The Little Princess (part 2)

Trouble begins when Princess Adora gains a baby brother…

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On Myrddin Publishing’s blog this week, I posted part of a chapter from my forthcoming novel EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS which described how Princess Adora came to be born. Here is what happened nine years later. (You can read the preceding section here.)

 

As was the custom, lost in the eternal fog of ancient ritual, if the thing produced from the loins of woman had been a male, it would have been quickly removed from the chamber as though it had never been created. No mourning would occur and no announcement of the failure would be made. A female child was placed into the breast cradle and offered a nipple to suck and encouraged to dine with great passion from that first day forward and for as long as the motherly teats gave milk.

Adora, the little princess, noted the arrangement, standing quietly beside the nursing lounger, watching her mother lovingly press the new babe against her large breast.

“What words have you to say to your new sister?” asked Queen Dorothea nine years after birthing little Adora.

“I suppose I will say ‘Welcome to Sannan’ to her.” The pretty girl thought for a moment. “What shall I call her?”

The queen smiled, her chubby cheeks flushing as they often did when she was delighted.

“Let’s call her . . . Lumina. She is so bright. How is that?”

“Lu-mi-na. Yes! I like it!” exclaimed the girl.

“So it is done. The naming. A lovely name for a queen. Almost as great as Adora. Now let the realm know my second daughter is to be called Lumina—Princess Lumina.”

The chief maid exited the slumber chamber to pass the news to the court crier who would make the official announcement.

“What will happen to the other babe?” asked Adora.

The nursing maids chuckled. Such a beautiful, naïve child, they seemed to suggest. Once she returns to her tutors, she will learn more of the customs of Sannan.

“It’s none of your concern. Go and make play for yourself.”

Adora turned to the basket on the floor beside the great slumber seat. In the basket the babe gurgled, threatening to cry, its tiny feet wriggling above the basket’s rim. She wanted to step closer and get a better look, to see if this one was as cute as the babe resting on her mother’s chest sucking the nipple.

“Sometimes the goddesses bless us with extra measure,” the glad queen spoke in a soothing voice. “As always, we must dispense with males, the sons and brothers, fathers and uncles, lest they return our great realm to ancient depravity and ring loud the bellicose bell. You must remember the history of womankind.”

“I do,” said Adora. “I listen to my tutors always.”

“As you should.” The queen spoke to her maids a moment. When she returned her eyes to Adora, she said: “I hire only the best tutors for you, so you can trust what they tell you.”

Adora stared at the babe in the basket. The queen saw her abject attention and waved at one of the nursing maids.

“Remove the waste,” commanded the queen.

When the basket was taken out, Her Majesty turned as best she could, rolling on her side upon the slumber seat, and gazed at her elder daughter.

“When your time comes, little one, a suitable sire will be arranged for you. You need not trouble yourself until then. After the necessary coupling you need never have to see that beast again. Until then, you have plenty of lovely girls to play with. So go on now and play. Those twins Countess Nadal has . . . you always get on with them, don’t you? Delightful girls.”

Adora pouted.

“Do not show a sour face. The maids will think you have erred in some way. And we shall not call you Adora any longer, for you won’t be adorable any longer.”

“But, Mama, I want—”

“Adora!”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

“Mama? You forget who you are, child!”

The girl bowed her head. “Yes, Your Majesty. Forgive me, Queen Dorothea. I’m only a child.”

“Very well, forgiven you are.”

After a moment, Adora raised her eyes to her mother.

“May I keep it for a pet?”

The queen stared at the child, then shifted her weight upon the great slumber seat, tucking the newborn daughter into the cleft of her elbow with a warm smile. The nursing maids gasped, fearing that the newborn would be crushed.

“A pet?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Already you fancy a pet? You’re not yet of the age for that.”

“I just want to play with it.”

“You must know such creatures will grow into adulthood, just as  you shall. It is not a good thing. Not much of a pet then. By such age it will be dangerous. They surely will be violent.”

“I only wish a pet for now,” said Adora, daring to raise her eyes to the queen. “If it please Your Majesty. I think caring for a pet will teach me many responsibilities.”

