“Girls, leave me alone. My head hurts.”
Cautiously opening one eye, he saw that the thing he was lying on was the hard ground and it had bounced because the dragon had fallen out of the sky to land less than a score feet away from him. He slowly rose to his feet, his tail dragging the ground as he staggered toward the little god.
“Hail mighty Yesse… nnar!” he said, stopping midway through the dragon’s name to hiccup.
The dragon waved him off, having eyes only for the young soft skin. He spoke to her in the hoonan language.
“Sszaxxanna, blast it! Where in name of Setemenothiss are you?”
“Here,” she called, sliding up next to him.
“What is he saying?”
The dragon had continued to talk to the sleeping priestess.
“He says ‘wake up’ and ‘time to go to hoonan city-state’.”
“You can’t leave yet,” said Hsrandtuss. “We will have an even bigger feast for you tonight.”
The dragon’s tone changed to an urgent, beseeching sound.
“He says ‘get up, please’ and he calls her ‘favorite domestic animal’,” Sszaxxanna translated.
Hsrandtuss paused for a moment in thought. Well, not what he expected, but it made a certain amount of sense, considering the place on the food chain of dragons and soft skins. He stepped up beside the dragon’s massive head.
“Is there something wrong?”
The dragon’s face hovered above prone hoonan, its long forked tale running over her from head to feet.
“Yes, there is something wrong!” boomed the dragon, waking the last of the sleeping lizzies. “I can smell something foul.”
His tongue flicked around her head again.
“There’s a sickening smell around her ear. I think she’s been stung or bitten by something.” His great head swung toward Hsrandtuss. “Is there some kind of creature that attacks the ears of mammals?”
The king thought hard. There were plenty of mammals around—small ones like opossums and weasels, but he didn’t know much about them, especially not what kind of parasites fed on them.
“It was Hkhanu!” shouted Sszaxxanna. “He came in the night and poured poison in the youngling’s ear. I wasn’t sure that I truly saw it, because I was half asleep, but now I remember.”
“What?” wondered the king.
“Ssu! Come here!” Sszaxxanna called another female over to her, a small one, only recently caught and civilized. “You saw the witch doctor too, didn’t you? You saw him pour poison into the poor soft skin’s ear.”
The young female nodded emphatically.
“I can’t believe it,” said Hsrandtuss.
Sszaxxanna grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a shake.
“The guilty must be punished,” she said.
“Yes. Yes. The guilty must be punished.” He raised his voice and shouted. “Warriors, to me! Warriors, attend your king!”
Within seconds a group more than twenty large males surrounded him.
“To the temple! Bring everyone inside down to the fire pit! Justice must be seen to! Do it now!”
The warriors, bolstered by even more of their ranks who had arrived as the king was talking, moved up the path to the top of the hill, and into the great and ancient stone temple.
“What can we do?” wailed the dragon. “Is there a medicine for her?”
“We will force the perpetrator to tell us,” said Sszaxxanna.
“Yes, of course,” said the king. “In the meantime Sszaxxanna, get the healing women to have a look at the human and see if there is anything they can do.”
With a nod, the female left, pulling young Ssu along with her. She returned several minutes later with two old females who began to prod and probe the soft skin’s ear. The dragon sat back, wringing his hands like an egg keeper in cold weather. The women were still examining their patient, when the warriors returned dragging along Hkhanu’s six acolytes and four females. Hkhanu himself was with them too, but apparently none of the warriors was brave enough to actually lay hands upon the old witch doctor.
“You are in trouble now, Hkhanu,” said Hsrandtuss. “You must answer for your crimes.”
“How dare you send your warriors into the temple!” The old lizzie was so angry he was literally spitting. “How dare you treat me like a common zsrant!”
“What did you do to her?” roared the dragon, and with a single bound, he landed amid the warriors and priests and snatched up Hkhanu in his scaly hand. “What did you poison her with?”
For a second, old Hkhanu looked frightened, then he looked confused, but then he puffed himself up. “You are a false god,” he said.
Something shot through the witch doctor’s chest so quickly that it was as if he had been struck by lightning. It was the barb on the dragon’s whip-like tail. Lifting up his tail, the body still impaled upon it, the great steel beast slashed twice with the claws of his left hand, and Hkhanu fell to the ground in a dozen pieces.
“Line them up!” called Hsrandtuss, taking a spear from a nearby warrior. “Line up these so-called wise elders.”
The prisoners from the temple were put in a line and pushed down onto their knees.
“What did Hkhanu do to the soft skin priestess?” he asked the first acolyte.
“I don’t know anything about…” The answer was cut short as the king drove his spear down into the captive’s chest.
He received a similar answer from the second in line, and gave him just as quick a death as the first. The third in line, clearly seeing where this was going, started talking before the king had even come close to him.
“He did it! Hkhanu poisoned the hoonan. He used a secret poison. No one knows the cure.”
Hsrandtuss turned toward the dragon. “Great Yessennar, I place my people completely at your command. We will do anything to help your little one. But I do not know what that could be.”
“Take her to the human city-state,” said Sszaxxanna. “The soft skins have powerful magic. Maybe they can help her.”
“Yes, I’ll do that,” said the dragon, taking the girl’s limp body gingerly in his hands. “My thanks, Mighty King.”
Hsrandtuss watched as the dragon shot into the sky faster than anything he could imagine. Then with one wave of his wings, he zoomed northward. Hsrandtuss truly hoped the young soft skin would recover. He didn’t know if Hkhanu had anything to do with her mysterious illness or not. It all worked out well though. He would have no trouble with the temple. He would in fact, rededicate it to Yessennar and choose a new priest, one that would cause him no trouble. He glanced sidelong at Sszaxxanna. She was a wily one. She smiled back at him. Yes, he might well have found a new matriarch.
“Come, get the other females,” he said to her. “I need oil rubbed on my back.”
“Yes, Mighty King.”
Mighty King. Hsrandtuss definitely liked the sound of that.