2. Up on the Rooftop

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Kadav watched through the tavern window as the dragon rooted at a shiny object in the dirt. Recognizing it instantly, he reached for the empty place over his thudding heart—gone!

A vice-like hand clamped him by the elbow and pulled him down. "You all right there, mayor?" Hrago whispered, alarm mingled with concern. "Did a beetle crawl into your britches?"

"Got a leg cramp, that's all." Kadav said, settling back into a crouch beneath the windowsill.

Kadav's blood boiled as he watched the dragon pry open a scale and tuck away the amulet with the dainty precision of a lady slipping a coin into a purse. Patience, he counseled himself. When the dragon is dead, I'll have back what is mine and all that belongs to it as well. I'll hack that claw off and mount it on the wall. Now won't that be a thing to see.

Schick, came a sound at the mayor's side. Hrago had drawn his utility knife and set to pruning his fingernails again. At the rate he'd been going, it was a wonder his fingers hadn't been reduced to bloody stumps.

Kadav jabbed him with his elbow. "Put that away, will you."

"Sorry." Hrago slid the knife back into its sheath.

The dragon caught the scent of the baited cow and moved toward it with lumbering strides that set the shutters to rattling. Shutters weren't all that was rattled. Loud gasps came from behind the bar where the serving wenches huddled together in fright. Kadav should have had the foresight to gag them; one had a reputation for screaming. He was considering whether to go over and remedy the oversight when there came the sound of grappling followed by muted mumbling. Someone had taken matters into their own hands.

"Say, do you think it's a stallion?" Hrago asked.

"A what?" Kadav said.

"A he. You know, do you think the dragon's got balls?"

"How should I know? What does it matter, anyway? You planning on breeding it?"

"Just wondering is all."

Outside, the dragon stood poised over the poisoned cow. That's it, you devil-spawn, Kadav thought to himself. Dropping in for dinner? We've prepared a tasty treat for you.

Schick-schick, came the sound of Hrago's knife.

"Hrago!" Kadav hissed under his breath. "Didn't I tell you to put that away? On second thought, here, give it to me."

Hrago reluctantly handed it over. The knife was large and utilitarian like the ox-shouldered farmer himself. Nail pruning notwithstanding, Kadav knew there was no better man to have at his side in a dangerous situation. Hrago was loyal as a dog, strong as a bull, and not frightened by much of anything aside from bees, whose stings caused him to break out in a bumpy rash. He did have a nasty habit of fidgeting, though. Not that the mayor could blame him for feeling a bit jittery under the circumstances. One blast of dragon-breath and they would all be sleeping with the potatoes. But it wasn't fear that drove the cabbage farmer to distraction, but idleness. Accustomed to the rigors of farm work, his hands had never mastered the knack of being still. Deprived of its usual outlet, his fidgetiness leaked out in the form of small talk. "You think this plan of yours is going to work?" he asked.

"Oh, he'll take the bait, all right. Just you watch."

"The rat poison, I mean."

"Worked on goodwife Mavery's cat, didn't it?" The incident had nearly sparked a blood feud between the Maverys and Glasdornnes who, in their quest to eradicate rats, had rid the town of many a beloved pet.

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