We had prayed to the Goddess to bless us all, to inspire us in the defence of our town. I had chosen the lady chapel in which to pour out my trepidation. I had taken much longer than the others in my devotion, for much fear shook my heart, It's hard to receive inspiration when overwhelmed with emotion.
Yet in the end I knew what I needed in my battle against the dragon--a longsword, a short sword, three knives, a crossbow and two bolts.
Two bolts, the Goddess inspired me. I pondered upon the significance of two bolts. One for each eye, perhaps, assuming this was a double-eyed dragon and not one of those with multiple heads.
No, I mused as I raided the castle armory. If it was one of those, swords would have been all but useless, as were axes or other cutting weapons. Remove one head, two more grew in its place.
So, single-headed dragon, possibly two eyes, land-based, or so I presumed. I had yet to see what the Goddess had inspired others to bring. Maybe it would be winged, and someone was inspired to bring nets. With these, they could bring the dragon down and me, with my sword, could kill it.
On my way to the stables, I passed the kitchen.
Elphine was there, making a sandwich.
I stopped. "What are you doing?" Packing lunch? Why? It wasn't as if we had time to stop to eat in the middle of battle.
She lifted her shoulders. "The Goddess inspired me thus."
Before I overcame my confusion, the belltower rang out its warning.
A shudder ran through the stones beneath our feet. A mighty roar echoed through the corridors. Elphine and I froze. Dread pooled in my stomach. A dragon, here? At the castle? IN the castle?
Elphine slapped her sandwich together, stuffed it in her jerkin and ran after me.
We were almost to the stables when the rest of the Defendors came running back our way. "Dragon IN the castle!" Tarrand called, terror making his voice break.
Sure enough, his footsteps were dogged by the hungry roars of a dragon in quick pursuit.
I got a glimpse of it before I could unfreeze my feet from fear.
It was one of the serpentine ones, long, and skinny, ideal for hunting its meals through the narrow stone corridors of our keeps. Now the short sword made sense.
Still, it was best we pick our battleground. Down a long corridor, set up a defence in on open room, with enough space for all of us, but effectively pinning the dragon at the opening? Attack its head at once with our swords while it hadn't room to manoeuvre?
Hard to think strategy when one is on the run. Not enough breath to shout out one's inspiration.
Like frightened cows, we herded together, instead of separating to surround the beast. Thus, we were easily shepherded down a corridor until we came to a locked door.
Of course! Not everyone was a fool in the castle. A locked door could easily thwart a dragon, just as it did us.
We pooled together in this dead end, our pleas of succor to the Goddess thickening the air.
Rathan went down first, when the dragon seized him by the leg and dragged him away, screaming. The dragon retreated quickly. Soon, Rathan's noise stopped, whether by distance, or the end of his mortal coil.
We went nowhere. We stopped and stared where the dragon once was. "Now what?" I asked. Then I shook my head. "We know what we're up against." The others nodded, our sudden surprise ebbing away.
We didn't have much time left to strategise. Either the dragon would be back, or would set off to another part of the castle. Either way, we needed a plan.
A quick inventory of our Goddess-inspired armaments revealed mostly short swords and daggers, a few ropes, and Elphine's sandwich (which she failed to mention to the others). Our plan was simple: lasso the dragon, shoot it in the eyes with my crossbow bolts, hack at it until the head came away. Until we knew more about the dragon and its magic, this was the best plan for now.
The dragon could be anything. Who knew what it could do? It didn't breathe fire (that we'd seen). Could it shoot poison? Did it have mesmer skills like the cobra-tamers in the marketplace? Who knew? I loaded my crossbow with the first bolt while the others fashioned slipknots for lassos.
No sooner did we come up with our plan, then the dragon returned. Why not? It had an entire feast holed up in a dead end.
Granted, this feast came armed. As the dragon roared through, Tarrand and Lucine looped the lassos about its neck and pulled. I let loose with the bolt, right at its eye. My hands shook so much, the bolt missed its target and bounced off the dragon's hide.
So that's what the second bolt was for.
Elphine ran in with a scream, to jab at the dragon's nose with her sword while I reloaded.
The dragon didn't like this. It hissed and roared, struggling against the ropes about its neck.
Alas, my second bolt also bounced off. I threw the crossbow away in frustration. Why would the Goddess inspire me to bring a crossbow? Perhaps for the same reason she inspired Elphine to bring a sandwich.
Indeed, it was down to me and Elphine to kill the dragon. Tarrand and Lucine had their hands full with the dragon's ropes, pulling as hard as they could. It didn't seem their efforts to choke the dragon were succeeding, but at least they kept it immobile. It couldn't get away, and it couldn't move.
We went in with swords, stabbing at its eyes, its nose, anywhere that the armour of its scale didn't cause our swords to bounce off. That wasn't much. Every time we went for an eye, the dragon would blink, thus protecting that orb. The nose, likewise, had the same sort of strange closing, to keep anything foreign out of its nostrils.
The mouth, with its many needled teeth, was not as vulnerable as we had hoped. It had clamped down on Elphine's sword, thus wrenching it from her hands. She retreated away while I drove at it once more, although my attacks were useless.
My heart thumped. Surely I was not the last defence this castle had against this dragon? I stabbed again and again, uselessly, until my arms ached with effort. I pulled back to Elphine, more from exhaustion, than anything else. My second intention, after gaining a rest, was to give Elphine a second sword.
Instead, she pulled out her sandwich, more in awe, than in hunger. She peeled it apart.
Armed with only this, she ran toward the dragon.
It pulled back, but only so far, due to the ropes. Elphine reached out and smeared the sandwich across the dragon's eyelids, then retreated. I guess when all you've got left is a sandwich, you fight with what you've got.
I had a sword ready for her when she returned. We braced for the dragon, but it never came forth.
Instead, the dragon blinked and blinked. It attempted to scrape its head against the walls to remove the sandwich. One piece of bread stuck to its eyelid, refusing to be dislodged.
"What kind of sandwich is that?" I breathed.
"Peanut butter," Elphine replied, still in awe. She doesn't like peanut butter.
Neither did the dragon, apparently. Its roars changed to whines as it fought the ropes. It could not reach a claw around to scrape away the sandwich. Neither could it rub it off on the walls. We watched as its eyes swelled shut and its breathing grew laboured.
I had my sword ready, hoping for an opportunity to move in and finish the job, but Elphine stood in awe. "Is it... allergic?"
I eased my stance. As we watched, the dragon's face swelled, causing the scales to expand, opening its armor and giving us targets to stab for.
We did not wait but ran forth to slip our swords between the scales.
The dragon whimpered and thrashed its head. Eventually it slowed, more from its laboured breathing, rather than our pinpricks. Tarrand and Lucine kept hold of the ropes, despite their exhaustion. Elphine and I helped them, for there wasn't much more we needed to do than watch the thing die from the shock of a peanut butter sandwich.
Later, we cut off its swollen head just in case.
While the castle servants came to drag the corpse away, we returned to the chapel to give thanks to the Goddess in all her wisdom, for inspiring Elphine.
I still think about the crossbow bolts.