January 31st: Fairy tales
The Weasel and the Dragon
, by C.S. Malerich

Once in this kingdom there lived a boy named Pask, the youngest son of a pinner, who was–as boys often are–fond of every creature that walks or crawls on the earth, except for his seven older brothers.  To be fair, they started it.

One morning, the brothers checked the snares around the chicken coop, only to find a weasel thrashing unhappily in one, one hind leg caught fast.  It was a handsome creature, with thick fur dark as ink, but its snapping mouth was full of teeth.  So the brothers kicked Pask in the shins, and told him to drown the weasel and save them the pelt, while they set off to do the work of their father, rounding up all the stray farm animals in the county.

As soon as Pask and the weasel were alone, the weasel grew still.  Her liquid eyes looked intelligently at the boy.  “Set me free,” she said.  “Please.  Be my liberator.”

It did not surprise Pask to hear the weasel speak, for he talked to animals so often it seemed only a matter of time before one talked back.  This did not, however, make his task any easier.  “No, no, I have to drown you,” said Pask, rubbing tears off his cheeks.

“Drown me?” chittered the weasel.  “I took you for a kind soul.”

“Father says soft hearts made soft heads,” said Pask.  “If I let you go, my brothers will tell Father, and–”

“Your father is the brutal sort, is he?”

“He says I’m unlucky, because I’m the eighth child, and seven is a charmed number,” said Pask, ashamed.  “He says if I hadn’t been born, our family would have had good fortune.  And he says I don’t remember a thing ‘less he writes it with the back of his hand.”

“Why remain here then?” asked the weasel.  “If someone showed me such cruelty, I wouldn’t hang about waiting for it.”

“I can’t leave,” said the boy.  “I have nowhere to go.”

“Nowhere to go?  In all the wide world?  Why, my boy, you must get out!  Seek your fortune.  Learn a trade.  That’s what I did.”

“Who’d want the eighth son of a pinner?”

“What if you were something else?” asked the weasel.

The boy snorted, flinging snot out of his sniffly nose.  “What else?”

The weasel politely pretended not to notice the boy’s fresh crying.  “I have a proposal,” she said, “seeing as how we are similarly in a bad state: set me free, and I’ll make you a rich man.”

But Pask was not listening.  He was starting to think about the time, for his older brothers had left not only this task, but all of the chores to him.  Besides, even if it wasn’t a shock to his senses to find a talking weasel, a talking weasel with riches was more than his poor brain could credit.

“Do you mean you have no interest in wealth?” the weasel asked.  “I could make you famous besides,” she offered.

Pask scowled.  He really only wanted the weasel to stop talking and let him get on with it.  “How could I trust you?  You killed our chickens.”

“Only to eat,” said the weasel with a shrug of her furry shoulders.  “You eat them, too, don’t you?”

Pask swallowed.  That was true, and he did not think it would help to mention that he always left the straggling and plucking to someone else.  “But,” he went on, attempting to explain how his father would see things, “they weren’t your chickens.”

“And neither are the riches I plan to give you,” said the weasel, “when you liberate me.  It’s the having, not the owning, that gives a thing its use, isn’t it?”

Pask frowned again.  He had to agree, for that was how a pinner made his living.  The stray animals that Pask’s father and brothers caught went into the pen behind their cottage.  Then the villagers paid to get their ox or their donkey or their goat back.  And if they couldn’t pay, Pask’s father or one of his brothers had the ox or the donkey or the goat, to do with as they liked.

“I’m sure your father would agree with me,” said the weasel, as if she had heard Pask’s thoughts.

Now Pask liked all creatures, that was true, but he didn’t like a rodent talking circles around him.  On the other hand, he was starting to believe that maybe the weasel was clever enough to do as she promised.  “How would you make me rich?” he asked, cautiously.

The weasel’s whiskers twitched as what could have been a grin slid across her narrow face.  “You know about the dragon, don’t you?”

“Everyone knows about the dragon,” said Pask.  The monster had been marauding their county for a fortnight.  It had even swallowed the king’s daughter whole, or so they said–no one in Pask’s village had actually seen the beast.  But the rumors nevertheless had been very good for business, because when a farmer found out his cow or his ram was only in the pinner’s custody and not in the belly of a dragon, he was only too happy to pay whatever price Pask’s father named.

