“Whadya think she’s doing now?” said Murfe as he stirred the pot of beans over the campfire. The fire hissed and crackled, tongues of flame licking the blackened pot. Murfe had his ten-gallon hat strapped crooked on his head.

He belched, and the flames rose higher as if he had thrown lighter fluid into the firepit.

“Who?” said Telanes. Everywhere in his body hurt. His arm and shoulder muscles burned from fighting off the bandits (whom Murfe shot three rounds at, from horseback no less), and his legs and butt ached from the long ride.

To make matters worse, their mechanical horses lost steam earlier, and they had to abandon them at the gulch. Telanes’ feet hurt now. His shield—gifted to him by the temple fathers—had a dent he could not hammer back out.

And he lost his battle-axe in the fight against the bandits. The lone survivor had stolen it off his horse, and snuck away into the plains.

The absolute worst thing about this quest was the idiot cowboy Telanes hired. Murfe was the crudest, smelliest, most backward help Telanes could find. But he was also the least expensive and, amazingly, the only temple-sanctioned tracker in this backwater country.

“The redhead at the Juicy Loose Tavern,” Murfe swung the spoon in Telanes’ direction, flinging beans. A glop hit his chestplate. “I mean the dragon, silly.”

Telanes sighed and flicked the beans off his armor. “Our quarry is a male dragon. Orange scales. No wings. Or have you forgotten already?”

“Them dragons out here in the plains and valleys are all female,” said Murfe. “Only the boy dragons have the wings, boss.”

“Fine,” said Telanes. “I think she is sitting on our treasure hoard, waiting for us to slay her, just as the temple fathers have dictated.”

“What you say, boss,” said Murfe, dipping beans into two wooden bowls. He stopped working for a long moment, face scrunched tight. Murfe farted, the sound drifting across the rolling plains. As well as the smell.

Telanes lay down on his cot, wishing he could wear his helmet while asleep, if only so he could pull down the visor and maybe block out the offensive smell. The last thing he tasted before falling asleep was the foul odor coming from Murfe.

Once the dragon lay dead at his feet, Telanes would bring up the matter of Murfe’s sanctioning with the temple fathers.

Nothing would stop him from his holy mission.

***

Before the sun rose, Telanes kicked Murfe awake. The constellations pointed the rest of the way, and the knight wasn’t willing to wait out the rest of the night.

So close to the treasure! The temple fathers decreed this mission, and Telanes would see it succeed.

The cold plains air stung as he walked the rest of the way to the dragon’s den. His armor—a second skin to him—chilled and slowed him down. But not even the weight of his weapons, nor that of his fool companion, would slow his progress.

The den, however, wasn’t exactly as he expected.

“This can’t be it,” said Telanes.

“What you say, boss.”

“Stop saying that, idiot. That doesn’t even make grammatical sense.”

The “den” was an outcropping of the tallest hill in the desolate plains. Not even a proper cave. Telanes had to duck his head to go underneath. Moss and floppy upside-down mushrooms hung from the ceiling.

He lit a torch and threw it on the ground. In the center of the den was a pit filled with hay and wild grass. Telanes squatted down, and moved the nesting to one side.

Eggs.

“This is not treasure,” said Telanes.

“One man’s junk…” started Murfe.

“No! I came here for gold. For gems. For diamonds bigger than a man’s fist!”

“But you got eggs, boss. Told ya this one’s a female.”

“And you!” Telanes drew his sword and pointed the silver tip at Murfe’s throat. “How did you get to be a sanctioned tracker?”

The cowboy shrugged. “I’m real good at finding lost cattle. Especially when they get abducted by them-there dragons.”

Telanes lowered his sword. “You aren’t worth killing. My strength granted by the gods is better put to use in other ways.”

“Like how?”

“By slaying dragons!”

Telanes turned and walked out of the den.

“How you figure on finding a dragon without me?”

“The gods will guide my path.” Telanes turned about-face and knelt on one knee at the edge of the den. He planted the tip of his sword-blade into the rocky soil, and bent his head forward in silent prayer.

“I can give the gods a little nudge, boss,” said Murfe.

“I don’t want your…”

Telanes looked up just in time to see Murfe chucking an egg in his direction.

Crack! Plop!

Egg yolk and bits of shell dripped down his visor and into his cuirass. The slimy residue oozed down the inside of his armor, soaking his cotton lining. The egg tasted faintly of honey and mackerel.

A curse sat on Telanes’ tongue, but it never got uttered.

The ground shook, and split apart. A dragon, orange scaled, popped its head out of the dirt, spraying rocks and debris at Telanes.

The beast of nature demons! And he—she?—was covered in treasure. Gold earrings studded her ears. Necklaces of precious gems cinched the serpentine body. The dragon roared in outrage. The creature’s fangs glittered like diamonds.

If Telanes wasn’t mistaken, the teeth were diamonds!

The knight rose to his full height, hitting the top of his helmet against the den ceiling. He recovered quickly, and strategically backed out of the den as the dragon lashed at him with fangs and tail.

Out in the open, he raised his shield to parry. The dragon bit into the steel, crumpled it like tinfoil, and ripped it from his arm.

He switched the sword to his other arm, and drew his mace. Telanes swung wildly at his foe. The sword’s blade bent on the scales. The mace broke in half.

The gods demanded a dragon’s death. And Telanes would not disappoint, even if he were weaponless.

He planted his steel boots hard in the ground, preparing himself mentally and spiritually to charge the beast head on.

A lasso wrapped around the dragon’s neck.

“Woo hoo!” yelled Murfe as he leaped onto the thing’s back, waving his hat in the air. “Thanks for the distraction, boss!”

The knight stood there, dumbfounded, as the cowboy rode off into the sunrise on dragonback.

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