Dragon sweat – Next scroll

Author: David Shaw

Some of the palace guard fingered their weapons and looked sullen, but there were good reasons for standing still. The first was the pile of ash where the Master-At-Arms had stood, the second was Will Spearshaker’s cries of mingled pain and relief as the moat cooled his hot armor. The third and fourth good reasons were the gleam in each of the dragon’s eyes as her snout swung back and forth across their ranks in continued threat. Hal followed up his advantage.

“Two of you, get your cloaks off and give them to the girls.”

Hal’s hand pointed towards Caelia and Chelinde, huddled together in their nakedness and staring at their father’s powdery remains gently blowing away in the wind. An upsetting sight, slightly softened by the fact that the Master-At-Arms had always been a total bastard to everyone who’d had the misfortune of knowing him, especially his own family. But before anybody could move a patch of air between the soldiers and Hal clouded over as though a tiny fog patch was forming there, no bigger than a man — and forming into the ghostly outline of a man’s figure.

An old man, a hunched man, a man with no hair above his ears and a white beard down to his belt, holding a long staff and wearing furs that belonged to no animal that had ever prowled in these mountains. Gaunt Gregory, Chief warlock to King Argud, somehow appearing to them all as a shadow of his real self. Instinctively, every soldier glanced at the castle, where the warlock had lived as long as any could remember, as homebound in his tower chamber as a miller’s donkey tethered to a grinding stone.

There, on the nearest wall, was the hulking figure of the King, waving his arms in great excitement, and beside him stood the dwarfish figure of his warlock. They saw the smaller man lifting his staff, as tall as himself, and point it down towards the moat. At the same moment the warlock’s apparition also raised its staff and pointed. At the place where both staffs were aimed was a head and flailing arms, the arms desperately struggling to support their owner’s head above the filthy ooze of the moat. None of the witch’s supernatural skills seemed to avail her now as she fought to keep her mouth and nose out of the squalid slime she was slowly sinking into.

Gaunt Gregory’s words came not through Hal’s ears, but like something felt in the twilight time between sleeping and waking, some message shining from snows on a mountain peak no mortal could scale: “Save her, boy, save her! The King commands it!”

Not only was Hal made aware of the warlock’s appeal, so were the soldiers. They stared at him, then snapped to attention, as though the fools expected Hal to start drilling them. What orders did they think a bollock naked shitbucket emptier could give them? Yet suddenly he was doing exactly that.

“Who’s senior rank leader?”

A gray mustached veteran clapped a hand to his cross-bow. “I am, boy.”

Corporal Clint O’The East Wood would have died rather than take orders from Hal but that wasn’t an option on offer. Subjects who failed both the King and the Chief warlock in important matters suffered far worse fates than simply ceasing to exist.

“Get that net. Use your swords to cut it apart. Tie three of the long lengths of rope together. Then give me one end with a loop in it. I’m going to try to walk out far enough on Josephine’s tail to throw it to the witch. Keep hold of the other end and when the witch has hold of the loop, haul her in. You understand?”

“Aye, boy, aye.”

It wasn’t in the Corporal’s training to throw a weapon onto the ground but he put down his crossbow with the greatest possible speed, pulled out his blade and went at the net as though it were a living enemy. Hal turned to Josephine, pointed at the witch, and then at the dragon’s tail.

“Can I walk along your tail to help the woman?”

Josephine growled, then snorted, a hint of flames as insubstantial as the warlock’s ghost flickering at her nozzles. The dragon was usually in a good humor, but apparently not where witches were concerned. Not witches who handled their broomsticks like a tipsy gipsy aloft on an unbroken colt, nor yet witches who treated anything on the wing as unfortunate flying objects. Josephine was still deeply in the grip of sky rage.

“Please, Josephine, the King and the Chief warlock have commanded me to help the witch. Can you help me?”

A sickly shade of green appeared on her skin: Hal understood her doubts only too well. The further he moved down her tail, the harder it would be for Josephine to support his weight on it.

“Well, the best you can do, my lady. And quickly!”

Her colors flickered and changed on her coat of scales again, and then she was backing her haunches over the edge of the moat, then her back legs, reluctance showing in every moment as she came into contact with the filth. Her tail she held as high as she could until she was half lying on the bank and half floating in the moat, and then she let it drop straight down on top of the partly dissolved turds floating in the scum. Hal noted with surprise the depths and intensity of the shades Josephine was now displaying: he couldn’t imagine where a nice young female dragon had learnt so much bad language. Then his attention was broken by two men-at-arms running up to him with the looped end of a rope between them. With them was Corporal Clint.

