14. Bugle Boy

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A hard jostle brought Moribus to his senses. Thoroughly exhausted, he had passed the afternoon dozing in his saddle. To keep from slumping off his horse, he had knotted the arms of his cloak around its neck, forming a sort of body sling.

"Rise and shine, boy," Lord Manerion said. "You won't want to sleep through this next part."

Moribus glanced around groggily. They were in an oval clearing hemmed in on all sides by tall, narrow pines.

The knight had already dismounted. With his helmet tucked under his left arm and his right hand resting on his sword hilt, he looked the picture of a gladiator surveying the arena where he was about to compete. "Yes, this will do nicely," he said. "Fetch my gear, boy. We've got ourselves a dragon to slay."

Moribus disentangled himself and flopped unceremoniously out of the saddle. With arms and legs still prickling from lack of blood flow, he set about unpacking the camp equipment. When a bag of pots and utensils clattered noisily to the ground, Lord Manerion turned to see what all the commotion was about.

"Dragon gear, boy. Even I can't slay a dragon with a fornicating stew pot."

With a start of surprise, Moribus realized the knight could only be referring to the mysterious bundle lashed to the back of his saddle. At three feet long and just over a foot wide, it was hard to conceive of any weapon it might contain that would be formidable enough to injure a dragon. His curiosity piqued, Moribus unlashed the bundle and presented it to the knight.

Lord Manerion seated himself on a log where he slashed through the ropes and set about unpacking its contents. When he had finished, an assortment of odd paraphernalia lay spread out on the ground before him: a pair of disassembled crossbows with a dozen steel-tipped shafts, a looking glass, a shiny brass bugle, a couple small pouches, and a plum-sized object wrapped in wax paper. "There it is, boy," he said with pride. "The tools of the trade."

The contents left Moribus more confused than ever. How was this collection of mismatched items supposed to give them a winning edge?

Lord Manerion industriously set to work on the crossbows. With a series of deft movements, he extended and secured the flanges, threaded the bowstrings, and adjusted various bolts and screws with the aid of a small pry bar. In no time at all, he was holding a fully assembled, double-shafted crossbow. "You might want to move away from that tree," he said, loading a cross bolt into each chamber.

Moribus had barely managed to step aside before the bolts thunked home. One of them sounded a bit hollow. Frowning, Lord Manerion made some more adjustments to the crossbow. Satisfied at last, he sat it aside and began work on the second one.

"The crossbows..." Moribus ventured. "They're for shooting the dragon with?"

The knight grunted ambiguously.

"Where will you shoot it? The eyes?"

"Eyes are too risky. If you don't put out both of them, all you've done is make it angry. Even if you were to blind it, that won't keep it from hearing or smelling you."

"Where then? The wings?"

"The wings..." Lord Manerion chuckled. "Ord's fjords, boy, where do you get such addle-headed notions?"

"The cross bolts will pierce scales?"

"Don't be ridiculous. Even a giant spear-thrower won't pierce the scales of a full-grown dragon."

"But the dragon's got scales everywhere else."

"Not everywhere."

Moribus conjured up an image of a dragon in his mind and probed at it for hidden vulnerabilities. There were the critical organs like the flame gland, the three hearts and, of course, the brain—all of them protected by impenetrable layers of bone and scales. Could the knight be referring to the muscular nexus that joined the wings to the torso? The long serpentine neck? The reproductive organs? What did a dragon's gonads look like anyway? None of his secondhand information had covered that aspect of dragon physiognomy.

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