THE DRAGONS’ PLAYBOOK
by Carlton Herzog
I was not your typical knight. For one thing, I was a broad, and a good looking one at that, both in and out of my armour. For another, my boyfriend was Gorn the dragon. Together we were quite the pair.
Gorn wasn’t always a dragon. He had been a reasonably handsome mook that I presented to my mother as a prospective marriage candidate. My mother, who coincidentally was a witch, wanted me to follow in her footsteps. She objected to the marriage and promptly turned Gorn into the fire-breathing scourge of Vandis you see today.
Now, my mother as you may have guessed was not tightly wrapped. Nor was she a saint by any stretch of the imagination. Her head had been on more inn pillows than a chocolate mint. If her vagina had been a video game, it would have been rated E for everybody. And when I informed her that I didn’t want to join the coven she said, “You must have been switched at birth with another baby because there is no way I could have given birth to such a hateful child.”
I got into the knight business to make enough money. I needed fast cash to make Gorn human again. So, the two of us concocted a scheme where he would fly into a town and terrorize its inhabitants. I would come along and promise to drive him away for a fee.
We would milk it for all its worth. He would be setting wagons on fire and stomping his feet. I would ride in on my faithful white steed Tuggy. Whereupon Gorn and I would engage in some canned banter. Something like:
“What-ho fiend, doth thou terrorize yon peasants on no good account? Forsooth I say.”
As a human, Gorn was not the brightest monkey in the meadow. When he turned full-on dragon, he got a bit dimmer.
“What’s that mean?”
“It means scaly hellhound, your days upon God’s good earth are numbered. I am here to slay thee and carve thee up like a bit of mutton.”
“Since we’re doing Shakespeare in the park, how about I breaketh my giant foot off in yon metal ass? And maybe roast you alive for good measure.”
“Do your worst, monster. I have bested many bigger than you.”
We would then run around one another. He would blow fire and miss, and I would swing wide and miss. Eventually, Gorn would pretend to turn tail and fly away. We would meet up later, have a good laugh, count our shekels and consider our next mark.
I guess you’re wondering how it is a planet inhabited by humans in the 28th century would be a throwback world to earth’s medieval era. Simple: the planet was colonized by Luddites, namely, those who eschew technology and favour a simple life. And simple they got. This burg is like Earth’s Dark Ages. Right down to all the wacky magic.
Vandis has it all: witches, wizards, warlocks, werewolves, vampires, and demons. It’s one big supernatural stew. The only things missing are the Winchesters and Castiel.
As the daughter of a witch, I had more access than most to books. I read up on the history of Vandis. It didn’t take long for me to get that it was a planet of superstitious slack-jawed yokels. Because of the inbreeding, many of them thar’ goobers lacked thumbs, sported unibrows, and ate paste. In this kingdom of the blind, I, a fallen woman of sorts, had the one eye that made her, if not queen, a reasonably successful grifter.
Things were going well. We were on our way to coming up with the coin for Carnacki the necromancer to bing bang boop Gorn into a man again. But Gorn got cold feet. He said he liked being a dragon. As I said, not smart.
“I’m going to live for hundreds of years. I can fly. Nobody can hurt me, and everybody thinks twice about messing with me. I love you but I don’t want to give that up. Have you considered using the money we have to change me to change you instead? Think about it. We could spawn a race of dragons and run the show here. Enslave all the humans. Make them feed, wash and worship us.”
“I need to think about that. Have you included our inability to use toilet paper in your lifestyle calculation?”
“Toilet paper! We don’t need no stinking toilet paper! But if you need to think about things then go ahead. In the meantime, I’m going to Wessex and feast on Goodman Brown’s heifers. If you want to follow, we can still do “White Knight to the Rescue”. But wait until I’ve had time to swallow a few jerseys before you show.”
“Like I said, I’ll think about it. So, feel free to start without me.”
With that Gorn took flight. I pondered his words then chose a course of action. I would visit my mother and ask her to make Gorn human again.
I found the monster who bore me stirring a steaming cauldron. She had become less than human, a half-barracuda, half woman abomination, with scaly female breasts that glistened in the colours of the rainbow.
A torrent of words issued from her fishy throat.
“Let us look into the Garden of Time and see what weeds may grow. Look there: the mare doth eat her foal. And over there: the graves yawn and yield up gliding ghosts. See here: the heavens rain blood on the worlds below.”
