Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 9 –

– 9 –

The svart-elf Eldri visits the home of Mr. Gulley. Finding him out, Eldri lets himself in. He goes down to Mr. Gulley’s basement.

He stares at Fenris for a while.

“My word, ” he says, softly. “You’re almost free.”

“You look like Hell, Eldri,” says the wolf.

“I was nuked,” says Eldri, which is true. There’d been an incident in Bibury. “But I had a shelter. Don’t suppose nuking would do much to you, would it?”

“Feel free,” says Fenris, “to try.”

“I’d like to come closer,” says Eldri. “I’d like to put something on those wounds. Numb them a bit. And take advantage of the opportunity to evaluate the status of the chains.”

“Do it, then,” says Fenris.

“Would you eat me?”

“Eventually,” concedes Fenris.

Eldri scowls. He waves in his ultimate fetch-playing robot. It’s a robot that’s extremely good, at playing fetch. The robot wiggles a finger in front of Fenris’ nose. Fenris follows the finger. Then the robot mimes throwing something.

Fenris lunges. Fenris smacks into the basement wall. Fenris blinks three times, dazed.

The wolf looks back at the robot in betrayal.

The robot has used Fenris’ distraction to scoop up a real ball. It is a fifty-pound sphere of metal. It shakes the ball. It throws it.

Eldri creeps closer.

Fenris eats the robot. Fenris whips its head around to glare at Eldri. Then it hacks. It coughs. The ultimate fetch-playing robot was stuffed to its metal gills with boot leather.

“Gah,” says Fenris. “Gack. Glargh. Gah!”

Fenris is extremely bad at chewing, swallowing, and digesting boot leather. Fenris is extremely bad at spitting things out once they’re in its mouth, throat, or belly. These weaknesses combine — into a single, perfect storm!

“Glack!” whimpers Fenris, combining several previous sounds. Its throat works. Its eyes roll.

Eldri sneaks closer.

Eldri attempts to check on the bonds that hold the wolf.

The wolf snaps at him. It bites down on something like bubblegum. Eldri is prepared. The substance it has bitten into expands in the wolf’s mouth and levers open its jaws until they meet the limits of its muzzling-cord. The wolf has trouble seeing over its wide-stretched muzzle. It squints and wriggles its head, trying to see the dwarf.

It is practically the worst thing the wolf has experienced since Eldri and Brygmir tied it up in the first place, fourteen hundred years before.

It panics. It flails.

And it’s an accident, really, what happens. It’s not really anybody in particular’s fault.

If the wolf had tried it then Eldri would probably have stopped it. The wolf doesn’t try. If the wolf had intended it then Eldri might have read that intention. It doesn’t intend it. It’s too busy panicking over the robot in its throat and the gum in its mouth and its inability to get a good line of sight on the svart-elf smith.

But —

Intent or no, it does it anyway.

It’s scrabbling. It’s retreating, and it’s scrabbling, and it catches Eldri in the lower part of his stomach with one of its great long claws and rakes it upwards and sideways and out it spills his guts.

“Oh, God,” says Eldri.

Blood rushes out.

“Oh, God,” he whispers.

He is not just upset because of his agonizing stomach wound. He is staring at what’s remaining of the wolf’s svart-made silken cord.

He and Brygmir had made it from the footfalls of a cat and the arms of a four-armed ape; the spittle of a bird and the sacredness of death; the torment of the willing and the bearing witness to the wrongness; and the tape that binds an emu; and the perseverance of hope. And at the time it had seemed pretty sturdy.

But now . . .

He can see where the tape of emus has been scissored; where the torment of the willing is rather frayed; that the bird’s spit is so dry it isn’t helping; and the sacredness of death and the perseverance of hope have been swallowed, eaten, and forgotten —

If there were ever such things at all.

Eldri thinks about how to fix this, even though he is dying. He works, even though he has no time left. He tries, so very desperately, to add the fading life of a svart-elf to the structure of the chain but —

A paw comes down on him. It breaks his back. It crushes it.

He dies so fast he’s still trying to do something smith-like for like three whole seconds after he is already gone.

After a while Mr. Gulley comes home and he stands at the top of the stairs. He looks down.

His face is affectless.

Fenris hiccups up a bit of robot, gum, and boot. It sniffs miserably at the resulting scraps. It looks up pleadingly at Mr. Gulley.

“You can’t possibly expect me to clean that up,” says Mr. Gulley.

Fenris noses Eldri’s corpse. It wants to eat it. But it can’t eat it. For the first time in a life of hunger it cannot imagine how it would keep food down.

The wolf hiccups again.

“Who is that, anyway?” Mr. Gulley asks.

“I don’t know. Somebody. You left him out,” says Fenris. “That makes this your fault. You’re not supposed to leave dwarves and robots out around the wolf.”

“Says who?”

“Stands to reason,” argues Fenris.

“Who is he?” says Mr. Gulley. “And — you’re not supposed to kill people. Look at him. He had a life!”

“He was trying to check my cord,” says Fenris.

Mr. Gulley turns off the lights. He stomps away. He slams the door.

After a while he comes back.

He’s holding a loaded shotgun. It’s completely useless, but he points it at the wolf anyway.

“It’s got wolfshot in it,” he says.

Fenris sulks.

“Bad wolf!” says Mr. Gulley, but he can’t make himself fire. Not even to make a point!

“It’s not my fault,” says Fenris. “He was bothering me.”

Mr. Gulley sighs

“I don’t want him to just lay here dead,” says Fenris. “I don’t want to eat his body.”

“You’ll eat my body,” says Mr. Gulley. Then there was a pause. “I mean,” he says. “I mean, you’ve expressed plenty of willingness to kill and eat me. And you ate my Dad.”

Fenris tugs at the cord. The wolf stretches. It leans. Blood oozes out where over fourteen hundred years the cord has left its furrows; there is a gust of sickening stench; but the svart-cord does not budge.

“I don’t want to eat you either,” the wolf says, after a while.

“Wow,” says Mr. Gulley. “Either you’ve gotten better at lying or you’re really sick.”

“I could’ve eaten you any time,” dismisses Fenris.

“Could you?”

“I could’ve,” Fenris says. “But you’re company.”


“I wanted company,” says Fenris. “I didn’t want to be locked up in the Gulley basement alone for all these last few seasons of my chains.”

“Oh,” says Mr. Gulley.

He lowers the gun.

He sits down. “I’m sorry,” he says, softly.

Fenris licks at Eldri’s corpse a bit. The wolf looks queasy. The wolf sighs, and it turns away.

Mr. Gulley turns the lights back on. He makes sure the kibble bowl is full. He backs away, and he closes the door.

Fenris tugs with a futile irritation against its last several strands of cord.



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