“All ready, sir.”

“Get your men to on the other end and to be ready to haul like carthorses. I need a man here at the moat’s edge to put a turn of rope around one of the dragon’s back spikes if you need her help in hauling the witch out.”

“Aye, boy.” Corporal Clint O’The East Wood turned and pointed to one of the soldiers. “You, when I shout, go ahead — make my belay.”

Hal grabbed the loop and stepped onto the base of Josephine’s tail. Which was a big problem itself. The needle sharp spikes that ran down her back extended along her tail as well, gradually getting smaller but no blunter. Right here they were as long as dagger blades and he had to step between them with his toes pointed inward like a pigeon’s. An uncomfortable position, rendered much more uncomfortable by the thought that if he slipped and fell astride the dragon’s tail the spikes would instantly make sure that Caelia and Chelinde would not only be the first girls he’d ever fucked, they’d be the last ones as well.

“Fria and Odon, Fria and Odon, help me, please!”

He began moving. One step, two steps, three, with the slime of the moat lapping around his ankles, the dragon’s scales becoming slippery underfoot. Exactly as they had both feared, the further along Josephine’s tail he went, the harder it was for her to keep it up above the moat’s surface.

Hal stopped to regain his swaying balance and stared slack jawed at what was happening out in the moat. For now the warlock’s mirage was hovering directly in front of the witch, arm and staff outstretched above her.

Somehow he seemed to be supporting her because both her arms were raised above the mire, one pointing towards the castle and one towards Hal. And close to the castle wall her broomstick was rising again. Splintered and broken in the middle, the front half drooping down, its bundle of twigs mostly burnt off, spattered in filth, but still rising up into the air as lightly as a feather above a fireplace. The broomstick stopped at knee height above the moat and swung around as slowly as a rusty weathercock touched by a summer breeze.

Then, close to Hal, a great bubble of air burst amidst the floating scum, hard by where the witch’s cat was still buried, the tom’s tail marking its last resting place. Hal hoped so anyway, since it was his fist which had sent the feline familiar tumbling down into the deep shite, and the memory of its malevolent green eyes would haunt his nightmares for many nights to come. Yet even as he looked the thickly furred tail began to disappear into the moat as if it were a plant which was shrivelling instead of growing. Perhaps it meant the final destruction of the savage creature which had torn his flesh and nearly done much worse to his balls.

As the tail vanished more bubbles broke on the surface of the moat like farts from a carthorse’s bum, each one releasing a tiny rainbow of color and smells which were far worse than any privy bucket Hal had ever emptied. Then a head appeared in amongst them and green eyes opened which turned towards Hal in pure hatred again. Yet this wasn’t a cat which had surfaced, but a toad: a toad as big as the cat had been, a toad of brown and yellow, with masses of red tinged warts and spikes, an apparition so unlike anything in nature that one look was enough to know it as a perverse parody of anything the Gods had intended to live on earth.

Hal shivered in fear as he realized that nightmares were nothing compared to seeing a terrible enemy resurrected. The toad came swimming and slopping on its belly towards him, as near to being in its own element as any creature could be in this foul bog. It stopped about four paces from Hal and opened a mouth which seemed to be the ugliest part of the whole swollen monstrosity. A sack of living venom perched on a lake of poison, and a pair of emerald eyes looking at Hal with a promise of agonizing revenge. He longed to run home. But he could run nowhere from where he was and instead waited like a pig penned for slaughtering as a tongue as long and red as a scarlet tippet flicked through the air — and stopped short of the loop of rope in Hal’s hand. Again, the same thing happened. And this time the toad raised a webbed paw and pointed towards the witch.

Suddenly, and incredibly, Hal felt almost gratitude towards the hideous creature. Because now he knew what it wanted him to do. Much more importantly he knew what he might no longer have to do himself. As well as he could he threw the loop towards the toad, watching as it landed just short of the witch’s creature. It went forward in one quick movement before picking up the rope in its mouth as carefully as a cat holding a kitten. Then it turned and began dragging the rope behind it as it paddled towards the witch. Hal paid out the slack, swaying on Josephine’s trembling tail, still terrified but at least hopeful that he need go no further into this shit filled slough.