Then she shrieked with glee.
“Look! Babies born without heads. These signs bode well for our rebellious enterprise. Soon will we gather in great numbers and retake Heaven. I must tell the King of Hell these glad tidings.”
I had come to make amends, but after seeing what she had become, I couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the old she-devil what bore me.
“Hello mother. What is it today you are working on so industriously? An alternative fuel source made from puppies, perhaps.”
“Greetings, hatchling. Where’s your dragon lover? Has he run off with another serpent? They’re like that, you know. Can’t hold a steady job. Can’t stay faithful.”
“We’re still together. I want you to change him back. Make him human again.”
“And why would I do that?”
“I’m your daughter.”
“So, I’ve been told. Did you know that you were so ugly as a child I had to tie a porkchop around your neck so the dog would play with you?”
“Yes, I was no beauty then. But I’m a hottie now. Will you help me or not?”
“That boyfriend of yours is as dumb as a bag of hammers. If I decide to make him human again, you’ll need to invest in a unicycle and juggling pins because he’s too dull-witted to be anything but a burden on society.”
“You haven’t changed. You’re still the same hateful, hatchet-faced narcissistic bloodsucker who drove my father to an early grave. And made me endure a cold, loveless lonely childhood.”
“If you can’t abuse your family, then whom can you abuse?”
“Poor Satan, someday he’ll come for your soul, and have to leave empty-handed because you don’t have one. Do me a favour: make sure your funeral is an open coffin affair, so I’ll have a place to spit.”
“My, aren’t we the damaged little climber? Well, that’s a hard no on changing your lover back. If you come around here again, I’ll shrink you down to the size of a roach and have you fight spiders for my amusement.”
I left empty-handed but full of bile and rage. The Hag had gotten to me again. I had met a lot of despicable, malignant people in my day. So, my bar for scumbags was high. But my mother cleared it easily in street shoes. If evil ever becomes an Olympic event, she’ll get the first two lanes in the relay.
I went looking for Gorn. When I got to Wessex, he had already come and gone. Apparently, some of my mother had rubbed off on him because several cottages were burning. The charred remains of villagers littered the streets. Unusual circumstances, since Gorn made it a point to minimize property damage and avoid harming people at all costs.
I didn’t know whether my mother had made him mean-spirited following our last encounter or the power at his disposal was slowly corrupting his heart, from that of a gentle giant of a man to a winged fire-breathing fiend. I needed to find him—fast.
I rode through town after town following trails of black smoke. As I did, the destruction and mayhem he had caused grew progressively worse. In Sweet Briar, he had swallowed the constable. In Sylvan Glen, he had devoured a small mob of defenders carrying pitchforks and torches, then ate the town’s prize pig, Goliath. It was looking more and more like Mad Dragon Disease with each new atrocity.
I kept riding. But Tuggy was getting tired. So, I stopped in Ligos. Oddly, Gorn had bypassed the town. When I inquired at the Dragon’s Head Inn if anyone had seen Gorn, the barkeep, a Mr. Mulroney, said, “He stopped here and visited with some friends then flew away.”
“I didn’t know Gorn knew anybody this far south.”
“Apparently, he’s good friends with Grim Fire and Black Wing. They’re our protectors. We feed them pigs and cattle, and they make sure nobody—be they human or otherwise—gives us trouble. Gorn wasn’t here long. He flew in, they all had a meal, and he left.”
“Where can I find these dragons?”
“At the edge of town. The giant red barn is where they live. We stock the field behind it with animals for them to eat. As long as you’re respectful, they’ll speak with you. But if you give them lip, you’ll be the main course at their barbecue.”
I let Tuggy rest while I walked down to the Dragon Barn. Grim Fire and Black Wing were out front taking a sunbath.
“Excuse me, honourable guardians, might this humble knight have a word with you?”
Grim Fire chuckled.
“You’re a woman. Imagine that. A woman knight. That would blow the patriarchy’s mind if it found that out. You go, girl.”
“How do you know that?”
“Human females have a distinct odour that we dragons can detect. Musky with a hint of hyacinth and orange.”
“I did not know that. Perhaps you can help me.”
Black Wing asked.
“What made you become a knight? Was it to slay dragons?”
