Economies of Scale

  • by Gitabushi

When I’m a famous writer, I won’t have to explain myself to you, bub. I won’t have to answer to anyone!

I am not a famous writer. As such, I think I need to give a brief introduction to this story.

This is intended to be a fairy tale. I don’t know the rules of writing fairy tales. I just thought of the story, mulled on it for a day, and wrote it. It might not follow all the conventions of a fairy tale.

Nonetheless, it is supposed to be more light-hearted. I hope there are moments that get an actual chuckle out of you, but I’ll take just an internal “heh” if that’s all I can get. The focus is supposed to be on the story, rather than the details.  Consider it Soft SF, perhaps.

If it doesn’t work for you, I’m sorry, but that’s also okay.  The feedback I’ve gotten on this story from friends has reminded me that there are many tastes, and many audiences. This might not work for everyone, but I hope it works for you:

We’ve had enough of this ado crap, no?  So without any further ado:

 

“I’m going to kill the dragon,” Timor Redcraft said one morning.

“Hush, Timor, eat your breakfast,” his mother replied.

“You don’t have time to kill the dragon, Timor,” his father said. “We need to get the fences repaired on the south ridge by midday or there’ll be hell to pay!”

“The dragon” was Emporilio, the de facto ruler of the land ever since arriving in flames, smoke, and fury years ago, nearly seven years before Timor was born.  On the balance, it was a fairly lenient ruler.  It only took the occasional sheep from the occasional farmer, not adding too much burden to the relatively heavy taxes of King Stephen. Particularly since Emporilio’s presence did more to keep rival nations from invading the Kingdom of Marista than King Stephen’s standing army did.

There was, however, Emporilio’s requirement for a blonde maiden to be sent to keep his den clean and orderly for a year, at the end of which she was eaten. This was a difficult demand to swallow, not only for the parents who were required to sacrifice a beloved daughter, but to the young men who chafed with the tragic reduction in the number of beautiful and marriageable maidens. Periodically, a young man would decide he was the one who could rid the realm of the foul beast. He would collect armor, a spear, and a horse, and ride to his rapid death.

The only good that came of their sallies was it tended to keep the number of men seeking marriage in somewhat of a balance with the number of marriageable maidens.

In the Redcraft hovel, Timor did, in fact, hush and finish his breakfast. He and his father did repair the fences by midday, and so no debt was owed to hell.

Timor was not very intelligent, but he did like to think things through at his plodding, deliberate pace. So as he worked, he thought.

“I need a weapon,” he said to himself. “I have the family boar spear! So that’s good.”

He pounded more nails into the fence he was building and continued to think.

“A dragon has fire for defense,” he said to himself. “Fire heats things up.  When the hammer sits in the sun for a few minutes, it feels hot if I pick it up by the iron part.  That’s why we pick it up by the wooden handle.  I wonder if I should make armor out of wood?”

That evening, he placed a doll fashioned from an old corncob and covered with a bundle of twigs near the banked coals of dinner cook fire. When he pushed it close to the coals with the hearth poker, the wood caught fire.  He used the poker to pull the doll away from the burning twigs, but the corncob was already scorched.

“Bosh,” he thought. “That’s no good. I must keep thinking.”

Days passed.  Timor continued to think about a hammer heated by the summer sun.

“If I weave a straw pad,” he said to himself, “it also keeps my hand from feeling hot. Perhaps I should make armor from straw!”

Rice_straw
Rice Straw, by Green https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Green

That evening, he placed a doll fashioned from an old corncob and covered with tiny straw mats near the banked coals of dinner cook fire. When he pushed it close to the coals with the hearth poker, the straw caught fire even more quickly than the wood. He again used the poker to pull the doll away from the burning straw, but this time the corncob doll was not scorched at all.

“The straw absorbs the fire,” Timor said to himself. “If I leave it behind, the fire will stay on the straw and not on me!  That’s good.  But if I drop the straw mat, I will not have any more protection. That’s bad. I wonder what I can do?”

Days passed. Timor continued to think about straw set on fire by a cook fire.

“If I used more than one straw mat,” he said to himself, “the straw pad on the outside protects the straw pad on the inside just like it would protect me.”

