The dragon’s tail lashed towards him, force of ten horses, speed of a snake. Guy leaped out of range. His reactions were faster; this time he succeeded.
It wasn’t a real dragon. And it wasn’t big. A third of the size of the one in the pit — so Micha said. Guy hadn’t seen that one yet though he had heard it. Or rather he had heard the explosion of water and the susurration as it upped and away. He had heard the wuum-wum-wm of its wings, felt the wind that hammered against the canvas pavilion. He seldom heard the beast’s return; a soundless glide and a gentle submersion into the water. But in the morning, numerous new barrows showed the night’s forage. Food-stores for its young.
No, this wasn’t a real dragon. But if an illusion why then the gorse bushes all flattened where they’d broken his fall? And why his many cuts and bruises? And the times that Toli had heaved him out of the thorns, to his feet. But his speed was improving, and his agility. If only he could find the supposed gaps in the beast’s armour. Its belly clinker-built, the scales overlapping, it must contort backwards, reverse the natural curve of its body, to open the gaps that Micha insisted were there. And that meant forcing the dragon to reach back with its head. A deep and sharp jab at the base of its tail, so his lord Micha had said. But it was that tail that lashed so violently at him.
And even were he agile enough he’d still have to be impossibly fast to dive beneath the beast’s belly and thrust his sword into the thus-exposed parts. “What of the poison sacs?” he’d asked. “No danger of piercing them,” Micha had answered. The poison was carried higher, in its neck, behind its jaws. He’d said there was no danger, too, of slicing into its furnace. Not that it carried actual fire in its belly, merely a highly combustible material. One spark from Guy’s sword against the hard scale . . . boom! An inferno. It wasn’t what Guy wanted to hear.
“That would kill it,” Toli said with a grin.
“It is the common demise of the dragon-slayers,” said Micha.
It was a demise that Guy fervently hoped to avoid.
“But you have an advantage few others have had.” Micha referred to the tatters of cast dragon-skin. Finer than silk, stronger than steel, Toli had gathered the shed pieces for Guy to wear as his armour.
But what of the nightly forage, the people brought back to fill the barrows? While he was training, people were dying.
“Incentive,” Micha said.
“It’s only one or two at a time,” Toli tried offering solace. “Imagine the deaths hereabouts had the Danes invaded.”
“They are already suffering, hereabouts,” Guy said, wearied head held in his hands. “The king has destroyed all but the most meagre of food so the Danes will not have it. Then to have those vulgar, lechering mercenaries billeted upon them. And the weather! Wet when needed dry, cold when needed hot.”
“Whence and when your concern?” Toli asked. ”You’ve swallowed a Bible; it’s having him near you.” He nodded a head to where the angel nonchalantly sauntered dangerously close to the dragon pit.
Guy ignored the Saxon squire, though his comment was well-observed. He had not this concern for the cottars and villagers before.“And now this dragon preys upon them, to fill its stores.”
“Here!” his lord Micha called and beckoned as he suddenly reappeared close to his pavilion in that unnerving way of his. Amphora was with him. The illusory dragon was gone.
“Soon be more angels than dragon-barrows,” Toli said, seeing another, a new angel, standing with them.
“Hush.” Guy glared at him.
“Only saying, Sir.”
This angel, newly arrived, was slight of build with sorrel-hued hair that trailed as long as a great lady’s train. Yet something of him said male. And he had brought bad news as Guy could see by the sadness of Micha’s face. Micha always was happy.
Disappointed is Micha with purpose denied, Amphora said. Guy would rather his Lord Micha had explained using lip-and-tongue words.
“God’s greetings,” the newcomer said. “Gabs, God’s Mediator, this one.” He offered a slight bow.
Amphora hissed at him, uncomfortably snake-like. Said knight has been told the truth of word God: that God is not God as in their conception, but God is God-of-Angels-Meeting-in-our-dimension.
His lord Micha had told him, using all of one night to explain it, and still it was no more than a riddle to him. Their dimension – of light, spirit and song – was ordinally numbered twenty-two. But how did that tally with what the Churchmen had taught him?
A slight breeze stirred, moving but slightly the gossamer drapings that supplemented God’s Mediator’s long sorrel hair. And from it, the breeze and the gossamer, seemed to issue a sound . . . of a thousand choirs of angels singing. Rising. Falling. Far away music, barely audible, hardly a sound. “I bring sad news,” Gabs said.
“Killing,” Micha said, sarcastically.
Not killing, Amphora said. That is the crux.
Guy didn’t understand their talk and allusions. He looked to Toli but Toli shrugged. He looked to the androgynous Gabs, God’s Mediator.
~ ~ ~
Gabs explained. “God-of-Angels-Meeting has received Zadki’s report. Those lauded ones–”
“Thou shalt not say their name be praised,” Micha snapped at him.
