Garth parks the truck at the end of the muddy lane and gets his father’s sword and armour out of the back. He carefully – too carefully – straps the leather on over his jeans and t-shirt, fastens the sword around his waist, then stops to gather himself for just a moment. When the shaking stops, he walks into the village.
The farmer who called is in his milking parlour. Over the rumble of machines and the lowing of cows he tells Garth of the village’s trouble with dragons, of how mighty Foranth’s egg has hatched. No damage yet, no livestock eaten, but ‘something must be done,’ and done now.
‘The gobs over at Westview agree with me,’ the man says, ‘and everyone remembers how your Da brought down Foranth.’
Dragon eggs hatch in their own good time – Foranth must have laid this one before Garth’s father ever came to the village. Now the son must handle it. His first dragon, his first slaying. He has trained all his life. He does not know if he wants to do it.
Garth steels himself outside the cave. He draws the sword and then waits for his hand to be still. The sword is strong, but it is only metal. Surely there is more to dragonslaying than a man, his sword, and a fire-breathing mythical beast?
He ventures inside, anticipating a quick death, but there is nothing. Some bones, platelets of eggshell, scratch marks. Down a side tunnel he finds some tatty cups and plates of gold, which he leaves. The dragon is not here.
Westview is near, and there he speaks to an old hobgoblin tending to the dry-stone wall and asks whether they have been attacked by the dragon.
‘Oh no, Silastas left a few weeks ago. Said he was going to the city. You know how young folks are.’
Garth is twenty-four and has never visited the city. His school friends moved away to university but Garth, as with every generation in his family, had to stay and train in secret. He gradually lost touch with those friends but now he reaches out to one of them, Wendy, for a place to stay. He spends a week looking for hints of dragon activity, but the city is not what he expected. Humans, goblins, elves, all living together. The young, at least.
Garth has never actually met a dragon.
‘What do you do, back home?’ Wendy asks him that first night, and he doesn’t tell her that the dragonslayers must keep apart from society, ever-watchful, and so he is denied a normal life. ‘Electrician,’ he says, instead, and it is the truth. He does that in the daytime, and trains at night, so that he is ready.
He takes his sword everywhere. It may not be magical but it was glamoured by an archmage long before, so that it is never seen by doormen at the bars and clubs Wendy introduces him to.
He meets her friends, likes them, makes friends of his own. Works as an electrician. He stops looking for the dragon. He doesn’t want it to end. And so of course it does.
The club in the warehouse where Garth drinks and dances with his new friends is loud and sweaty. He watches for drunken trouble, awareness always sharp. At the other end of the vast dance floor he sees, past two beautiful elf boys, a young dragon, swaying and bobbing to the music. Its teeth gleam as it turns to talk to a human woman, also beautiful. The elves join them, and Garth walks slowly and purposefully towards his prey, his nemesis, his reckoning.
He stops in front of the group, hand on the sword. The dragon – Silastas – has eyes that whirl with yellow flame. The music fades away; the dragon’s tail keeps the beat.
He holds out his hand and says, ‘Hello, I’m Garth. Can I buy you a drink?’
Garth’s son is named Alasdair, which is a break with tradition, but Garth has broken many traditions.
One day Alasdair says to him, ‘Why does grandda always talk about dragons and get so angry?’
It’s true, the old man remembers ‘better’ days. Before he was injured, right and wrong were crystal clear to him, and dragons were definitely wrong. His sword now has pride of place in the living room, but it is never drawn, no matter how much Alasdair wants to see it.
‘Once upon a time,’ he says, ‘dragons couldn’t get jobs, and got so hungry they had to steal. It was grandpa’s job to stop them. Then I met Silas and we became good friends.’
‘Best friends?’ Alastair asks.
‘The very best. He introduced me to your mother, you know?’ He doesn’t say more. Alasdair is so young. Too young to hear about his grandfather’s life of violence, and too young to hear about the time Silastas and Garth got so drunk they were arrested, even if it did mean he met Silas’ lawyer, Erica. Alasdair’s mother.
‘Now are you ready for your flying lesson with Uncle Silas? He’s coming for the weekend this time.’
Alasdair squeals with delight, and Garth laughs, lifting him onto his shoulders. He looks up and sees the morning sun glinting off silver wings. They run down to the field where Silastas will land. ∎
Jonathan Laidlow grew up in the northwest of England, near the Sellafield nuclear power plant, which regularly leaked. He has one good leg, one good eye, and one good ear. He lives in Birmingham, UK, and has been published in Strange Horizons, Liminal Stories, and Starship Sofa, amongst others. He tweets @burtkenobi and blogs occasionally at jonlaidlow.com.
Richard Wagner is a graphic designer and illustrator living in the
United States. His academic schooling consists of a Bachelor of Fine
Arts degree with an emphasis in painting and drawing as well as training
in graphic design and illustration. For seventeen years he taught
college level graphic design and photo-illustration classes while also
freelancing. He now works on his own and enjoys focusing on being a
designer/illustrator. Richard can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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