That evening, he placed a doll fashioned from an old corncob and covered with two tiny straw mats near the banked coals of dinner cook fire. When he pushed it close to the coals with the hearth poker, the straw caught fire again. He again used the poker to pull the doll away from the burning straw of the outside straw mat. Sure enough, the inner straw mat was not burned at all.

Satisfied, Timor began weaving straw mats.  Very soon, he had finished ten layers.  But when he put them all on, he couldn’t do anything more than fall over.

“Bosh,” he thought. “That’s no good.”

The next day, Timor wrapped himself in only nine straw mats, but he still couldn’t do anything more than fall over.

It wasn’t until several days later, when Timor wore only four layers, that he could move at all. He still fell down very often from the weight, and couldn’t walk to the end of the pasture without needing to rest.  He decided that three layers would have to be enough.

He tied the mats to his body with string, and practiced untying the string as quickly as he could.

Each week, Timor would travel to the nearby village to trade some of their fruits, vegetables, or crafts for other items they needed for their farm.  While there, he would take a half hour to talk to Balen Fingerlet, the oldest and wisest man he knew.  He would ask about dragons.

“Dragons is parful!” Balen would say. “Don’t be wasting you self trying to be no big hero, Timor!”

“Dragons is evil!” Balen would say at other times. “Don’t be wasting you self trying to match wits with no dragon, Timor!”

“Dragons is trickee and dasseptuv!” Balen said a few times. “Don’t be wasting you self trying to reskew no maydun, Timor!”

“Dragons is deeveeus!” Balen said once. “Dey allwayz have layers to their defense. Whenever you think it be there, it be someplace else!”

Timor decided Balen was no actual help to his goal.

“I will go to kill the dragon now,” Timor said to his parents. “I have said I will do this, and I will do it, or die trying.”

Timor’s parents were in tears, trying to talk him out of this notion. But Timor was resolute.

“Father, Mother,” Timor said. “You know that Emporilio has been a problem for our kingdom. Others have had the courage to try. Why should I not have the same courage?”

The tears of Timor’s parents did not diminish by even one drop.

“Father, Mother,” Timor said. “You know that Emporilio has been a burden for our kingdom. In helping you take care of our farm, I have learned that problems do not solve themselves if you wait for others to solve them for you.”

The tears of Timor’s parents did not diminish by even one drop.

“Father, Mother,” Timor said. “You know that Emporilio has caused continuous pain for our kingdom. In helping you take care of our farm, I have learned that the longer you wait to solve problems, the worse they became.”

The tears of Timor’s parents did not diminish by even one drop.

Timor sighed, but could think of no other words to comfort them.

Father, Mother,” Timor said. “I will return with the head of the dragon, or on it.”

Timor paused.

“You know what I meant,” he added.

Timor took up his boar spear, stuck the hammer in his belt, donned his straw armor, and left.

The path to Emporilio’s lair took him through the village.  He trudged slowly, due to the thick straw mats making it impossible for him to bend his arms and legs and torso normally.  When the villagers saw him stumbling along, they laughed and pointed.

“Look at Timor,” they laughed. “He looks like a walking haystack!  Timor can’t even walk right anymore!”

Stung, Timor felt he needed to explain why he had dressed in such an outlandish and awkward fashion.  He responded with, “I am going to kill Emporilio!”

This did not help.

“Look at Timor,” they jeered. “He thinks he can kill Emporilio!”

Timor had no answer to that, and so did not respond.  They quickly grew bored with insults and derision. One small child flung a tomato and hit Timor in the arm. From the smell, the tomato had been rotting for a few days. Another followed.  Timor felt multiple impacts, stumbled a moment as his foot came down on a slippery bit of moldy fruit, but continued forward.

One older villager tossed a moist, odiferous, and brown-colored clump of something that was not fruit. Before long, Timor’s nose was filled with the odor of a horse barn that had not been mucked out for far too long. But he continued forward.

“This is a small village,” Timor said to himself, “and there aren’t many animals. They will run out of manure soon.”

The rate of noisome missiles diminished, and then stopped.

Children skipped alongside Timor. Then one dashed in front and got down on all fours directly in Timor’s path.

