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Volume 17, Issue 4: Similitudes

Battle Gray

Douglas Wilson

"I thought they were nice," Andrew said.

"They were pleasant enough," Beow said, "because they had no need to be otherwise. Hrethric understands much. But each of his longboats has a chieftain of its own, and Hrethric is driven by them as much as by the wind at his back. They do not understand as much as he does."
Beow and Andrew were walking up a long slope, two days after they had left the Viking encampment. They had spent just one night with the Vikings and had departed early the next morning.
"Why did they let us go?"
"We have nothing they want or need—at present. But I would wager that they will soon be sailing down the coast alongside us. They are not dragon-fighters—although the Kale sometimes are. But they would not mind being in the neighborhood if someone else came to confront the dragon, and perhaps prevailed. And they know that we mean to challenge the dragon."
Heather was thick along both sides of their path, and around mid-day they crested the ridge. A long way off to the right, they could see the distant glint of the ocean. "Look," said Beow. Along the horizon, back over their right shoulder, Andrew could see a very small row of sails.
They turned back and looked down the road ahead of them, and Andrew muttered something under his breath. He had never seen so much dramatic and striking gray in his life. About six miles out, the ocean off to their right swept around in front of them and marked the end of Greenland. Away in the distance, straight ahead of them on the horizon, a towering black and gray thunderhead rose up from the ocean. The sea in front of the gigantic cloud was gray also, miles of it, with plumes of white flying up from the slow chop. For about two miles inland from the beach huge gray boulders were cast about, as though God had gotten tired of doing things in an orderly way at creation. And there, right on the edge of the sea, was a ruined castle built out of the dark gray basalt. The rim at the top of the thunderhead was silver, almost white, and a few stray shafts of sunlight came through. In the sky above the castle, Andrew saw a small speck, an object flying. "Is that . . . is that the dragon?"
"Aye. That's the dragon," Beow said.
They both stood there and stared for a long time. The dragon did not see them, or was not interested in them, and just circled lazily above the ocean beyond his lair.
After a long silence, Andrew said, "How am I supposed to kill that?"
"You come from a line of men who know what to do. I trust you."
Andrew sat down on a rock by the side of the path to think. Beow bent his head over him. "If you are thinking about the weather coming in, you don't need to worry about that thundercloud. It is always there—it is the end of our world. Some have sailed out there, but no one returns. They go to be with the Lord Christ, or to the mother world . . . we don't know. Not many sail there anymore."
Andrew nodded soberly. "I am just a boy," he said. "It would be silly to try to meet him with main force. Dragons are great deceivers, and they think that they are capable of deceiving everyone, luring everyone. I will let him think he is doing so with me. I will deceive the deceiver."
"Be careful," Beow said. "The plan may be a good one, and I am not trying to dissuade you. But pretending to him that you are deceived can easily be the first step in being deceived. His black dragon heart has many twists and turns."
"So I must be straight as this spear, which to him will be the most subtle twist of all. But I have to think about what Aelfric told me. The first sign is that the dust will bite the dragon and nothing else."
At the words, straight as this spear, a curious look came over Andrew's face, and his eyes brightened. The beginnings of an idea had occurred to him. He looked over at Beow. "In the morning, we will walk down to riddle with the dragon. We must be careful not to wager great things on the riddles—perhaps just the right to come back the next day to riddle some more. But as we go down, let us think much about the dust of the ground we are walking on. If it is the dust that shall bite him, we have to think about how that might be."
Beow dropped his horn again. "This is wisdom, and I will go with you."
With that, Andrew got up and they walked back over the crest of the hill to find a place to spend the night. When they had done so, Andrew laid out his bedroll, lay down on it, and put his weapons beside him. Straight as this spear, he thought happily, and went to sleep.

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