By Hannah Johnson
Hannah Johnson on Smashwords
Copyright © 2012 by Hannah Johnson
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Day Thirty Four
The dragon is keening.
The first time that it happens, Fairish thinks that the world is ending – that a hole’s going to open up in the dirt floor underneath her feet, maybe, and a magical vortex will suck her into some sort of alternate universe, forever tearing her apart from everything she knows and holds dear in this life.
When it turns out that it’s just the dragon whining, she is sorely disappointed.
The only thing she really holds dear in her current situation is Freidrich, and even that’s just figuratively. Really holding an ostrich is hard work. Not that, in moments of desperate loneliness, she’s tried.
Still, the dragon keeps going for hours on end, and each time it’s like the love child of an earthquake and her sister Dowdy attempting to master an aria. When Goat finally returns from the forest, a half a dozen new dead voles slung over his shoulder, she wastes no time in ordering him to assess the situation.
“Stomachache. Musta been some bad troll,” Goat announces after nearly a minute’s silent inspection. Fairish expects that aforementioned inspection had been mostly for show, considering all of the pensive chin-stroking seemed pretty gratuitous.
“Sure,” Goat says, and gives the dragon a hearty pat. “Good boy, Sparkly!”
“But – trolls are bipedal,” Fairish says, struggling to embrace this concept. “They’re capable of somewhat advanced thought. You can’t just – just feed them to dragons!”
“I didn’t feed them to ‘im,” Goat says, a little defensively. “They like to wander around here, that’s all! They’ve got problems with goats, after all that tomfoolery with the bridge a couple years back. Sparkly here musta caught one of ‘em in the act.” Goat scowls. “Serves ‘em right, I figure.”
“Tomfoolery?” Fairish repeats.
“It’s a word,” Goat says, a lot defensively.
“Yes,” she agrees. “Just not one I’d expect you to know.”
“I know words, thank you!” he exclaims, indignant.
“Ones with four syllables?” Fairish asks quizzically.
“Sure,” Goat scowls. “No need to be condescending.” His frown splits into a pleased grin. “See what I did there?”
“Yes, I see what you did there,” Fairish says with a sigh. “Can we just talk about trolls, please?”
“Right,” Goat says, and resumes glowering. “Bastards had it comin’.”
Fairish stares skeptically at the dragon for a moment, crossing her arms. “What if their troll brethren come to wreak vengeance upon us?”
When she looks back over at Goat, he’s smirking at her, but in a way that is unnervingly kindhearted. “You don’t know a lot about trolls, do ya, sweet pea?”
“I just don’t think Sparkly – the dragon – should be able to just eat them without facing any consequences,” Fairish says, mustering all her disapproval. “That’s all.”
Secretly, Fairish can’t be as broken up about this as she probably should. She doesn’t really feel much genuine compassion for trolls. She doubts anyone really feels much genuine compassion for trolls. Even trolls.
“So he ate a troll,” she finally says, surveying the dragon.
“He ate a troll,” Goat confirms.
The dragon lets out another thundering wail. The world shakes around them, and Fairish finds herself stumbling helplessly toward the ground.
Until a (thoroughly unwelcome) pair of arms intercedes.
“Hey there,” Goat says, grinning down at her, hands firm on her waist.
Fairish glares at him and rights herself. “What do you think you’re doing??”
“Takin’ advantage of the situation,” he answers, without the faintest trace of anything like shame. “It’s not often we get to cuddlin’.”
“We weren’t cuddling,” Fairish informs him viciously. “I fell.”
He starts to smile. “Is that a fancy way of—”
“Hmm,” Goat says placidly. “’kay.”
In the deepest, darkest recesses of her soul – the parts that find babies endearing and have a hearty admiration for the colour pink and think unicorns are pretty – she feels a little stab of disappointment. Even though he’s mostly repulsive, she can’t help but wish her rejection of his advances would upset him for more than thirty seconds.
“So, I’m thinking,” Goat says, tearing her out of her deep, dark reverie. “Vole cake.”
“Vole . . . cake,” Fairish repeats. Her stomach twists at the mere suggestion.
“Well, we have a whole lotta vole,” Goat says practically. “And we never have any cake. Why not rectify this situation?”
“Because,” she says, “it’s vole cake.”
“We could keep all the blood,” Goat proposes. His eye is beginning to twinkle excitedly. “Let it get nice and congeal-y. Sprinkle some sugar in there. Bam – frosting!”
“We don’t have any sugar,” Fairish points out. It takes her six more seconds to realize that that’s not the only flaw in his statement.
“That nice lady in the candy house ‘bout fifteen minutes away would loan us some, I bet,” Goat says.
“That’s a witch,” Fairish reminds him, a little shortly.
“That don’t mean she can’t gimme some sugar,” Goat says. Fairish recognizes the exact moment that he recognizes the letch-potential of the sentence. His eye lights up in a way that’s a lot less excited and a lot more . . . excited. The eyepatch wriggles suggestively along with his eyebrow. “Or you. I could come along. Watch.”
“She’s a hundred and eighty seven,” Fairish snaps. “She’s covered in moles. Her fingernails are longer than my hair. Would you genuinely find that attractive?”
“Gotta make do. It’s not like there are beautiful half-naked princesses wandering around the forest all the time,” Goat responds with a shrug. “Beggars can’t be choosers, honeybunch. Speaking of – back to that vole cake—”
“No! No,” Fairish cries, waving her arms in violent protest. “I am not eating vole cake. I will not sink that far. Not ever. Not yet.”
