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by Esther M. Friesner


“Yvitelli is such a charming little kingdom,” Naphtheena said, studying her nails as she enjoyed the spring morning at a table in the tavern courtyard. “What a shame I’m going to destroy it.” The dragon illustrated her plans for the kingdom in question by spearing a biscotto with the spike at the end of her long and graceful tail, and crisping the confection to ashes with a single gout of fire from her nostrils.

The waiter took in this spontaneous demonstration of un-spontaneous combustion with a jaundiced eye. Another man might have run away screaming, but M’sieu Bertrand hailed from the legendarily languid kingdom of Sesinaypazoonpeep, and thus was not easily roused from his carefully cultivated aura of ennui. He was also aware that dragons were good tippers. It came from their long-standing (and sometimes sprawling) tradition of slumbering on piles of treasure. For a dragon, bestowing largesse beyond the dreams of avarice was equivalent to a peasant giving you a couple of handfuls of straw from his miserable sleeping pallet.

“Perhaps in that case madame might consider making alternate plans for le tourisme?” M’sieu Bertrand inquired nonchalantly.

“Goodness, no, I wouldn’t dream of it,” Naphtheena replied, fluttering blue, scaly, lashless eyelids. “I’ve already filed the parchmentwork.” She sipped her tisane of spider blood and silently indicated that she wished another order of biscotti.

“And this time, don’t take so long,” she cautioned him. “I don’t know why you needed an hour to bring the first plate and I have even less of an idea why you then had to fetch the biscotti on an individual basis, but—”

“A thousand apologies, Madame.” If M’sieu Bertrand had been speaking his native tongue rather than Hucksterian (or the Extremely Common Lingo) he would have employed the First Person Indifferent, a verb form meant to convey insincerity and disdain like nobody’s business. “If I brought you the biscotti one by one, it was to prevent accidental crumbling, for to do otherwise were to insult the baker. Good things are worth the wait, is it not so? But perhaps madame does not know how to appreciate such a refined and sophisticated—”

The dragon’s eyes narrowed. “Are you trying to annoy me?”

The waiter’s brows lifted. “Is madame becoming irked? Peeved? Peradventure piqued? Dare I hazard… infuriated?”

Naphtheena took a deep, centering breath. “I am not. It would be quite unwise of me to permit a mere mortal to provoke me into losing my temper under the present circumstances. However, you might be interested to learn that among my kindred, anger is not a prerequisite to eating what irritates us, or even what attempts to do so. If I were to tell you the number of people I have devoured in cold blood—theirs—it would make your flawlessly coiffed head spin. But it would be much better for us both if it made your butt move into the kitchen and back here with my biscotti right about now.”

Her words had the desired effect. M’sieu Bertrand dashed off with alacrity and returned with biscotti. When he brought the tasty morsels, he found that another party had joined his customer at the small, round table. The creature that perched on the chair opposite the enormous dragon was much smaller, squatter, and covered in dirty taupe plumage from her garish yellow bird feet almost all the way up to her neck. The only portion of her body that was bare, besides her lovely woman’s face, was her equally attractive bosom. While Naphtheena eyed her askance, she cocked her head at the waiter in the manner of inquisitive pigeons everywhere.

“A friend of yours?” the waiter asked Naphtheena.

“Certainly not!” The dragon seemed appalled at the very thought. “Shoo her off at once!”

“Ah, Madame, would that I could.” M’sieu Bertrand flicked his fingers in an insouciant manner. “But this newcomer is a customer and our outdoor seating is limited.” He needlessly indicated the fact that there was only one table in the courtyard. “I am afraid that you will either have to share your place with her or pay your bill and depart at once.”

“All right, if I must. Wrap my biscotti to go and—”

The waiter whisked the plate behind his back. “This tavern is not licensed for takeaway service, alas. However, you are still responsible for paying for them.”

