Chasing Scales: Book One of the Dragon Hollow Series: Chapter One (1)
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                                                 CHASING SCALES


                                                    JAY BONANSINGA




                                   (C) 2021 by BonaVision Publishing, Inc

                                                810 Greenwood Street

                                                 Evanston, IL 60201

                                      First Edition / All Rights Reserved




DRAGON n. – smogger, ash-monkey, snort-hound, gas-bag, fire-donkey, slime, swamp-breather, coal-dog, puke-donkey, sparker, air-snake, lighter, sky-dung, snig, flying smeg, burnt toast, stinker, sky-rubbish, mudbird, flint-licker, screecher, cloud-trash, flame-spewer, goop, slag, leather torch, fire-hog, scorcher, green menace, cloud-scum, sky-dirt, blaze-beast, green beastie.



                                                            PART I

                                               AND SO IT BEGINS



                                   “O, what a tangled web we weave,

                                   When first we practice to deceive.”

                                                               - Sir Walter Scott, “Marmion”




                                                      CHAPTER ONE

                                            RIPE FOR THE PICKING


“There’s a beastie comin’!”  The peddler burst through the tavern door with eyes wide and watery.  Dressed in the standard clothing of the poor counties – a woolen tunic coated with mud and cockleburs -- he was wiry and bald.  He had a wreath of gray hair around his skull.  “I swear on the soul of me mum, it’s comin’ this way!”

         “Easy there, mate,” said the burly innkeeper, coming around the oak bar-counter.  Other customers glanced up from their apple-beers to see what was what.  The place was filled with regulars, wood-smoke from a roaring fireplace, and the smell of rotting fruit. 

Waving the peddler over to the bar, the innkeeper said, “Come on over.  Take a breath, why don’t ya?”

         The peddler stumbled across the smoky tavern and paused by the bar to catch his breath.  He spoke under his breath.  “I seen it with me own eyes, I swear to Pantagoria.”

     “Seen what?”

     “An ash-monkey!  Way off over the Amblegold!  Comin’ straight for us!”

       The big innkeeper rubbed his whiskers.  “A dragon?  Over by the river?”  He frowned.  “Ain’t seen a dragon in these parts in a yonk’s age.”  He frowned again.  “You sure about this?”

         “Sure as I’m standing here!”

         The innkeeper leaned against the edge of the bar, tossing his towel over his shoulder.  He gave the peddler a skeptical grin.  “You ain’t been dipping into them kegs of mead ya sell off the back o’ yer wagon, have ya? 

         The peddler grabbed the innkeeper by the collar of his apron.  “Hear me well, brother!  Hear me!”  He raised his voice now.  “That coal-dog is comin’ whether ya like it or not!  Now we gotta take cover and get the wee ones inside and get out the shrouds!”

         By this point, every customer in the tavern had stopped talking.  Some of them held their flagons in midair – frozen between sips -- gazing over at the bar to see what the commotion was all about.  They were accustomed to fellow county-folk consuming a little too much barley wine and getting barmy.  But this was different somehow.

         In the stony silence, the big innkeeper said, “Take yer mitts off me apron, if you please.”

         The fireplace popped and crackled.  The peddler, still breathing hard, released his grip on the apron.  “Go on and look for yourself,” he said in a softer voice.  “Go on….”

         The innkeeper threw down the towel.  “I just might do that.”

         Then the big man marched angrily across the floorboards and out the door. 

Chairs squeaked around the room, as each and every customer sprang to their feet to follow.  At least twenty-five people filed out of that tavern and into the gray afternoon to see if the peddler was crazy or not.


                                                            * * *

The day was blustery and raw.  The road in front of the tavern was dry and rutted and cracked.  It was early spring in the Kingdom of Nox, and the poor counties were still suffering through a drought.  Their production of apples was down from last year.  The wizards were not happy about that.  The last thing these people needed was a dragon searing their crops and scorching their rooftops.

         “I don’t see a bloomin’ thing,” the innkeeper grumbled, gazing off at the horizon to the east.  He had his big, beefy hands on his hips.  The sky over the distant Amblegold River churned with dark clouds.

         “Yer not lookin’ hard enough!” the peddler croaked, pointing off to the east.

         One of the other customers also pointed a finger at the treetops a half a kilometer away.  His words came out in a low whisper.  “Wait just one bloody minute…” 

         “Blimey!  Thar she burns!” cried another one of the patrons, an older man with a blacksmith apron stretched tautly over his barrel-shaped belly. 

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