Dog And Dragon – Snippet 15

“Not really playtime, boy,” said Fionn pushing on. Díleas growled at him and stood resolutely in his path. And then, when Fionn would have snagged him with a foreleg, he grabbed a talon with his mouth, but gently, holding not biting, and pulled Fionn back the way they’d come. Whining anxiously between his teeth. Wagging his flaglike tail furiously.

“I don’t think we should…”

Then it occurred to him, that he’d already seen enough evidence of his Scrap’s magical meddling in this very intelligent dog’s nature. “You’re trying to tell me something, aren’t you? Do you know where your mistress is?”

Díleas tugged at his arm again. And then let go and sat down. There was little light — it was still grey predawn. But Fionn would swear the dog was nodding. Then he got up, danced a little circle and darted back down the road. And then ran back. And whined.

Fionn sighed. “Up on my back then. I can’t chance flying with you. But my skin is more proof against arrows than yours. At close range crossbow bolts could still be a problem.”

Díleas leapt up, and they turned back toward the inn. The innkeeper, when they met him at the next bend, did have his crossbow, but Fionn had learned how to fling rocks with his tail, years ago. The result was very bad for the crossbow, and Fionn simply barreled past, down to the inn at the crossroads. And here Díleas leapt off his back — a flying leap that had him doing a somersault — before running a little way up the left-hand fork, and then coming back to make sure Fionn was following. So he did, into the dawn and off toward the distant sea at Carnac, because now that it was light, Fionn recognized this trail. He’d been down it before, many years back, before there had been an inn at that crossroad.

As it grew lighter Fionn could see more of the ancient forest surrounding him. The trees there must have been old when he’d last been free to walk this road. He looked for signs of imbalance, and also back for signs of pursuit. He could — and often did — change his appearance to avoid that sort of problem. The dog however, well, that might be a bit more tricky. Of course, this being one of the wildest and most dangerous of the Celt-evolved cycle of worlds, Fionn was also cautious about the road ahead. There would almost inevitably be wood dwellers who would try anything once, especially with a dog, although probably not on a dragon.

The road could provide problems of its own for walking dragons though. The Brocéliande knights would probably not respond well to sharing the road with him. And they fought monsters of various sorts here.

Well. He’d deal with it. Right now the one problem he was most troubled by was breakfast, or rather, the lack of it.

So when he saw a knight in full armor, barring their way, he regretted the conditioning set on him by the First. His kind of dragon could not combine moving the obstacle with having breakfast. Knights apparently broiled well in armor. It kept the flavor in, or so he’d been told. Armor being what it was, and having epicurean tastes, Fionn suspected that knights were probably too gamey for his liking anyway.

The knight was no coward. Well, in a place like the forests of Brocéliande, cowardice might let a knight survive, but did poorly at making them acceptable to potential mates.

It was selective breeding that made the knight lower his lance and put his spurs to his horse.

It was the sight of a black and white sheepdog on the dragon’s back that made him pull up the horse and stare.

“I am a knight under an enchantment,” said Fionn loudly.

The knight almost fell off his horse. But he was a superb horseman, and recovered himself. “Which one of you spoke?” he asked.

“I did,” said Fionn. “And I am afraid if you bar my path I must fight you, although I have no quarrel with you. I need to go to my lady’s rescue. She was plucked from me by magic, the dark workings of the same enchanter that bound me to this form. I must free her, and then I can be free of this curse.”

The knight stared. “Is having a sheepdog on your back part of the curse?” he asked, still not entirely putting up his lance.

“Considering the dog barks in my ear, you might think so,” said Fionn. “But no. He was my lady’s loyal companion, and he guides me in my search.”

The knight shook his head. “I have seen various monsters and fearsome creatures. But never a dragon. There has not been one seen in all Brocéliande for many a year. I thought great honor had surely come to me this day. But I had not heard that the fell beasts could speak, or well, that they would put up with a dog. Methinks it is an illusion.”

At which Díleas leapt down and trotted over to the knight. The horse paced warily, sniffing at it. “Your horse does not think it is an illusion. And to be honest with you, I could flambé you, right now, before that lance got near me, should I wish to. Actually, all the dog and I wish is to go on our quest, and to find some breakfast.”

Díleas had by now walked around to the stirrup and stood up against it, reaching his nose up. The knight reached down and his chain-link-covered gauntlet got a lick.

“If he’s an illusion, he’s a remarkably friendly and touchable one,” said the knight, somewhat more mildly. “What is your name, Sir Dragon? And where are you from and whence bound?”

Anything rather than another fight on an empty stomach, thought Fionn. And besides the wolves and monsters, Brocéliande was known for the ideals of chivalry. Fionn had found these often crumbled when closely examined, but there were exceptions. “Might I know yours, Sir Knight? I hail from a far land, and I am bound I know not whither, because I cannot speak the language of dogs. The dog knows, but I do not. I merely follow, but will follow until I find and rescue my lady. My name is Fionn of Tasmarin, and my style, Earl of Laufey.” Which was true, in a manner of speaking. It was one of the advantages of having assumed many personas and having been a fraud for so many years. It was unlikely that the knight would know Laufey, which was in the Nordic cycles somewhere.

The knight raised his lance in salute. “Well met, Earl Fionn. I am Sir Bertran, son of Ywain, guardian of the fountain of Escalados. I had hoped this day to fight a great battle against some foul creature, to gain honor. But instead I have met something so passing strange that I can at least have a tale to tell my grandchildren one day. It would be ignoble for me to fight someone on such a great quest. Is there some way I can aid you?”

“Breakfast, and to allow us free passage, would be good.” Fionn never forgot geography. Escalados fountain was a place he’d had occasion to visit. It was a pinch point for water and electromagnetic energies he’d had to adjust before. It was close enough to here.

Díleas barked in agreement, and danced on his hind legs. Fionn had realized that the dog was quite good at the manipulation of humans…and dragons.