7. How to Kill Your Dragon

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"I would not presume to think I could kill a dragon, m'Lord," Moribus said meekly.

"Is that so? I seem to recall you presuming to tell me back there how you intend to fight a dragon with that little tickle-stick of yours." He laughed as if the notion were preposterous.

Moribus bristled but managed to keep his tone deferential. "I just assumed that—"

"Ah, so now it's assuming, is it? Presuming one moment and assuming the next. So which is it?" Lord Manerion leaned forward and fixed him with his dark, beetle-like eyes. "Maybe you think this is the first time I've had some suckling young squire with more hoodan than wits who thinks he knows how to slay himself a dragon. Here's the funny thing though, none of those other hoodan-heads are sitting around here, enjoying a cup of tea with me right now, are they? But here you come, all swelled up like a rooster ready to crow."

"Actually, I was hoping to learn from you, m'Lord."

"You're far too modest, boy." Lord Manerion held out his cup to be refilled.

The kettle shook in Moribus's grip, causing some of the boiling hot tea to slosh over onto the knight's hand. Muttering an apology, he daubed at it with the edge of his sleeve.

The knight waved him away. "Stop your fussing and tell me about this master plan of yours. I'm dying to hear it."

"I have no plan, m'Lord."

"Come now. What boy hasn't dreamed of slaying a dragon? Perhaps you could share some of these wonderful ideas of yours. Then we can talk them over like reasonable men. That is, unless your ideas turn out to be the load of horse-crap I think they are."

Moribus knew better than to respond, but the knight's goading had his gall up. He wasn't entirely ignorant on the subject after all. During his years of servitude, he had soaked up every scrap of knowledge about the mythical beasts. "If I were to go about hunting a dragon," he began. "I suppose the first thing I would do is start gathering clues as to its whereabouts, maybe search the Legateen archives for mention of—"

"Archives, bah!" Lord Manerion snorted. "What are you, some kind of jolly boy librarian? Skip to the chase. Let's assume you already know where the dragon keeps its lair. How would you go about killing the fornicating thing?"

"In that case," Moribus regrouped. "I suppose the first thing I would do is set out some bait to lure it in closer."

"Bait. Now there's a novel idea. What would you use? A caribou carcass, perhaps?"

The knight's helpful tone was Moribus's first clue as to the answer. "No."

"I hear dragons have quite the fancy for caribou."

"No," Moribus repeated more firmly. "Because dragons don't like..." Don't like what? If they were particular to caribou but shunned caribou carcasses, what was the difference? "Carcasses," he said, recalling a fairy tale about a dragon that demanded a yearly sacrifice of a live unicorn. "They only eat fresh kill."

Lord Manerion's grunt of disappointment signaled that he had answered correctly. "How would you get the dragon to notice this bait of yours? It's an awfully big sky up there."

"I would observe its habits and flying patterns. It's sure to have a favorite hunting grounds. That's where I would set my trap."

"Oh, very good. And once it takes the bait?"

"I would creep up on it and strike it in the fire gland right where the head is joined to the neck. Without its fire gland, it won't be able to breathe fire, and it will become frightened and confused. That's the time to strike it in the heart."

"Don't you mean in all four of its hearts?"

Moribus's confidence wavered. He had been so eager to show off his knowledge of the fire gland that he had completely forgotten the fact that dragons possessed more than one heart. He felt himself withering under the knight's smug gaze when something tweaked his memory, a remark his predecessor had made in passing. "No, in all three of its hearts."

"Oh, brilliant!" Lord Manerion raised his cup as if in toast. "You, my boy, have just devised the perfect plan. In fact, I see no way that this plan could possibly fail to get us both killed."

Something in Moribus snapped. For the better part of a fortnight he had tried to be the knight's model understudy, slaving away until his muscles quailed and his hands blistered, snatching only a few hours of restless sleep at night. In reward, he had been treated to a steady stream of ridicule and scorn. In all that time, not a single word had been spoken about the actual act of dragonslaying. "At least I have a plan, even if it is as stupid as you say," he snapped. "You're supposed to be the famous dragonslayer here. What's your master plan? And when exactly were you going to let me in on it? After you carry my corpse back to Alvaron in pieces? I'm your squire for Rhojë's sake, not your chorling slave! Yet all I do is clean your chorling armor and cook your chorling stew and... and build the chorling fire so your little toesies don't get cold. If I wanted to be a slave I could have stayed in the stables. Better yet, I could have stayed back on my father's farm. We were poor, but at least we were honest men doing an honest day's work. But you—you're nothing but a lazy chorl with a fancy title who likes to act all high and mighty for the peasants so they'll worship you like some kind of god. In fact, I'm starting to think this whole dragonslaying business is just one big chorling sham!"

Moribus's face throbbed like a furnace. The last time he had lost control like that was when he had caught his mother in the rye fields with one of the summer hands. He had been so enraged that he ran all the way to town to find his father, announcing the news right there in the middle of the street where anyone could hear—and had. Rhojë, what have I done?

Moribus half expected the knight to strike him. With his melon-sized hands, he could have pummeled him senseless. Instead, Lord Manerion proceeded to calmly drain his teacup. "Well, my boy, looks like you've gone and stuck your hoodan in it now."

"My Lord, I—" Moribus tried to stammer out an apology, but he knew it was a pointless gesture. He had transgressed a line that could not be uncrossed.

"You want to be a dragonslayer like me, is that it?" Lord Manerion said.

"Yes," Moribus replied. "That's it."

"Help me into myarmor then. I'll show you a thing or two about slaying dragons, you bet Iwill."

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