The remains of the broomstick reached the witch first, the upright handles on the broken front piece bent down towards her like a grazing deer’s horns. At the same instant the dim figure of Gaunt Gregory disappeared, as if the two magics could not exist together. The witch began to sink again, her hands shot up over her mud choked hair and grasped the broom between the twigs and the break in the handle. Then the broomstick bobbed up and down in her desperate grip, as though it was floating on rippling water, but to no avail in lifting the witch from the clinging mud. A handhold on life she had, but nothing more. Unless her familiar could reach her with the rope. And, as big and strong as it was, the toad seemed to be struggling to pull out the ever increasing length of rope between it and Hal.

In desperation he hauled out yet more line from the hands of the soldier on the bank and took another step along Josephine’s tail. The dragon groaned, a startling thing for somebody so used to her normal silence. Nothing could show more plainly how difficult it was for her to keep supporting him on her tail: it was as if Hal was trying to hold aloft a horseshoe on his little finger. He felt her trembling underfoot and the tail sink lower, so that he was up to his knees now in filth. But the toad had reached its mistress!

Hal thanked his Gods as he saw her take one hand off the broomstick in a hasty snatch at the rope and then lift up the dripping loop. With one deft movement she dropped it over her head and wriggled the free arm through it before seizing the broom again in a double handed hold. Then she removed her other hand, pulled down the free arm and slipped it up through the other side of the loop whilst grabbing at the broom again. The loop was safely under her arms and now they could act!

Hal waved to the Corporal and the soldier on the bank. A twirl of rope around one of Josephine’s spikes and she was pulling on it, and so were the soldiers, stamping their feet into the turf as though they were trying to pull the castle walls down. The problem was that everybody was worried about the witch, not about Hal, and even Josephine moved so quickly he was left behind in the mire as her tail jerked forward. He lifted his feet clear of her spikes, then toppled sideways with a cry of despair and grabbed at the rope. It was certainly moving, moving too quickly, piling up waves of slime and shit into his face as he clung on to the slippery strands. The only recourse left to him was to roll onto his back and clutch the rope desperately to his chest, the back of his neck then taking the impact of the crusted filth.

A brief glimpse of the witch behind showed her in much the same situation, but at least luckier than him by being able to lift her upper body higher because the broomstick was travelling with her, still offering the woman as much support as it could. Not that anybody could have recognized her as a man, woman or demon, not with the slime plastered over her limbs, her face, and her hair — and Hal was in no much better condition when the Corporal’s men hauled him onto the bank. The expressions of their faces as they had to touch him showed that: not that he had any sympathy for their fastidiousness; they should try his privy bucket emptying job once in a while.

On the other hand he had every sympathy with the reluctance the soldiers showed in hauling the witch out of the midden. A dislike of scraping shit off somebody is one thing, getting up close and dirty to an enraged witch was akin to putting a muzzle on a mad dog. Worse, in fact, much worse. A mad dog might bite your balls off, but with a mad witch you might end up pissing out of your ear for the rest of your life. Which is an embarrassing place to carry your wedding tackle. But already the King was galloping out over the drawbridge on his white stallion and, whatever the witch might do, everybody else knew what Argud the Defiler would certainly do if his orders weren’t carried out to the letter. So the soldiers helped the woman out onto the turf, where she shook them off her arms as easily as if they were playful puppies. Then she strode across the lumpy turf to Hal, the broomstick drifting after her at waist height and two steps behind.

Like a dutiful wife following her husband in a public place, Hal thought, a hurt wife yet silent and submissive in showing off her injuries. But there was nothing submissive about the hot coals glowing in the witch’s eyes behind her mask of mud. And behind her and underneath the broomstick was that revoltingly ugly toad, hopping along in great leaps which almost reached the broomstick at their highest points. Hal’s reckoning was that in about five seconds he was going to be transmuted into something just as revolting. Unless he was fated to mix his ashes with the Master-At-Arm’s. How odd if he should die the way he was now, as naked as when he was born — and never of any more importance to the world than a coney born in a burrow and eaten by a fox.

He looked around for the last time with mortal eyes and saw Chelinde and Caelia now wrapped in soldier’s cloaks, and each staring at him with pity on their faces. Caelia waved at him, sadly, on this moment of parting. Perhaps it was some consolation that the girls seemed more upset about his fate than their father’s.

So when the witch turned, plucked the broomstick from the air and then knelt down in front of Hal, holding it in front of her as if it were an offering to a Druid, every onlooker was stunned. Soldiers, girls, Corporal Clint and, most of all, Hal.

“Take it, Master. Take it, as I have promised the warlock.”

