Today is the last.
The last Wednesday on which I post, for your enjoyment, one of the top three short stories from my short story contest.
Two weeks ago, we had the fabulous tale of a boy who meets a fairy and takes a most picturesque photograph.
Last week, all of us quaked in our blue-suede shoes at the very mention of the faeries of no-lake.
And this week....
This week, we get to enjoy the first place entry, a thoroughly comical tale with its fair share of adventure, danger, mass-peril, dragons, bent swords, and bitter betrayal.
(So perhaps the betrayal is not part of this saga. Still, one can imagine what might have happened if someone had betrayed the main character...)
It's a bit of a longer one, but well worth the read. After all, a tale about a blacksmith who finds a giant eyeball at the entry to his forge and then...
Well, I'll let you find out for yourself.
I present to you:
The Stench of Dragon’s Throat
I do believe “once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away” is a very stupid way to start a story, and I’ve rather come to hate tales that begin that way. I suppose it’s because “once upon a time” and “in a kingdom far, far away” are far too vague for my taste and give you the sense that interesting things only happen in far away magical lands way out of any ordinary soul’s reach.
Well, that’s simply not true, for I myself happen to be ordinary, and I’ve got quite the tale to tell you.
My story starts on May 12th in the year 989 A.D. at precisely 5:13 in the morning, in the tiniest little village, called Teensy-Weensy, on an island north of the kingdom we so happened to be ruled by. The kingdom’s name is unimportant, because I can’t remember it and those in charge of the kingdom seem to care very little about us, so why should I bother with remembering them and their kingdom’s silly name?
Anyways, so there I was, getting up out of my cot at 5:15 (I woke up at 5:13, but everyone needs a couple more minutes in bed after they’ve come to). As village blacksmith, I always awoke first, for a very special reason. I, Frankulus von Unstien—more commonly referred to as Frank—had the very special privilege of waking the rest of the village up each and every single morning. I took one step—for that’s all it took to travel between my cot and my door—and passed into my smithy.
But I found something quite disturbing when I entered the smithy that morning—May 12, 989 A.D., as you’ll recall—for in the wide entry to my smithy, opposite of the door to my small room, peered a giant, glassy eye the color of the across-the-street baker’s wife’s toe fungus. In short, the eye’s color was a very nasty green. The pupil of the eye was narrowed to a barely discernible slit. Around the eye were scales of a blackish-blue coloring, though what sort of creature it was I could not tell.
At first I stood quite still, for when you encounter a giant eye, you must first make sure it isn’t looking at you. It made no move for the seven-and-three-quarters minutes that I stood there, meeting its listless stare.
“Hmph,” I grunted, “so you are not looking at me then.” The next step when you encounter a giant eye is to check if the thing it is attached to happens to be alive or not. So, I marched up to the eye, snatching up a bent sword as I passed my anvil, and thrust the crooked sword straight into the eye.
Neither the creature nor the eye jerked, flinched, or made any movement or sound whatsoever, proclaiming both creature and eye very much dead. Now that I had satisfied the requirements for evaluating a giant eye, I wanted to know what sort of creature it was attached it. I left the bent sword where it protruded because I had little desire to touch the potentially goopy eye in order to free the sword.
I crossed back to my tiny room and reentered. I stepped onto my cot to reach the window, ripped off the leather curtain, and managed to squeeze through the window, without help from my back-window-neighbors the shoemaker and his wife, the shrew. I dropped into the dusty, narrow street and picked myself up. A stack of crates formed a rickety stairway against the back wall of my home, leading up to the thatched roof. I climbed up the crates, mounted the roof, and edged along it, peering down at the street. I paused when I finally saw the full creature sprawled out. Ah, so that explained the giant eye, then.
From the cobbler’s place three houses down from mine, stretching out of the village and down the seldom-used path down to the many-miles-away harbor, lay a beast of scales, with wings stretching fifteen houses in both directions, a row of spines pricking out from its back. It appeared to be laying on top of three of its four feet, though the fourth foot poked into the traveling minstrel’s summer vacation house. Good thing he hadn’t arrived for the season yet.
Thinking of the minstrel and how sorry he would be when he returned to find a massive, clawed paw of some giant creature stuck in his house, I recalled one of his tales. It concerned a beast similarly described as this, which he had called a “dragon.”
A dead dragon in our village. Why it was dead, I didn’t care. Now that I had evaluated the eye and spied out the creature attached to it, I needed to resume my tasks. The rest of the village had to be awakened, and then someone else could take care of the dragon.