“You know what dragons keep in their lairs, then?” said the weasel.  But in case Pask didn’t, “Piles of treasure,” she said.  “Heaps of gold coin.  Silver diadems and bronze goblets.  Piles of jewels.  Sapphires wider than your eyes.  Rubies as big as your fist.”  Pask’s eyes grew even wider, and the weasel asked, “Who gets his hoard when a dragon dies, do you think?”

“The dragon slayer,” whispered Pask, for the first time in his young life daring to imagine himself as anything but the eighth son of a pinner.

Then, he heard his oldest brother calling his name, and he shook the dreams from his head.  He had to prepare to open the pen; no doubt his brothers would be along in a moment, driving some docile, wandering beast before them, whose master would pay through the nose to get it back unharmed.

“Wait!” called the weasel.  Pask paid her no heed.

“Pask!  Pask!” came another voice.  His second oldest brother.  Pask put his hand on the gate now, ready to open it at the right moment.

“Help!  Help!  Dragon!” screamed a third voice.  Pask’s third oldest brother.  Now the boy turned to look for them, and saw not one, not two, not three, but all seven of his brothers racing down the lane from the village.  Before them ran a donkey, a pair of oxen, and six sheep, but the boys gave no heed to the animals.

Pask’s hands went to his head, his face froze in a shout, and his eyes goggled.  Above, bearing down on his brothers like a falcon on a field mouse, came the immense shape of the dragon itself.  It was possible to make out its features distinctly only for a moment before its wings covered the sun.  The power of their beating shapes, leathery and featherless like a bat’s, stirred up a gale and drowned out the screams and frightened bleats of the fleeing creatures below.

Before Pask could move an inch, the dragon swooped.  Its enormous taloned claws–four altogether–seized its prey.  Quick as you like, three of the brothers and one of the sheep disappeared down the dragon’s gullet.  Pask ran forward too late, shaking his fist at the bright sun.

“Back!” the weasel warned.  “It hasn’t finished!”

Sure enough, the shadow of the beast circled, and then the beast itself, swooping once more.  Pask dropped to his knees in terror, covering his head with his hands once more.  But the beast’s target was farther on.  It swept over Pask and swallowed the donkey, one ox, and three more of the brothers before climbing skyward again.

By now the horror-struck shouts had roused Pask’s father from his bed, where he’d been sleeping off a night of celebrating the good fortune that the dragon had brought to the pinning business.  He appeared in the doorway of the cottage just in time to see the latter three of his sons swallowed whole.

“Monster!  Fiend!” he screamed, and ran to his remaining son, the fourth in line, who had so far escaped swallowing.  But not for long.  The dragon doubled-back and in one mouthful took father and son both.  It followed a low-course, straight on track to collide with the cottage, and Pask had to somersault aside to avoid its open maw.  But this time the dragon hadn’t opened its mouth to feed.  With a thunderous belch that shook the timbers of the cottage, it flapped its wings and took off skyward again.  Its tail whipped in satisfaction, crashing through the front wall and taking off most of the roof as it went.

***

Pask sat in the dirt, sobbing pitifully.

“Don’t despair,” the weasel called to him, straining against the thong of the snare.  “I can still make you rich and famous.”

“My father…my brothers…our house!” the boy blubbered.

“This must seem like a setback,” consoled the weasel, over the bleating of the frightened sheep.  “But actually, this is a golden opportunity for you.  If you set me free now,” she added, just to be clear.

“All gone.  All gone,” sobbed the boy.  Nearby, the lone ox was lowing in confusion, without his partner for the first time since he was gelded.

“There is still a chance to save your father and brothers,” said the weasel, “if that’s really what you want to do.”

Now Pask looked up.  He sniffed back a sob.  “What?”

“If we act quickly.  As I was going to tell you, before we were so violently interrupted,” she went on, “it so happens I was on my way to the dragon’s lair to slay the beast when I stopped here for some fortification.”

“You?” he asked, his hopes dashed to pieces again.  “Slay the dragon?”

“Yes.”

That dragon?”

“Of course.  Don’t you know what I am?”

“A weasel,” said Pask.

“A weas–?  Sweet Mother of Mercy, that clod has done nothing for your education, has he?  I’m an ichneumon.”

“An ich-you-what?”

Ich-neu-mon.  True, taxonomically speaking, I belong to the polecat family with weasels and ferrets.  But I assure you, a passing similarity is all we share.”

“And a taste for chickens,” Pask said drily.

“Ah.  Well.  All mortal creatures must eat.  But my kind most truly prey on serpents.  Crocodiles.  Dragons.  Dangerous reptiles of all sorts, really.  But we are wasting time!  Set me free, and I will accomplish all I promised for you.”

