In the fall of 1689, the queen became gravely ill. The king immediately summoned the wisest men and women from all corners of the land to try to make her well again. They examined the queen and began to converse. Their conversing soon led to arguing.
Galiven from the cold snowy north declared her to be suffering from heat stroke, while Jastivan from the orange groves along the sea declared her to be suffering from the ravages of ice fatigue.
“A lack of diuretics,” Cato dis ria Lurence insisted.
“A terrible imbalance of the humors,” Auroch shouted.
“This is madness,” Jastivan declared. “It is ice fatigue plain and simple!” Jastivan spoke with such furor that nobody dared to disagree with him. He was taken to the queen at once. Since it was, indeed, a simple case of ice fatigue, a hot water bottle placed in the queen’s bed along with a change in diet to more thoroughly warm her innards would fix her right up. His force of will was such that none doubted him, and for three days the queen slept, sweating and miserable, with a piping hot hog’s stomach of water under her while she consumed bowl after bowl of spicy soup during the day.
She did not improve and Jastivan was beheaded gruesomely before his body was tossed to the lions.
“Enough,” roared the king, livid with concern for how his image was being tarnished with by a weakly wife. Guards were summoned and the wise men and women were locked into a banquet hall together, not to be released until they all agreed on a treatment for the queen.
Once again they fell to arguing with each other.
Raspialis, the youngest of the wise men from the island of Pantanos, known mostly for its mosquitos, looked at the arguing men and women around him and knew immediately what they needed to solve the problem of the ailing queen: a scapegoat. Rapping the table furiously with his boot so that it echoed off the high granite arches of the great hall, Raspialis gathered everyone’s attention and asked, “Is anyone here actually sure their cure will work? Or are you all just sure that you want your cure to work?”
No one spoke. A few men at the table blinked.
“That is what I thought. Now here is what I suggest. It’s simple really. We have to take responsibility for the outcome of this whole situation out of our hands. We need a prophecy.”
So they set out to write a parchment of significantly mysterious sounding prose, full of bombast and vagaries, but still specific enough so that when they read into it what they needed to happen, it would seem that the parchment was backing them up. The parchment was then properly aged by soaking it in pheasant fat and baking it in one of the clay maker’s kilns for a few days until it appeared leathery and ancient. Then it was arranged to be found in one of the books at their disposal so that soon they were all gathered in front of the king to report their findings.
At Raspialis’ insistence they continued to bicker and argue over some of the unimportant points mentioned in the parchment, yet they all agreed that the queen, whose condition had continued to deteriorate, was being drained of her life force by a dark dragon, and that the dragon was currently abiding in a human body. The parchment was very clear about this. There was a boy born on the island of Pantanos during the height of the harvest moon that had been chosen by the dark dragon to be his vessel. The boy would have been struck dumb and dimwitted upon being inhabited by the dark dragon at birth, and his mother would have died shortly after. Likewise the boy’s father was never to be known, according to the prophesy.
The scroll was read, a search was made, and a boy, though he was more of a young man at this point, was found on the island of Pantanos who fit every detail perfectly.
In truth, Raspialis had been keeping the knowledge of just such a boy stored away for an occasion like the one he was facing. Which is to say that he had purchased an orphan and stashed him with a family many years ago while spreading the inane details of the boy’s birth and the information about the harvest moon in case he ever needed to fulfill a prophesy. One never knew when that might come in handy.
“There is your problem, king,” the wise men and women said. “It is the dragon possessing this frail, weak young man.” They left the boy, Ferdinand, in front of the king looking very possessed and mysterious in the sack clothing and amulet they had dressed him in.
They smiled and nodded and began to shuffle towards the door as a group, awaiting the cry from the king which would order Ferdinand to be beheaded, thus ending the curse, if possible of course. You never knew with curses. Or prophesies. Raspialis had been a bit muddy with his wording.
“Very well,” said the king. Raspialis was smiling and accepting the low mutterings of thanks from his fellow wise men and women as they arrived at the door. “Transform him into a dragon so that I may slay him,” the king shouted.
Raspialis reached a hand for the door that was now being guarded.
“What was that?” he asked over the mutterings of praise and now not so much praise that were coming from his colleagues.
The king snorted. “Surely you don’t expect me to murder some mute boy who happens to contain a dragon. The dragon would simply transfer over to another body. It must be slain in its true form. Every swordsman knows that.” The king looked around incredulously at his guards who were snickering at the wise men and women for not being aware of this.