Unable to halt in time to avoid the unexpected obstacle, Timor tumbled to the ground over the child.  He was moving slowly enough the child was not hurt from the impact, although the straw jabbed and scratched Timor’s skin.  No one asked if Timor was hurt; or if anyone did, the question was drowned out by the laughter of a dozen people.

Timor did nothing but clamber to a standing position, bend to pick up his spear, and continue along the path toward Emporilio’s mountain.  This new game was repeated three or four times.

“Say something, Timor!” shouted one older child.

Timor said nothing, and just kept walking.

“Why haven’t you quit yet?” asked someone a few years old than Timor.

Timor said nothing, and just kept walking.

The crowd of villagers shadowing Timor became smaller, then smaller still, as villagers went back to their daily duties. One small child followed for another five minutes before finally running back to her home.

Timor walked on, alone again.

“My heart is aching,” Timor said to himself. “My parents were inconsolable. The villagers mocked me and even tried to disrupt me upon my quest. Does no one support me in this task? Does no one even want our kingdom to be rid of this foul beast?”

Timor could not help but notice, however, that the sky was the very pleasant shade of a robin’s egg. In the dusty yellow heat of the late summer, the leaves of the trees along the road were green enough to make him feel cooler just by looking at them. The wind sighed through the tree branches, the birds were twittering and chirping high up in the boughs, and the vexation Timor felt began to fade away the way the mist does as the morning moves toward afternoon.

Timor began to whistle a happy tune about maidens and buckets and mushroom picking.

“Maybe it isn’t that people want the foul beast to remain,” Timor said to himself. “Maybe they have just grown accustomed to its presence, and its cost, and simply cannot imagine what life without a dragon might be like. I can certainly understand that, because I have never known what life without the dragon might be like.  The dragon has taken sheep and eaten maidens since before I was born.”

Timor thought more.

“Come to think of it,” he said to himself. “I am very happy my mother was not one of the maidens.”

Emporilio’s lair, halfway up the rocky mass of Widows Peak, was a handful of hours from the village under normal conditions. Hampered by a heavy spear and armor, however, it took Timor five hours to reach the base of the small mountain.

“Why is there no path?” Timor asked himself, as he began to use the wind-twisted and stunted pine trees to pull himself up the boulder-strewn slope.  “I wish I had wings like Emporilio, then I could just fly…oh! I think I understand why there is no path.”

An hour later, Timor was nearing the dark spot below the ridge that had been pointed out to him a few weeks ago as Emporilio’s lair. He began to hear the gurgle and splash of water.

“There must be a small stream,” Timor said to himself. “It makes sense that Emporilio would want fresh water nearby, just like our sheep like to be near the pond.  I know I would like a drink of water, and it would also be nice to wash off some of this stink.”

Within a few minutes, Timor had found the stream.  He took a long slow drink of water, and then tried to splash water to cleanse himself of rotten fruit, animal waste, and Timor sweat.

“This will never work,” Timor said to himself. “I must find a place I can immerse myself.”

He splashed up the stream, looking for a place to lie down. He could not find one for a long time.  The stream sometimes became broad, flat, and too shallow; other times, it became narrow, fast, and too deep; if the depth and speed were just right, then there were too many rocks and broken tree limbs for him to even lie down comfortably.

He neared the cave.  In fact, Timor was in sight of the cave when he finally found the perfect spot: not too deep, not too shallow, but not so many rocks and tree branches that he could not lie down among them.

“I am already here, though,” Timor said to himself.  “There is no need to delay. I would like to take a nap, but as mother always said: work first, rest later.

“Hallo!” Timor called out.

No answer.

“I say, Hallo!” Timor repeated. “Come out and fight me, you sneaky lizard!”

There was no response.

“I guess there is nobody home,” Timor said to himself.  He shrugged, but shrugging did not summon the dragon.  He put his spear on the shallow side of his intended stream bed, splashed down on his back, and closed his eyes.

Timor opened his eyes.