“No—it was to con gullible humans out of their coin. The reason I’m here is that I’m trying to find my boyfriend Gorn. He’s a dragon.”
Grim Fire gave me the 411 on Gorn’s visit.
“So, you’re Billy. Pleased to meet you. Gorn came and left. Said he wanted to fully explore the dragon experience before he decided whether to stay a dragon or go back to being human. He asked for our advice.”
“What did you tell him?”
Grim Fire said, “We didn’t advise him one way or the other. Instead, we said it was his decision alone to make. I suppose if he had more on the ball, we might have provided a more definitive answer. But truth be told that boy is not the sharpest tool in the shed.”
Black Wing laughed.
“That’s putting it mildly. If there’s a zombie apocalypse, he’s got nothing to worry about. Cause zombies eat brains, and he ain’t got any. He’s been torching villages left and right. That makes the whole dragon community look bad. Admittedly, your little dragon versus knight theatre isn’t the greatest publicity, but it makes folks believe that while we might be a threat, humans will always win over us. Gorn’s reign of terror is having the opposite effect. If it keeps up, we might have to pool our resources with the other local dragons and take Gorn down—permanently. And I for one do not favour dragon on dragon crime. It makes us look stupid and backwards. Like humans. So, if you have any pull with him, then you need to get him under control before things run any further off the rails. Get me, sister?”
“Oh, I get you, Big Daddy. It’s time to put the horse back in the barn. Tell me where he was headed next?”
“He didn’t say. But he took off in the direction of Black Moor.”
I thanked them for the information and set out for Black Moor. Coincidentally, Black Moor was the home of Carnacki the necromancer. I rode all day and all night.
When I reached the town of Black Moor, I found dust and ash. People were lying in the street, many of whom were dead, many more scorched. Gorn had laid waste to the town. I headed to Carnacki Castle. It was intact.
Carnacki met me at the drawbridge.
“Come no further. Your lover must be stopped. I got close to him and tried to undo your mother’s spell before he could hurt anyone else. But it was too complicated even for me. And her magics are far too powerful for me to kill her. The only way Gorn can be stopped is if you convince him to stop this madness or kill him yourself.”
“I’m not sure he’ll listen to me. And I can’t kill him. He’s too powerful.”
“Only if you remain human. If you were a dragon, you could enlist the help of others like Grim Fire and Black Wing.”
“I’ve been down this road before. I don’t want to be a dragon.”
“Then your only other option is to kill your mother. That will undo her spell.”
“I would be as unsuccessful as you would be. She’s protected by all manner of enchantments and warding. It would take dragon fire to penetrate them.”
“Then you have answered your own question. Become a dragon and stop Gorn yourself with the help of others, or kill your mother. If you agree to become a dragon, then I can always change you back.”
“Fine, do it.”
Carnacki waved his hands. A moment later, a slip of parchment and a necklace appeared in the air before me.
“Put on that charm. Then repeat the words written on the parchment.”
I did as he asked.
“Spirits of the North, South, East, and West,
Mother of Beasts and all living things,
Turn me into a dragon,
With scales, clawed feet, wings, tail, and crimson hide.
Give me control of fire
And the power of flight.
Let me join the ranks of the Dragon Borne,
If only for a time.”
No sooner had I uttered those words than I felt myself being stretched in all directions. When I expanded, my armour burst from me. My pale skin went from pale white to red, my flesh to scales, my fingers to claws, my toes to talons. I could feel my head growing and sprouting bony protrusions.
When the metamorphosis was complete, Carnacki materialized a large mirror before me that I might gaze upon what I had become. As I did, Carnacki remarked, in a smug self-satisfied way, that I was his “…greatest creation yet, a most magnificent creature, godlike and magical.”
“Now what, wizard?”
“Now you live your life as a dragon. Go find Gorn. Get him to stop his madness. If he refuses, then you have two options: kill him or kill your mother.”
“So be it.”
Although I had not been a dragon for very long, I had an intuitive grasp of how to move, and more importantly how to fly. My main concern was, could I kill and eat a cow or pig while it was still alive? The thought seemed repugnant in the abstract, but as my belly growled more and more, the idea seemed less unappealing.
I flew south until I came to a pillar of smoke. I descended into a town, at the centre of which was Gorn. He was making a meal of the courageous townsfolk that had dared to oppose him.