“Yes,” Raspialis said. “There is a certain inescapable reasoning behind that, isn’t there.”
The guards returned the wise men and women to the banquet hall, now with a terrified mute boy in tow, with orders to turn the boy into a dragon so that the king might do battle.
“I want to reassure you all,” Raspialis said as the room began to glare at him, “that I have no idea what to do now, but I will manage to take all of you down with me if I fall.”
“Well that isn’t reassuring at all!” Ferdinand the mute boy said, though everyone ignored him as he was mute.
Glaring her way past Raspialis, Estienne, a witch with bronze skin from the deserts of the west, studied the mute boy intently, great smoky eyes peering over every inch of the boy’s face.
“I suppose we could dress him up?” someone shouted. “Some make-up and feathers maybe?”
“Feathers?” someone else asked.
“Scales! Whatever!” someone shouted back.
Estienne shook her head and clucked her tongue as she turned back to the group. She looked over all of them in turn, taking her time and examining the nervous faces in front of her. “Who here has even seen a dragon?” she asked.
There was some coughing and clearing of throats as nobody spoke up.
“I may have, once,” somebody from the back finally answered. “Though it may have been a large bird.”
“How is that helpful?” someone near the front cried out.
“It was dark!” the original speaker shouted, defending himself.
“What if we gut the boy and put, say, an egg in his entrails? Then let the king crush the egg?” This was from an older wise man seated at one of the banquet tables.
“I don’t think I’d like that at all,” said Ferdinand to no avail as he was mute.
“You clearly don’t know kings,” Estienne retorted, her voice trembling with the rolling cadence of the desert people. “If the king doesn’t get a few new scars out of this he’ll never believe that it was dragon related.”
“And the queen will still be sick!” someone pointed out.
“Whose terrible idea was this?” Raspialis yelled, successfully getting everyone to arguing with each other yet again, except for the mute boy who had to make do with simply yelling out for someone to please help him.
“What if we killed the king?”
“Stop!” Estienne intoned. “We are getting nowhere with these twisted plans and lies. We must face the reality of this situation. As long as the queen is still ill, we are all in danger. Now. What actual magic do we possess between all of us?”
“I’ve got this,” someone yelled, followed by numerous fire balls dancing harmlessly about the room. An old crone from the north dumped some herbs onto the table and with a low muttering chant a group of chromatic parrots exploded into the air. Musestein the Elder simply stood up and spoke his age, 219, to demonstrate his brand of magic. Then, since speaking his age unraveled his spell, he promptly died. Mad Skull displayed one of his many illusions and everyone felt like they were standing in an evergreen forest in the lush silence of thick green moss.
“I honestly think we’re getting a tad off track here,” Raspialis said, poking a hesitant finger at an illusion-based toad.
“What if we killed the queen,” someone suggested.
It was at this point that Ferdinand stopped speaking and yelling along with everyone else. In fact, while the wizards and medicine women all fell once again to arguing, yet again, with each other, Ferdinand instead grew very silent.
“Say, Raspialis,” Estienne said as the table grew louder with arguments and the banquet hall grew more confusing with tricks.
“What,” Raspialis said, facing the wall and sulking against it, hiding in his hood as he tried to think of some way out of the mess he may or may not have created.
“Where exactly did you come up with that prophecy?” Estienne asked.
Lifting his face away from the wall in overstated anguish for his plight, Raspialis heaved a sigh. “I stole most of it from some book. What does it matter?”
Estienne was eyeing Ferdinand carefully. “What book?”
Raspialis turned back to face the wall and thumped his head against it. “I don’t know. The Book of Something Or Other. Sea serpents maybe? Or beasts of the swamp?”
“When you say you stole it? What does that mean? Explain. How do you steal a prophecy?”
“I repeated it to everyone I knew and I made sure that the boy over there would fit in with what the prophecy in the book said. I added one or two things as well, just for good measure.”
“This book,” Estienne said, edging away from Ferdinand in the center of the room and backing towards Raspialis. “It wasn’t The Book of Dragons by any chance, was it?”
“Actually,” Raspialis answered. “I think that was it. How did you—” he said, turning around to see a very large black dragon devouring one of the wise men.
“You didn’t steal a prophecy, you dunder-headed ass. You fulfilled one.”