“And my father and brothers?” Pask asked, straightening up, for the weasel’s certainty was catching.  “They’ll be…intact?”

“Quite so!  A dragon’s gastronomy is…sluggish.  All the same,” she added, “we ought to act quickly.  If I know dragons–and I do–after a full meal it will hunker down in its lair and go to sleep.  That is when we must strike.”

“We?  I thought you were going to slay the dragon.”

“So I am.  But you want to assist, do you not?”

“I…I suppose so.”

“Good,” said the weasel, her grin returning.  “Then get me out of this snare, and fetch some rope.”

“Rope?”

“Yes.  Strong rope.”

***

The cave smelled worse than the tanner’s shop, thick as it was with the dragon’s droppings.  It was dark, too, and even though the weasel–“ichneumon,” the animal insisted–told Pask she could see quite well in the darkness, Pask was sure every moment that he was about to stumble into the great wyrm’s maw.

“Watch your step,” said the weasel, her lean body draped over Pask’s shoulder.  He felt her whiskers twitching unhappily against his neck, and then his toe knocked against something hard and heavy.  Pask bit back a cry of pain.

“I told you,” said the weasel.

His eyes, though, were adjusting to the light.  Soon he could make out mounds of piled coins and jewels before him, and the chest that had dented his foot.  Beyond all that, though, loomed a dark shape, big enough to nearly touch the cavern’s ceiling as it rose and fell, rose and fell.

“The dragon,” Pask gasped.

“Napping, just as I said,” said the weasel.

Pask could hear the low whoosh of its breathing now, in-and-out, like the ceaseless tide.  As he listened, the sound seemed to grow louder, and fill up the cavern.  So loud it seemed, in fact, that Pask could feel a rumbling in his breast and the soles of his feet.  All at once, the heart drained out of him, like an unstoppered barrel, and he knew he couldn’t go a step further.

“What are you waiting for, my boy?  Go on,” said the weasel.  The boy could feel her hind claws digging through his jacket, looking for purchase, but she shared none of his terror.  Instead, she lifted her head with an eager sniffing, and her tongue flicked across her lips, like his father in anticipation of a hearty meal.

“I–I can’t,” whispered Pask.

“Pshaw,” chittered the weasel.  “Do you mean you’ll let anyone come along and swallow your family and destroy your home?  I grant you, they weren’t much a family, and the home wasn’t anything to brag about, but when one has quite little, all the more reason to defend it, don’t you agree?”

“I can’t do it,” said Pask.  “I’m too frightened.  I’m not a dragon slayer.”

“That much is plain,” said the weasel.  But then she said, more kindly, “Your part in the actual slaying is quite small.  I’ve done this before, you know, and I’ve always worked alone.  In fact, I’d manage the whole thing myself from here, if that trap had mangled my foot.”

Pask took a deep breath.  “What do I have to do?”

“Just get close to the snout.”

“The snout?”  Pask nearly fainted.

“Quietly,” said the weasel, without noticing.

The boy took another deep breath.  And another.  After the fifth, he finally moved.  Beneath his foot fall, there was a jingle.  Coins that had slipped off the treasure mounds around them.  Pask froze once more.

“Go on,” the weasel whispered in his ear.  “Nice and easy.”

Five seconds later, Pask dared to move again.  The treasure below him jingled again, but he forced himself to take another step.  Another and another.  He came around a mound of treasure so high, it was more a hillock of treasure.  And then the great bulk of the dragon came into full view, too large to look at all at once.  The stench of dung and rotting meat was so strong now Pask nearly wretched, but he choked it back, feeling the weasel’s eager claws digging into him.  He shifted the coil of rope higher on his other shoulder, and peered into the dim light, following the curve of the dragon’s ridged back, searching for which end was the head.  There!

Trembling, he walked forward, feeling now the rush of air as it blew forth through the dragon’s nostrils, and then swept back in, ruffling Pask’s hair as it went.  Each nostril was big as Pask’s fist, and the fangs showing in the closed mouth below were long as his hand.  But the monster’s eyes remained shut.

“Here,” he mouthed to the weasel, not daring even to whisper.  He jerked his shoulder, to signal her to get on with it.

“Perfect,” murmured the weasel, her whiskers in his ear.  “Now loop the rope around the snout and tie it shut.”

“What?” Pask hissed, nearly dropping the rope.  Treasure rattled on the floor, disturbed in his sudden movement.