“Responsibilities!”

The queen chuckled. She rolled over onto her back once more to hand off the newborn babe to a nursing maid.

“Better you had a canine or feline for that kind of lesson, or even a small dragon would do as well. Not a male babe.”

“I beg you, Ma—Your Majesty!”

“Begging? That’s not very becoming of a princess.”

The queen thought for a moment, her chubby fingers stroking her daughter’s soft cheek.

“Very well, child. You shall have the male babe as a pet. Yet only until it reaches the size you are now. Then it must be set aside as the others are. Before it can do any harm.”

“What will become of the babe then?”

“Likely it will be sent to the workhouse for training. All the males we keep become either warriors or laborers, as you should know. The lesson needs teaching to you this week. Ask your tutor for the lesson about males. Only the tests will determine which path it goes. If a warrior, then we may need a few battles to be able to determine who of them is worthy of service for our younger women.” She raised her voice for the note taker’s benefit: “We owe a battle to Anjoz, don’t we? They dare encroach on our south shore once more.” Returning her attention to the princess, she continued: “Those warriors who are victorious will endure and serve. Those who do not pass become at best common laborers, at worst farm fodder.”

The girl gasped, as though expecting a pinch of pain.

“And laborers do not touch maidens.”

“Correct, child. Your tutors have taught you well. I shall add to their wages.”

“Will there be a battle soon?” asked Adora.

The queen chuckled. “Why soon?”

“I wish to know if it will stay or go before I devote my attention to caring for it.”

The queen patted the girl’s head. “You will make a fine queen some day, Princess Adora. You are always planning for the future and wanting it now. Such a delight!”

The queen gave the command and the basket was retrieved with some effort and returned to the slumber chamber.

Set on the floor at Adora’s feet, the male babe wriggled and cooed contentedly in the basket as though nothing awful had happened or was about to happen. That was as it should be, thought Adora as she gazed down upon her baby brother.

How to Make Purple Prose a little more Read

Eliminate purple prose with clever little metaphors.

Once again, Yours Truly has been accused of writing Purple Prose!

My first thought was which color I was using because my usual font color is black. Then it quickly occurred to me that I really do tend, at times, to lean toward the morbidly obese verbiage when it comes to richly compiled sentences. What I have just written may be an unworthy example of it.

I suppose we are all guilty of flowery language and purple prose when we are writing. At least sometime. It’s not really that we want to show off. It’s not that the scene or the character really needs it in order to be authentic. After all, it slows down the reading, makes the reader have to work harder to comprehend what is happening, and in the end it doesn’t garner us any kudos for our highly honed verbal wordplay.

A while ago, I had a linguistic joust with a colleague who swore she was going to write a blog post on the subject of purple prose. One thing that came from that exchange was the idea that metaphors and, in particular, how a writer can build a beautiful, poignant metaphor can substitute for purple prose or flowery language.

Yes, it’s possible to craft a deep thought or feeling from plain, ordinary language.

My one and only venture into urban fantasy, my so-called vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, provides useful examples. Its well-read protagonist pulls metaphors out of thin air left and right, so I was able to pull a couple of convenient examples. Let’s deconstruct one of them to see how a simple-worded metaphor can stand in for flowery language or purple prose.

[Set-up: At this point in the story, our protagonist suspects he is transforming into a vampire, which is something he doesn’t want. Facing this desperate situation and, with no other recourse, he turns to God – with whom he has been feuding during his search for a cure. The following paragraph comes after the end of the soliloquy (spoken aloud in the story); the novel is a standard first-person narrative.]

A flake of snow alighted on my nose, then more flurries fell around me. Probably it was God sending me a sign, but as usual nicely disguised and suitably vague. But I did not stop to gaze at the snowflakes. I knew they would melt. They always do. And become someone’s tears.

Not a high-brow word in that entire paragraph.

Sentence #1 is merely a statement about the weather. Some readers may instantly latch onto snow as a metaphor, but that would only be because we have been trained through all of our previous reading of the literary canon and so much bad poetry to think that way. But here snow is snow, pure and simple.

