By Rhonda Eudaly
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. A
bargain struck with a beautiful woman over too much ale
and sealed with blood magic. She'd had the plan. I had
the "equipment" to pull it off. We'd be rich and
powerful with no one getting hurt - too much - and none
the wiser. And for a while, it worked. Slowly, surely it
started crumbling like aging stonework, but there was no
way out. Blood magic is funny like that.
"Where have you been? You were supposed to be back
"Out." My voice was a low rumble that left most
mortals quaking in their footgear. But not Miranda.
Never, ever Miranda. She stood there, half-dressed,
hands on her well-shaped hips, impressive chest thrust
out, staring me down.
"Out? OUT? That's all you have to say for
yourself?" She took a step closer and sniffed my muzzle.
"Oh, no, you haven't! What virgin have you been eating
"I don't know what you're talking about." But the
words came with a huff and a puff, and even I detected
the smoked meat aroma on my steamy breath. That and the
barrel or two of ale I'd downed. Dragoning is thirsty
work, or I wouldn't be in this mess.
She smacked me right above the left nostril. "Don't
do that! I spent a lot of time on my hair to have you
steam it all frizzy again. How could you? You know what
virgin meat does to you! That pimply-faced third prince
from the Netherealms will be here in a couple of hours,
and you're going to look all gassy instead of menacing."
I lifted my wing blades in shrug. "Oh, I don't know,
Miranda. Gassy could actually be a lot more dangerous.
More sound effects that way."
She rolled her eyes and sighed with an awe-inspiring
heave of her bosom. "Just as long as you're not so full
that you fall asleep rather than scaring the life
savings out of that rube."
Okay, I'd had enough of this. Who was this slip of a
mortal woman to talk to me, James Lawrence Taylor
William Thomas Allen - a fully mature Silverback Dragon
named after every knight my blessed mother ate while I
was in the egg - like I was an errant hatchling?
Besides, I was older, bigger, and had sharper teeth than
she did. And my fire? Not just of spirit, let me tell
you. I could crisp a squirrel at 100 yards with one
belch. She should not be talking to me like this. And I
said so. She didn't take it well.
"I beg your pardon, Al?"
Yes, she called me "Al". When I'd introduced myself,
she'd said, "I'll never remember all that. From now on,
I'm calling you 'Al'." I should've eaten her then, but
did I listen to that little voice of reason? No.
Miranda continued as if I was listening. "But just
who rescued whom from that Knight of St. George before
he ran off with your hoard and head? Not that it was all
that impressive to begin with."
Hoard or head? I wasn't about to verbalize that
question. This really wasn't going the way I thought it
should. And besides I had some suspicions about that
so-called "rescue". I've never quite been able to put my
claw on it, but there was not quite right about the
"Are you listening to me?"
I blinked my eyes and focused once more. "Apparently
not. What did you say?"
She harrumphed and started pacing. "I said, we're
running out of time, and you still need to burnish your
hide. I can't believe we're going over this again. How
long have we been doing this? Over a year now? Get your
head in the game, or we're going to lose everything."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
Her ivory skin went further white before flushing
bright red. "I can't believe you just said that, Al. I'm
going to finish getting ready. Don't blow this, I mean
She stormed off then, and I know it's not "dragonly"
but there was such venom in her voice that I was a bit
frightened. Well, maybe not frightened, but
definitely taken aback. I lumbered off to burnish my
scales. She did have a point, I do inspire a certain
level of fear and awe when I'm all groomed and gleaming.
And it drives the chicks wild.
Two hours later the stage was set. I looked hot - in
all senses of the word - against my back drop of gold
and glittering jewels. Torchlight along the stone walls
brought out the iridescent undertones to my scales. I
also stoked my inner fires, causing my eyes to shimmer
and shift colors and wisps of smoke to filter out of my
nose and the very corner of my muzzle. All very
storybook, all very proper.
"Would you stop staring at yourself in that mirror,
I whirled toward Miranda's voice, my barb tipped tail
sweeping aside a mound of coins and gems. An unexpected
yelp told me I'd nearly taken her down with them.
"Be careful! We have an image to maintain, you know."
"I know. I know." I lowered my voice to a mumble.
"It's not like you let me forget."
"Did you say something?"