I clambered down from the roof and returned to my smithy. I built up the fires and began hammering away at the pieces of metal I heated. Though I couldn’t see it from inside, of course, the smoke of my fires rose into the sky, beginning the first signs of morning movement. This trail of smoke floating into the sky accompanied by the clinging and clanging of the steady beat of my hammer stirred the village out of sleep and into life, spreading first to the baker, the weaver, the tailor, and the shoemaker, my immediate neighbors. The wakefulness spread out from there across the entirety of the village.
I managed to straighten out five swords, bang freshly heated ore into two axe-heads, and sip a nice cup of tea before the shrew’s voice jarred my peace. In fact, I was in the middle of a sip from my tea when her shriek reached my ears for the first time that morning:
“Frank! Frank!” Her grating voice was worse than a sword against a whetstone, I swear. Today it sounded rather flattened, as if she were attempting to yell at me as she squeezed between the dragon’s jowls and the wall of my smithy. Actually, that turned out to be precisely what she was up to.
After recovering from my spluttering—caused by her interruption—and wiping the tea off of my chin, I asked, “What service may I offer you?”
Suddenly her bloated arm popped out from between the dragon and the wall, waving wildly. “What is this thing in our village?”
“A dragon,” I answered, setting down my teacup by the fire and sighing. I did enjoy my tea, and hated interruptions like this one. Particularly from her.
A leg appeared below the arm. “And why is it here, Frank?”
I smiled, rather enjoying watching her attempted struggle. “It is dead.”
Half of her face, her eye bulging slightly and her cheek extra puffed, appeared next between wall and dragon. “Yes, I noticed, but why is it dead?”
Before I could offer her another lame response, the village bell tolled out the emergency summons. So it seemed the village heads had determined the dragon’s deadness to be a village-wide cooperation. I pushed against the dragon’s face, careful to avoid touching the eye, and budged it a little away from the wall.
The shrew grunted and squeezed her way back out, away from my smithy. Yes, I meant she still squeezed. Not as violently as before, but she had to squeeze nonetheless. I followed, and I did not need to squeeze my way through.
She met up with her husband on the road and left me alone as I made my way to the Village Square. It was not truly a square in shape, actually more of an octagon, but we called it a Square because we are simple folk and couldn’t care one way or another. Anyways, we met there, the whole village, and the five village heads assembled on the rotting wooden stage in the center of the Square. The villagers gathered around that stage, clamoring and pressing around it as if their lives depended on it. I preferred a less jammed position, and stood near the houses, as far away from the stage as I could be, though close enough that I’d be able to hear the proceedings fine. Since the village was tiny, so was the Square.
“Village of Teensy-Weensy!” cried one of the five heads, shushing the chattering crowd.
The second head cleared his throat. “We gather here today…”
“Because we have a dead dragon in our midst!” the third head shouted.
“We have determined,” said the fourth head, who then paused and nodded at the last head.
The fifth head nodded back to the previous head and finished, “That the villagers must decide what to do with it.”
The crowd buzzed with talk. I had no ideas, but wondered what the other villagers would say. Though I had grown rather accustomed to the eye already, despite my hesitancy to touch it, I wouldn’t mind if the dragon was removed from the village. It would probably be better for my business.
“We should butcher it!” No, it was not the butcher who suggested that, as might make sense, but the alchemist. No doubt he desired dragon scales and dragon claws and dragon wings to perfect some serum or another.
“Are you crazy?” Ah, now spoke the butcher. “Dragon meat is said to be poisonous!”
“It is, it is!” cackled the witch. “And makes the perfect draught of death!”
“We should really concern burning her at the stake, shouldn’t we?” said one village head to the other.
“First let’s take care of this dragon issue,” replied the other head.
I smirked. Village meetings entertained me. Rarely did they ever serve to solve an issue.
“I know! We should drag its carcass out of the town!” suggested the shrew. “Frank pushed it earlier, I’m sure he could drag the whole thing out.”
I frowned. “I am sorry, my villagers, one man for the job would simply be too much. Perhaps the whole village could manage to move it.”
“Oi!” cried the fishmonger. “I’ve got an idea! We could kill it!” Yes, the fishmonger happened to be an idiot. Not just because of his previous statement, but also because, save for wells, there was no water for at least a hundred miles in all directions, making his trade in our village very much a moot point.
The whole village groaned at his latest suggestion of stupidity, and unfortunately no one received the chance to reprimand him, for at that moment, a shrill shrieking not unlike the shrew’s voice broke many of the villager’s eardrums, followed by a cacophony of wing-flapping, and a great mass of swirling, churning dragons blocked out the sun.