In Sentence #2, the protagonist himself makes the comparison between the snow flurries and a message from God, and by extension, so does the reader. His personalized assessment of the message (disguised, vague) gives us some of his (the protagonist’s) mindset, further building the metaphor. Hence, if the sudden snow falling upon him is a message from God, it is typically vague, thus requiring him to interpret the message.

Sentence #3 is a bit of a switchback on the road to metaphor. He takes the snow as a message from God but refuses to get caught up in interpreting the message. Essentially, he is saying: “Take that, God! I’m not going to play your game.”

Sentence #4 becomes a rebuttal to Sentence #3: He did not concern himself with the snow because he knew the flakes would melt. In a metaphorical sense, the symbols that snowflakes represent will melt, hence become nothing (in a moral sense) – or in a practical, realistic way, nothing of significance.

Sentence #5 is simply a trailing fragment of Sentence #4 but, left as a fragment, it becomes a separate, added comment rather than part of the original comment of Sentence #4. The effect is two separate ideas, not one combined idea. There is a difference. If one wanted to, a semi-colon would probably work just as well to join these two sentences.

A day after writing the paragraph, I returned to read through it and make sure it said what I wanted it to say and felt the way I wanted it to feel. Then. almost as a whim, I added the final sentence. Just four simple words.

Sentence #6. Here is the metaphorthe leap of linkage between a fact of snow falling, a character’s thoughts about God that are sparked by the snow falling, then a rebuttal or dismissal of those thoughts, and finally the tears. Snow obviously does not become actual tears. That happens only in the imaginary sense. It is the character who, like many people might, makes that comparison.

That is what metaphor is.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book about metaphor (I is an Other) in which author James Geary declares that everything is a metaphor. Said another way: If it is not the actual, physical thing itself, it can only be a description of the thing (my words), hence metaphor. He further elaborates on the brain’s unique ability to form patterns from each and every experience we have, physical and intellectual. Then, upon encountering a new experience, the brain relies on the patterns it has already stored to determine if the new thing is in any way like something we previously encountered. Metaphor is that practice of pattern-forming. This is like that, therefore, I can identify certain properties of this new thing which match that old thing, and I’m ahead in the game of identification.

But I digress….

In fiction writing, we do not use metaphor for survival or to make patterns per se, but rather as shortcuts, as more interesting ways of introducing emotions, connections, and other perhaps esoteric claptrap. Sometimes they work, sometimes not.* But purple prose and flowery language can be dismissed in favor of the carefully constructed metaphor which, in the end, is usually going to be more powerful and more beautiful than a stream of haughty, vainglorious words themselves.

*My first novel, AFTER ILIUM, has sections of “flowery language” – ’tis true, I admit! – but I believed it was appropriate, reflecting the romantic hero’s mindset as he works his way through a seduction and an affair. Conversely, once the affair ends and cold, hard reality is thrust upon him, the writing style becomes quite lean, even terse, matching the effort he must put forth to survive – where there is no room for frivolous thought or the luxury of metaphors.

EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons UPDATE: We remain dedicated to daily production even when we write ourselves into corners. Still, at present we have reached Chapter 20, which brings us up to page 232 and in the neighborhood of 82,000 words. We are only half-way along on our hero’s journey, yet we remain optimistic that we are indulging the “epic fantasy” length requirements with appropriate acumen and verve! 

The Last Word in Last Sentences

A lot of books end with a sentence that makes me go “Hmmph! That’s it?” Others, however, leave me contemplating the idea for a long time after. As a writer, I work hard to create the perfect final sentence–or paragraph. I want to strive for universal truth but often settle for a “story” truth: the grand vision that we arrive at by the end of the novel.

It is quite well enough to write (or read) through a novel, absorbing all of the plot points, enjoying the characters and their foibles, and riding Freytag’s pyramid to a believable yet strangely unexpected climax. The denouement brings us down rather gently as we finally understand everything that has transpired. Done. What more is there to write/read? THE END usually works well.

But wait! Back up. What about the final sentence? How about the final paragraph?

