The dragon’s tail lashed towards him, force of ten horses, speed of a snake. Guy leaped out of range. His reactions were faster; this time he succeeded.
It wasn’t a real dragon. And it wasn’t big. A third of the size of the one in the pit — so Micha said. Guy hadn’t seen that one yet though he had heard it. Or rather he had heard the explosion of water and the susurration as it upped and away. He had heard the wuum-wum-wm of its wings, felt the wind that hammered against the canvas pavilion. He seldom heard the beast’s return; a soundless glide and a gentle submersion into the water. But in the morning, numerous new barrows showed the night’s forage. Food-stores for its young.
No, this wasn’t a real dragon. But if an illusion why then the gorse bushes all flattened where they’d broken his fall? And why his many cuts and bruises? And the times that Toli had heaved him out of the thorns, to his feet. But his speed was improving, and his agility. If only he could find the supposed gaps in the beast’s armour. Its belly clinker-built, the scales overlapping, it must contort backwards, reverse the natural curve of its body, to open the gaps that Micha insisted were there. And that meant forcing the dragon to reach back with its head. A deep and sharp jab at the base of its tail, so his lord Micha had said. But it was that tail that lashed so violently at him.
And even were he agile enough he’d still have to be impossibly fast to dive beneath the beast’s belly and thrust his sword into the thus-exposed parts. “What of the poison sacs?” he’d asked. “No danger of piercing them,” Micha had answered. The poison was carried higher, in its neck, behind its jaws. He’d said there was no danger, too, of slicing into its furnace. Not that it carried actual fire in its belly, merely a highly combustible material. One spark from Guy’s sword against the hard scale . . . boom! An inferno. It wasn’t what Guy wanted to hear.
“That would kill it,” Toli said with a grin.
“It is the common demise of the dragon-slayers,” said Micha.
It was a demise that Guy fervently hoped to avoid.
“But you have an advantage few others have had.” Micha referred to the tatters of cast dragon-skin. Finer than silk, stronger than steel, Toli had gathered the shed pieces for Guy to wear as his armour.
But what of the nightly forage, the people brought back to fill the barrows? While he was training, people were dying.
“Incentive,” Micha said.
“It’s only one or two at a time,” Toli tried offering solace. “Imagine the deaths hereabouts had the Danes invaded.”
“They are already suffering, hereabouts,” Guy said, wearied head held in his hands. “The king has destroyed all but the most meagre of food so the Danes will not have it. Then to have those vulgar, lechering mercenaries billeted upon them. And the weather! Wet when needed dry, cold when needed hot.”
“Whence and when your concern?” Toli asked. ”You’ve swallowed a Bible; it’s having him near you.” He nodded a head to where the angel nonchalantly sauntered dangerously close to the dragon pit.
Guy ignored the Saxon squire, though his comment was well-observed. He had not this concern for the cottars and villagers before.“And now this dragon preys upon them, to fill its stores.”
“Here!” his lord Micha called and beckoned as he suddenly reappeared close to his pavilion in that unnerving way of his. Amphora was with him. The illusory dragon was gone.
“Soon be more angels than dragon-barrows,” Toli said, seeing another, a new angel, standing with them.
“Hush.” Guy glared at him.
“Only saying, Sir.”
This angel, newly arrived, was slight of build with sorrel-hued hair that trailed as long as a great lady’s train. Yet something of him said male. And he had brought bad news as Guy could see by the sadness of Micha’s face. Micha always was happy.
Disappointed is Micha with purpose denied, Amphora said. Guy would rather his Lord Micha had explained using lip-and-tongue words.
“God’s greetings,” the newcomer said. “Gabs, God’s Mediator, this one.” He offered a slight bow.
Amphora hissed at him, uncomfortably snake-like. Said knight has been told the truth of word God: that God is not God as in their conception, but God is God-of-Angels-Meeting-in-our-dimension.
His lord Micha had told him, using all of one night to explain it, and still it was no more than a riddle to him. Their dimension – of light, spirit and song – was ordinally numbered twenty-two. But how did that tally with what the Churchmen had taught him?
A slight breeze stirred, moving but slightly the gossamer drapings that supplemented God’s Mediator’s long sorrel hair. And from it, the breeze and the gossamer, seemed to issue a sound . . . of a thousand choirs of angels singing. Rising. Falling. Far away music, barely audible, hardly a sound. “I bring sad news,” Gabs said.
“Killing,” Micha said, sarcastically.
Not killing, Amphora said. That is the crux.
Guy didn’t understand their talk and allusions. He looked to Toli but Toli shrugged. He looked to the androgynous Gabs, God’s Mediator.