“What?

She lifted her face, those hot eyes fanned into blue burning coals with anger: “Put your hand on this broomstick, you butt ugly little fucker, or I’ll skin you alive!”

Hal instantly stretched out a trembling hand and touched one of the hand grips. It was like holding onto part of a water mill built over a raging torrent, the fierce energy of the rushing waters below passing through the structure for a bystander to feel. But before he could learn more he snatched his fingers away again as a shriek of anger was heard. Behind the King’s magnificent stallion was an old donkey, the thin legs of Gaunt Gregory astride it, his even thinner voice cawing like a squabbling crow. Completely disregarding all the normal rules of the court he hacked at the donkey’s side with his heels and rode past the King, limbs flailing and jerking in his haste like a scarecrow dancing with the wind, the long staff held out over his mount’s big ears in a parody of a knight’s lance.

“What, Morgana — you break your oath given to another who has crossed the abyss between the worlds and returned? You dare to defy the Great Ones themselves?”

“I gave my word to you to yield my person and my powers to my rescuer. This boy was my rescuer and I have kept my word, you jumped up little shit of a half achieved adept. I have yielded all to him. Now go hence and lick your own mortal master’s backside!”

Nobody present had ever heard or seen the like, a witch and a warlock squabbling like urchins over a wind fallen apple. And there wasn’t one of the watchers who didn’t wish to be many safe leagues away from the scene. But one at least had no intention of remaining a mere spectator. King Argud swung out of his saddle, dropping as lightly as a feather despite his huge bulk and large belly. He thrust the horse’s reins into the hand of one of the soldiers, a man who blanched with fear as he realized that the strange events had lured him into a fatal error of lese majesty by not acknowledging his sovereign’s presence until now. The soldier hastily dropped to his knee and bowed his head, an example followed equally quickly by all present save the two sorcerers, still bristling at each other.

“Come, Gregory, what’s amiss here? You promised to tame this hawk for me. Yet she sits not quietly on your gauntlet.”

There had once been a court jester unwise enough to make fun of the King’s appearance by reddening his cheeks, puffing up his cheeks and somehow bulging his eyes so they seemed twice their normal size. The secret of how he’d managed that had died with him, in a unusual and distinctly revolting way, and since then nobody else had taken any gambles on finding King Argud in a good mood. Which was clever reckoning, because he never had any. The best that could be said for his temperament was that sometimes he managed to control his blood lust if there seemed to be a good enough reason — but that was never more than a temporary deferment of his appetite for death and agony. Even the warlock acknowledged the monarch’s worldly power and presence by awkwardly dismounting from the donkey and bowing low to the wearer of the crown.

But not so the witch. For all the scum and shit on her, she stood like a Queen, arms folded in open contempt of King Argud, warlock and soldiers. Hal’s eyes moved towards the now abandoned donkey which seemed uninterested in anything but eating grass. Would he have a chance of escaping on it if trouble erupted? Odin alone knew what this business of the witch and her broomstick was all about but, irregardless, Josephine had killed the Master-At-Arms as the court official was getting ready to kill Hal for tupping his daughters. That was enough to have Hal impaled on a spike in the market place for as long as it took to die. Better to perish trying to run away than wait until the King got around to passing the death sentence. Let the magicians fight each other and then he and Josephine could flee behind a curtain of fire none would be able to pass. Left and right Hal glanced, awaiting his chance.

Then a sword tip touched his bare flank and Corporal Clint whispered: “You’ll stay here, dirty harry.”

“Harry’s not in this story — Rowling would sue us to hell and gone. My name’s Hal.”

“Whatever.”

The King’s impatient voice called out: “You said you could make her your slave, Gregory. What happened?”

The spindly legged little warlock was almost dancing with anger: “She promised to yield herself, body and soul, to whoever rescued her from the moat. But now she says it was the boy who rescued her and has pledged herself to him.”

“What!” The bulging eyes swung towards a trembling Hal. “First the dragon and now the witch. The Gods are making a plaything of this shithouse emptier. But what I saw was that it was your help, Gregory, which aided the witch long enough to call forth her own magic to her aid. All the boy did was to pass her a rope and even in that he had help from the dragon and that … that thing.”

King Argud stretched out a boot towards the hunkered down toad, then jerked it back as a stream of steaming spit landed next to his toe, instantly turning a patch of green grass to brown stalks. The toad leered at him and noisily cleared its throat again.