In my reading experience, I find the novel actually ends about a page or so before that last paragraph. All the threads are wrapped up, the action is done, everybody is happy – except the butler who did it and was found out. Then the writer has an incredible urge to explain it all. The usual method is to try to put a hashtag on the theme of the novel, accentuating how the plot points supported that theme. Or, the writer might elect to go big time and shoot for universal truth between the end of the action and the The End.

Secret: When I browse for books, I check the back blurb, then the first page, then the last page. It’s not that I want to see how it ends (what the action is). Rather, I want to see how the writer ends the novel. Does he/she simply cut off the action and leave characters and readers with a shock? Does he/she suggest what will happen next, after you close the book? Is there a pretense to universal truth?

Universal truth endings are the ones we tend to remember years later, of course, but they are so difficult to pull off well. It’s worth trying, of course. The thing to remember is that last sentences, indeed the final paragraphs, depend on everything that has come before; they do not carry much meaning as solitary sentences.

Here’s a short list from a “top 10” best last sentences list:

Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

One of the most famous last sentences, this definitely ventures into universal truth status. The novel itself becomes, in hindsight, a long illustration of this single idea. It’s almost as though Scott thought of the universal truth first and sought to create a story that would illustrate how we strive so hard to return to the pleasantries of the past and fool ourselves that we can…and so on. (If I knew nothing of the author or novel, reading that last sentence would compel me to buy the book.)

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

He loved Big Brother.

By this point in the novel, I have no doubt that Winston Smith did love Big Brother. It is a summary statement, which acts as punctuation for the idea. The implication is that everyone will love Big Brother; it’s only a matter of time. Universal truth? Given our society today, it may be considered such. (If I knew nothing about this novel, that final line would have me wondering ‘Who is Big Brother?’ – which would push me to buy the book.)

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

Quite a plain sentence, and one that makes little impression without having read everything that came before. The effect, however, is a trailing off into “whatever” the next scene would be. Considering that the novel revolves around a group of friends whose lives are destined to end as organ donors and, thus, death, the lovely protagonist can only ponder when her time will come. (Again, if I knew nothing of the novel, that final sentence would not likely cause me to buy the book; I did buy the book, but only after seeing the film version – in which that final scene was so evocatively portrayed.)

(If you crave more, check out this list from the American Book Review. Beware, there is a Swedish film by the name The Last Sentence, too. Plenty of examples also in your nearest bookstore or library.)

the_end

A lot of books end with a sentence that makes me go “Hmmph! That’s it?”  Others, however, leave me contemplating the idea for a long time after. As a writer, I work hard to create the perfect last sentence – or paragraph. I want to strive for universal truth but often settle for a “story” truth: the grand vision that we arrive at by the end of the novel.

The universal truth ending seems more appropriate, and therefore more often used, in literary fiction. Those of us who write science-fiction or other genre would beg to differ as we believe there are universal truths to be found in everything we do: even in the more comedic writing.

For example, in my literary anti-romance, A BEAUTIFUL CHILL – a kind of guy-meets-girl campus romp – the two protagonists try to make it work. Then it becomes a girl leaves guy story, so the last sentence is meant to be ironic, to suggest how the guy will perceive of this adventure long after the girl has gone and the novel has ended:

Her image was already branded into his brain. Like a tattoo, he decided. Like a tattoo that would never be finished.

In my contemporary romantic adventure novel, AFTER ILIUM, which follows the misadventures of a young man obsessed with the Trojan War, the ending comes from the work of Homer – which I thought a clever method for concluding the tale:

Alex stood on the balcony, leaning against the railing, just like he once had done on the cruise ship crossing the Aegean Sea. This time, instead of a wine-dark sea, he surveyed the dry California chaparral on the distant yellow slopes. He held his jaw steady, as tears crept down his cheek, recalling the torn hills of Ilium, and all of the days that fell after—remembering, whispering: Sing to me of the man, O Muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy….

