9. Deadstock

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With the Bursacks gone, the priest cowed into silence, and the quality of the air improving by the minute, ideas began to flow freely like water through a sieve.

"I say we poison the dragon," suggested one townsman. "Anyone know what it eats?"

"Cows and horses," someone said. "People too."

"I don't want to get et up by no dragon," Bert protested.

"So we slaughter us a cow and—"

"Live cows. Dragons eat livestock, not deadstock."

"So we'll poison a live cow then."

"Won't that kill the cow?"

"Not if you rub it on its skin."

"I refuse to eat no poisoned cow!" exclaimed Bert.

"What will we poison it with?"

"I got five bags o' rat poison," came a husky woman's voice. "You can have one of 'em."

"What do you need with all that rat poison?"

"I don't take kindly to varmints is all."

"How do we know rat poison will work on a dragon?"

There was a moment of thoughtful silence.

"I say we put out its eyes," proposed Marin, who fancied himself quite the marksman ever since he had won the bow competition at the Bader Day festival. "Then, when it's blind and can't see nothing, we sneak up on it and strike it a killing blow."

"What makes you think you can hit a dragon in the eyeball?" challenged Hrago, who thought bows were for cowards.

"I hit a bulls-eye at two hundred paces, didn't I? A dragon's eye is much larger than a bull's."

"Last I counted the dragon had two eyes," Hrago pointed out. "Think you can put 'em both out before he roasts you like a mutton chop?"

"Well, there would have to be a second bowman, of course."

A long moment passed, but no one volunteered to be the second mutton chop.

"We could build us a giant bear trap," offered Brisbain, the trapper.

"My pappy, he caught himself a bear once..." Bert rambled.

"I could build it," said Argon, the smith.

"Where would we make it, master?" said Tumbock, his apprentice. "The smithy's burnt down."

The smith blinked in confusion. His memory had never been the same after a certain incident involving a horsefly, a three-legged stool and a flat-headed forging hammer. "Burned down, you say? And when were you going to tell me about this?"

"We could build us a catapult!" the carpenter announced, rubbing the large wart on his chin. The town physician had offered to burn it off, but the carpenter refused; he seemed quite incapable of having an idea without it.

"You ever build a catapult, Hassor?" said Mabry, the carpenter's brother-in-law.

"Several of 'em. Remember the one I made for your son?"

"I gots one too!" Bert said proudly.

"Those were just toys."

"They weren't toys. I made 'em small but they work just like the big ones do. My son knocked a sparrow out of a tree with one of 'em."

"A perched sparrow, huh? Ever tried knocking a dragon out of the sky?"

"You got a better idea?" Hrassor harrumphed.

Kadav seized the opportunity. "Enough discussion. Would someone like to put forward a motion for this council to vote on?" He aimed the shout-cone at a gray-haired man in the front with his chin sagging against his chest. "I said, would someone like to make a motion!"

"What!" The man's head jerked up. "A motion, you say? Eh-hem," he cleared his throat. "I motion that we organize a hunting party. We'll track the dragon to its lair and wait until it goes to sleep. Then, while it's slumbering, we'll..." Dinkoll's eyes fogged over, and his head sagged forward onto his chest. Already fast asleep, he began to snore.

"We'll sneak up and slay the foul beast where it lies!" Kadav finished for him.

"Slay the beast! Slay the beast!" The room took up the chant.

"I'll take that as a second! And a third!" Kadav declared, congratulating himself on a plan well executed. Naturally, the priest would try to thwart anything he put forward, but having Dinkoll make the motion was a stroke of genius. In all of Manfred's Mill, there was no man more pious and respected than the old shoemaker. Before his sleeping fits began, he had even served as the priest's acolyte. Enlisting his cooperation had been easy, and the best part was it hadn't cost him a thing. When Kadav explained how a portion of the dragon's gold could be used to build a bigger chapel, the shoemaker eagerly agreed to put forward the motion at council.

When the chanting died down, Kadav began laying out the details of his plan. "We'll gather outside the tavern tomorrow at daybreak, every man and boy of fifteen summers." There came a soft tapping at the window which he chose to ignore. "Hrago, bring your knife. Marin, your arrows. Argon, your hammer. The rest of you, bring—oh just bring whatever you have." The tapping grew more insistent, disrupting his train of thought. "Pack a warm cloak and enough provender—provisions, that is—for a couple weeks on the travail—the trail, I mean—Yes, in Rhojë's name, what do you want?!" he shouted at the window.

The old man poked his pruny face inside the door. "I don't mean to impose, but I was wondering if I might join your little dragon hunting party. I have seen a trifle more than fifteen summers after all."

Kadav smiled good-humoredly. "We all appreciate your courage, old man, but perhaps it would be best if you stayed behind to look after the women and children. You would only slow us down, and this undertaking could be rather, well, dangerous."

"Now it's funny you should mention that," replied the hermit. "Seeing as how dragons are so wily and all. What with their keen senses, even the angel of death would be hard put to creep up on them unawares. They've got eyes like an eagle and ears like a bat. Their sense of smell, now that's the keenest of all. They can smell a rat fart a mile upwind—"

"Not in their dreams, they can't," Kadav explained as if to a dull-witted child. "Or did you miss the part where we would wait until the dragon was asleep to attack it?"

"Problem is, dragons only sleep in fifty-year cycles, see. Judging by the rib lines on this one, I'm guessing it just woke up."

"That's ridiculous," Kadav said. "That skunk must have addled your wits, old man."

"The ol' noggin' does go a bit soft now and then," admitted the hermit. "Say, did I mention all the ways a dragon can kill? With one stroke of a claw, it can rip your head clean off. It can squash you with a foot, smash you with its tail, or drub you to a pulp with its wings."

The right corner of Kadav's mouth gave a warning twitch; the old man was really starting to get under his skin. "Thank you for your keen insight, but I think we have the situation well in hand."

The hermit did not appear to have heard. "Oh, and its teeth are poisonous see, so if you're not dead after the first bite, you start foaming at the mouth and get the herky-jerkies like—" His body underwent a sort of arthritic paroxysm. "But if you're lucky, you might just get burned to death. Burning is a lot quicker, and the bodies don't raise such a stink afterwards."

Kadav struck the back of the frying pan with such force that his arm went numb up to the shoulder. "That's enough! Your words don't frighten anyone, old man. You can stay and tell your stories to the children. As for the rest of us—"

"Eh-hem," Dinkoll cleared his throat. "Perhaps we should consider what..." On that note, the shoemaker fell asleep.

"If I may be so bold as to offer a suggestion," the priest seized on the sudden shift in momentum. In typical, ecclesiastical fashion, he spent the next several minutes building up to the point. At last, his voice rose to a frenzied pitch, signaling the end was nigh. "I propose we dispatch a messenger on our fleetest steed to Alvaron for a dragonslayer!"

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