“But.” Raspialis retorted.
Both Estienne and Raspialis watched the dragon grip one of the long wooden benches in its taloned feet and toss it across the room, bowling over three people. Its great scaly head reared up and then pushed forward, mouth open, and fire spewed forth and roasted a few more people. Yet outside of the yelling and screaming of the wise men and women, everything was quiet.
“What parts did you add?”
Raspialis said nothing, his eyes frozen open in horror.
“To the prophesy. What parts did you add?” Estienne said again, snapping her fingers in front of Raspialis’ face.
“Mute. I added the part about him being mute. He was never supposed to be mute.”
Suddenly the roaring of the dragon filled the castle hallways and as it spread its massive wings there was the sound of the air being beaten, like a great leathery drum being pounded. “Now!” the great dragon roared. “Who else wants to suggest murdering the queen?”
What few wise men and women that were left all stared up at the yellow teeth and said nothing.
The dragon slowly folded its wings and settled down onto its feet. Ducking its head and folding its wings tighter and tighter about it, the dragon began to shrink and fade until finally there was only a very bewildered Ferdinand standing there. “I don’t think I like this,” he said.
Guards burst through the door, having finally heard the ruckus that was taking place once the mute part of the prophesy had been dispelled, and they stormed throughout the room, followed by the king. All their swords were drawn and they were prepared for a mighty fight, their energy and nerves slowly scattering and fading as they noticed there was no great beast to slay and instead there were a number of dead people and a very burnt section of wall.
“What happened here?!” The king yelled.
“You won’t believe it but there is a dragon inside of that boy!” Raspialis answered, pointing at Ferdinand.
The king stared at Raspialis. “Yes. We know that. You were supposed to set him loose for me to kill.”
“Oh. Yes. But…” Raspialis said, tapering off into confusion.
“I am guessing that you let the dragon out, yes?” the king said with the utmost condescension. There were some hesitant nods. “Good,” the king said as if speaking to children. “So where is it now?”
A few arms raised up with fingers pointing at Ferdinand.
The king breathed slowly and angrily through his nose. “So you have accomplished nothing except to destroy one of my banquet halls? Not to mention quite a few wise men,” he glanced over the various bodies in the room. “I should never have bothered to consult you morons. Useless, all of you! There’s no problem that can’t be solved with some sharp steel. I should just let the queen die and never have to worry about the stupid bitch agai—” At this point in his tirade he ceased talking as his head was bitten off by a very large black dragon.
“Ah,” Estienne said.
“Ah?” Raspialis asked as absolute chaos ensued with every guard in the place attacking the dragon while it quickly spat forth roaring flames and roasted six of them in their chain mail.
“The queen,” Estienne said as one guard was gripped by a taloned claw and bashed against the table. “Whenever someone mentions harming the queen, the dragon comes out of hiding. He’s protecting her. Though I can’t imagine why.”
“Come to think of it the prophesy I stole from did mention another dragon. I didn’t really pay much attention to that part, though. I only needed one patsy.”
“Yes,” Estienne said, noticing that Raspialis was beginning to become his usual arrogant self. “You most certainly handled that with the utmost skill.”
The guards were all dead, the dragon was stomping in a circle, its great neck leering around looking for any new dangers as its head brushed up against the highest arches of the ceiling.
The dragon turned its massive neck and brought its horned head to bear on Estienne and Raspialis.
“Did you mention the queen?” it asked, its voice echoing behind them.
“Not to hurt her,” Estienne said quickly. “But she is very ill.”
“I know,” the dragon said. “She is my mate and I have felt her growing stronger over this past year.”
“Sick,” Raspialis said, “not strong.”
“Mortal, do you think I choose my words recklessly? Her human form is waning just as mine was, and her time to ascend is coming near.”
Raspialis thought this over. “Wait are you immortal?” he asked.
The dragon was ignoring Raspialis and looking around at the pillars and arches all around him. “We need to get her and me out of this structure. I do not wish to cause any harm.”
“Right,” Raspialis said looking at the destruction and rubble all around him. “That would be a real shame.”
“I do not have much longer to become the mute boy who I was before.”
“Actually it turns out he’s not mute.”
“That would explain much,” the dragon said, thoughtfully. “But once that state is left behind,” he said regaining his focus, “it is harder and harder to retake. I must assume my dragon form permanently soon. However I will become the mute boy one last time. Take me to the queen and then lead us out of here.”
