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A Gathering of Dwarfs: Dead Dragons Gold

By Ben Hammott All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Fantasy

Chapter 1

EZRA BOONE

I enter the inn that looks similar to the hundreds I have drunk in before. The same stale smell of old beer, sweat, and the cheap perfume of women who would ensure you had a good time in exchange for a few coins, is as familiar to me as killing is to my blade. Though the faces that turn to gaze at me when the room falls to silence are different, their expressions are nothing new. As usual, whispers accompany my swaggered walk to the bar. I smile at a waitress as she passes with a tray of ale filled glasses. She faints, again, nothing new. My hand shoots out to grab the tray before it crashes to the ground. I do not attempt to prevent her head from smashing onto the floor covered with sawdust damp from spilt beer and vomit. It’s ale and food I want. Maybe after my thirst and hunger have been satisfied I will seek alternative nourishment for other parts of my body. I place the tray of beer on the bar top. There are many things I will do, but drinking another man’s beer is not one of them. A man enters through a door behind the bar, looks at me and steps forward with a cheery smile.

‘What can I get you, stranger?’

The barkeeper's failure to recognize me is something that does not happen very often. ‘Beer,’ I reply.

He grabs a glass tankard that hasn’t seen soap and water for a very long time, much like most of the clientele in his inn. I let it go; I am too thirsty to complain about something so trivial. He places the frothy brown liquid on the counter top and I place a coin beside it in payment. A woman approaches the bar and calls the innkeeper over. From the sawdust stuck to one side of her face I recognize her as the recently fainted waitress. I am careful not to smile at her again. They hold a whispered conversation before she grabs the tray I had rescued and goes to deliver it to her waiting customers. Just as the glass touches my lips and I am about to take my first welcome sip of ale, I find it snatched from my grasp.

‘Please forgive me, Mister Boone, I had no idea it was you. Let me fetch you a clean glass and some decent beer. This slop isn’t fit for the pigs I serve it to.’

He seems to be unconcerned others have heard the remark about his poor quality beer, but then a glance at them reveals they also seem unworried as they continue to sup the unfit to drink brew.

‘No, it's okay,’ I argue, reaching for the glass. ‘Believe me, I’ve had much worse touch these lips than a dirty, germ ridden glass full of putrid beer.’

‘I will not hear of such a thing for someone as famous as you.’

I sigh. Fame does have its downside. I watch in dismay as he tips the foul brew away before disappearing back through the door he had appeared through a few moments ago. A couple of thirsty minutes later he returns with a clean glass of dark brown liquid. ‘From my private store,’ he states proudly as he places it on the bar in front of me.

I nod my thanks as I reach for it. Again, I am about to drink when I am stopped by the innkeepers hand on my arm. I shoot him a glare that has caused many fierce warriors concern, yet he fails to notice.

‘Is there anything else I can get you?’ he smiles.

‘Yes, someone to clean your blood off my sword blade when I chop off your hand if I am not swallowing beer within the next second.’

This he understands. His hand releases its grip on my arm as if it’s on fire.

I gulp down the beer as he talks.

‘I’ve heard you like to have a laugh and a joke,’ he says none too confidently that this information is the truth.

I ignore him until I have drained the glass of one of the better beers to have slipped down my throat and believe me, many have.

‘Another?’ he asks as the empty glass touches the bar.

I nod that I do. ‘Do you have any steaks?’

He glances at the waitress as she arrives behind the bar wiping away matted sawdust from her hair with a cloth. ‘We have one left,’ she informs us.

‘Put my name on it,’ I tell her. ‘Lightly cooked with whatever trimmings you have on offer.’

‘I’ll inform the cook,’ she says.

I nearly smile at her, but hold it back. She disappears through the door followed by the innkeeper as he goes to refill my glass. My gaze around the room reveals the other customers, though they still direct an occasional glance at me, have turned their interest back to less exciting matters. After receiving my second beer, I sit at a table near the window to relax and wait for my steak to arrive. It's been five days since my last decent meal so I'm looking forward to tucking into a nice juicy slab of meat.

