Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 6

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What Shall We Play For?

“What kind of game were you thinking of?” asked the soldier.

“You seem to think you’re pretty good at cards,” suggested the dragon. “How about a hand?”

You might, upon hearing this, feel that the fact that our soldier produced a deck of cards from his pocket to be too much of a coincidence. I am here to tell you, a good soldier always has a way to keep himself occupied. For some it is dice, for others it is cards, still others whittle. Our man preferred cards to dice, but he never gambled. At least, never for high stakes. And he was always honorable with his fellow soldiers.

“What shall we play for?” asked the soldier.

“A beating,” said the dragon. “Whichever of us wins this hand gets to beat the other and choose the next game.”

“For how long?”

“Let us say… one minute?” inquired the dragon, and the smoke falling from his nostrils sizzled in anticipation.

“One minute,” agreed the soldier. “Are implements allowed? You are hard and scaly and your skin is hard like a rock, unlike your teeth which are brittle as dead wood.”

The dragon growled deep in its throat at the reminder of its two broken teeth. “Because you are small and pink and weak, I grant you the use of…” The dragon looked around but it saw nothing.

“How about my hammer?” The soldier held up his tiny hammer.

The dragon sniffed it, but there was nothing about it that indicated it was anything other than a tiny hammer for cracking open petrified walnuts. “Very well.”

They played the first hand, and because it was funny to let the soldier think that he stood a chance, the dragon let him win. “Okay,” it said with a grin, “Take up your hammer and do your worst.”

“As you say,” said the soldier, but first he pulled the spirit’s skin over his right hand. When he lifted up the tiny hammer, it immediately swelled up to a maul.

“But -” said the dragon. SLAM! went the maul and “OUCH!” cried the dragon, and that was just the first second! Indeed, after sixty seconds of this the dragon had sixty lumps, and lumps on top of lumps.

The soldier set down the hammer, which again became tiny, removed the skin from his hand, and shuffled the cards. “How about for this next game, the winner gets to peel the skin from the loser.”

“Phhtp,” spit the dragon. CLACK and CLICK went his teeth in a pile on the ground. “Jutht a minute,” lisped the dragon. “Thkin the lother?”

“Yes,” said the soldier.

“That’th a terrible idea.”

“Well, if you’re scared,” began the soldier.

“Thcared? A dragon? Never!”

“You do taste like chicken,” the soldier reminded him. “Chicken is as chicken does.”

“Are you calling me a chicken?”

The soldier shuffled the cards.

“Deal!” roared the dragon.

This game took longer and was much less predictable and the dragon was much more careful. The soldier was full of tricks, the dragon knew now, and it was not about to be fooled again. They went back and forth, shuffling and playing and dealing and re-dealing, until the soldier said, “Oh.”

The dragon only smiled.

“Oh, dear,” said the soldier.

“It lookth like I win thith time,” said the dragon, and ran its claws against one another to make them extra sharp.

They sounded like grating steel against stone.

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