Naphtheena’s brow lowered. “You are trying to get my goat, aren’t you? If you were anything but a miserable fetch-and-carry, I would suspect you of dark motives against me.” She drew in another of those calming breaths and let it out in the waiter’s face. Coming from a dragon, such an exhalation bore the tang of sulfur and the charnel house, with a whisper of almond extract from her previous order of biscotti. It was no fragrant zephyr, as she well knew when she shot it at M’sieu Bertrand, who staggered at the sick-making pong. This mollified the dragon somewhat.

“Very well, I’ll share the table,” she said, and tapped the surface smartly with one claw. “My biscotti, if you don’t mind.”

M’sieu Bertrand looked a bit green, but nausea was not the chief emotion that his face revealed. For some as-yet-unknown reason, the waiter did not look so much queasy as thwarted. It took him a moment to recover his aplomb, whereupon he turned his attention to Naphtheena’s uninvited guest.

“Would madame care to see la carte du jour?” M’sieu Bertrand inquired suavely, all the while employing the famed Sesinaypazoonpeepian discretion to feast his eyes upon the feathered monster’s generous endowments.

“Don’t ask her that, you fool!” The azure dragon leaped to her feet in a panic, upsetting the table in her haste. “Don’t you know a harpy when you see one? They don’t talk to communicate, they—”

A stench of operatic grandeur engulfed the premises. The harpy flicked her tail feathers and fluttered to an unpolluted perch atop the thatched roof of the tavern. M’sieu Bertrand regarded the malodorous mound smothering on the abandoned chair, then turned to Naphtheena.

“Was that a oui or a non?”

She ate him.

It was at that very moment that a man clad in the robe of a wandering wizard chanced upon the small tavern where M’sieu Bertrand had once been employed. He observed the azure dragon with deep disfavor. “Hail, vile beast!” he called out. “Be thou apprised that by devouring yon mortal you stand in violation of the Basilisk Accords, as laid down by the Council of Wizards, Sorcerers, and Demon-masters and ratified in committee by the Ancient Union of Wyverns, Salamanders, and Dracos.”

“Apprise this,” said Naphtheena placidly, displaying one claw in a rude gesture. As she was a dragon of the four-clawed variety, the gesture in question did not look precisely the same as if it had been utilized by a human being, but the intent behind it got through. “I know that I violated nothing and I defy you to cite chapter and verse showing otherwise. I am painfully aware of all laws, statutes, governances, and plain old down-home rules that refer to dragons. You stinkin’ wizards managed to kill off enough of my relatives with your miserable rules to make the rest of us pay attention.”

The wizard got huffy. Folding plump arms across an equally plump chest, he beetled furiously at the dragon. “You make it sound as if the Basilisk Accords were laid down solely for the purpose of dragon-slaying.”

“Weren’t they?” Naphtheena’s lipless mouth turned up at one corner. (You have not been truly mocked by a smile until you have been mocked by a dragon’s smile.)

“No, they were not.” The wizard snorted at the very idea. “They were compiled by the highest of the high mages, in cooperation with the most revered of the monstrous reptilian elders, as a viable alternative to engaging in a war between mortals and all drake-kind, a devastating, all-out, take-no-prisoners slaughter that—”

“—that nobody really wanted and that nobody could ever hope to win, blah, blah, blah,” Naphtheena finished the wizard’s bombast for him, moving her claws so that it looked like she was manipulating a garrulous sock puppet. “I know all that, Pookie. I’m a revered elder; I was there. Which is something you’d know if you hadn’t napped your way through whatever passes for a history class at whichever miserable excuse for a toad-kissing wizards’ academy you attended. Or don’t they make you bunch of wand-wagging whelps view Moorbeevil’s masterpiece, The Accords Are Ratified, any more? That gorgeous blue dragon in the foreground? The one lolling on a pile of skulls? That’s me.”

The wizard’s eyes narrowed. “I know the painting. My grandfather was one of the skulls in question.”

“Isn’t it a treat to have a familial link to history?” Naphtheena said, lightly. “I know I’ve got one. I have lost five uncles, a brace of aunts, one sister-in-law, Grandma Gridelin, and two score of my innocent hatchlings to your people for violating those accursed Accords.”