I hear a commotion outside. Unlike others who rush to discover its cause, I ignore it.

A short while later a man wearing a bloodstained apron appears. I assume he is the cook and the plate of food he carries my meal. My tongue caresses my lips in anticipation.

As the cook approaches the table a tinkling of glass is quickly followed by a surprised grunt from the cook. I assume the arrow protruding from the center of his forehead is the reason for both sounds. It is also responsible for my meal flying from the dead man’s hands to strike the wall before bouncing to the floor and the potato that splashes into my beer. The innkeeper rushes over to find out what has taken place. Though he notices the dead cook with the arrow sticking from his head, the hole in the window and my dismayed expression, he fails to see my steak on the floor even when he places the large dirty sole of his boot upon it.

I sigh. I know it’s going to be one of those days.

I nod at his foot. ‘The last one you say?’

He looks down to finally notice the steak he stands on. He bends down, picks it up and for some reason quickly conceals it behind his back. ‘I think I may be able to find another for such a special customer as you most definitely are,' he says with a grin.

And so the reason becomes apparent. He will clean off the dirt and sawdust and serve it up to me again as a different steak. Though I briefly ponder how he will hide the large imprint of his boot in the meat, I am too hungry to care. I am just about to dismiss the man when the dog that has previously been asleep beside a table of four men, wanders over to grab the steak held behind the innkeepers back. A brief tug of war ensues with the dog the victor. It runs to a far corner of the room with its prize firmly gripped between its jaws. I look expectantly at the innkeeper to await his excuse.

‘Thinking about it, I believe that was the very last steak after all.’

My fist slamming on the table reveals my mood. ‘This is not good enough,’ I say with force. ‘First your cook is killed, causing him to drop my meal and then a dog runs off with my steak.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about the cook, he wasn’t very good and never washed his hands after going toilet. I was going to sack him anyway, at least now I won’t have to pay him what he's due.’ His smile is one of a man who rarely experiences such good fortune.

‘I don’t care about your damn cook; it’s the lack of steak that riles me. How come you have only one?’

He shrugs. ‘Rumours are that some creature has come down from the mountains and is eating all the cattle in the surrounding area.’

'Then why doesn't someone kill it?'

He shrugs. 'Apparently, it’s un-killable.'

I am just about to tell him how ridiculous his comment is, because anything that breaths can be killed, believe me, I have killed many breathable horrors, when the door slams back against its frame and the patrons that had previously left rush back in.

‘There’s a monster outside town devouring the cattle,’ shouts one of the men.

Are people firing arrows at it?’ I ask.

‘One is,’ he replies. ‘Others use swords, spears and flaming torches.’

I stand, yank the arrow from the unhygienic cook’s head and swagger towards the door.

‘Where are you going?’ calls out the innkeeper.

I hold up the arrow. ‘I’m returning this to its owner.’

‘How nice.’ I hear a woman say as I exit the inn. She obviously has no idea of my intended delivery method. Believe me, there is nothing nice about it.

I ignore the screams of horror and fright from the men, women and children, rushing past me to escape the danger threatening their existence while I head straight towards it, as I have done many times before. I arrive at the edge of town to spy a group of men fighting with something amidst a cloud of dust its defensive movements rise from the dry earth. Though my eyes search for the archer responsible for ruining my meal as I head towards the small band of fighting men, they fail to seek him out.

‘You know who fired this arrow?’ I ask a man as I arrive.

He is just about to answer when a scream is heard from within the dust cloud. This is followed by something flying out to land on the ground beside us. We both look at the top half of a man.

‘It was him,’ he tells me.

‘You sure?’ I ask, somewhat disappointed.

‘The bow he holds in his hand is a big clue, don't you think?’

I resist the urge to punish the wannabe comedian and plunge the arrow into the dead man’s eye.

The man is horrified. ‘Why did you do that?’