I put on my most innocent expression. "Who me? No. Of
Miranda eyed me suspiciously. "Okay, then. Let's get
in our places. The prince is on final approach through
the pass. He'll be here shortly."
With a slow, deliberate nod, I settled my large but
lithe form into the hollow made in the pile of riches
designed for the purpose of bilking more riches out of
the unsuspecting. It made me look even more impressive,
so I didn't mind the discomfort too much. You try
sitting on a pile of cold metal and pointy jewels. Get
one of those lodged in the wrong place, well, it's just
painful and let's leave it at that, shall we?
Miranda swept past me to the wall where a set of prop
manacles were embedded at just the right height and
position to best display her...assets when properly
attired. She was a genius about the cut of her wardrobe
for this very purpose. I have to admit it did work on
the hormonally charged young men who came to us. But it
was all an act.
Or was it?
A thought formed in my hindbrain and wormed its way
forward. I would need help, and it would have to be
quick and subtle. She would know if I hatched an
elaborate scheme - a side effect of the blood magic,
we're bound together in this agreement that the only way
to break it is by death (and not by each other) or bond
transfer. There had to a way out. A way to freedom, and
I thought I heard the first sounds of it coming through
the front gate.
"Stand, monster, and prepare to be defeated."
I looked down my muzzle at the most unimpressive
member of princedom ever to grace our halls. He was
short and skinny with long, stringy, mouse-brown hair
and a long, acne-scarred face. His hose bagged around
knobby knees and his shield rattled against his chain
mail shirt from his violent trembling. And by the way he
swayed, his armor, shield, and sword must've weighed
more than he did. He was perfect!
"Did you hear me, beast? I'm going to slay you and
rescue the fair maiden."
I let out a roar of laughter that shook dust off the
ceiling and let a gout of flame escape. Unfortunately,
it scared our intrepid hero so badly he fell over in a
dead faint and a clatter of second-hand armor. I laughed
"Oh, good grief. Did you have to do that? Couldn't
you have just stuck with the plan?"
"Did you hear what he called you? A maiden! That's
richer than we are."
Miranda squirmed out of the manacles and picked her
way through treasure to the spindly prince. She knelt
down beside him and checked for signs of life. She kept
throwing me scathing looks over her shoulder the entire
"He's fainted. He's not dead," I said.
"Lucky for us, since he hasn't ponied up any money
yet." She rolled her eyes in my direction. "You just had
to laugh at him."
I gestured with my foreclaw. "Look at him! Like he's
even going to be able to draw that sword, much less kill
anyone with it. It was funny, and what he said about
"Laugh it up, scale boy. They're all funny, Al.
That's why they're sent on these things, to either make
storybook heroes out of them or make them less of a
burden on society."
"Well, this one might surprise us. I have a feeling."
She gave me a cold, calculating look. "Why?"
"No time. He's coming around."
Miranda's head whipped back to see the young man
starting to stir. She slipped and slid back to her place
and into position just as the prince's eyes fluttered
open. I controlled my next round of laughter as he
struggled to sit up. He had to make several attempts to
gain a full and upright position.
"I'm still alive."
"You seem surprised by that." I cocked my head at him
and watched his reaction.
"Well, yeah. I figured you would've eaten me."
"Now why would I do that? Dragons eat mostly Virgin
Meat since it's the most tender and juicy. Surely a
prince of your, um, stature, wouldn't qualify for that.
Am I right?"
"No. Yes. No?" He looked puzzled as he sorted out the
right response to the question and each one sounded less
certain. "Yes, I don't qualify?"
I bit back a grin as our hero blustered, squirmed and
then blushed. Of course he qualified. I could
smell it a mile off. Besides, he was practically a
hatchling. He needed another decade or so to mature,
and then we'd talk. Besides, he was much too stringy
for food - a toothpick, maybe, but not dinner. I like
more meat on my, well, meat.
"There you go, then, what's your name, son?"
His predominant Adam's Apple bobbed convulsively.
"Aesop. Aesop Jones. My parents read a lot. And they
kinda ran out of the good names after my brothers and
"That's a lot of information, there, Aesop. Now,
let's get down to business. You want to rescue the
pretty girl, right?"
Aesop's head bobbled up and down so rapidly I thought
his neck would snap. I needed to stall. My plan was
building, brick by brick, in my mind, but I needed a
little more time to perfect it. "Okay, here's what
you're going to do. You're going to go make camp outside
and come back tomorrow."
