Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 2 –

– 2 –

Saul performs. He rocks. He peels his music from the heart of him before the screaming crowd, and sweat rolls off of him in streams.

It’s helpful, really.

It helps his glass harmonica play.

There’s friends on the guitar and drums behind him. There’s rebellious globed lightning that reacts to the music, too; for what’s rock for, if not to laugh in the face of the Devil, the nithrid, and all their ilk?

But mostly there’s just him, and his seven-foot glass harmonica, and his body, drenched with sweat.

He’s forgotten he was a svart-elf. That’s his reincarnation!

Now all he can think about is his rock and roll.

It’s not as simple as that, of course. It’s not as simple as “wake up human one morning, and also a baby, and eventually go into performing arts.” There’s lots of stuff in between!

It’s just that —

All his life, Saul’s been told he was bad, and he knew it was wrong, on some level he knew it was wrong, but he’d honestly forgotten that he was good. He’d forgotten about the sugar fairies. He’d forgotten about the Land of Pleasure and Happiness and the fact that he could have gone there. He’d forgotten about everything, really, right down to the puppy that had called him back.

So after a while, he just started accepting he was wayward.

He bent himself and hammered himself into the mold of somebody wrong. Drugs — though, and he’d never admit this to anybody, he mostly takes placebos. Loose sex, principally alone. He kisses budgies, lavishly, and without precautions. And of course there is his . . . Lethal . . . rock and roll.

His music is the kind that can sink its teeth into the human heart. There’s no one at school save Edmund who can really ignore it. Saul was good when he was born, he was a melodious baby, and he’s better now that he’s grown; and a little bit of the smith-wroth’s still in him, so he’s best of all with the tools he’s made himself.

It takes a svart-elf to make a band out of guitar, drums, globes, and glass harmonica, but Saul, he makes it work.

His concert ends with a crash. He smashes a carefully prepped and separable section of his harmonica. It shatters on the stage and releases scent.

He takes a towel. He wanders backstage. He mops himself off.

He catches a bottle of brandy someone throws at him. He mimes drinking it down. Later he drops it in the liquor recycling bin (the school has separate recycling bins for glass, paper, plastic, and unused liquor) and collapses into his chair in the rooms backstage.

Tom shakes his hand enthusiastically.

“Rock,” says Tom. “You, sir, are a genius. Your music lives.

“Huh?” Saul says.

He isn’t sure how Tom got backstage and into his room there. The answer, incidentally, is “Tom controls swarms of robot bees.”

“Oh,” says Tom. He smiles. “I came to honor you.”

He takes off his hat. He proffers it.

“It’s not underwear,” says Saul, pleased.

Hardly anyone gives rock stars their overwear. It’s a new experience.

“Yes!” agrees Saul, more with himself than with the narration, and he puts it on.

“Lo,” he says, standing up, striding, preparing to declaim something, “I am crowned Saul the —”

His voice shorts out. He staggers. He goes down on one knee.

“Oh, come on,” he says. He shakes his head vigorously. “No!”

He falls over. He kicks his feet.

“No. I won’t let a hat, I won’t, it won’t, a hat won’t beat me —”

Power rages through the channels of his brain. His eyes roll back. He screams.

They come back down gleaming red.

“Oh,” he says.

He makes a strange face at Tom. He takes off the hat. He hands it back to Tom. He improvises a red hat out of bits of torn uniforms and roses that are laying around the room.

He is crying.

“What?” says Tom. “What?”

“What have you done to me?” says Saul, like he wasn’t prepared for this, like at no point in all his life of rock and roll, drugs, and fevered debauchery has anyone ever warned him that he might actually be some kind of saint.

“What?” says Tom. “What?”

Saul points at him accusingly. “You’ll never get gout!” he tells Tom, which is true, but isn’t at all what he expected he would say.

“Thanks,” says Tom.

Then his face falls, slowly.

“Dang it,” he says. “I’d really thought you’d wind up in Dreams.”

“I can’t play music,” says Saul. “My drug habit. No more pirating torrents. What am I going to do with myself, Tom?”

“You’ll find something!” says Tom. “I’ve got faith in you!”

He claps Saul on the shoulder.

Then he grimaces, like he wants to join the saint in crying.

He turns.

He lowers his shoulders. His back is as expressionless as a . . . back. . . is as he trudges, quietly, away.



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