“It’s the end of the world!” screamed the tanner. His panic poured out into many of the other souls around him—all of them, in fact, except for me. Which made me the calmest person in our village, but there’s no surprise. The dragons’ appearance did not startle me because whatever little challenges our village faced, we always seemed to pull out of them okay. Sure, we’d never had anything as terrifying as a horde of dragons, but why should that make a difference? Trouble was trouble, and trouble could be fixed, no matter the difficulty.
Two dragons floated out of the mass and swerved down at us. They stopped before landing in the Square, hovering above the thatched roofs with mighty flaps of their wings. I straightened, crossed my arms, and quietly studied them.
“Mortals of this town!” boomed one of them.
Everyone else in the village ceased running in circles and into each other, but still everyone—save me—trembled in their leather boots.
“You have killed one of our dragons!” boomed the other. That one sounded rather female, but at the same time its voice was so low that it made it quite impossible to tell.
“You will provide us with payment,” boomed the other. “Or we will burn this town and all who live in it.”
Well, quite a harsh sentiment, and I simply wouldn’t stand for that. “We didn’t kill your dragon!” I dared to shout—who were these dragons to threaten us when they didn’t know the whole story?
“Oh?” they said in unison, glaring at me with yellow eyes.
One of them, the probably-female, flapped lower and shoved her stinking nose (which smelled like boiled cabbages and manure) in my face, nearly knocking me over. “Then who killed him?”
At that moment a rather peculiar and risky idea occurred to me. Perhaps a tad on the crazy side, but I considered it might be well worth the risk. “He isn’t dead, good dragon.”
The dragon, the nerve of that creature, blasted smoky steam out of her nostrils, nearly curdling my curly hair with the stench of spoiled milk, but thank the stars she backed away from me and spared me more exposure to her foul odor. “Well, then, mortal human, you must prove it. We will return at sundown tomorrow, to spare you or to kill you.”
The two dragons rejoined their churning mass and the flock of dragons flew away, shedding sunlight down upon us again. The reemergence of the sun did little to sway the hearts of the people, though, as the tanner cried once again, “It’s the end of the world! We’re all going to die!” and mass panic once again broke out, people screaming and scattering about in a frenzy.
I sickened at the sight of this panic, for I had given us more time to work out a solution that might save us all, and this is how the village repaid me? I would not have it.
So I shoved my way through the crying, groping, desperate crowd, and I did the unthinkable. I climbed up onto the rotting, sagging wood of the village heads’ platform.
A gasp rippled through the crowd, followed by silence. The village heads looked at me, then at each other, then back at me. In fact, everyone was looking at me.
“My people,” I cried, “we stand falsely accused by a horde of dragons. And so, we must take action.”
“Cower and hope they don’t find us?” offered the shepherd.
“Leave our village behind?” suggested the shrew. Of course she’d think of that, but no, we couldn’t leave our village. Not after we’d worked so hard. Besides, the dragons would catch up and burn us no matter where they found us. Well, probably. Hard to say, really.
“Hold the dragon hostage?” the fishmonger said.
The village groaned.
“No!” I said, frustrated at their cowardice and, in the case of the fishmonger, stupidity. “We will trick those dragons!”
The crowd remained dead silent.
The shrew’s voice shattered that precious silence, shrill and screeching, “How, exactly? What, Frank, could we possibly do to trick those dragons?”
I grinned. “We’re going to bring that dragon back to life.”
I hammered the one end of the thin metal rod into a barbed point, then passed it to the butcher.
“Where does this one go?” he asked me.
I glanced at the head of the dragon, now shoved nearly completely away from the entrance to my smithy. “Let’s see, that one’s a long one? Better be…upper right shoulder.”
“There’s already one there!” protested the butcher.
I suppressed an annoyed sigh, and once again wished that the villagers could properly distinguish between right and left. “Then the other right, good sir.”
The butcher nodded and dashed down the street with the rod clutched in both hands. All of the villagers worked with a frenzied and desperation, leaving me, once again, as the only one actually relaxed and confident. Still, they seemed to be buying into my plan, all panic aside.
Next, the cooper ran in, holding a barrel around his body. He had to waddle as he ran, the barrel so huge and awkward around his bulk. “How’s this, Frank?” he asked, and he squatted down, the barrel’s end touching the ground covering his feet. He also tucked his head in, behind the barrel’s rim.