“Careful!” scolded the weasel, digging her claws into his soft collar to hold on.  When he was still again, they both looked at the dragon.  For a moment, the great mouth opened wide, and weasel and boy held their breath.

A moment later, the dragon’s mouth closed, its yawn complete, leaving only the stench of the monster’s breath to trouble them.

“Now tie the rope, would you?” said the weasel.  “I’d do this part myself, but your hands will be faster with me lame.”

Cursing himself for a fool, quite sure he was about to join his father and brothers in death, Pask did as the weasel asked.  Tears ran liberally down his cheeks, but he was quite beyond terror now.  He wondered idly if the weasel really believed herself capable of slaying dragons, or if this was her revenge for the snares around the chicken coop.  Next to the utmost certainty that he was going to die, though, he felt no room for anger.

He stepped close enough to the dragon’s snout to pass the rope over, then under, the scaly chin.  The monster’s head was resting propped on two treasure chests, and Pask could reach below and between for the rope’s end, placing himself within inches of the dragon’s mouth.  All the while, the weasel chattered instructions, tickling his earlobe.  “Yes, another pass…that’s right…good and tight, tight…yes…tie it off securely now!  That’s my boy!”

When he had done all to the weasel’s satisfaction, she slipped like ink down from Pask’s shoulder, hopping onto the dragon’s snout.  Over her shoulder, she winked at him.  “Now step back.”

There was nothing more that Pask would like to do.  And yet, now that his part was done, he found his feet heavy and reluctant.  Surprised to have survived so long in the dragon’s lair, he was helpless with curiosity: how was such a little creature like the weasel going to slay the dragon?  Even bound as it was, its hide was thick and its talons sharp, and surely it would wake the moment any real violence came to it.

Pask took two steps and looked back, another two and looked again.  The weasel moved slowly and soundlessly right to the end of the dragon’s nose, then right into the dragon’s nostril!  Pask gasped and stopped.  The dragon snorted in its sleep, and the boy darted back, startled.  His feet slipped on dragon dung and gems, and he crashed on his side.

Rolling over, sure he would find the dragon right behind him, Pask saw the monster had not indeed woken.  A heavy meal must have the same effect on dragons it did on Pask’s father, for the beast was still slumbering soundly.  Only the weasel’s hind legs and tail were visible now, protruding from one nostril.  While Pask watched, the weasel’s head emerged from the other, her long thin body forming an odd ornament to the dragon’s face, quite like the metal ring sometimes forced through a bullock’s nose.  From the cavern floor, the boy gaped, astonished.

Next the weasel opened her mouth and inhaled.  What Pask could see of her pliable body grew thicker.  The weasel inhaled again.  She was, Pask realized, using her own body to choke off the dragon’s air.  He turned his gaze to the dragon’s flank, rising and falling with the beast’s breaths.  Moment by moment, the breathing grew shallower.

All at once, the monster snorted again and threw its head back.  The scaly lids parted and the eyes were open.

Pask scrambled up and ran, slipping on the unsteady footing beneath.  Panting, he slid behind the hillock of treasure and stopped.  Behind, he could hear the monster’s thrashing, and he dared to peer around the treasure.  At the sight that met him, his knees gave out and he found himself genuflecting below a cascade of coins and gems that tumbled down with the vibrations of the dragon’s bucking and rearing.  Pask’s hands flew up to protect his head.

The monster was furious, desperate, flapping its powerful wings and straining its fore-claws to free its muffled snout.  The weasel, hardly visible, was a streak of dark ribbon hanging out either side of the dragon’s nose, flapping and flopping spinelessly with every motion of the monster.

As Pask watched, filthy with dragon dung and sweat and tears, bruised with falling treasure, bereft of home and father and brothers–still he pitied the dragon.  The creature’s fore-claws were too short to reach its snout as it reared, and the dragon was either too dumb or too panicked to understand that its mouth was bound with only a rope that could be cut if it lowered its head to a talon.  Pask was reminded of many a beast he’d seen trapped–cornered, as often as not, by his father or brothers–and too frightened to see its own way out.

The dragon’s thrashing was growing weaker, more like the last futile flops of a fish on a line while it drowned in open air, than the determined struggles of a creature working its way free.  At last it dropped to its haunches, and then its side.  And then all movement ceased.  The cavern was quiet.