"What?" Aesop's question took on an odd,
outraged echo as Miranda said the same thing at the same
"And when you return tomorrow at Mid-Day, I will have
three tasks for you to accomplish in order to win the
"Tasks?" There was that odd double tone again.
Miranda was going to explode soon if I didn't get this
guy out of there.
"Well, duh. You didn't think I was just going to
give you the girl just for showing up, did you?"
Aesop blushed. "Couldn't you just?"
I looked at him like he was an idiot. "Didn't your
parents teach you any work ethics? I swear all you
princes have got to get out of this entitlement thing.
You have to learn that for something to really matter
you have to earn it."
"So what do I have to do?"
"If you complete and survive three tasks, then you
get the girl. Ba dah bing. Ba dah boom. No muss. No
fuss. Except there will be."
"Will be what?"
"Muss and fuss, of course. Now hurry along. I'll see
you right back here tomorrow at Mid-Day. And not a
moment before. I need my beauty sleep, you know."
Aesop did his head bobble thing. He turned and fled
as quickly as his piecemeal armor would allow. I have to
admit he was the most amusing of all the knights, lords,
and princes to come down the pike. That's kind of a feat
in and of itself, not many things amuse a Silverback
Dragon. We're a pretty stodgy lot. I'm an exception,
which is probably how I got myself into this mess to
begin with. I was born with a sense of humor.
And now that Aesop was gone, it was time to face the
music. Miranda was already staring me down. I've never
seen her move that fast before in my association with
"What are you doing?"
"I'm still following the plan, Miranda. I'm just
being a bit...creative with it at the moment. Think
about it. This one's the runt of his litter that means
they stuck him with the priests and tutors."
"What's your point, Al?"
"He's smart, Miranda. Think about what we
could get if we started sending the smart ones out on
mini-quests. We could net three times as much."
I hit Miranda where she lived, in her avarice. I saw
greed gleam in her eyes. "Okay, you may have a point.
Just tell me ahead of time before you pull a stunt like
this. We're in this together, you know."
"Like I could forget. Now, if you'll excuse me, I
wasn't kidding about the beauty sleep. I was up all
night. I need a nap."
She rolled her eyes and flounced out in a cloud of
soft perfume and black hair. I, too, headed out to my
den. The golden hoard is all fine and good, but nothing
beats a nice soft pile of fur, feathers and blankets for
a decent napping place.
Aesop was nothing if not prompt. Straight up Mid-Day
he stood before me once more. To his credit, he seemed a
lot less shaky than the day before. He still had the
Adam's Apple thing going on, and his eyes kept dancing
around, but he showed up.
"If you're looking for Miranda, you're wasting your
Aesop struggled with his sword. "If you've harmed her
in any way, beast, I'll...I'll...I'll do something
"Ooh, I'm scared. Dude, you can't draw your sword and
your threatening banter really needs work."
Aesop's bravado evaporated. "Yeah, I know. My
brothers got that training."
"Let me guess, you're the family accountant."
The little man grinned and shoved his oversized
helmet back off his forehead. "And an attorney! In the
corporate realms they call me Aesop the Terrible. I've
been responsible for a half dozen hostile take-overs.
I've got my family fortune in so many tax shelters no
Imperial Auditor will ever find it all. I never met an
investment risk I couldn't handle."
"If you're such a genius, why are you here? Why
aren't you back at home cooking the books?"
Aesop's face, which had taken on a bolder, stronger
countenance as he talked about money, fell. His proud,
straight back slumped forward. "It's tradition, and I
have an old-fashioned family. Rites of passage and all
that, you know."
I studied him more carefully. It was hard to lie to a
dragon. Not impossible, mind you, just difficult. Our
intimidation factors work better than most lie
detectors. He wasn't lying, but he wasn't telling me the
whole truth, either. "And?"
"What do you mean, 'and'?"
I just looked at him. "Smart guy like you? You'd find
a way around tradition and family ritual unless there's
something else involved. Spill it."
"Trust fund." He blurted out the words, looking
surprised to have admitted it. But, like I said, it's
almost impossible to lie to a dragon.
I nodded. The trust fund made the final piece fall in
place. I love it when a plan comes together. "Aesop, my
boy, how would you like to have it all? Money. Prestige.
