylike manner. When she reappeared, she was clothed in form-fitting riding garb.

A shriek preceded a cloud of smoke from the cave mouth. The bridle bit Mallet’s face as he screamed and thrashed, unable to break free.

A wedge-shaped head emerged from the smoke with eyes like balefire and mouth curved in a cruel, toothy grin. Mallet redoubled his efforts... and then froze.

A man stood where the dragon had been. Tall, slender and rakish, he was leaning against a rock and using an ornate toothpick to clean that same toothy grin. “Thanks, my Lady Gretchen, for a most satisfying meal.” He eyed Mallet. “What other pickings have we to divide on this most auspicious day?”

Gretchen ran forward and embraced the man in a way that made even a horse blush. “Oh, Fafnir Smok, you are truly a dragon of great charm and intelligence. Your plot has gained us great plunder.”

“Enough woman, which will be your part, the horse or the saddlebags?”

Mallet quivered, imploring the Lady with his eyes, and dreading her answer.

Gretchen grinned and winked at Mallet. She stood behind Fafnir, her arms draped around his shoulders. Something gleamed in one hand. “Well, by my count you have the knight, his armor and his sword. The rest should be mine.”

Fafnir tensed, but Gretchen had already drawn her hand across his neck, leaving a thin red ribbon. The smell of blood flared Mallet’s nostrils.

Gretchen cackled, straddled the stricken dragon, and ripped his shirt laces asunder. She plunged her knife into his chest and, with surprising ease, brought forth his still-beating heart. She held it up toward Mallet. “A dragon’s heart: a rare treat on this most auspicious day. Wouldst thou share with me? It will add years to thy life. No? More for me then.”

Mallet looked away and tried to ignore the sound of greedy ripping and slurping. Of the three, the witch frightened him the most, so much so he could only stand meekly as she approached him, blood still dripping from her mouth.

“Here, I have something more to thy liking.” Gretchen held forth a carrot.

Mallet nibbled at it and quickly rediscovered his appetite. Gretchen laughed and retrieved a whole bag of carrots from behind the scrub. “Plenty more where that came from.”

Gretchen secured the carrots beside the saddlebags, untied Mallet and leapt into the saddle. Compared to Godfrey, she weighed nothing at all and her hand had a light touch on the reins.

A most auspicious day indeed.

Copyright © 2015 by Aaron Moskalik

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