Telling Tales 7
“Fair’s fair,” said the soldier, and presented himself to the dragon.
The dragon slid the tiny hammer out of the man’s reach. “You’re thcared,” it accused the man, for it saw sweat beading on the soldier’s forehead and dampness swelled under his arms.
“Nervous is more like it.”
“Nervouth?” The dragon had some difficulty believing that the soldier would survive being flayed, but had shown his true colors and was as deceitful an opponent as the dragon had ever met. “You are afraid that your clothe will be damaged?”
“It’s just that I’m terribly ticklish.”
The air around the dragon’s grimacing, slightly less tooth-filled mouth sizzled. “Hold thtill, unleth you want it to hurt more.” The soldier held his arms straight up and the dragon, quick as thought, pulled its claws from the soldier’s ankles all the way up to his head and farther to his hands. In one fell swoop, the dragon had skinned the soldier alive, but thanks to the horn that the spirit had made him eat, he now had as many skins as a snake. The dragon held between his two claws the empty skin of the soldier. It blinked its surprise.
The soldier waved. “A point of order? We agreed that the winner could skin the loser, but you have taken my uniform as well. I hope you haven’t torn it?”
It had pulled the soldier’s skin off from the bottoms of his feet to the top of his head and now it was inside out with the soldier’s uniform inside the suit of skin. The dragon peered over the mess of flesh and cloth at the naked man before it who showed none of the modesty any of us might expect. In all fairness, it is worth pointing out that it is one thing to be naked and modest in the company of other people and another thing to be naked and modest in the company of a dragon. “Yeth. Erm. Be my guetht.” It dropped the skin down on top of the soldier who took his time retrieving his uniform and the skin from his left hand that turned everything he touched to metal. The only thing he left were his boots, since the dragon had severed the tops from the soles.
The soldier cinched his belt around his waist, slightly smaller than he used to have to do. “That’s one each. Best two out of three?”
The dragon didn’t feel it was in the best position to bargain. “Very well.” Its confidence was not what it had been. It is only fair that I admit here and now, lest there be any doubt, that it was the dragon who was the superior card player. With the first game, it thought to have a bit of a game with the soldier. With the second, it was sure it would kill the soldier, but with this third game it simply did not play well. In short order, the soldier had collected all of the cards and the dragon resigned itself to its fate.
“Skins again?” asked the soldier.
“At least the lumps on my lumps won’t ache me for much longer,” it said.
“Ready?” said the soldier brightly. He ran his fingertips against the skin he wore until they were as hardy a metal as his trusty hammer. Then he ran his fingers along the dragon’s feet and with his ring-endowed strength, gave a mighty pull and tore the skin right off of that dragon. “Oh my,” he said.
Before him stood a naked and very confused man, and there stood the soldier with a full, lumpy dragon skin.