For my oldest son (Sir I. on this blog) who suggested: Sleeping Beauty/Tranquilizer
(Still writing longer than I wanted. ;))
Darrel had his nose deep in Weapons Monthly when the crystal ball buzzed, from inside a bottom drawer full of unfiled paperwork.
So few people used crystal balls anymore, Darrel had forgotten they still had one. Instead he kept a bowlful of apples on his desk. When a call came through, Darrel split one in half to find a message spelled out in seeds.
He considered that a waste of good apples better used for target practice.
Papers flew as Darrel dug out the crystal. Some sort of juice had dried into a sticky patch on its surface. Darrel rubbed it with spit and his untucked shirt, then placed the ball tenderly on its cradle. He tapped it and said in his most cordial voice, “Rose & Thorn Pest Services: No job too big, no job too small! Thorn speaking!”
A narrow face appeared, the forehead rising to a narrow peak, chin stretched down to its chest. Its ears were jug handles and it waved elongated limbs.
That was fine. Crystal balls distorted everyone’s face.
The face spoke, “pbbthpphbtwwwsswa!”
“A dragon? Yes, we handle dragons, for an extra fee. Size?”
Long as ten carts in a row, two stacked houses high, Darrel wrote with a stub of a pencil. “Fire-breathing?”
After the call ended, Darrel studied his notes. Black-scaled. Horned. Breathes fire and drools acid. A right mean one. His mouth stretched into a grin and the sweet clink of gold coins rang in his ears.
“Hey, Bree!” he bellowed, leaning back in his chair. “We got ourselves a job!”
No answer from the back room which his partner was supposed to be organizing. Frowning, Darrel pushed away from the desk and went to investigate.
Bree was slumped against a bookcase, a trail of drool by the corner of her mouth. He shook her by the shoulder. She raised bleary eyes to his face.
“Good news! We have work!”
“’bout time, too,” she slurred. And then her head dropped down on his shoulder and she was asleep again.
They got to the village three days later. Bree staggered up to her room and faceplanted on the bed. She was snoring before he even left the room.
Darrel sallied forth, where he interrogated witnesses, looked at tracks and scorch marks, spied the dragon’s lair, and scouted along the cliff tops. He spent a long time looking for the perfect spot for his Wyrm-Killer 500X, a weapon that he didn’t call a ballista because he didn’t want to pay the extra license fees.
He returned after dark, this time with Bree. She sat shivering on an outcrop, even in layers of sweaters, while Darrel fussed over the ballista-that-must-not-be-called-so. Its drawstring was made from the heart-strings of a leviathan, a true love’s kiss, and wire beaten from a sliver of the Grim Reaper’s scythe. Its wood came from a five-thousand-year-old oath tree. The bolt was fashioned from a falcon’s dive, a shark’s bite, and a cutting remark from a court jester.
Darrel had only one shot. He meant to make it count.
“All set?” he asked Bree tersely.
“Fully charged.” Bree removed a glass vial from within her voluminous clothing.
Darrel placed the vial careful in its slot in the bolt. He placed the bolt in the ballista-called-crossbow and made fine adjustments to his aim.
It was ready.
They waited in silence as the sea sighed beneath and the wind sighed above. The moon played hide-and-seek among the clouds. Darrel thought Bree might’ve fallen asleep again.
Suddenly she stiffened. Tension quivered in the air.
Darrel saw the dragon, a shadow-shape sailing out from its cave. He sighted it, following its path. All the variables came together in his head—wind speed, wind direction, the beast’s speed, it’s trajectory.
The bolt sped through the air. There was a twinkle, then nothing.
Seconds went by. Bree and Darrel stared, eyes straining.
Then the dragon fell, right into the area Darrel had chosen for its landing place. Trees broke like matchwood and leaves spiraled into the air.
It was done.
“Sound asleep,” said the village headman in awe, keeping his distance from the knocked-out dragon. “Will stay like this for half a year, you say?”
“At the least,” said Darrel. “But don’t worry. The Humane Society for the Better Treatment of Dragons will be along to relocate it to a reservation long before then.”
“Remarkable!” the headman enthused. The dragon gave a long-drawn growly snort. The headman jumped. The dragon exhaled in a gust of a hot wind, setting a few small bushes on fire. Villagers beat at them with sacks. The dragon didn’t even twitch as the humans danced around it, not even when one of them poked it with the blunt end of a homemade pike.
Darrel turned away.
The job was done. It was time for a nap.
“Darrel!” shouted Bree. She sprinted down the forest path, tripped over a root. Darrel caught her before she went sprawling.
Bree clutched his arm and stared up at him out of wide-awake eyes. Manic energy radiated from her. “Let’s go dancing!” she insisted.
“No,” said Darrel firmly, half-leading, half-dragging her back up the path.
“Karaoke, then! You and me, we’ll sing the house down.”
“I know! We’ll chase chickens and wrestle pigs! Then go sliding on the palace’s marble floor!” She let go of his arm to twirl around, smacked into a trunk, and burst into giddy giggles.
Darrel sighed. Somnolent or manic—there was no in-between for Bree. And the manic phase was worst right after she’d magically charged the sleep-inducing bolt.
A century under a fairy’s spell? He shouldn’t be surprised there were after-effects.
It was going to be a long, long week.