“Threaten my familiar once more, mortal, just once more, and I will turn you inside out through your own arsehole.” The witch’s voice was low and sharp — and to be believed. “Twas the rope which settled the matter and had it not reached me when it did I would surely have perished. And without the boy that rope would not have been there. So I proclaim him my rescuer and anyone who disagrees may call on the Great Ones for judgement.”

The King looked at Gregory for his advice and the warlock bit his beard, then threw up his hands in frustration: “Your majesty, nobody calls on the Great Ones without taking great risks. Their judgements are not to be reckoned on in advance and Morgana has — I have heard — some influence with them. She is now pledged to the boy and he is a pledged subject of yours. Let us be content with that. Hal, stand up.”

He did so, naked and frightened, and acutely aware of all the eyes regarding his skinny frame. Not to mention the Corporal’s sword point almost pricking his backside. So this was where taking young girls for dragon rides had gotten him. Then he looked at the Master-At-Arm’s daughters again and suddenly relaxed a little. To blame himself for wanting them was as pointless as blaming himself for wanting food — he had a stomach and a prick, and both made demands on him that had to be satisfied.

“Hal, tell Morgana to kneel down in front of the King.”

“Morgana!” Even he had heard of a witch with that name, a witch with a reputation that made fierce warriors huddle close to the fireplace on dark nights.

The warlock nodded in satisfaction: “Yes, the greatest witch of them all, Morgana le Fay. Your slave, Morgana le Fay. Now bid her kneel.”

The witch still stood as proudly as ever, and her eyes fastened on Hal’s with a strength of character he could never begin to match. Nor could he forget for an instant the pain he’d already felt from her magical powers and was still feeling from that damned cat’s claw slash. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was to try to give her any orders. Then he saw the King’s face and remembered the spike in the center of the market place. No, offending Morgana was the second last thing in the world that he wanted to do. What totally passed his understanding was why it should be expected that any witch who treated a warlock and a monarch with contempt would obey the lowest and least of all the King’s subjects. But it seemed he had to try.

“Morgana! Morgana le Fay, I command you to kneel for the King.”

Never before had any words of his been so attended to by so many people. Hal felt like an actor in a May Day festival, the one playing the part of a prince with a wooden crown as a prop. Yet though his words ended on a silly sounding squeak the witch did as she was told. Not only did she kneel, she knelt as a woman should, on both knees, then demurely lowered her head until it almost touched the grass. The King laughed and clapped his hands in satisfaction, releasing a great sigh of tension amongst the soldiers as they suddenly felt much safer. Safer, but greatly puzzled. They looked at Hal’s soiled and scrawny body with questions on their lips. Yet none had so much need of asking them as Hal himself.

“Sire … Sire Gregory.”

The warlock beckoned him forward: “Give him a cloak, someone.”

In an instant Hal had a fine woolen cloak to pull around himself, a cloak instantly ruined by the filth he was spreading on it. But that was a matter of little consequence right now. Gaunt Gregory looked at Hal, at the still prostrate witch, then back to the boy again. Then, incredibly, he smiled, revealing a row of rotten and yellowing stumps in lieu of teeth.

“Why, ’tis a simple thing, boy. Morgana here was nigh on drowning here in our moat and I made her promise on her witch’s power to obey forever anyone who rescued her. I assisted her and so did you, and rather than give herself up to me she chose to yield to you. So now you will compel her to do whatever the King commands. You understand?”

Hal nodded: “Yes, sire … I understand.” But did the warlock understand? If he was telling the truth Hal could command both Josephine and Morgana. With luck he could break free with both and leave this kingdom forever. Or better yet …

“Boy, look around you.”

The King’s voice was always a surprise to those hearing it for the first time, a high pitched tenor from such a bulk. But it was a small voice never used for small talk. Hal looked. Every man-at-arms had picked up his crossbow again and each one was aimed at him alone, from soldiers so widely spread out that Josephine could never burn them down all at once.

“Boy, understand me. I can kill you whenever I wish. The witch would be delighted to be free again and she’ll soon teach your dragon to behave herself. So be a loyal subject and bid Morgana to do my bidding, and all will be fair weather between us. As a token of which, I order you to kneel beside Morgana to be declared a Duke before all present.”

“To be … ” He must have misheard the King, but at least the gesture towards the ground was unmistakable. Hal knelt, and dared to do it on one knee, as the soldiers had done.

“When you arise, Hal O’TheShitbuckets, you will be Duke Merlinus. But before I raise you up I would know what happened between the witch and yourself. How came she to fall into our moat?”

