As is my happy habit before the actual publication of a new book, I am more than happy to present to you the first chapter of a new book.
Hilda’s 18th story.
It’s about pirates, but not just them. We also have a dragon, Baba Yaga, King Walt and his dear wife, and a number of new people.
But now, without further dillying and dallying, here is chapter 1!
1. A not so lazy day
“Watch out for that tail!” Hilda yelled as quickly as she could but the men her words were meant for didn’t listen fast enough. The dragon’s tail knocked a dozen of them over and some of them would need help getting up again. The witch hoped they would stay down so they didn’t risk more injury. A very rare dragon from the species ‘Dagurashibanipal’ had erred itself to the Sunrise area, which was the name of the village Hilda and William lived near. Usually that kind of dragon lived far away. Very far away, and that was good because the Dagurashibanipal were fire spitters. William charged at the dragon from above, throwing magical bolts at it to distract the animal. With the dragon’s attention on the wizard, some of the men from the village managed to drag their injured fellow citizens out of the danger zone.
The Dagurashibanipal raised its muzzle towards the wizard and opened it to release another plume of stinking smoke. Hilda was very glad that this was a very old model of the species. The older they were the larger they were and that had a positive effect on their environment. Dagurashibanipals needed a lot of body heat to generate their fire but when they reached a certain size they needed most of their inner fire to stay warm, so all they coughed up was smoke. It stank horribly but it was quite harmless apart from that. The problem with these older dragons was that they were very curious and had no problem investigating everything. Their size made them practically invulnerable and also very good destruction machines, as they didn’t have to care where they touched down. This one had turned six houses in Sunrise to heaps of debris.
“William!” Hilda pointed at the dragon’s hind legs. “Fire that up!” The soles of the hind feet of a Dagurashibanipal were the only sensitive parts of these dragons, and ironically these were particularly sensitive to heat. That was a bit of evidence that nature had a sense of humour. The wizard didn’t need any more encouragement. As the dragon sluggishly turned around to fly back to the village, William dove beneath it and prepared a fire spell the likes of which he’d never prepared before. He also was ready to fly away from the dragon very fast because he suspected a rather immediate change in behaviour and demeanour of the animal.
The Dagurashibanipal proved to be very predictable. The fire beneath its hind claws made it angry and the creature roared with pain. The village was no longer important. It wanted to lash out at the nearest thing. In this case it was the largest oak tree in the area. This of course meant that it was no longer the largest oak, nor recognisable as a tree. This frenzy however gave the witch and the wizard just enough time to manifest a lot of honey over the dragon’s snout. It was something they had agreed on to do, Hilda supplying the knowledge and William just supplying magic to make the honey appear. He was still puzzled as to why she’d chosen honey but Hilda had told him to watch and learn. “We’ll need a lot of honey,” she said, “so make sure there is plenty. Cover the whole head if you can.”
He’d magicked up insane amounts of honey as the dragon was of an identically insane size, using dead wood, a few small trees and raw magic as its source. After applying what had to be a train wagon load of honey to the dragon he saw why. The dragon’s warm surface turned the honey into a droopy, sticky mass that seeped into all its crevices, effectively shutting the animal down. Its eyes closed, it shut its nostrils and its mouth. Disengaged like that, the animal forgot to spread its wings. The impact of the dragon’s descent was felt in Sunrise itself. “Too bad about that big tree,” William commented from a safe altitude.
Hilda joined him. “Nice work, honey,” she grinned.
Together they took in the damage. It was extensive but things could have been far worse. “What about the dragon?” William had no idea.
“We can do several things,” said Hilda. “Leaving it here like that is an option. It will live for about another thousand years without harming anyone but that’s not the proper life for a Dagurashibanipal, is it? We can kill it but I’m very strongly against that. Or we can move it to somewhere else, take the honey off it and let it go.” They didn’t need to discuss this. The dragon would be moved and released.
There was of course the little matter of where to move the enormous dragon to. Not every kingdom would welcome such a beast. “We could take it to the mountains where we met,” William suggested. “That’s a desolate enough place for such a beast.”
Hilda thought about that suggestion. “A bit dry though. This species needs water to cool down its internal fire. Maybe we can find a spot along the sea that would be remote enough.”
“Sounds like a good plan. We can first go up and have a look around. That shouldn’t take too long. We can ask Charisma to look after the cats.”
“Wizard, my sister doesn’t like to have our cats because they eat her mice, remember?”
“Oh. Right. There’s that. Maybe we can ask someone in Sunrise.” As he said that, William tried to think of a victim but came up with no one suitable.
“Or we drop them off with Walt and Velma…” Hilda grinned and loved the twin grin on William’s face.
“Cats?” King Walt knew the animals well but the question surprised him.
“Not just any cats, your Kingship. Our cats. We don’t want to leave them with just anyone, you see, and we have this big dragon to take away. We could of course deal with our cats and leave the dragon in your capable hands.”
Queen Velma made a very unqueenlike sound, as if she was a child being offered the surprise of a lifetime. “Walt, two kitties! Let’s say yes! I love kitties!” This sealed the deal because King Walt wasn’t the kind to deny her such a simple pleasure.