I walked up to the barrel and looked down at him, smiling a little, though I felt overjoyed. The cooper had followed my instructions perfectly. “Good, good, do you have lids for all of the barrels?”
The cooper’s head popped back up as he nodded. “Oh yes, we’ll have to put those on once the villagers have gotten inside, though.”
I nodded and turned back to my work on the barbed poles. “Good, and they’ll have holes in the top?”
“Just big enough for those metal rods to poke through,” the cooper replied.
“Excellent,” I said, beginning to hammer at the tip of another pole.
The shrew ruined the moment as her piercing voice flooded my smithy. “Frank! I cannot believe this!”
I whirled around to face the exasperating woman, holding up both my hands. “It is the only plan we have, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but using the corpse as a puppet? How vulgar!” she shrieked. “And how are you going to make it speak?”
I turned away from her, concealing my smile. “Never you mind about that.” Certainly I had a grand idea for that part of my little plan, but no one save me knew of it.
“This isn’t going to work,” she cried.
The cooper stood, gripping the barrel so it matched his rising movement. “Whatever do you mean? Of course it’ll work! We’ll all be hidden and controlling the dragon with those metal rods that Frank’s making. We’ll trick those dragons.”
“Yes, sure, but what about when they ask about the metal rods, hmm?” the shrew challenged.
“See here, lady, I’m planning all of my responses so those dragons will leave us alone,” I said, hammering the pole’s point a little too forcefully. Thankfully I could fix the unintentional flattening.
She grunted. “Well, at least we’ll all be in barrels if your plan fails, and safely hid from those dragons!” With that, she stormed away.
“I suppose it’d be bad to bring up the fact that the barrels aren’t fireproof?” the cooper asked.
I shook my head. “Yes, please don’t.”
I peered through the giant metal cone lining the inside of the dragon’s mouth and shifted my boots over the soft and slimy tissue of the dragon’s throat. Drool glistened all around me and the stench was awful, like refuse mixed with the smell of the fishmonger’s ceiling mold (like fish, but worse), but for the sake of my village, I’d bear it.
The sky, painted pink and orange, marked that the time for the dragon horde’s return neared. “Villagers, attend to your stations! Remembered what we practiced!” I said. My voice, amplified through the metal cone, reached all who were lined up down the dragon, safely concealed in barrels and clinging to their metal poles. “Now close the mouth, and get ready!”
A few of the villagers below, the butcher, the shepherd, the tanner, and the silversmith, shut the lower jaw of the dragon, casting me in complete darkness, dankness, and smelliness.
I waited for what might have been hours in the darkness, hoping that this plan would pay off. Now that the moment had arrived, my usual calm faltered just a tad. Better to try something, though, than to just panic and die, right? And transforming the dragon corpse into a giant puppet seemed like a fairly half-decent plan. We’d even tested the dragon’s movements, and though they were jerky, they managed to come across as decently alive.
Then, they finally came: the dragon’s shrieks, coupled with the frenzied flapping of the wings. The booming might-be-female dragon spoke, “Razok, is that you?”
As the villagers raised the dragon’s narrow and high neck further up and repositioned the head to a more natural angle, I steadied my body by resting my hands against the throat’s sides. The warm ooze of dragon spit washed over my fingers, but I avoided gagging. The dragon shifted again beneath me as the villagers in charge of the feet had the dragon take a few steps forward.
The mouth opened, casting light down upon me. My cue.
“Yes, it is I,” I said, in my lowest of low voices. “Razok the dragon.”
“How did you come to be in this village?” asked the male dragon.
“I flew here and needed a long nap,” I said; one of my rehearsed responses.
“Where are the villagers?” asked the female.
“I ate them.” That was an easy answer. Hopefully none of the villagers were outside of their barrels and in the sight of the dragons.
“And you didn’t save us any?” Was that a joke? Probably not, the female sounded serious, angry, even.
“Um, no, sorry, I was far too hungry,” I offered, off of the top of my head. My hands shook a little. I hoped the dragons would take the bait. I hoped my village could be saved from their wrath.
“And what are those metal poles jutting out from your body?” the probably-female asked.
“New ornaments,” I said. “I like how menacing they look.”
“Razok, you are acting very strangely,” said the male.
I didn’t know what to say. How did one respond to such an accusation? My mind raced to find a feasible answer.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” said the female dragon.
I gulped, but decided to take a huge risk and say, “I have had a change of heart.”
Silence from the scary dragon end.
“I no longer wish to live among my race.” I heard a flapping of wings from behind me. Good villagers, following my cues. “It is my dream to live among people.”