The wizard looked down his nose at the dragon—no mean feat given the fact that she was twice his height and there were bulldogs with more protuberant snouts than his stubby sniffer. “They broke the rules and paid the price, which is as it should be.”

“The rules are a big pile of nitpick stew with a side order of clause slaw!” the dragon roared. This time fire spouted from her nostrils, mouth, and ears. The overwhelming power of her emotions turned her flanks from the delicate blue of a summer sky to the sinister, empurpled hue of thunderheads. The wizard observed this with a gloating, anticipatory grin.

Naphtheena caught sight of his expression and cut off the fireworks at once. “Oh no you don’t,” she said, taking a deep breath and reasserting self-control. “You’d like me to lose my temper, wouldn’t you? You’re practically drooling at the thought of me whipping myself into a frenzy of rage with no bureaucratically justifiable target in sight. If I blast you, your spells will simply deflect my flame. If I destroy anyone or anything else, I’ve violated the Accords. And if I don’t calm myself down before it’s too late—”

“You explode,” said the wizard nastily. “Pop!” He wore a smug look that was absolutely begging for a complimentary butt-kicking.

Naphtheena lowered her eyelids. “I am a dragon. Dragons do not go ‘Pop!’ Unlike your head when compressed between two of my talons. Much as that impossible prospect delights me, I must be going. You are a highly irritating two-legged fungus and I will give you no further opportunity to goad me into a self-destructive fury.”

“Hold!” The wizard raised one hand, meanwhile drawing his wand with the other. He looked like he was preparing to conduct the village orchestra, but Naphtheena knew that the alternating spurts of green, purple, and silver brilliance fountaining from that “baton” marked its wielder for an Eleventh Level Magister Mysticorrrrr—er, um, something or other threatening in Latin.

It was just such wizards who had compelled Naphtheena and her peers to submit to the Basilisk Accords. She didn’t want to get into any needless confrontations with this chubby little itch, especially when the deck was not stacked in her favor. She hadn’t survived over three thousand years of stupid but tasty mortals by taking dumb chances.

“All right, Pumpkin-pants, I’m holding. But make it snappy. I have a date with the Grand Gateway and all of the legal documents covering my departure have been properly filed with your imbecilic Council. That means if anyone detains me without just cause, I have the right to bring them before said Council and, unless he can provide hard evidence justifying his illicit actions, I get to eat him.” She cast a connoisseur’s eye over the wizard’s generous proportions and added, “On second thought, do please make me miss my departure. You look delicious.”

The wizard lowered his arms slightly. “You can go as soon as you cough up M’sieu Bertrand,” he said.

“What for? He won’t be of any use to anyone in his present state.”

“Unholy lizard, know that my arcane studies included a full immersion course on the physiology of your abominable race. And by ‘full immersion’ I mean that the first thing our professor did was have a dragon eat us, one by one. It was most illuminating. I mean that literally, for when it was my turn to be ingested, I saw a great light blazing before my eyes. It was the flare from the dragon’s fire pouch, and by its brilliance I saw that I was in a large, somewhat fusty sac, in damp but undigested condition. I had no sooner observed this than there came a rumbling, a great shifting, and a yo-heave-ho that propelled me out of my prison and back into the world.”

Naphtheena glowered at the wizard. “How dare you violate a dragon’s personal space in that obnoxious manner?”

“It was a required course.”

“I can not believe that one of my kin consented to cooperate with larval wizardlings like that. How humiliating!” She lashed her tail so violently that the harpy on the tavern’s thatched roof took wing, settling in an oak tree across the road.

“Nonetheless, and by the grace of a somewhat illegal binding spell, he did. You will be pleased to hear that the professor in question was later dismissed and subsequently devoured for this breach of the Accords. In the meanwhile, he taught a surprising number of us that dragons, like cows, have more than one stomach and give excellent milk, to the valiant and nimble-fingered. If you have a scheduled departure flight, that must mean you’ve still got M’sieu Bertrand in the vestibular paunch because dragons never eat within one hour of flying; it gives you cramps. Cough him up pronto. I know you can.”