“Hold it right there, big boy. Play time is over.”
“Billy! Is that you?”
“You’re damn right it’s me. What’s with all the carnage? Are you auditioning for The Crazy Dragon Gazette?”
“I’m living the life. And now you can live it with me.”
“No—you’re being a douchebag. The people in those towns you destroyed never did anything to you. So where do you come off burning the towns and eating the people?”
“It’s in the Dragon Playbook.”
“What playbook is that?”
“This one sent to me by your mother, Medea.”
Gorn pulled a large musty tome from underneath his wing pouch. Then he popped it open and with a foreclaw gently turned the pages. “See, it’s right here on page fifteen:
When humans say they want peaceful co-existence with dragons, the humans are lying. They are constantly conspiring to enslave and kill the dragon kind. It is therefore incumbent on all dragons to keep the human population off balance through terroristic acts. To burn their cities, towns, and villages. To eat their livestock and poultry, and to eat them. We cannot give them any opportunity to consolidate their forces and move against us.
It didn’t take a master alchemist to know my mother was gaslighting Gorn. For what nefarious purpose, I couldn’t say. But she was clearly up to no good.
“That’s not true. If it were, your friends Black Wing and Grim Fire would be here doing the nasty with you. This is just another one of Medea’s tricks to drag you down. For both our sakes, please stop being an asshole to the humans. We have our entire lives ahead of us. We can live them as dragons or as humans as long as you give over this insanity.”
“So, you would stay a dragon?”
“If that’s what it takes for you to stop, then yes. I will gladly do the whole fire-breathing wing flapping bit with you right down to swallowing cows whole.”
“What about your mother?”
“We need to kill her before she can do any more mischief. We’re the only ones who can do it since dragon fire is the only thing that her magics can’t affect.”
“Okay—I’m in. Let’s go kill the bitch.”
We took wing. After a few refuelling stops at dragon friendly communities, we winged to my mother’s ginger-bread hut. When we got there, we called her out. But she didn’t show.
“Maybe she’s not here.”
“Or she’s hanging upside down like a bat wrapped in dalmatian fur. Then again, she could be in the cornfield scaring away the crows.”
“You really don’t like your mother.”
“Did you forget she turned you into a dragon?”
“No, but you seem consumed with hate.”
“My mother is ugly inside and out. The only reason she never became a coke addict is that she can’t stand to look at herself in a mirror. And she would be only too happy to join Hitler’s Nazi party, but he stopped taking applications.”
At that moment Medea materialized before us. She smirked as she pointed to Gorn with her gnarled, time worn finger.
“He’s a sweet kid. Too bad he won’t be anything more than a burden on society. After all, he has the attention span of a monkey chewing on a flyswatter.”
“We’re here to kill you.”
“You’re certainly welcome to try. Because frankly I would rather get a maple syrup enema and sit on an anthill than listen to your insufferable whining. Or did you think the threat of incineration by dragon fire would make me grovel like a leper at a kissing booth?”
“I’ve had enough of you. Gorn, let her have it.”
Gorn and I lit her up. In an instant, Medea and her ginger-bread house were nothing but ash. I congratulated myself for finally having rid myself of that evil millstone around my neck. Then I heard her cackling the stereotypical laugh of the broom-stick riding witch of old.
I looked around. The only thing I could see was the black smoke spiralling up above us. It seemed to be alive, and it was. My mother’s hideous harpy face formed itself from the smoke particles, and clear as a bell I heard her say,
“Silly dragons. You have fried an old, withered body that had outlived its purpose. Now, thanks to you both, and the mystical energy in your dragon breath, I live on as a spirit, one capable of finding a new host. I could not be happier. Trust me, we’ll meet again.”
The smoke drifted away and with it, Medea, to parts unknown. Gorn and I stared at each other. Any doubts I had about remaining a dragon were dispelled after I learned that Medea was still in the picture. I might not be able to kill her, but as I was ensconced in a dragon body, she would have a hard time killing me. Now the only thing left was to figure out where Gorn and I would live and raise a family of little fire-breathers. In my spare time, I would write a Dragon’s Play Book of my own. One where people and dragons for the most part get along, and cooperate for a better life. Sappily sentimental stuff from a mother to be. Did you expect anything less?