There are two exceptions to the last sentence pattern:

1. When a book ends with an epilogue, the final sentence/paragraph “rules” don’t apply. Instead, the whole epilogue, often chapter-length, acts as an extended last sentence. However, given its length, it usually falls short of being a great ending. (I am guilty of using epilogues in THE DREAM LAND Trilogy, but mostly because I am setting up the subsequent book.)

2. When a book is part of a series, the final sentence/paragraph lends itself less to leaving a reader with a greater sense of truth than setting up the next book (see #1 above). As such, that last sentence/paragraph becomes a bridge, and serves as a bridge rather than a ‘full stop, here we are at last, now what do you think?’ kind of ending.

Here are the last sentences for each book in THE DREAM LAND Trilogy, just for your amusement and in the interest of full disclosure:

THE DREAM LAND Book I: Long Distance Voyager (in the epilogue)

After that restful pause he would realize that living in a gilded cage was better than having no cage at all.

THE DREAM LAND Book II: Dreams of Future’s Past (in the epilogue)

Then she smiled warmly and said in perfect, beautiful English: “You should never have killed me.”

THE DREAM LAND Book III: Diaspora (not a true epilogue but an “addendum”)

[9.9] Someone will hear this. Maybe someday. Until then, let me say I love you. I love you all. Be good to each other. It’s a long journey we have to take. [end of transmission]

Of course, we cannot always offer a final sentence. My just-released arctic adventure book, A GIRL CALLED WOLF, ends with a last sentence which literally sums up the entire book. It would be a spoiler to share it! (Sorry.)

And my current work-in-progress, EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, is still too new for me to even consider a last sentence. However, in the interest of your interest, I have decided to go ahead and compose a last sentence! Here it will likely be:

And with a long sigh full of the mutterings of memories vouchsafed in the history book pages, he closed his eyes and slept, comforted by the certainty that no dragons would ever again rise.


So how will you end your book?
 What universal truth will you share? How does your story illustrate that universal truth? Or is it simply the end of the action and that’s that? Give readers a little more: a hint of what lies beyond; a smudge of delight; a slow burn that creeps us out for the next few weeks; a clever or humorous remark that leaves us laughing (not good for tragedies, of course); or a preponderance of pontification that pounds us into a proper pose…and probably will produce a pestilence upon thy posterior.

Ok, that last sentence is not a good example of how to end a novel. But this is a blog post, so I can end it however I wish. There are no rules. So I shall end this post by wishing you a marvelous week!

 

The Latest Trend in Alternate Realities

The dragons were a given, as ubiquitous as rainbows after rainstorms.

An Epic Fantasy *With Dragons…

Somehow I got roped into joining the fine establishment known as the Edgewise Words Inn. It probably had something to do with what I drank that night. Then I saw my blog post about Thanksgiving was plastered all over social media. That did it for me: enough was enough.

Now I’m supposedly a regular contributor. Semi-regular, in my thinking. Possibly even a demi-semi-regular, who knows? For my first contribution, I thought I would share the opening scene of my brand-new work-in-progress. Granted, the sharing of new and untested material is always a risk, but I’m just bold enough to throw it out there for your entertainment!

If you wish to know how I got hooked into writing this new novel, you can click over to my regular blog.

I call this new novel EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons …because, well, that’s what it is!

1

The Beasts Above

The dragons were a given, as ubiquitous as rainbows after rainstorms. These aerial beasts, however, had developed such a vile temperament in their endless quest for dinner that Corlan had no choice but to rip the lead winger out of the formation.

It wasn’t that he enjoyed culling the herd; it was his job. And he didn’t much care how he came to be employed in such a capacity. He would say “Politics, mere social squabbling was all it was, not what people assume!” to anyone who asked. One day he was the son of the king, the next an outcast making his way across the battlefields of the Americus offering his tactical services where he could. Then, retiring from conflict, he took up the massive dragonslinger weapon, as long as he was tall, and hired himself out. Fear gripped the lands in those days so it was lucrative, more than mercenary work. The best payer so far was his current employer, the foolish young prince of Nerk who seemed to fear dragons more than anyone Corlan had ever met.