Naphtheena sneered. “I can also share my treasure hoard with you. That doesn’t mean I will.”

The wizard sighed. “Do I really need to say ‘or else’? And for you to respond, ‘or else what’? And for me to remind you that, per the Accords, the rescue of unfairly endangered mortals supersedes all other considerations, including the enforced delay of a dragon from meeting any and all other commitments? Or, moreover, that such delay will result in your forfeiting the right to complete whatever hideous mission you have on your agenda, which in turn will put you into a snit, which will naturally raise your gorge pressure, which very well might cause you to—?” He stuck a forefinger into one cheek and flicked it out with a percussive pop!

“Oh, shut up, you worm-wick!” The azure dragon’s pique frightened the harpy, who dropped her equivalent of a pithy rebuke. The feathered monster was a garrulous sort, which in her case translated as letting loose much “commentary.” Even though her perch was well across the road from the tavern, the wizard’s robe was still splashed from waist to hem with her “remarks.”

This redolent spectacle restored Naphtheena’s good humor. She laughed so hard at the mucked-up mage that she hawked up the considerably rumpled and moist M’sieu Bertrand as a bonus.

“There!” she declared, wiping away tears of mirth. “You’ve got what you wanted, you miserable dab of magical mucus. The Accords are fulfilled on my side, so unless you’ve got another quibble up your knickers, I’ll be on my way. I’ve got an appointment with a doomed kingdom. Ta!” And she soared off without paying her bill or leaving a tip.

M’sieu Bertrand did not seem to be at all concerned by this, which was strange, for a waiter. Rather than pouring forth a stream of denunciation against his deadbeat customer, he instead turned to the harpy in the oak and said, “You might as well get down now, Ma’m’selle Trissa; it didn’t work.” The harpy spread her wings and floated to the ground so gently that one might almost suspect the wings were just for show. With an artless shrug, she proved this to be true, for the gesture caused those drab pinions to drop to the ground and vanish, along with the rest of her disguise. A tall, freckle-faced blonde in a gown of midnight blue now stood in the harpy’s place. She looked disgruntled.

“I suppose I’m going to be blamed for the mission failure,” she said petulantly, giving both M’sieu Bertrand and the wizard some very hard looks indeed.

“Well, you were a bit… emphatic in your use of props,” said the wizard, indicating the stains on his robes. “You and Bertrand were supposed to do aggravation groundwork on the beast, besetting her with a thousand tiny provocations so that when I finally made my grand entrance as the snotty wizard, it wouldn’t take much to push her over the edge of mindless, heedless fury and then—” He made that pop! sound with his cheek again.

“I was setting the mood by acting in character,” Trissa shot back. “It’s not enough merely to put on the semblance of a harpy; you must be the harpy, live the harpy, embrace the—”

“Pooh,” said M’sieu Bertrand, which garnered him a glower from the lady until he specified: “Pooh-pooh, you cavil, Ma’m’selle. We were hired to satisfy our patron, not the critics. I am certain that Prince Gomitino agrees.” He nodded to the plump young man in the spattered robe.

“At this point I’m willing to agree to anything that gets me out of these smelly clothes,” he said.

Trissa rolled her eyes and with one flip of her right hand transformed the dropping-afflicted garments into a tasteful silk ensemble in shades of green and gold. “Happy now, Your Highness?” she asked in a tone that conveyed the sentiment: if you’re not, tough.

“I’d be happier if our plan had succeeded,” the erstwhile ersatz wizard replied. “And so would both of you. I won’t pay for failure.”

This declaration did not sit well with the enchantress. “My spells made you look like a wizard, complete with a zappy wand that convinced a dragon that you were too dangerous to attack, even if it didn’t have the real power to neuter a firefly. I also gave you the temporary brain-boost that let you talk the thaumaturgical talk just as if you were one of my esteemed and arcane order. Such spells don’t come cheap, and yet you would dare to shortchange me?” She conjured up a lovely backdrop of tame lightning to make herself look more menacing.