“Fine,” Goat says grumpily. After ten seconds of tense silence, he asks, “How ‘bout a month from now?”
She leaves him hanging for another fifteen, then mutters, “Maybe.”
Their moment of reluctant agreement is cut short by another horrific wail from the dragon. This time, Fairish makes sure to stumble in the opposite direction. She lands hard on the ground, pain shooting through her right hip and crossing walking off of her list of things she’ll be able to do in the immediate foreseeable future.
Still, it’s completely worth it. Otherwise, she would have been forced into another not-cuddling session with her not-husband, and, well, that – that’s entirely out of the question.
“Damn it,” she mumbles when sitting up proves far more difficult than it should.
And then, all of a sudden, his hand appears.
She looks up to see the rest of him, smiling in his damnably good-natured way down at her.
It has a fundamentally romantic quality, even though his fingernails are dirty and she’s five lucky inches away from having landed in goat droppings. If she tilts her head at a ninety-six degree angle, squints, and combs the forest for its most effective mushrooms in order to ingest all of them in one reckless go, it’s a little like being asked to dance at a ball.
“Thank you,” she mumbles, placing her hand in his. He pulls her up easily, gracefully – or as gracefully as a clearly psychotic ‘one-eyed’ goatherd with missing teeth and weird sticky-uppy blonde hair can. Which is pretty gracefully.
She’s careful to slip her hand out of his as soon as she’s up. She takes a couple of steps away, too, just to make sure he’s not going to get the wrong idea.
The little smile that lingers on his face confirms that he’s got the wrong idea anyway – and that, even worse, in his sorely addled brain, it’s the right idea.
“This is insane,” she snaps extra-meanly, in hopes of getting rid of that stupid look. She brushes the dust from her skirt as menacingly as she can. “Can’t we just put it out of its misery?”
The dragon lets out another hair-raising, earth-shaking, Fairish-irritating cry, like it can tell what she’s saying. Maybe it can. They have to have pretty big brains, right?
“Shh!” Goat orders, darting over to shove a finger against her lips. “You’re gonna hurt his feelings.”
“I don’t care if I hurt his feelings,” she snarls against his finger.
“Right,” he says. He still hasn’t moved his finger away. “But see, you hurtin’ his feelings will most likely result in him hurtin’ us. Physically, I mean.”
“Ah,” Fairish says, even less charmed by this prospect than by the stupid man who won’t get his goddamn finger off her goddamn mouth. “Sorry, Sparkly.”
“There ya go,” Goat says, pleased.
“You don’t need to have that there anymore,” she adds, glaring down at his finger. It’s probably not all that intimidating, considering it just results in her going cross-eyed.
But surprisingly, Goat seems a little bit sheepish as he removes it. “Oh. Sorry.”
“The point is, I’m sick of having to endure a new earthquake every five minutes,” she rants – but a little more softly this time, just in case Sparkly’s got the ability to understand speech. (In which case, he no doubt really resents being called Sparkly.)
“It’ll pass,” Goat says comfortingly. “And in a couple a’ days, so will the smell.”
“Troll’s gotta come out sometime, blossom,” he reminds her.
She groans. “God.”
The dragon lets out another miserable noise, although this time it’s less of a full-blown wail and more of a whimper. She manages to stay on her feet. She sneaks a glance at Goat to check whether he’s disappointed by this, but it turns out he’s just gazing thoughtfully into the distance.
“This reminds me,” he says. “You ever seen dragons copulate?”
She reminds herself that killing him would be a bad thing, decides to list all the reasons why, realizes there are no reasons why, and finally settles on the fact that it would probably be bloody, and this is the only dress she’s managed to keep in relatively good condition. Also, her hip hurts. She’s not sure her hip would really be instrumental in killing him, but it’s good to be in tip-top shape when you’re gonna murder somebody, just in case.
“You,” she tells him, with a touch of homicidal rage (she’ll save the rest for later), “are the most revolting conversationalist of all time.”
He’s untroubled. “That a no?”
She glares at him. He blinks back, utterly calm.
“Yes,” she finally admits in a small voice.
For a second, she’s fully determined to turn around and head right back into the hovel, where, sure, there are goats, but there’s not Goat, and right now, the uncapitalized, four-legged kind seem far preferable.
But there’s a morbid fascination that keeps her still.
“It’s extraordinary,” Goat says, shaking his head in quiet wonder. “Whole ground rumbles, like the earth’s gonna fall down around you. Even seems like it shakes the sun. They’re so big it almost feels like they command even the air as far as you can breathe it, and it’s just . . . life, and life, and life, in every breath. Down to every blade of grass. And they’re quiet when they do it, too, is the real kicker. It’s like they know that sound’ll shatter it. Like they’re bein’ considerate to the universe, just letting creation be.”
He falls silent. She knows she hates him for this already, but can’t quite find the feeling.
“Nature’s somethin’, isn’t it?” he concludes with a contented sigh.
“I suppose it is,” she answers. Each word feels like a tiny risk, the way it is to walk on new ice.
“They’re horny like big scaly bunnies this time of the season,” he adds cheerfully. “Usually goes on over in that field down past the lake. I could take you sometime, if you wanted.”
It’s not that she’s short for a fitting reply. Just the opposite, as a matter of fact.