A long moment passed before Pask dared to venture closer.  He had to run the length of the dragon before its snout was in sight again, and by the time he did, the weasel was pouring from the nostrils, like a ribbon of snot from a colicky baby’s nose.  The boy was amazed–he was all but sure she was dead, every bone in her body broken in the dragon’s death throes.

The weasel shook herself, and licked her lips.  “There,” she said, looking up at Pask.  “That will teach you to doubt a polecat’s word.”  Without another word, she loped to the dragon’s exposed belly and set to chewing through the dragon’s hide as if it were the tender flesh of a boiled chicken.

Pask felt light-headed.  “What are you doing?” he asked the weas–the ichneumon, he remembered.

“Have you–” she replied, between bites– “forgotten your family?”

Pask blanched.  He had, in fact, forgotten why he came to the dragon’s lair; only he knew that he had come and that the magnificent creature was slain.  Now he took three steps closer to see that the ichneumon had already chewed a wide hole through the monster’s hide.  She sat back on her haunches and lifted her face to him, her lips slick with the dragon’s blood.

“This is the tenth dragon I have killed,” said the little dragon slayer, “and by far the tastiest.”

Now Pask really had to turn aside and wretch, because the dragon’s corpse was emitting an odor ten thousand times worse than the dung littering the cavern.

“Never fear,” said the ichneumon, “you’ll get accustomed to it. And I promise–the dragon’s treasure is yours, whether we find your family alive or not.  Oh!  Look here!”

Pask turned back, wiping clean his mouth with the back of his hand, to see a shape had begun to emerge from the dragon’s gut.  The ichneumon hopped backwards, out of the way.

“Help her, would you?” said the ichneumon.  “For a kind child, you have very poor manners.”

Her?  Dumbfounded, Pask reached down and took the hand that was pushing through the gash, which clasped his in turn with desperation.  Pask pulled, and soon an arm followed.  A shoulder, a head.  A girl was pushing out through the hole the ichneumon had chewed, gasping for breath as she emerged on the cavern floor with the filthy treasure.

Pask, alarmed and amazed, crouched beside her, pulling the rest of her out of the dragon’s belly.  Her raiment was in tatters, covered, as was the rest of her from her one bare foot to her tangled hair, in foul blood and bile.  She stood, coughing and gasping, and shuddered.  But a moment later she turned back around and reached back inside the corpse.

“Help me, pray!” she panted.  “There are others inside!”

“Er, yes,” said poor dazed Pask, crouching beside her and helping to fold back the ragged edges of dragon hide.  A moment later, he watched the girl pull a squirming lamb from the dragon’s gut.  She passed the trembling creature into his arms so she might reach further inside.  “But who are you?” Pasked asked.

“The king’s daughter, I presume,” said the ichneumon, bounding to Pask’s shoulder again.  Her whiskers tickled his ear.  “The one who was swallowed.”

“Yea.  Verily,” said the girl, over the braying of a donkey she was now midwifing into the cavern from the dragon’s corpse.  “You have my gratitude for rescuing me,” she added.

“You’re still alive!” said Pask.  “You are all still alive!”  He marveled as two bleating goats emerged next, joining the donkey and the lamb and the one-shoed girl.

“I told you,” said the ichneumon.  “Dragon digestion is sluggish.”

“Yet,” said the princess, as she coaxed a full-grown war horse out of the dragon’s belly, “I am glad you did not tarry longer.  It was getting crowded in there.”

“My brothers–did you see them?” Pask asked, standing on tiptoe to see her over the charger’s saddle.  “There would be seven, altogether.  And my father.”

The princess squinted.  “Yea.  There were five or six youths at least, arrived this morning.  A rough lot.”

Then Pask felt his stomach flutter, and he looked at the ichneumon, then to the gap in the dragon’s belly, willing a familiar shape to appear.  And one did: an ox, the match of the one they had left lowing mournfully outside the ruined cottage.

“Don’t thank me, Your Highness,” said the ichneumon.  “Thank this lad.  Without him, the dragon would still be ravaging the kingdom and you would still be trapped.”

A sheep emerged next, bleating in consternation to be separated from her flock.

“In sooth, you must be very brave,” the princess told Pask, “to enter a dragon’s lair.  You should be rewarded.”

And then, at last, one after another, Pask’s seven brothers emerged.

“Lord, it smells awful, don’t it?”

“Where’s a light?  I can’t see a thing!”

“It’s Pask!  Pask!  The little lackwit himself!”

“What you doing here, milksop?”

“Can’t you tell?  He’s rescued us!”