“It’s no threat but a fact. As we speak, that blasted dragon is en route to the Grand Gateway, the clearinghouse for all winged creatures governed by the Basilisk Accords. Once she passes through, her destination is Yvitelli, my kingdom, and once she reaches it, she’ll burn it to the ground, slaughter thousands, and take over the royal treasury. You know, treasury? As in: the place where I keep my gold? As in: the gold I was going to pay you if you’d succeeded in annoying the beast to the point of ka-PLOWIE?”

“You mean—?” Trissa began.

“No ka-PLOWIE, no gold, Ma’m’selle,” M’sieu Bertrand provided with equanimity.

“Well, you’re taking this well, I must say,” Prince Gomitino remarked, pettishly.

“Ah, what would you?” the cavalier Sesinaypazoonpeepian replied, spreading his hands. “My part in this little play was minor, to be rewarded with a comparable pittance when placed beside the enchantress’ fee. I have not lost much by the plot’s failure, and the one moment of malaise I suffered was undone promptly—which is to say, I was ingested but not digested. I have had worse Mondays. Now if Your Highness will but provide reimbursement for the damage done to this table, as well as covering the cost of one spider blood tisane and two orders of biscotti, plus a suitable token of appreciation for the person who conveyed said items to said table, we can call it a—”

“No ka-PLOWIE, no gold,” said Prince Gomitino. “No gold, no tip.”

M’sieu Bertrand pursed his lips. “I don’t think so.”


“Are you sure this will work?” Trissa whispered, as she peered around the corner of the barracks. Within those daub and wattle walls slumbered the off-shift of the Wand Patrol, wizards whose job it was to enforce the Basilisk Accords at this, the key nexus governing the inter-kingdom flight of dragons, the Grand Gateway.

“We shall see soon enough, Ma’m’selle,” the waiter replied through clenched teeth. “You have followed my instructions to the letter?”

“Yes, such as they were. You didn’t exactly give me a specific item to conjure.”

“Specificity is not our friend, in this case. You are certain you have the magical power to turn my instructions into reality?”

“Your ridiculously vague instructions, yes.” It was the enchantress’ turn to grind her molars. “And the power to turn you into a toad if this doesn’t work.”

“Oho, but I assure you, it will, for it follows the same inexorable logic that Prince Gomitino himself posited in his simple but elegant ka-PLOWIE chain of reasoning.”

At the mention of his name, Prince Gomitino pushed his way around the waiter to stare at the Grand Gateway. As usual, the space before that carved obsidian archway was thronged with all manner of wyverns, fire-drakes, and good old down-home dragons, each one patiently waiting its turn to be allowed access. As part of the Accords, the wyrms vowed never to shift their spheres of devastation without obtaining the correct permits, which had to be vetted at the Grand Gateway. In exchange, all wizardkind swore never to provide any heroes, knights, barbarian freebooters, or freelance third-sons-of-poor-but-honest peasant families with enchanted weapons that might give them an unfair whoops-there-goes-your-severed-head advantage over the dragons.

The prince was not pleased by the view.

What’s going to work?” he demanded. “All I see is the Gateway. Where’s this foolproof solution you promised me to stop that blue dragon from destroying Yvitelli? Look, there she is, just one away from her turn through that abominable arch!”

“Ah, then it is time.” The waiter closed his eyes in contemplation and steepled his fingers.

Some distance away, Naphtheena watched the drake ahead of her give his name and destination. The wizard on duty behind the Grand Gateway podium checked a scroll, nodded, and waved him through. Then it was her turn.

“I am Naphtheena the Maleficent,” she said calmly, for it was true matter of life and death for dragons to remain as calm as possible at all times, since the Accords. “I am also called Mother of the Thousand Sorrows, Wreaker of Havoc, Devourer of Nations, Despoiler of—”

Somewhere—and yet from no discernable direction—a trumpet blast sounded.

“Lunch!” cried the wizard on Gateway duty, leaving Naphtheena to draw a number of those centering breaths while he skedaddled and his replacement arrived.

