The Spark – Snippet 33

“Look, I think we’d best get out of here,” I said. “We can talk this over in some safer place or we can–”

Buck started barking as loud as I’ve ever heard him. I looked up and shouted, “Get in the boat now!”

I was switching on my shield and weapon, so my last words may’ve been blurred as I left Here. I figured Baga and Frances had sense enough to see the situation. Frances would drag her sister along with them.

The creature must’ve been coming out of the Waste, since there wasn’t enough sky over this little node for it to live in. You could tell that the Road had used to come here but it’d withered away from the lack of traffic. The thing dropping down on me was probably the reason for that. It was either a dragon or what people meant when they talked about a dragon.

I don’t know if the dragon had wings or just things that looked like wings but were for something else in the Waste. Its head was scaly but shaped like a dog’s, and the teeth along the sides of its open mouth were made to shear instead of just punch holes. I guess what I was seeing now was the last thing Jeffries saw.

It was huge, all right. Eloise had been right about that. Either of the leathery wings was the size of the biggest marquee in Beune, the one Elder Trainor hired out for weddings in bad weather, and the body was twice the size of a bull’s.

I clucked to Buck and we shifted around to the right, keeping close to the dragon. I thought its rush would carry it past us, but I forgot its head was on a long, snaky neck. That snapped around to take me but met my shield instead.

The shock knocked me backward, but I didn’t lose my footing. I didn’t swing at the dragon while I was off balance, but when I was solid again Buck and I went in from the dragon’s quarter. I cut at the base of its left wing, but my weapon slashed the rippling hide back of where I’d meant to. The dragon was moving faster than I’d judged. Buck and I dodged back out and started to circle.

Quickness was the big advantage of fighting with a dog. Dogs sense their surroundings a lot better than people do, so you move faster in a fight.

The dragon twisted and came at me again, but this time before it hit it spread its wings and drove both clawed feet out in front like a hawk striking. I blocked the right with my shield. Because I was ready this time, my counterstroke cut two talons off the other foot and left a third dangling. It slammed me back, sure, but I wasn’t off balance.

The dragon jerked away. I was breathing hard but I wheezed, “C’mon, Buck,” and we went straight at it.

The dragon lifted above us. I thought it was going to swoop down again and maybe at first it meant to, but when it saw I was coming toward it with my shield raised, it kept on lifting and shrank into the Waste.

I started to go after it, but then I remembered why I was here. I called to Buck and circled around to where the boat was.

I shut off my weapon and shield, then knelt on one knee and took deep breaths. I expected my equipment to be hot because I’d been using it hard, but it hadn’t heated up a bit. The wet air didn’t condense on the weapon, but it wasn’t sizzling off the metal either. The shield wasn’t any harder to shift around than a short length of broomstick would’ve been, but it’d blocked the dragon’s charge.

I leaned forward and worked on getting my breath under control. “Master Pal.” said Frances from behind me. “Are we safe now?”

“I guess,” I said. I tried to concentrate on the question.

Buck was bouncing around making little yips. He was still keyed up from the fight, no mistake, but I was sure he’d give warning if the dragon came back or if its mate did.

I hadn’t hurt the dragon too bad, but I once scraped along my ribs by falling out of a tree. I’d cut the dragon deeper than I’d torn myself then, and believe me! I wasn’t moving fast for a couple weeks after my scrape.

I got to my feet and put the shield and weapon back in my pockets. I looked at the others for the first time since the dragon swooped down.

Eloise suddenly bleated something and threw herself into my arms. “Oh, Lord Pal!” she said. “I was so afraid! And you killed the monster!”

“Careful, ma’am,” I said, holding her where she was by the shoulders and stepping back. “I’m still a bit wobbly.”

“And you, Eloise dear,” said Frances in a voice like a bite of green apple, “have a prince waiting for you. I don’t think he’d approve. That is, if you still want to go through with marrying Prince Philip?”

Eloise looked at her sister wide-eyed. “Why of course I’m going to marry Prince Philip!” she said. “Why wouldn’t I marry him?”

I could come up with plenty of answers to that question myself, but I don’t suppose any of them would matter to Eloise. In truth I didn’t know of anything against Philip himself except that he was weak and not over smart. Except for the people Philip had around him, he and Eloise were pretty well suited.

I grinned at Frances and said, “You know, I think they’ll be about the handsomest couple anybody ever saw.”

“Yes,” said Frances. She didn’t smile, but maybe I wouldn’t have been grinning either if it’d been my sister in the mess.

“Look, we’ve still got a problem,” I said. “We can get back to Marielles and have the wedding sure enough, but what then? Unless Philip has gotten a lot smarter since we left there, he’s not going to believe Hellea was behind this business–”

I waved at the pods, both of them open now. It struck me that I wanted to bury Jeffries’ foot, or his boot anyway. It was all I could do unless I wanted to chase the dragon down and finish it off for a real monument.

“–and I don’t guess Lady Hellea’s going to retire just because she lost this round. I’d suggest you both go back to Holheim and think about this for a while.”

“No!” cried Eloise with a horrified expression.

Just then Buck started barking again. I looked up but it wasn’t the dragon coming back, it was another boat coming out of the Waste to settle on the other side of ours. I didn’t need the pieces missing from its near side where the pods had been to know that Camm had come back.

I took out my weapon and shield. “Baga,” I said, “you and the women get aboard your boat. If things don’t work out the way they should, you take ’em wherever Frances says. My choice’d be Holheim, but I’ll be past making choices by then.”

I met Frances’ eyes. “Lady Frances,” I said. “I’d appreciate if the boat stuck around as long as I’m standing. I guess you can convince the boatman to do that?”

“Yes,” she said. She reached under a fold of her skirt and came out with the little knife.