Hal answered the King’s question as well as he could. But, like Hal himself, the monarch had more questions to ask.

“So, she saw you tupping one of the Master-At-Arm’s little beauties in the dragon’s riding net. Why should she wish to interfere with that?”

“Your Majesty, I do not know.”

“I can answer that,” Gaunt Gregory said. “When mortals couple they sometimes reach a level of ecstasy which is a form of primitive magic. Since magics cannot exist side by side any practicing adept who comes close to an act of mortal tupping may find his or her spells much diminished and perhaps even completely cancelled by the tupping effect. Their magic becomes … what shall I say?”

“Fucked up,” the King suggested dryly.

The warlock bowed again: “Your Majesty has it in a nutshell. An excellent description — I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before. Yes, I believe Morgana flew close to the dragon to examine it without having the slightest suspicion that a mortal male could be taking a mortal female in the riding net. By the time she realized her broomstick magics were being, as you say, fucked up, there was no time to flee before she must fall, so the only thing she could do was to frighten the pair into abandoning their act of passion.”

King Argud chuckled: “Ha, boy, some rise by sin and some by virtue fall, but here was a great fall by a great witch because of your sinning. And were my Master-At-Arms still alive you might have smarted for your sins with his daughters.” His voice paused as he looked long and carefully at the two sisters. “But a handsome pair of bolsters for any bed, I grant you, and since they wish for experience, I myself shall see they have as much as they can take.”

He chuckled again and drew his sword. “Boy, have you heard anything of my plans for you and your dragon — and for this witch?”

Hal couldn’t stop himself from looking up in uncontrollable curiosity: “I know nothing of any plans, your Majesty.”

“Then tonight you will learn more, because I’m going to make you an offer you’ll have to peruse. For there are good reasons why I now proclaim you Duke Merlinus of this kingdom.”

The tip of the sword tapped lightly on each of Hal’s shoulders: “Arise, Duke Merlinus.”

Hal stood up and waited for the King to finish off his joke by decapitating him with the huge sword. But it didn’t happen. Instead the King drove the tip of the sword into the ground and rested his hands on the handle, which was still almost as high as Hal’s head. The boy found himself staring at the incredibly fine stitching along the sides of the Monarch’s deerskin gloves.

“Well, Duke Merlinus, you have bought the wickedest witch in the wide world with you as a dowry for your peerage, which is well to your credit. But you are still the dirtiest and vilest smelling peer that ever has stood before me. As for the mighty Morgana, she looks and smells like dogshit. Even your dragon has the stench of a midden about her. What’s to be done with you all?”

Hal gulped: “There is a stream in the hills, not far away. Josephine can clean herself there, under the waterfall. I would be happy to go with there with her.”

“Ho, my fine Duke, no doubt you would, but you won’t. The dragon may go there and return presently. You, I have heard, have betimes bathed yourself in the drinking trough in the dragon’s shed. You may do so now, and take your bitch witch with you. And we shall see if you are indeed fit to be a peer. For the two girls will wash both of you clean and afterwards you may finish your business with the one you were fucking before — if you’re man enough to do it with a squad of soldiers and a King watching you perform!”

Hal stared dumbfounded at the smile on the King’s face.

“What’s the matter, Duke Merlinus? Have you turned shy now you’re a gentleman?”

Even the soldiers were giggling like schoolgirls. But they didn’t know about the dragon sweat, and they didn’t know that there was enough of it left in that drinking trough to set a whole village heaving and humping like a gang of Iceland warriors let loose in a nunnery.

Gaunt Gregory sneered at the filthy boy: “All your vigor gone already, Duke?”

Hal stood tongue tied. He could tell them, warn them — but dragon sweat was his great secret and he wanted to keep it his own. But the alternative! Master of Morgana le Fay — and in the grip of the storm lust that Dragon sweat brewed up. Odin alone knew what he might do, and should Morgana free herself afterwards she’d send him to hell for it. But afterwards, he might not care.

“Why no, Warlock,” Hal suddenly found himself answering with a grin to match the King’s. “All I ask is a favor. If I start chasing your donkey after I’ve finished with the girls, for Odin’s sake, please have me shot.”

King Argud bellowed with laughter and gave Hal a slap on the shoulder which almost sent him down on his knees again. “Why, my young Duke, perhaps you’ll serve my needs better than I might have hoped. Let’s put you to the test and see if your tupping can match your words.”

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