The replacement did not arrive alone. He came attended by a squad of identically clad wizards, all heavily laden with some of the strangest items the blue dragon had ever seen. While he spread out a fresh pile of scrolls on the podium, his colleagues arranged weirdly humming wands, piles of shallow bowls, and a smaller archway made of metal which they erected between Naphtheena and the Grand Gateway.

“And you are?” said the wizard.

“I am Naphtheena the—”

“I’m going to need to see some identification.”

“I told you, I am Naphtheena the Maleficent, also called Mother of the Thousand—”

“Sorry, but you have to show me some proof that you are who you say you are. Would you have a picture of yourself with your name on—?”

A few wisps of steam began to rise from Naphtheena’s snout. “Cast a spell to fetch an image of Moorbeevil’s The Accords Are Ratified. I’m the blue dragon on the skulls, all right?”

“Well, that’s highly irregular, but it is our first day. While I’m summoning that image, please get ready for your screening.”

“My what?”

“Oh, it’s very simple, really. First you’re going to have to nip the points off your hind claws—”

“Off my what?” The white wisps became gray puffs shot through with glittering sparks.

“It’s for your own safety. No more sharp objects allowed on interkingdom flights. If you’ve got a permit to devastate Kingdom A and you accidentally land in Kingdom B and scratch someone, you’ve violated the Accords and we’d have to kill you, so you see, it’s all for the best.”

“Fine, fine.” Naphtheena chomped her toenails off. “Now conjure up that painting on the double so I can be on my—”

“Just as soon as you’ve done the same to the talons on your forepaws.”

“Talons… off… my…” Naphtheena’s cheeks began to swell and shift hue to a darker part of the spectrum.

“Mmm, it looks like we’re going to have to do something about those fangs of yours as well.” He waved his hands and a hideous appliance made of black gum appeared. “Just stick this in your mouth before you go through the Great Gateway and one of my colleagues will fix it in place for you with a sealing spell that is guaranteed to release its hold the moment your paws touch the soil of your destination. Well, virtually guaranteed. Since this is our first day, the thaumatic technology might have a few bugs in it, and maybe a scorpion or two, but you can always contact our main office with any complaints.”

“I am not putting that loathsome lump of goo in my mouth,” Naphtheena said. “And you can’t make me.”

“Certainly not.” The wizard was unruffled. “Nor can you make us approve your request to fly to—” He peered at the open scroll before him. “—Yvitelli, was it?—” He looked up at the dragon with an amiable expression. “—ever.”

Naphtheena’s wings sagged. “I’ll wear the dumb fang-capper. Now can we move this along? I’ve trimmed my hind talons, I’m going to nip off my forepaw talons—”

“Yes, yes.” The wizard nodded. “And once you’ve done that, Master Runcible over there is going to have to run his hands all over your wings, to make sure you’re not one of those dragons who have spikes growing on them. Terribly dangerous things, spikes. And then we’ll have Master Dagmar—he’s the skinny one at the end of the line—pass that special wand along every one of your scales. And then we’ll just have you pop into the Booth of Revelation, so we can see if you’ve got anyone in your vestibular paunch, because we both know it’s not conducive to a safe flight if you’re carrying unaccounted-for weight.”

“But this will take forever!” Naphtheena wailed. “And if you detain me past my assigned departure time, you’ll be the ones to suffer for it!” An unusual swelling developed along her flanks. “I’ll devour you!” More spark-flecked steam spurted from Naphtheena’s jaws, to be casually deflected by the blandly smiling wizard. “And it will be legal!” Now vast clouds were erupting from other orifices, both fore and aft. “And do you know what? At this very moment I would happily give up any chance of ravaging the kingdom of Yvitelli just to have the supreme joy of turning you and all your colleagues into brunch!”

“Well naturally that’s all true,” said the wizard affably. “Provided that we were detaining you without just cause.”

