I’m still on vacation with the family, but I wanted to post some flash-fiction I wrote last week. This is just a little story set in the world of my Bookewyrmes, about the unreliable nature of assumptions.
The young knight crept up the last few feet to the cave entrance. He gripped the handles of his shield convulsively and scratched under his breast-plate. The bandages he’d used to bind his breasts itched abominably and sweat ran in rivulets down his back. He wished he’d used some other material, or better yet stayed home. But he had to kill a dragon. What better way to prove his man-hood to the doubters and cat-callers at home. He was just lucky that a dragon had settled so near the city, and that no one else had slain it yet.
The cave mouth yawned before him, black and jagged like a demon’s mouth. He clutched at his sword-hilt, drawing it slowly to dampen the noise. He nearly dropped it when the voice issued from the cave.
“Go away, it’s not ready yet! These things take time, you impatient young jackanapes. I told you it would be a fortnight, and you’ve only been gone three days!”
The voice sounded deep and rumbly, with teeth in it, vibrating in the young knight’s bones and armor. It also sounded impatient and a bit like his mother when he pestered her too keenly for some special treat. He gaped at the cave mouth, uncertainty filling his belly with fluttering wings.
A scuffing and clicking on the stones heralded the arrival of the dragon. It was smaller than he’d imagined, though it still towered over him. It looked as agile as any common lizard, though far more dangerous than its smaller cousins. The slim leaf-green snout flared into darker scales around the eyes and then back into a spiny crest along the top of the head. Folded wings told of flight, and wicked-looking claws complemented the rows of teeth to complete the picture of an expert hunter.
The dragon blinked golden eyes at him, seeming almost as surprised as he was. “Oh, I do beg your pardon. You’re not Lord Fellweather at all. That boy is dreadfully impatient, I thought you might be he, coming to check on his commission. But perhaps you are his messenger, instead?”
The knight gurgled and at last gasped “You talk.”
No one had told him the thing could talk.
“Well of course young sir,” it said. It burbled on cheerfully. “How else can civilized creatures converse, except through talking? Unless they’re both dragons of course, then they can use magic to share thoughts. But you humans are sadly lacking in that capacity. A pity.”
“Yes, but, but.” The situation was getting away from him a bit. The knight struggled to regain the upper hand. “See here, I’ve come to slay you like a true knight, and prove my man-hood! You can’t…did you say Lord Fellweather?”
“Yes I did. And I wish you would give up this foolishness. The local lords are always most distressed when I have to do away with their subjects because of these sorts of misunderstandings. The last Lord shouted such a lot I decided to move my collection to a new location.”
“Oh yes, all my books and things. It was a dreadful bore getting everything transported from my last location. And this cave was the best I could do for the moment — which is far from satisfactory, I must say. Drafty, and I feel certain it will be terribly cold in the winter as well. Perhaps I shall be able to find a better spot closer to the Great Library in the city soon, but for now I’m relegated to this rough cave in the hinterlands.”
The knight became increasingly aware of something else about the dragon. It was female. It must be. All the signs were there, little clues that he had learned to recognize. This realization unbalanced him even more. The high-ground was slipping entirely out from under him, and his sword-point dragged in the dirt.
“But you’re, but you’re female!”
“As female as you, my dear!” She said it so cheerfully.
Fury burned the knight’s face and he raised his sword to point at the dragon’s heart. Or it’s chest anyway. He grated through clenched teeth, “I’m. Not. A. Woman! I’m a man, no matter what you fools think!”
The dragon studied him keenly, and he hunched his shoulders a bit. The dragon’s gaze took in his rounded, beardless face, round hips and even seemed to drill through the obscuring armor to the shape of the breasts below. Her eyes narrowed then widened in delighted recognition.
“Ah! Of course, you must be one of the Soul-Switched! I’ve read about your kind, how your souls are of one sort but your bodies the other. I’ve always wanted to meet someone like you. I have such a lot of questions which the available literature really doesn’t cover.”
“You…what? You have?” He shook his head, trying to clutch his scattered thoughts back to coherence. “This is impossible! Dragons are ravening beasts who horde gold and gems, not…not civilized bookworms who talk of living in Libraries!”
The dragon’s smile was toothy and dry as a desert. “Of course. And you’re nothing but a young woman playing dress-up in your brother’s armor.”
The knight’s hot retort died on his lips. People made assumptions like that about him all the time, but he knew they weren’t true and never would be. He knew it in his soul, down where he knew he was a man whatever the ignorant said. The light dawned at last, and reluctantly he sheathed his sword.
The dragon’s edged smile transformed into something oddly welcoming. “It’s always best to check one’s assumptions, my young friend. But, no harm done. I don’t suppose you’d like to come in for a cup of tea? I’ve just gotten the most lovely new red-leaf from the East.”
The Soul-Switched Knight straightened up, his head held high. “Thank you, Madam Dragon, I should be delighted.”