Dog And Dragon – Snippet 13
A minute later he was sitting high above the stream, wet and a little wary, with a sheepdog nearly on top of him, inspecting the damage to himself and the dog. Fionn could feel Díleas’s heart pounding. Fionn realized that under all that fur, he was still not a very large dog. He was not too sure if the dog thought he was defending the dragon, or seeking a safe spot. “I think,” said Fionn, “that we’re in the forests of Brocéliande, dog. Which makes that thing one of the nicer creatures that inhabit these dark woods. I think my dragon form is probably wiser and safer. The blasted thing has half shredded my cloak and given me a rather sore forearm. But that could have been the end of you. And I do not want to have to explain that to your mistress. So, could you cope with riding over the water on my back? And I should probably take those boots of yours off. You’ve got them full of water.”
Díleas held up a foot in the moonlight. The thongs were wet, easier to cut than untie, but the dragon-leather hide was still good.
Fionn became the black dragon, and was sure that the eyes watching from the water, and quite possibly the woods, would sheer off. He wondered, as always, just what happened to his clothing and gear in such changes. For years he’d set them aside. He still was wary about a pack, but it appeared that somehow all his clothing and gear were with him, yet not with him. He could still feel the ghostly touch of them, as a dragon.
The logical answer now was to fly across the water, but he had no idea how the dog would deal with that. And it was unlikely the afanc would seek a second encounter just yet. “Up on my back,” he said, wondering what would happen. The answer was readily supplied. Díleas jumped up. Stood between his wings. “If I have more trouble with the afanc, you’re to jump off and make for the bank. I can deal with it, but not if I am trying to stop you getting drowned or bitten.”
Díleas growled at him.
It was a good thing, reflected Fionn, that he’d taken the dragon-skin foot coverings off Díleas. The dog was getting far too big for his boots. Fionn walked slowly into the water of the ford, trying to keep his back even and steady.
He was prepared for Díleas to fall off, or even for the afanc to make another try. They really weren’t very bright. What he wasn’t expecting — and it nearly had him lose his footing on the slippery rocks — was for Díleas to bark at the water, the whole way across. A sort of “come and get me if you dare” bark.
Fionn had to try and ignore it and concentrate on keeping his balance on the slimy, shifting, round rocks.
On the far side, having had enough of barking in his ear, Fionn said, “Off.”
There was definitely a questioning note to that bark. Or was he beginning to imagine speech from the dog too? “Yes, off. You enjoyed that didn’t you? You were taunting him. Well, I suppose he did very nearly snap your nose off, and possibly would have eaten you. But — although this advice may seem odd coming from me — make sure the beast you taunt is not merely making you advertise yourself to the rest. Because unless I am very much mistaken those are wolves howling a reply to you. You had better stay up there after all. But no barking in my ear unless you’re warning me of something. My foreleg is somewhat tender from the last effort.”
They walked on, and the only sound Díleas made was an occasional low growl. Looking behind himself briefly — one of the joys of dragon form was that he could, while humans could not without turning their entire bodies — Fionn saw that the dog was alert, questing, tasting the air with inquisitorial sniffs. The white fur made him quite visible, as did the glowing red bauble at his throat. There might be a need to do something to hide it.
The wolves, and anything else watching from dark woods — and there would have been things there, Fionn was certain — left the dragon alone. At length, after perhaps an hour’s walk, dragon pace, they spotted a light. And smelled a more welcome scent than that of a manticore or wolf — woodsmoke.
“I think food and sleep, indoors, is called for. If you sleep outdoors in the forests of Brocéliande, something digestive, or even nastier, can happen you. The trick is going to be persuading anyone to let us in at this time of night. I think it is time for me to become a gleeman and you a gleeman’s dog rather than a dragon rider. I don’t think those are much more welcome than dragons. Of course in these parts you never know just who might own the farmhouse. They could be just as keen on eating us. And finding space can be an issue out here. Even the cows have to sleep indoors.”
Díleas received this speech by lifting his leg on a roadside bush, from which something sneezed and retreated, making Fionn laugh and Díleas growl. “Even half the trees in Brocéliande have some sort of awareness. And many are not going to enjoy that kind of shower, dog.” They walked on.
As it turned out it was not a farmhouse, but an inn at a crossroad, catering to travelers who didn’t want to chance spending the night out in the forest. In these forests men traveled in groups and, as none had arrived at the inn, it had plenty of space. The crossbow-armed innkeeper wanted a vast sum to let them in, which as far as Fionn was concerned, was both iniquitous and, worse, up-front. “I should have slept under a bush,” said Fionn grumbling as he counted out silver. Copper would have been more appropriate and normal.
“You’re welcome to, and the dog’ll be extra,” said mine host. “They make work.”
Fionn sighed. “And not much chance of juggling for my supper, I suppose?”
“Supper will be another silver penny. You can juggle all you please, but half your takings will come to me. Anyway, there’s no one here but a pack-peddler and a pot mender, both waiting for a group going West. The rest of their party was going to Carnac.”
Mournfully Fionn fished out a coin from the corner of his pouch. Rubbed the edge of it, with a good imitation of regret. It was larger than the pennies, and gleamed. “I only have this. I’ll go hungry before I give you all of it. Make change for me.”
The innkeeper took it. Looked at the unfamiliar face stamped onto it — the silver pennies were so thin and worn, it was hard to tell what they were. “Where is this from?” he said suspiciously.
“How would I know? Some drunken merchant gave it to me in a tavern as payment for my juggling. The light was bad and he probably thought it was a copper. I did, then. I didn’t go looking for him in the morning to ask. It’s silver. Worth at least twenty pennies. Give it back if you don’t want it.”
The innkeeper slipped it into his pocket. “I’ll give you ten for it.”
“Eighteen I’ll take. No less,” said Fionn.