“Those lauded ones,” Gabs repeated, a loaded glance at Micha, “listened, discussed and debated. Then God-of-Angels-Meeting voted. As Amphora says, denied is Micha’s mission now. And I am but the messenger,” he said to Micha then turned back to Guy. “Micha’s host – brave, mighty, praiseworthy – now are un-needed, and must stand-down.”
“Sir, I think these angels-named-god are saying not to kill the dragon,” Toli translated.
So Guy had heard. Guy looked at Gabs, aghast. His lips framed a word but he had no breath for it. “Why?”
“Dragon must remain alive, un-slain un-slayable,” Gabs said.
Guy nodded that he’d understood as much but he repeated, “Why?”
“This quote is given,” Gabs said. “From beginning, light from dark, good from evil, created the One Forbidden.”
Guy felt his brows knitting tightly together. “What answer is that?”
“I did query. ‘Destroyed are many, remaining is few,’ says the Meeting-of-Angels. Now few must be protected.”
Guy couldn’t find words, his anger so great. So he kept to the facts. “That one in that pit is having babies! Those babies will grow to be a plague. They will not be few. Count the mounds! And ignore the sheep and the swine if you will, but when those young, in their turn, breed how many people then must die?”
“This, God-of-Angels-Meeting did discuss,” Gabs said. “God-of-Angels-Meeting allows us to move her on.”
Guy repeated the words in his head. No, that would not do. “That merely dumps the problem onto another.”
“To another region, yes. A region more thoroughly heathen.”
It was beyond belief. Guy wanted to laugh.
“Guy, listen,” Gabs implored him. “If the young ones terrorise heathens, then their ardent prayers in desperation . . . Guy, you must understand. These last few mortals will then be ours.”
No! Guy’s body atrembled, his words shook with rage. “So talk to the beast and move her south, let her offspring ravage Rome. Then see how fast your Meeting-of-Angels agrees to the slaying.”
“Guy says it rightly,” Micha agreed. “And more, what of us? What of Zadki, what of my host with not a dragon to slay? Has our purpose been served? Will we now be banished as with the others?”
Micha awaited no answer but departed the moor as he had arrived – in a flash of white light.
Young knight is aggrieved, Amphora remarked.
Guy eyed her in scorn. Aggrieved? Oh, he was that. He could feel the intensity of his heat,
This one might help? Amphora suggested. Cast forgetfulness upon your brother? Ease the pain of his mockery?
The pain of his brother’s mockery? Guy hadn’t even thought of that. But no, he refused to answer. He looked away. He sank to his knees, hands clasped tightly though he wasn’t in prayer.
What prayer, now, was there for him. He had prayed for a good deed, to win for himself fair lady. And been given a dragon that ravaged the land, that gathered as fodder young maidens and children in barrows that multiplied nightly.
He’d no need to look up to know that Gabs and Amphora had left this world, returned to their twenty-second dimension. He knew it by the day’s utter bleakness.
~ ~ ~
Awareness of self slowly returned.
A weight and a roughness upon her legs. Visions of tendrils painted red. Water lapping against her neck. Scent of ozone without the sea’s susurration. She heard only Nerys nagging her kids.
Her eyes wouldn’t open, it took an effort to force them. Sun blinded. She blinked, flashing red and white and red and white – and a blast of wind hit her: Raesan speaking.
“You’ve survived; you’re going to live!”
She was glad of the news, his words sounded earnest. But questions came tumbling. She worked at slowing the blink of her eyes, and saw him, head hugely haloed with the sunlight behind him. That was a window. Open.
And this was her bathroom. Now everything fitted.
It wasn’t ozone but the freesia bath-foam that Uncle James and his wife had given her at Christmas. She didn’t much use it but the scent lingered. Raesan was sitting upon the lavvy-seat while she, fully clothed, lay in the bath, her silk blouse billowed, her crinkle-crepe trousers turned to bark in the water.
“Why . . . ?” No sound came from a throat long ago closed.
“Here, Lady. Sip.” Raesan held a glass to her lips.
The water tasted vile. She spat.
“Salt, yeh. Supposed to help.”
She looked at him, eyes seeking answers.
“Dehydration,” he said. “That’s why you’re in the bath, yeh. Na, don’t move. Not yet. And you might hurt around your . . . on your . . . bum. Only it wasn’t so easy, not with those stairs. I called round next door for Mister Lyn, yeh. But nobody answered.”
Well that was something, of that she was glad.
“Lady, just lie there, yeh. You’re getting stronger. I’d make you a coffee but . . . I don’t know these things.”
Once alone she tried again to push herself up, intending to haul herself out of the bath. But she hadn’t the strength. Again she slumped back. Her eyes closed. She slept.
Next episode, A Plague of Toads: 26th February