9. Skullduggery and Lullabies

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"Well, don't just stand there and gawk at it like a naked maid." Lord Manerion said. "Pick it up."

As Moribus regarded the fresh mound of dung, a naked maid was about the farthest thing from his mind. "That right there?" he pointed, figuring he must have misunderstood. "You want me to pick that up?"

"Did I stutter, boy? Did I start speaking in high Endish? Now get down off your fornicating horse and get it for Rho's sake!"

"But it's just a pile of crap. What could you possibly want that for?"

"Look," Lord Manerion gave a long-suffering sigh. "That pile of crap happens to be goat droppings. Fresh, smelly goat droppings by the looks of it. And dragons, I happen to know, have sensitive sniffers that can smell a rat fart a mile downwind. When we go riding up to the dragon's doorstep, would you rather smell like juicy human-flesh or an ever-loving goat?"

Grudgingly, Moribus dismounted and set about the distasteful task. When he had filled two pouches, they set on their way again, inching closer to the line of peaks that sawed off the horizon. The land was bunched and folded with thickly forested valleys and bare, boulder-strewn heights. Knight and squire traveled the middle ground along a winding, gravel-strewn path. The Elyddon Road with its stream of travelers was already three days behind them. Food was hard to come by, and Moribus felt hungry nearly all the time, except at night when he was too cold to notice.

Apart from the change of scenery, the days following the duel had been much the same as those preceding it. Neither spoke of it although, in point of fact, the knight rarely spoke on any subject unless it was to heap insult upon it. On those rare occasions when Moribus caught him in a talkative mood, he eagerly plied him for information.

"How many dragons have you really slain?" he ventured one afternoon. "Is it as many as they say?"

"And how many would that be?"

"Dozens. Scores. Hundreds, some say."

Lord Manerion shrugged. "Sounds about right."

"But that could be almost any number. Don't you even remember?"

"I don't remember how many wenches I bedded, either, but that doesn't mean I didn't bed them. What does it matter to you, anyway? You keeping a ledger?"

"I just want to know the truth is all."

"Ah, the truth," Lord Manerion chuckled. "Now there's a funny thing. People will travel a thousand miles to find the truth, and then, just when they have it in their grasp, they'll seize onto the nearest falsehood. Here's a lesson for you, boy. People will believe what they want to believe, and there's not a fornicating thing you or I or the sheep-loving king of Illiam can do about it."

But Moribus would not be put off the scent so easily. "What about those skulls buried in your garden? Are they really dragon skulls like everyone says?"

"Oh, those," replied Lord Manerion. "Dragon hatchlings."

"They don't look much like dragon skulls."

"And just when in your paltry, meaningless life have you ever seen a real dragon skull, boy?"

"In the great hall," Moribus said. "In your manse."

The knight ran his tongue along the front of his teeth as if to dislodge a stuck bit of food.

"They're not really dragon skulls, are they?" Moribus persisted.

"And just what kind of skulls do you suppose they'd be? Sewer rats?"

"Oliphaunt skulls, if I had to guess."

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