“Of course we will look after your cats,” the royal man said.
“Oh, they’ll look after themselves,” Hilda assured him. “Just don’t bother them too much and they’ll find their way. They’re special cats.”
“You must love your kitties so much,” said Queen Velma, “all the cat lovers call their cats special.”
“These are special,” William emphasised. “They’re ours.”
“Isn’t that just adorable?” Velma nudged her husband, causing a small tidal wave of wine to jump from his goblet. “Oh, Walt. What have you done? There’s wine all over you.” She then turned back to the wizard and the witch. “We really appreciate that you trust us with them.” Hilda’s motive was that the cats would have enough space to run around here without creating too much havoc but she went with the queen’s interpretation. That was easiest.
“Wonderful. We’ll only be away for a few days to move the dragon, and then we’ll pick them up again.”
Queen Velma looked at the windows nervously. Somewhere buried in her memories there was something with another dragon but she didn’t see anything. “Yes, of course. That will be fine.”
Hilda then took Grim from her shoulder and told her that she was going to spend a few days here. “Don’t do what you wouldn’t do at home, understood?” That basically gave the cat all the liberties, but it would leave a good impression with the royal listeners. Grim meowed, jumped to the ground and walked to Queen Velma’s feet where she curled up and fell asleep. Obsi had heard Hilda’s words and followed his sister’s example near the king’s feet. Just not that close to them as King Walt was rather jumpy.
“Are you sure the cats will be safe here?” William asked it as a safety as they were walking down the long corridor to where they had parked their brooms.
“Absolutely. I’m not vouching for the people in here but that’s their problem.” Hilda grinned at the idea of returning to a small mess in this castle. Once airborne they set course for the dragon to make sure it was still where they’d left it. The leviathan was still in honey as Hilda called it, and that was a good thing. The theory worked.
“What theory? I had thought it was proven fact.”
“Of course. Now it is. We don’t have many Dagurashibanipals around so no one here ever actually used the honey-trick, but we did it and it worked.”
“But wait. What if it hadn’t worked?” William feared the answer.
“Then we could have told everyone that the theory’s wrong. Now let’s see how we transport this honey-snout.”
William’s heart needed a few moments to calm down. Then he joined Hilda in checking the size and weight of the dragon. Both were more than considerable. “We’ll need more than an extra broom to get that out of the way, that’s clear.”
“Yes. You’d almost think so,” was the surprising answer. “We’ll simply make it fly with us though.”
“Will you ever stop surprising me?” William asked. “We disabled the beast and now you want to make it fly with us?”
“Of course. That will save us a lot of trouble. See, what we’ll do is make use of what it already can do, only that we do it for it.” Hilda could tell that her words didn’t reach William the right way. “Okay. The Dagurashibanipal has wings so it can fly. It’s also out for a while so it won’t fly. What then is easier than us making its wings move so it flies?”
“Holy Bejeebus, witch. Your logic throws me every time.” William had to sit down on his hovering broom to let all of that sink in. He was thinking of a squadron of Chinook helicopters to get this animal out of the way. She made it all sound a lot simpler. Especially since this world had no helicopters.
Hilda first pointed out the direction in which they would initially move the enormous dragon. “We should avoid high mountain peaks because keeping this thing airborne will be quite a lot of work already. We need a path as straight and smooth as possible, and whatever happens: don’t drop it on a village.” That particular statement made sense. A dragon of this size would mean the end of at least two dozen people, provided they stood far apart. Then the witch explained how they would make the dragon’s wings flap. “You take the left one, I take the right one. Stay far away from the animal because that wingspan makes a lot of airwaves and those can blow you out of the sky. I’ve seen it happen with a stunned Nobbleback and it’s not pretty.” Hilda looked serious to emphasise her words.
“Maybe we should practise the flapping a bit before we take it up,” William suggested. “I’m not a licensed flapper yet.”
“Good idea.” Hilda then explained how he should make the wing move. “And we should do that at the same time otherwise the dragon will flop about. Hmm, we should be on our brooms when we do that. Ending as a smudge beneath a flopping Dagurashibanipal isn’t my idea of a fun death.” The two mounted their brooms and rose up high. Hilda looked around to make sure no ordinaries were near because those would suffer the consequences of any potential flopping. There were none. First they used a few spells to get a good grip on the massive wings.
“Holy Bejeebus, these are big,” William said as he had the left wing under control.
“Your sharp perception almost makes me fall from my broom, wizard,” Hilda grinned. “Now let’s see if we can make them move at the same time.” Moving the wings at the same time proved easy enough. The problem was making them move in the same way.
“Stop, stop, this isn’t going to do it,” said William. His wing would move in a wider stroke and as soon as Hilda adjusted her wing he was already adjusting to her smaller stroke. The dragon would get quite nauseous from that, despite its withdrawn state. “How far are you going to make this wing flap?” It took them a few more tries to agree on a degree of flappiness and after that the dragon actually lifted off.
“Keep it going, William,” Hilda said as she saw her plan actually work. “We got it now so we should keep it going.” She feared that getting the animal into the air one more time would get them back to square one of flopping and misflapping.