He passed a small leather folder to the simmering dragon. Naphtheena skimmed the contents. They were mostly boilerplate mumbo with a dollop of legalese jumbo, but dragons make very good lawyers and she extracted the gist readily: this new order of Grand Gateway wizards had received miraculously instantaneous imprimatur from both their Council and her Union.

“All right,” she grumped as she returned the folder. “You can make me miss my flight window and get off scot free. I don’t care. I’m a dragon. I’ve lived for thousands of years and there’s plenty more where that came from. I’ll simply re-file the parchmentwork and come back here another day. When I do, I’ll make sure to leave myself an excess of temporal wiggle-room to jump through all of your hoops. I will get to Yvitelli, I promise you that. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for—”

“Pardon me, but you’re holding up the line,” the wizard interrupted. “And you are doing so without just cause, taking up our organization’s valuable time with your needless ranting.”

“Then I’ll step out of line and—” Naphtheena’s pulse became so strong and rapid that it sounded as if she were harboring a village drum corps in her gizzard.

“I’m afraid we can’t allow that. It would be construed as suspicious behavior. We’d have to take you into custody for a full investigation. Are you allergic to wolfsbane? We do have gloves that are coated with monkshood instead, but wouldn’t it be simpler for everyone if you simply were a good little dragon and complied with the rules, used your permit to travel to Yvitelli, and got on with your life?” He glanced up at the sky, checking the angle of the sun, then returned his gaze to the scroll before him. “And sooner rather than later, before this does become a matter for very deep internal investigation.”

A low, ominous rumbling began deep in Naphtheena’s entrails as she frantically snapped off her talons while at the same time urging the backup wizards to get a move on with their hands and wands and whatevers. In fact, she was making such a racket that the wizard at the podium had to shout to make himself heard when he said, “Oh, and one more thing: you’re going to have to put any gold coins you might be carrying into this bowl and drain yourself of any venom into this one, and it can’t be more than three hogsheads’ worth of liquid, and put your hind paws on those two outlines over there, and put your forepaws on that, and if you’d just remove your shoes—”

Naphtheena could have pointed out that, as a dragon, she never wore shoes. She could have, but by that point all of her logical faculties were engulfed by a tidal wave of wrath: compelling, unstoppable, inevitable and, in the parlance of the Extemely Common Lingo, mind-blowing.

Dragons’ minds seldom blow alone. There was a loud report of a volume somewhere between pop! and ka-PLOWIE! The corps of officious wizards, the Grand Gateway, the waiting dragons, the barracks and even those hiding around the corner of same were all liberally splattered with bits of reeking azure dragon flesh. There wasn’t an un-gaping mouth in the vicinity, with one exception:

M’sieu Bertrand flicked a shred of the late Naphtheena’s pancreas off his tunic and smiled.

“It worked?” Trissa the enchantress goggled.

“It worked!” Prince Gomitino recovered from his initial shock and clapped his hands with glee.

“But of course,” said M’sieu Betrand. “Logically, it couldn’t help but to do so. After all, what did I tell you to summon by your spells, Ma’m’selle?”

“You said—” Trissa was still a little gobsmacked by what she had just witnessed. “You said to summon whatever cosmic force was exasperating, frustrating and maddening enough to make a dragon lose its temper, but you never specified—”

“Nor did I need to. Some choices are best left to the cosmos itself, is it not so? And I think you must agree that the cosmos provided just what we needed.” He cocked his head at Prince Gomitino and extended one hand. “I believe fifteen per cent is customary, Your Highness, but in this case, wouldn’t you say—?”

Which was how a humble Sesinaypazoonpeepian waiter came to rule over twenty per cent of the lovely little realm of Yvitelli, which he renamed the Duchy of Sayrvicompri, though he still charged Prince Gomitino extra for the dragon’s biscotti.

Et voilá tout l’histoire.

Nebula Award winner Esther Friesner is the author of thirty-nine novels and over one hundred ninety short stories, in addition to being the editor of ten popular anthologies. Her works have been published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Russia, France, Poland and Italy. She is also a published poet and a produced playwright. Her articles on fiction writing have appeared in Writer’s Market and Writer’s Digest Books.

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