13. The Dragontraption

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The work on the dragon trap progressed at a pace Kadav would not have thought possible only a week before. Everyone pitched in. Children carted water and ran errands. The womenfolk prepared food, wove ropes and generally kept their husbands from maiming themselves through heedlessness. Even the aged found work to do, sharpening axes, straightening nails and mixing salves for blisters. A small contingent remained behind in town to keep a lookout for the dragon, whose latest exploits had been responsible for the priest's unexpected change of heart.

Not long after Kadav's failed parley, the dragon dropped in for an unannounced visit. This time it did not spare the holy chapel with its new coat of paint and fragrant purple chalices. By the time the ashes settled, little remained of the earthly dwelling place of the All-Maker other than a pair of sacred scrolls which the holy man rescued from the burning structure at great risk to his own person.

With this latest act of wanton destruction, the dragon had made a very devout and vociferous enemy. The priest launched a holy crusade, rounding up every soul within hearing of his voice (the entire town) and leading them in grand exodus to the god trees where they swore a communal oath that no man would rest until the dragon-trap was finished and the infernal beast's fire-scorched soul was committed back to Ord where it belonged.

The priest was as good as his word. Better even. At the first glow of dawn, he grabbed an ax and climbed the nearest scaffold to hack away enthusiastically at the god tree. Not to be outdone, Kadav set about chopping, hauling and shoveling with alacrity. After a week of such treatment, his body was battered and sore, his hands raw and blistered. His left big toe was purple as a plum where he had dropped a hammer on it. Yet he was so full of vigor that it was only with great reluctance that he laid himself down to rest at night. Inspired by their leaders' example, the townspeople worked with single-minded determination, rarely coming down from the scaffolds. After one of the ladyfolk wandered by at an inopportune moment, the platforms were even outfitted with chamber pots.

The apparatus took shape before their eyes. A deep, vertical groove rose along the northern god tree followed by an identical facing groove on the southern one. When they reached the prescribed height, they were squared and sanded down and a beam of pine was hewn to the exact distance between them.

Meanwhile, the smith, with the aid of the trapper's design and his apprentice's memory, turned out piece after piece of metalwork: springs, pins and braces for the trigger mechanism, additional axes and hammer heads for the laborers, rings and wheels for pulleys, and more of the oversized steel blades which were fixed in a line along the beam. Pulleys were mounted high on each tree, and the trigger mechanism was assembled in place along with a crow's nest. They had conceived of different schemes to trigger the trap automatically, but there were too many factors to account for. Thus, a person in the crow's nest was needed to hit the lever.

Finally, the scaffolding came down, and the beam was dragged into the grooves through horizontal channels. Thick, triple-corded hawsers were run through the pulleys and secured to each end of the beam. With the engineering done, the rest came down to muscle.

The townspeople were organized into two lines of equal brawn, and each man was assigned a position along the rope. A few people were held in reserve in case one side started to lag. Both ends of the beam had to be raised in perfect unison. Once the process of hoisting was under way, there could be no stopping lest it come crashing down with devastating consequences. Everyone who held a piece of that triple-corded hawser knew that triumph was at hand, or disaster. With a booming command, the priest gave the signal, and the ropes went taut. The pulleys squealed, and the log shifted, scraping against the sides of the grooves. For several long heartbeats, it refused to budge. Then it gave a sudden upward jerk and, little by little, rose ponderously into the air.

Kadav was not one to believe in the divine hand of providence but, as he watched the great beam inch skyward, he was filled with a sense of what could only be described as awe. It was obvious now that his own recruiting efforts would have fallen far short of what was required. Without bringing to bear the undivided effort of the entire town, no amount of human strength or clever engineering could have managed to lift so great a weight to such a towering height.

When the braces finally locked into place, suspending the steel-edged beam some fifty feet in the air, everybody collapsed where they stood as if smitten, heaving and panting and breathless with relief. Kadav had never felt so weary and so proud as he did at that moment.

"Rhojë be praised," he said aloud. "She's finished."

"Well, I'll be damned," thundered the priest.

* * * * *

Kadav bent low over the stallion's neck as it raced through the forest. He felt giddy with speed, the wind roaring in his ears, the ground a dizzying blur beneath his feet. He didn't bother applying the heel, not believing it was possible to go any faster. He was mistaken. Catching sight of their goal, the fleet stallion put on an extra burst of speed, zooming past the pair of god trees. It didn't slow until it was within a few strides of where Hrago stood with an hourglass and a basket of mulberries.

Grinning from ear to ear, Hrago held up the hourglass. When Kadav saw how much sand was left in the upper chamber, he let out such a whoop as he hadn't done since he was a boy. With the help of Nurago's fleetest stallion, they had more than halved the time from town to the god trees.

"Who says horses can't fly?" Kadav crowed.

"Horses may can't, but a dragon sure can," Hrago pointed out. He wasn't being argumentative, just plainspoken. Since their falling out, the two had smoothed over their differences, which was to say that they had resumed cordial relations without ever speaking of what happened.

"Even a dragon can't fly so well in the woods." Kadav replied.

"The trees thin out coming down the stretch. Plenty of room for a dragon to fit in between 'em."

"Then I'll just need to build up a good lead, won't I?"

"Not too big. It needs to follow you all the way here."

"Oh, it will follow me all right."

"You're sure it will take the bait?"

"Of course, I'msure," Kadav said, his bravado fast fading. "I'd bet my life on it."

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