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Kung Hei Fat Choi!

That’s “Happy New Year” for those of you that don’t speak Chinese (nor do I 😉 )  2012 is the Year of the Dragon, and we’re very fond of dragons round these parts.  Big ones, small ones, talking ones, maiden-crunching ones, ones that like riddles or ones that burn Thread…  All kinds of dragons.  And people who turn into dragons…

We like them too.

Why not tell me about your favourite fantasy dragon?  While you’re debating how to choose between Smaug or Temeraire or Ramoth (I know, it’s a hard question!), here’s a dragon-centric extract from Real Barbarian Heroes story “Lukewarm in Lynhelm”.  In this case the dragons are mainly small and troublesome, and it’s a foolish dragon, or man, that comes between a Barbarian Hero and his beer…

Jilles shook his head and pointed towards the door.  Otto shuffled away like a beaten dog.  It took an age for him to reach the foot of the stairs, and with every shambling step Hoff felt the guilt welling in his chest.

“Stop!”

Otto looked around with forlorn hope at Hoff’s shout.

“There’s no need to go firing anyone.  Why don’t you tell me what the real problem is?”  Hoff grinned.  “If it’s not too complicated, I might be able to help you.”

Otto brightened.  “Dragons!  Dragons are the problem!”

“If you’re going to shit me about, I can leave right now.”  Hoff took a step towards the stairs.

“Actually, he’s right.”  Jilles sighed.  “He was telling the truth, from a certain point of view.”

“The point of view of him being a lying bastard?”

Otto shrugged.  “You seemed so keen to charge off and kill dragons.  I didn’t want you to be disappointed.”

“Over here.”  Wrapping his hand in a cloth, Jilles lifted the lid of one of the kettles.  There was a hiss of escaping steam, and he sprang back quickly.  The steam drew the skin tight across Hoff’s cheeks.  It was like stepping into a Chanhoyu bathhouse.  As it cleared, Jilles beckoned him closer.

“Here’s our problem,” he said.

Hoff craned over the vat, eyes watering in the heat.  At the bottom, something scuttled.

“I wouldn’t get too close,” Jilles advised.  “That’s how Otto lost his eyebrows.”

“What are they?”  Hoff could make out the creatures now, crawling on the sides of the kettle or nestling in the bottom.  One of them raised its head and hissed, a thin jet of steam erupting from its long snout.

“Kettle dragons.  We’re infested with them.  Health and safety say we’re not allowed to brew until we get rid of them.”

“So why can’t you?”  Hoff edged his hand towards one of the beasts.  They were about the length and thickness of his forearm, and their resemblance to their larger cousins was uncanny.  “They don’t look that dangerous – ow!”  He snatched his hand back as one of the kettle dragons lunged, felt needle teeth click together, pinching the skin on his forefinger.  “Nippy little bastards!”

“Lynhelmers,” Jilles rolled his eyes at the name, “say it’s bad luck to disturb a nest of kettle dragons.  They believe it’ll bring the wrath of all dragons down upon you.”

Hoff glared at the lurking Otto.  “Lynhelmers are full of shit.  Isn’t it worse luck not to be able to get a pint of ale when you need it?”

“Or lose your business,” Jilles reminded him.

“That too, I suppose.”  Hoff shrugged, and peered into the kettle once more.  “How many vats are infested?”

“I’m not sure.  They crawl through the pipes from one to the next.”

“Then stop up the pipes.  I need the longest pair of leather gloves you have, and a bucket of water.  Pint of Harlot’s would help too.  Got any left?”

The pint Otto rustled up had that nasty, claggy, end-of-the-barrel feel, where the dregs from too many other beers gathered to form chewy lumps.  Hoff hoped it wasn’t the last pint of Harlot’s he would ever taste.  He’d like to remember it slipping smoothly down his throat, not lodging between his teeth.

“Right.”  He spat, and dislodged a lump of ale with his tongue.  “Let’s get to work.”

It took several hours of sweating and cursing to gather all the squirming kettle dragons into one vat.  They roiled and writhed on top of each other, hissing and snapping, while Hoff tended his many burns and nips.  “What now?” he asked.

Jilles sighed.  “Just get them out of here.  Take them to the river and drown them, if you like.  Your reward will be waiting when you get back.”

Hoff winced at a particularly tender burn, just inside his elbow.  “It better be.”

“How will you carry them?” Otto asked.

“Like this.”  Hoff flexed his muscles.  He wrapped his arms as far as he could around the huge kettle, knees bracing either side of it, and heaved.  Rivets pinged from the pipes, ricocheting around the room as the vat tore free.  Hoff staggered backwards under the weight.  The agitated dragons hissed and kicked the side of their prison, and Hoff felt the metal grow hot under his hands as they showed their displeasure by flaming.  He set it down quickly.

“To the river, you say?”

Jilles nodded, iron-faced as he surveyed the damage.  Hoff hoped the cost wouldn’t come out of his reward.

“No problem!”  He hoisted the vat on to his back, feeling the dragons squirming inside through the thin metal.  It was like carrying the hot belly of a pregnant woman, and no matter how he turned it, Hoff could still feel the small, wriggling lives he was about to snuff out.

#

  Hoff found a quiet spot on the banks of the river, an elegantly landscaped park where courting couples fled in terror before the grim-faced Barbarian.  That suited him fine.  On his trudge through the city, he had plenty of time to think.  He had no love for dragons, but he had even less for Lynhelm, city of liars.  They delighted in frustrating him at every turn, and now it was time for revenge.

He lowered the vat to the ground, lying it on its side, and whisked off the lid.  The kettle dragons streamed out, hissing like enraged snakes, tumbling over each other in their desire to be free.  They fled in all directions, vanishing into the undergrowth, leaving charred grass in their wake.  Hoff would never catch them now.  He pictured them turning up in cooking pots and fireplaces, all over Lynhelm, and he chuckled.  It was time for that long-awaited pint of Harlot’s.

I hope you enjoyed that.  Happy New Year!

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