The brothers laughed a good laugh at that.

“Well, took your sweet time, didn’t you, rumpwart?”

“Nah, he pro’ly only chased a butterfly in here.”

“Poor daisypants, he wasn’t expecting a dead dragon, was he?”

“He did rescue you!” said the princess, astounded.

Two of Pask’s brothers seized him and proceeded to grind their fists into the crown of his skull.  The ichneumon loped out of their reach and onto the donkey’s back.

“Unhand him!” demanded the princess.  “He deserves reward for his bravery.”

“Out of the way!  Let me see him!” at last came the rough voice of Pask’s father, as he muscled through his sons.  Like the others, he was stinking and covered in filth, and his looks were none the better for passing down a dragon’s gullet.

Pask gulped as his brothers released him and he met his father’s disapproving eye; he prepared himself that, when his father’s mouth opened, it was to find fault.  Instead, his father turned toward the princess.

“What kind of reward do you mean?”

The princess gave a small, graceful shrug of her shoulders.  Then she swept her hand about the cavern, indicating the piles of treasure.  “This hoard, perhaps.”

“How do you like that?” lamented Pask’s oldest brother.  “We get swallowed by a dragon and he gets the wealth of the kingdom.”  To demonstrate just how unfair this arrangement was, he cuffed Pask on the back of the head.

“Now, now,” their father scolded, putting an arm around Pask for the first time the boy could remember, “perhaps I was wrong about you, lad.  Perhaps you are not bad luck after all.”  He stroked his beard and turned toward the princess.  “I suppose, seeing as I’m the boy’s father, what’s his is mine.”

“I’ll gladly share it with you,” said Pask, as his fourth oldest brother twisted his arm behind his back.

“Suppose nothing of the kind,” said the princess, with obvious distaste.  “He who slew the dragon shall have the reward.”

“Oh, no really,” said Pask, backing away before any of his brothers could get a grip on his nipples.  “I don’t mind sharing.”

***

At the nearest crossroads, the seven brothers and their father commandeered the wagon of a passing merchant.  Even so, they made six trips and still had not emptied the cavern of treasure by night fall.  Pask told his father the sorry news that their cottage was destroyed, but his father hardly took any heed.  Perhaps he was confident in the power of the treasure to rebuild all.  He even agreed that Pask could keep whatever animals had emerged from the dragon’s belly, including the princess, who stamped her foot.

“Offer to escort her home,” the ichneumon whispered in Pask’s ear.

“Huh?  Oh!”  Then, he said loudly, in the princess’ general direction, “I have nowhere else to be.  I could take you back to your castle.”

“I can ride on my own,” said the princess, still grinding her teeth over Pask’s father, “but you may follow if you wish.”  As they passed through the cavern’s entrance with the goats and the donkey and the lamb and the sheep and the poor lonely ox and the saddled charger, the princess turned to Pask.  “You will truly suffer them to keep all that wealth for themselves?  If you wish it, my father will send knights and–”

Pask stroked the ichneumon on his shoulder.  “No, thank you, Your Highness,” he said.  “If that’s the price to be rid of them, I think I’m happy enough to pay it.  Besides, I cannot travel weighed down by so much treasure.”

“Travel?  Whither are you bound?”

“I don’t know yet,” Pask admitted.

“A dragon-slaying team would be well-received at my father’s court.”

Pask looked at the ichneumon.  “A team?”

She looked back, with her intelligent eyes.  “I have never had a traveling companion,” she said, “but perhaps it is time to try it.”

Pask nodded, for the first time in his life sure that, though his heart might be soft, his head was not.  “Besides, Your Highness,” he added, to the princess, “I doubt my family will get much use out of the treasure.”

“How so?”

“You may not notice it anymore, Your Highness, because of your, er, circumstances.  But everything in that dragon’s lair reeked of dung.  What merchant would accept it?”

On his shoulder, the ichneumon chittered, this time in laughter.  “Now that,” she said, “is a clever lad.

*

C.S. Malerich grew up in New Jersey and relocated to the Washington, DC area to get a Master’s degree in Greek and Latin.  Since then, she has worked in nonprofit offices and libraries, while in her off hours she supports local grassroots organizing through the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association.  Some of her speculative fiction has been published previously by Aphelion: The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Sorcerous Signals, The Again, and Ashland Creek Press.  Her personal experience with weasels or dragons is lacking, but there are two rabbits and one other human in her apartment who seem to like her.


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