However, such an act of violence, Corlan knew, would compel the reptilian lieutenants to turn upon him with the full fury of all the gods and all the devils united in flesh-ripping horror. Like dragonslayers before him, their lives were measured in minutes. A toasty end to regrets unimagined and mostly unfulfilled.

Corlan had little concern at the moment, refitting his weapon with another iron bolt, the metal dart as long as his arm, trident-barbed. For good measure the tip also included the best poisons man could create encased in a capsule which would burst upon impact and hopefully spill its rotten juice within the body of the beast—in case the wound itself did not take down the creature.

As he prepared to fire the weapon again, he kneed his broad-shouldered muscular mount, the hefty hippor, into the shadows of the cliffs where they would be safe a moment longer than in full view. The hippor grunted its disagreement but complied. The quivers of bolts hanging from each side of the hippor rattled like chains on the devils in Hell. As heavy as the collection of metal was, it required a hippor to carry them.

Corlan scanned the sky, measured the distance with his well-trained eyes. It might be a good day, he decided. The more dragons dropping from the sky, thought Corlan, the better the sky. The better the ground, as well. And his fine clothes! He hated stepping in dragon shit.

Pressing his foot against the side of the cliff, Corlan dismounted, dropping to the dirt beside the red-brown hippor he rode as others did who needed to range far and wide through the mountains. The hippor was a slow-footed, wide-shouldered creature yet the only means of travel left to his people other than by foot.

Fat and easily guided, the hippor yawned. Its broad throat opened for a full minute, flashing its long twin tusks before closing and firing a snort out of its long nostrils.

Corlan cursed, kicking dirt over the toes of his boots to dry the mucus sprayed from the hippor’s slimy nose. He tore a cloth from his saddlebag and wiped his leg from knee to hip. Keeping his eyes on the incoming dragons, he let out a long breath. If only horses still existed. The last horse was already dead more than a hundred years. It had been kept in a small pen on the palace grounds where the prince’s grandfather thought it would be safe from hungry peasants. In the end, it was not safe.

The wizards in their long white robes used Clona magic to create this new riding beast, he had heard. It was a long, expensive process so he felt special that the prince would offer him one. First, the wizards took dust from a dead animal that had been kept in a jar and locked in a secret vault. Then they mixed in many potions and set it all into an oven. What came out of the oven was placed into a larger container and fed many liquids until, after many days, a beast could be seen. It grew from a thimble of flesh into a full-sized baby animal in a few weeks. The animal then grew normally within the confines of a farm pen. Or, in the case of the hippor, in the marshes below the palace walls.

Some people said dragons came into being the same way. A few deviant wizards chose to mix their potions and create the flying reptiles. That happened a few hundred years past. They came into being either as the result of a rogue element of magical turpitude or as an accidental outcome of attempting to produce a new food source for a starving populace. “What starving fool would dare eat the flesh of a dragon?” Corlan mused whenever anyone sought to discuss such history. It was now well-known that dragon flesh was poisonous. No matter how they entered the world, from that initial formation they had grown into nine distinct species roaming all regions of the world, some of them with viable subspecies.

Overhead the dragons were circling, locating their prey against the side of the mountain, Corlan’s red-brown clothing merging into the red-brown cliffside—as did his red-brown hippor.

The familiar cries did not alarm Corlan, an expert in this necessary occupation. With boots planted, he leaned back against the hippor, urging it to move tighter against the cliffside. Then Corlan took his stance, the bolt loaded, another leaning against his knee, ready to load next.

A large gray bull with teal throat markings came in first, wings open and talons drawn, making a ridiculous spectacle.

Corlan’s shot went through the dragon’s throat and the beast instantly dropped from the sky, falling past the human’s position on the cliffside, down to the valley floor.

In went the next iron bolt, prepared, aimed.

The second, a tan female with orange wing tips, came at him, apparently upset about loosing her mate. He could tell that by her fluttering throat skin and the high-pitched cry of anguish. She gave Corlan an exhale of noxious air which, with a deliberate hiccough, caught fire. The dragon blew the fireball at the cliffside and Corlan crouched quickly under the hippor.