‘He ruined my meal,’ I tell him as a gust of wind clears the dust cloud to revel the large creature bellowing furiously. Its huge bloated body is a mass of scales and spikes, its head all tusks and teeth. I’m not impressed; I have already determined its weak spot. Though I am curious to know what type of creature it is, I have seen bigger and fiercer. ‘What is it?’

‘It is the Undefeatable,’ the man answers spookily.

I resist the urge to give him a slap. ‘Where?’

‘Right there man, can’t you see the great fat ugly thing?’

‘Your wife is here?' I jibe.

'I wish she was, I'd feed her to the damn monster. Though she'll probably give it indigestion.'

Reluctantly, I admit to myself that was slightly funny if a bit cruel.

I rush towards the beast, dodge around the men holding it at bay with weapons they know not how to use effectively, weave past the creature and rush up the rocky slope leading to a tall cliff face. When I am level with the Undefeatable's ugly head, I let out a loud shrill whistle to attract its attention. I see my reflection in its large eyes as it rushes up the slope towards me and notice how good I look. I climb the rock face and when I feel I am high enough and the creature is as close as I dare let it, I flip backwards, slip my shield from my back and place it beneath my feet as I land on the steep slope. I draw my sword as I slide towards the beast and thump its jaw when it snaps at me just before I slip between its front legs. I thrust the tip of my sword up to slice along the monsters bloated stomach until the sky is above me again. I do not turn as I bring myself to a skidding stop, but raise my eyes expectantly and then grin when a loud slurp fills the air. I place both feet on the shield and wait. The wave of blood and guts pouring from the beast’s huge belly lifts the shield to carry me to the edge of the weakly cheering crowd. I blame the shortage of meat and low numbers for their lackluster attempt to celebrate my victory. Thankfully, when the putrid smell from the beast's innards wafts over them, their gagging, retching and vomiting cuts short their uninspiring cheers. I remain unaffected, because believe me, my nose has smelt much worse.

I step off my shield, shake off the lumps, slip it onto my back and turn to survey the mess. I spy the recognizable forms of partly digested cows amongst the monster’s guts and approach the nearest one. A few slashes and slices of my sharp sword soon produce what I seek. I hold it triumphantly in the air with a beaming smile. ‘It’s okay everyone, steaks are back on the menu.’

Those around me stare at the slab of fresh blood dripping meat and then begin vomiting again. I shrug. They must be vegetarians.

‘Kane, we are leaving now.’

My mum's voice brings me back to mundane reality. Something I hope to change very soon. I close the book and run a hand admiringly over the image of the greatest hero who has ever been immortalized in print on its cover: Ezra Boone. ‘Okay, mum. I’m coming.’ I place the well read book on the small table beside my bed and rush downstairs.

‘Now, are you sure you will be okay on your own for three months?’

‘Of course I will, mum. I’m nearly sixteen now and I have my job at the inn to keep me busy.’

‘And reading that book of yours again, and again, and again,’ smiles my dad. ‘Why don’t you read another as you must have read it a hundred times or more now?’

He is right; I have, but I never tire of reading about Ezra Boone and his many exciting adventures. ‘Because it’s the best book ever written,’ I tell my father.

‘Okay, son,' he says with a grin. 'Take care of the place while we’re away and we’ll see you in three months.’

I give my little sister a hug and then lift her onto the seat beside my dad.

‘Cheerio, Kane, behave yourself and make sure you eat a good meal every day and don’t forget to bathe at least once a week.’

‘Yes, mum.’ I endure the hug and kiss she gives me before she climbs onto the wagon seat.

‘Goodbye,’ I wave.

I watch the wagon until it disappears behind trees when the track turns a corner. They will travel to towns and villages selling stuff they made during the winter. My dad will sharpen knives, swords and axes for any that require it on the big grinding wheel in the back of the wagon. If my plan is successful, soon they won’t have to do this again. I eagerly head back into the house to prepare for the adventure I have been planning for so long. Perhaps one day someone will write a book about me.

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