“Then you leave us no choice but to kill you, you forsaker of the dragon ways!” screamed the probably-female, though she did sound rather masculine giving this exclamation.
Well, ending this conversation would be easier than I had anticipated. “Oh, there is no need for that! Oh! Oh! I feel my heart heaving!”
Following my cue, the chest-controlling villagers had the chest heave, nearly tossing me forward into the metal cone.
“Oh! Oh!” I continued to moan. “I am dying! I’m falling to the ground, and dying! Oh!”
The whole body trembled as the villagers performed excellently, having the dragon collapse. At the last moment, as soon as I let out the final “Ehhhh…” death gasp, the head was jerked upward, thrown into the air and arching back. The movement cast me back and I fell down the throat. I resisted yelling, not wanting to give myself away to the dragons. I tried to grab onto the side of the throat. But the saliva was too slick, too goopy, and the throat offered no handholds to latch on to. I closed my eyes and slid to a stop, still somewhere within the throat. At least I hoped I was still in the throat region, and not the stomach area or beyond…
I could hear the dragons making a curious huffing noise through the dragon’s neck. The breathy huffs transformed into little bubbling sounds and then grew into massive guffaws.
The dragons? Laughing? Why?
I started to crawl along the throat, assumedly in the direction of the mouth, though one could never be so sure when they’ve slid a great distance down a dragon’s throat.
The male dragon said, “What a joke! Out of all villages, yours has actually succeeded in providing the best trick.”
“Who was it in charge of this?” the female dragon asked through her laughing.
I heard a faint voice from just outside the wall of dragon throat—the shrew’s. “Why, it was Frank’s, the blacksmith. He’s the one been talking inside the dragon’s head.”
A little swell of pride puffed my chest out a bit, but the next moment my hand slipped and my chin smacked into the dragon’s throat. It jarred me a little, though the worst part was the dragon spit splashing across my face. I spat out the warm, dense ooze that got into my mouth and kept crawling.
“Fascinating,” the female said. “You see, we drag this corpse about and see what the villagers do. Most just run, or hide, but you’ve actually tried something we’ve never seen.”
“I mean, if you did kill one of our dragons, we’d never give you a day to figure out an excuse,” said the male. “We’d just kill you then. Anyone who does fail our little test we do end up eating, but you have certainly intrigued us with your idea.”
“Congratulations, you all get to live,” said the female.
I couldn’t help but smile. This feeling felt so nice—I’d saved my entire village. The joy made even being in the unknown part of a dragon’s throat smothered in warm, awful-smelling saliva pleasant.
Now, as much as it would be glorious to say I died a sacrificial death for the sake of my people caused by the fishy-and-refuse-esque stench in the midst of a dragon’s esophagus, that’s not quite what happened. Soon the butcher sliced into the dragon’s throat luckily very close to where I was and I exited through that hole. The villagers hailed me as a hero and the dragons congratulated me several times before they and their flock left, taking the dragon corpse with them.
And we all lived happily ever after—but you know, I do hate that phrase too, and it’s not entirely true, so I’ll offer this in closing instead:
The shrew, bless her soul, accidentally cooked one of the dragon meat pieces that the butcher cut out of the throat in order to rescue me, and, as it was poisonous, she died peacefully in her sleep. The fishmonger never changed, doomed to be an idiot for all eternity, or at least his mortal life, it seemed. The village heads became four. The witch was in fact burned at the stake two and a half years later. And all of the other villagers lived relatively happy and normal lives.
As for me, I’m alive, and happy. My smithy is free from the shrew’s grating tones at long last. I turned down an invitation to become a village head because, well, I prefer the simpler life. You can still do a whole lot of meaningful things as a simple folk, really, and that’s what I like about my life. Oh, after the dragon incident nothing as exciting ever really happened—not counting the goblins that stole all our goods, the troll that nearly ate the fishmonger (entirely his fault, really), the alchemist’s accidental monster, oh, and the band of roving wizards that plagued us for a long time—but I still help out anyone and everyone in this village, exciting dragon-like adventure or small mishap.
Unfortunately, though, I still smell like dragon’s throat.
Madelynn Orion is a Christian college student with hopes of publishing several novels someday. In particular, she enjoys writing fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary stories. She will be attending Baylor University this fall and will be majoring in English, with a minor in Creative Writing. In her spare time she enjoys eating chocolate, drawing Chibi versions of her characters, playing the piano, and reading or watching The Lord of the Rings.
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Tune in next week (on the 28th) for a special interview with Madelynn!