Squealing, the hippor bumbled forward, its bulbous rump and hairless tail lit and burning. There was nothing Corlan could do. A canteen of water would not be enough. And he needed the water for the journey back to the city. He had ridden the hippor for the past season, lent to him by his employer, the prince. It was an expensive accommodation, thought Corlan, standing and staring hard at the tan dragon, still approaching the cliffside for further vengeance, making an arc in the sky and returning.

The iron bolt was set into the weapon, Corlan’s hands working without thought. He raised the weapon, released the bolt, and struck the dragon under its lower jaw.

The beast crashed into the cliffside, a wingtip scraping along the trail that hugged the rocks. Corlan dove aside—as his eyes caught the last of the hippor disappearing over the side of the cliff, its rear end well-burnt and smelling almost delicious.

In the same moment, a large beige dragon swooped up from below him and snatched the fat animal in its mouth. The dragon sailed high into the sky—boasting of its prize, it seemed to Corlan. With a quick toss upward, the dragon caught the hippor in its mouth and bit off half, letting the other half fall. The dragon then swooped down and saved the second half, downing it in a second tremendous gulp. Taking on the extra weight forced the dragon to a lower course than the clan. Others seemed to scream at him to keep up. The dragon only burped in response and a cloud of black smoke formed around its mouth, then trailed the beast as it flew on.

The formation decided to continue, he saw. They could not spare any more time or energy to deal with another pesky gamekeeper. Three of them already lost on this passage through the mountains. They should count themselves fortunate. Beyond the mountains, Corlan knew, was the valley where they would settle for the cold season and do their mating. After the cold season, the nests would be full of little dragons.

If only he could make his way there and destroy all the nests before they hatched. Then the kingdom would be safe for humankind. And the less he had to step around dragon droppings, the better. He was already into his third pair of boots this year!

Now he had no beast to carry him and his supply of the heavy iron bolts through the mountains and back to the city. It would be a hard journey on foot.

The hippor was a sturdy animal with thick legs and large three-toed feet, with a back wide enough for a large man like him to have lunch on. The animal’s small eyes were set far apart above a cavernous mouth full of large, rounded teeth designed for chomping the stalks of river plants, an activity which occupied them most of their days. Until they were tasked for travelling.

Corlan brushed off his sleeves, straightened his leather jerkin, blithely ran his fingers through his long auburn hair as though he were about to step into the private chamber of a certain lady of the Court whose attentions he had garnered in recent weeks—yes, her! the lovely blond buxom Petula!—and not merely setting himself on the road back home. He could not continue his hunting without more supplies.

His boots had gotten scuffed and the snot of the hippor made every particle of dust cling to them. He sat on a rock and pulled off his boots to clean them properly. As he worked, the winds picked up and he could hear the fading cries of the dragon clan as they winged their way west. It was a smaller clan than he usually saw so perhaps his work was actually reducing their number.

“Pity,” he grunted, examining the results of his cleaning.

When the dragons were all gone, he would be out of a job. No more enjoying the Prince’s favor. No more the ladies at Court to dabble with after the feasts. They loved being with a dragonslayer. He was the only true man in the Great Hall—or in any tavern.

He shook his head. No more the steep hikes up into the mountains on the back of a hippor to hunt dragons at  their own elevation.

“Pity….”

Rebooted, Corlan set out at a brisk pace, arms swinging, the heavy spring-loaded dragonslinger, one last bolt loaded,  dangling from a strap over his shoulder. It would become heavier as he hiked. A side blade swung at his hip for lessor dangers.

He decided to whistle a tune as he walked the trail, the cliff rising to his right and dropping to his left, the space for footwork only double the width of his shoulders. Likely the hippor would not have fit this section of the trail and they both would have tumbled over the side. Then where would he spend the night?

“Lucky day,” Corlan snorted, clapping his hands.

 

More has been written, but I shall not bother you with it at this time. Be confident that I shall continue until the last word is written, no matter how long it takes, no matter what obstacles I need to overcome, no matter how many dragons I, or my stand-ins, must slaughter. Thank you for your indulgence!