The spindly prince's eyes glittered. I could almost
see the calculations running behind his eyes. "What do
you have in mind?"
I beckoned him forward with a claw tip. And to his
credit, Aesop's curiosity won out fear and he came
closer. I draped my wing over his shoulders and looked
around conspiratorially. It wouldn't do for Miranda to
"Tell me, Aesop, what do you know about bargains and
He looked at me with wide eyes. "Are you kidding?
What idiot would do something like that? Oh. OH! So is
this all a scam?"
I winced. "Scam is such a harsh term. And in
my defense, I was younger and stupid at the time, and,
well, Miranda can be very persuasive."
"I'll say." Aesop sighed in that special way reserved
for lovesick puppies.
"So here's what I propose..."
"You're really sending him on a ridiculous quest?"
Miranda wasn't happy with me. There's a shocker. She
hadn't been happy with me since the first few days of
our agreement when she'd discovered dragons snore - much
to the detriment of her wardrobe at the time.
"Well, technically three, but he agreed to the
"And what happens if he dies along the way? What do
we do then?"
"He's leaving collateral - everything he brought when
he thought he could just buy your way out of here. So
see, it's win/win. I told you he was educated. Trust
"Yeah, right, about as far as I can throw you. What
are you up to, Al?"
I blinked at her innocently. "Me? Why would I be up
"Because you're almost as scheming and conniving as I
am, that's why." Miranda studied me. "I'm going to go
talk to him."
"Too late. He's already gone."
"What time frame did you give him?"
I shrugged - which is actually quite impressive with
the wings and all. "When he's done or dead. Whichever
"So what do we do in the meantime? Wait?"
"Pretty much. You might be surprised by this one. I
have a good feeling about him."
Miranda studied me for a moment. She knew I was up to
something. And if I played this right she wouldn't
figure it out until it was all over.
"What ho, Dragon! I have returned with the successful
completion of the tasks set before me!"
"You had to teach him to be pompous?" Miranda asked
as Aesop strode into our den. She was once more in a
skimpy costume, including a decorative chain attached to
a collar leading into the jewels at my paws. Lucas had
to get the idea somewhere, you know.
"That wasn't my doing," I said. "Well, not really. I
just told him to work on his banter. He must've been
practicing along the way. And he has had a month. At
least he isn't stuttering any more."
"There is that."
I turned my attention to Aesop. "Come forward, Sir
Aesop. How fared you?"
Aesop strode forward with a new found confidence,
until his boot toe caught on some obstacle and he
sprawled headlong with a crash and clatter. I tried
really hard to suppress my rumble of laughter. I didn't
want to destroy what he'd worked so hard to build - not
when he held my future in his hands. So I waited
patiently while he extricated himself.
"I meant to do that."
"Of course you did." I could afford to be gracious.
"You understood the requirements of the task?"
Aesop pulled a jewelry-sized casket out from under
his cloak and laid it at my paws. Miranda narrowed her
eyes at it, and then glared up at me.
"It's awfully small."
I grinned at her. Aesop went a bit pale when I did.
Dragon smiles aren't necessarily encouraging-looking. It
has to do with teeth the length of a human forearm.
"Miranda, darling, aren't you the one always telling me
size doesn't matter?"
Miranda opened and closed her mouth without saying
anything. She wanted to, I could tell, but my argument
shut her down. I smiled more and heard Aesop gulp. Time
to move on.
"All righty, then, Sir Aesop. Show me your results."
In a rattle of armor, Aesop came forward and
retrieved the small trunk. He made a great show of
Miranda and Aesop both froze and looked up to stare
at me. Neither expected me to make such a command.
"What? Is something wrong?" Aesop asked with a barely
audible nervous gulp.
"No, no. I just wanted to make sure we were clear on
"Sure? I successfully complete the tasks put before
me and I win the girl."
"What are you up to, Al?"
I couldn't miss the warning note in her voice. I
spared her a quick glance and didn't like the look
developing on her face. Her smoky eyes narrowed and her
lips were pressed in a thin, hard line.
"Continue, Aesop, please."
Miranda made a low, strangled sound deep in her
throat. She didn't like the fact I ignored her question
The young man looked between Miranda and me and then
down at his box. "Do I continue now?"
I nodded once, slowly. It was a regal nod. I was
proud of it. "Please do, Aesop."