“We can do that,” Estienne said.
They watched the dragon shrink in on itself and fold into Ferdinand, who looked puzzled. “What is happening?” Ferdinand asked.
“You’re a dragon.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Come with us,” Raspialis said, “we can explain on the way.”
They left the columned banquet hall and made their way through the castle towards the queen’s bedchamber.
“You aren’t explaining anything,” Ferdinand said as they walked.
“You noticed that did you?” Raspialis said.
“We meant we will explain after we’ve gotten you and the queen outside,” Estienne added.
“The queen?” Ferdinand asked, suddenly terrified.
The entrance to the queen’s chambers was unguarded as all of the guards were dead inside the banquet hall. It was simply a matter of Raspialis explaining about his bad back to Estienne and convincing her to carry the queen out into the hallway and then down the passage which led to the courtyard.
Swearing at Raspialis, Estienne lay the queen down in the grass with the majestic, open blue sky above and stepped back.
“Now what?” Ferdinand asked.
Raspialis looked closely at him, then back at the queen. “I don’t know.”
Estienne had caught her breath from carrying the queen around and swore some more at Raspialis. “Fool. We need to call him.”
“Call who?” Ferdinand asked.
“Dragon!” Estienne yelled by way of answer. “Your queen awaits you!”
At first nothing happened and Raspialis snorted a laugh as Estienne stood there having just yelled at Ferdinand’s stomach.
But then the boy began to change. His arms folded around him and grew into massive wings. His legs became scaled and muscular with his feet sprouting thick talons. His neck extended in great black horns ending in his now massive head. He was, quite possibly, twice as large as he had been in the banquet hall.
His feet made honest rumbles in the earth as he situated himself and Estienne had to tilt her head back and yell up to him. “Be careful! Watch where you step!”
When the dragon noticed them and swooped its head towards them, Raspialis let out a squeal of fright, so terrifying was the jaw full of teeth that rushed towards them.
“Here is your queen,” Estienne said again, gesturing to the woman in the grass.
The dragon saw her now and the great head became almost gentle as it nuzzled her body. He sniffed her and her dress and the grass for ten feet all around ruffled under his breath. Then he closed his lidded eyes and gently rested his nose, easily as wide as she was, against her chest.
She began to change almost immediately, arms into wings, neck into a massive snake of muscle, everything happening just like it had to Ferdinand, only her scales were a beautiful incandescent blue.
There was hardly any safe place left to stand in the courtyard and Estienne and Raspialis took to cowering in a doorway.
The large black dragon turned to them and nodded solemnly. Then with its great wings flapping so hard they blew Raspialis’ hood back, it rose into the sky.
The blue dragon clawed at the ground, getting her balance, leaving dark rifts in the earth. She leaned back and flapped her wings and the sound of them beating was slowly overtaken by the sound of her letting out a great cry, a sound that made Estienne and Raspialis tremble with emotion as she stretched out in joy in her new dragon form. Then she, too, took to the sky.
Estienne and Raspialis rushed back into the courtyard and watched the dragons fly in a few circles around the castle, teasing and chasing each other happily about, then they banked east and flew into the setting sun.
There was silence for a long while as Estienne and Raspialis continued watching their forms grow smaller and smaller.
Finally Raspialis spoke up. “All according to my plans,” he said.
Estienne looked over at him and shook her head. “You are an ass.”
“That may be, but if we tell this right and act like it was on purpose, we’ll be the greatest wise man and woman in the land,” Raspialis said, as he bowed and gestured her to lead him inside.
Estienne thought about this as she stepped into the castle. They walked slowly down the hall together.
“I’m listening,” Estienne said finally.
“Well…” Raspialis began.
Joseph Devon: Hailing from New Jersey, Joseph is sarcastic, caustic, abrasive, and yet a surprisingly good cook. As the eldest member of the arena’s cadre, Joseph has come to rely on discipline over flash and dozens of rewrites over bursts of creativity. He also sometimes remembers where he put his dentures. Joseph grew up fighting for attention over loud guidos and even louder New Yorkers and polished a knack for concise, striking imagery. A fan of most anything silly, Joseph also has a depth hidden under his love of talking animals that can rope in unsuspecting readers and make them think before they realize they’re reading anything of substance. Joseph is the author of the first two books of the Matthew and Epp trilogy, Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions and is hard at work on the third.