He opened the small trunk and looked inside for a
moment. Then he reached inside and pulled out the first
item. It was small, green and even Miranda had to strain
to see what it was. He set the bit of greenery on a flat
surface and turned back to his box.
"Excuse me?" Miranda interrupted his task. "What is
"A four leaf clover plucked at its prime and set in a
protective spell to never decay. Good luck in perpetuity
for the bearer."
"Good luck?" Miranda's tone was surprised and
slightly strangled. "Are you serious?" She turned on me.
"That's what you sent him to find? A four leafed
I shrugged my wings. "Among other things. There's no
such thing as too much good luck."
Her lips pressed unbelievably thinner. "What else did
you decide we couldn't have too much of?"
Miranda's eyes went wide in disbelief. "What's love
got to do with it? This is business!"
"It's what?" Aesop sound thoroughly shocked,
dismayed, and heartbroken. I was surprised. I hadn't
expected acting skills to be part of his repertoire. But
then he had said he was an attorney as well as an
accountant. "But my lady! You can't mean that! True love
is one of the most powerful forces on the earth. Without
love, what is there?"
Ooh, nice script. I wondered who his speech writer
"Oh, please, its' a second-hand emotion at best. It
gets in the way of what's important."
"Then I truly feel sorry for you, then, my lady
because without someone to love, I would have no one to
lavish the riches of three kingdoms on." He polished his
fingernails on his surcoat.
Miranda sat up a bit straighter, eyes glittering. "Three
kingdoms? What size?"
"So size does matter! Well then." Aesop tapped
his chin thoughtfully. "One's really too big. One's
actually too small. But the middle one? Oh, boy, that
one's just right."
"Really?" Miranda let the rest of the thought
I had to get the party going again. "You might want
to continue Aesop."
He nodded and dug into the box and pulled out a
perfectly symmetrical heart-shaped red rose, also
perfectly preserved. "You see? How can anyone not
believe in true love when there are things like this in
Miranda's eyes narrowed again and then went wide. "I
don't believe it. What spell-caster gave you that?"
I didn't want Aesop answering that question. Not
until we were done. "Move along, Aesop. Move along."
"And finally a vial of pure, clear, water from the
Eternal Fountain. For, well, purity of spirit and
desire. And with these three things I have completed the
tasks set before me to seal the agreement between man
and dragon. The tasks alone are not sacrifice enough."
Then, before Miranda quite knew what was happening -
because I saw the questions and the solutions as they
formed behind her eyes. Aesop bolted forward with
greater speed and dexterity than either one of us could
imagine. He had a dagger drawn and ready. He nicked his
palm with the blade and then slid the knife in between
the scales of my closest claw - much like Miranda had.
And I yanked on Miranda's chain, pulling her closer to
us, and the knife flashed again. Blood welled up between
all three of us, and Aesop slapped his hand over the
"No! Wait!" Miranda cried out, but it was done.
The power of the blood magic flowed out of me and
settled on Aesop. The bargain transferred from me to
him. Miranda was his problem now. I was free! Free! Woo
hoo! Free! I would've scampered about my chamber if it
had been possible. But I still needed to be gracious a
"What just happened here?" Miranda demanded.
"We're finally free of each other, Miranda, without
either one of us having to die. Aesop took over the
bargain, and seriously? You can do a lot worse. Between
your cunning and his financial acumen, you two are going
to rule the world. You don't need a big, old, smelly
dragon in the way. Who knows, you'll probably even come
to like him."
"But how is that possible? The terms of blood magic
bonds are complex and unbreakable."
"Not for Aesop the Terrible. He's not only an
accountant, he's an attorney. He's a double threat. Give
him a chance, Miranda, even you will be surprised. Now,
you don't have to leave this instant, but I'm sure
you'll be anxious to start your new lives together. So
don't stick around on my account. Bye bye then."
And with that, I handed over the unsecured chain to
Miranda's decorative collar and turned on my tail -
quite literally - and lumbered off to my sleeping
chamber. I curled up on my sleeping furs and let out a
smoky sigh of relief. I felt tons lighter than I had
since I met Miranda.
"It's about time. I thought you'd never get rid of
The red head came out of the shadows and curled up
next to my muzzle and stroked the ridge by my left
nostril. What can I say? I'm male. It's the nature of
the beast. Besides dragons prefer red heads. And this
red head? Well, she's a whole other story.