The sky had changed from a crystal clear, blue afternoon sky, to a crystal clear, deep indigo evening sky, replete with a thousand sparkling and glimmering stars.  It was a sight he had not seen often, as his mother would have him in bed each day as the sun went down.  The moon was out, as well, full and round. Its light bathed the little gully formed by the stream bed, enough that he could see the sinuous form of the dragon as it slurped from the stream a few yards away.

It was not so large as Timor had imagined.

“Why, it is not much larger than the miller’s horse!” Timor thought to himself, so as to not make any sound the dragon could hear. “This is certainly a fine opportunity to kill the dragon and keep my vow!”

He stood up and thrust with the spear at Emporilio’s ribs, just behind the shoulder, striking hard and driving the blade deeply, slaying Emporilio almost immediately on the first try!

Or, at least, that is what Timor wanted to do.  In fact, he splashed clumsily to his feet, dropped the spear in the process, bent to pick it up, slipped and fell as he overbalanced forward, got his hands on the spear shaft, and used it to lever himself to his feet.   He then rushed forward, tripped as the water bound his legs, leveraged himself to his feet once more. This time he walked more slowly toward Emporilio.

Emporilio merely watched the spectacle.

If a dragon’s face could have an expression, Timor would have sworn it held an amused smirk.

“Who are you?” Emporilio said.

“I am Timor! I have come to kill you,” Timor declared, in his bravest, loudest voice. “If you don’t mind, that is,” he added.

“I see,” Emporilio purred. “No, I don’t mind you trying.” Then he breathed fire.

The fire was hotter than Timor could have imagined, but it was over more quickly than he could have imagined.  He was engulfed in flames for a moment. The water in the outer layer of his straw matting turned to steam in a flash, and the straw caught fire.

Timor quickly unbound the strings holding the outer layer of matting and it dropped to the ground.  Lighter, Timor took a step forward more quickly.

Emporilio breathed fire again.

Timor was engulfed in flames for another moment.  The water in the middle layer of his straw matting turned to steam in a flash, and the straw caught fire.

Timor quickly unbound the strings holding the middle layer of matting and it dropped to the ground.  Timor strode through the burning straw toward Emporilio, and thrust with the spear, slashing through the muscle below Emporilio’s left wing.

Bright blood splattered. It splashed on nearby rocks, where it hissed, sizzled, and blackened.  A few droplets flew from the impact to hit Timor.  The fiery blood left pinprick burns on Timor’s face.

Emporilio breathed fire a third time.

Timor was engulfed in flames for a third time.  The water in the innermost layer of his straw mating turned to steam in a flash, and the straw caught fire.

Timor quickly unbound the strings holding the innermost layer of matting and it dropped to the ground.  Timor sprang through the burning straw to see Emporilio try to fly, fail, and begin to scramble back towards its lair.  In desperation, Timor thrust with the spear and hit Emporilio in the ribs.  The spear head sunk in deeply.

Emporilio spasmed and thrashed, and the spear was torn from Timor’s grasp.  Emporilio yanked the spear out of his side, and a stream of blood flowed from the wound.  Emporilio snapped the spear in two, and threw it away.  The dragon looked extremely vexed.  It turned toward Timor.

Emporilio fell onto his side.

Timor took the hammer from his belt, and walked forward. He heard a gasp behind him, and turned to see a beautiful maiden, dressed in dirty white rags.

“I’m Timor,” Timor said. “I’m here to save you. Just let me finish the job and I will save you right after that.”  Timor turned and walked around the dragon, being careful to stay out of reach of its dagger-like talons, and needle-sharp teeth.  He walked around Emporilio to be able to approach from behind, but stayed three long paces away.  Emporilio turned heavily to face Timor.

“Wait!” Emporilio said.  “Please don’t kill me.”

“Why not?” Timor asked.

“I…I…am now powerless.  I cannot breathe any more fire, and I cannot even stand up.  I cannot hurt you, I cannot take any sheep, and I certainly cannot take or keep any maiden.  You have vanquished me! I am no threat to you or anyone else now.”

“Don’t liste—” the young maiden began, until a gesture from Emporilio ended any sound from the movements of her mouth.  From what Timor could tell, she was not in any exceptional distress; she could still breathe, and could still move and breathe freely, but Emporilio’s gesture had robbed her speech of any sound.

She mouthed words silently and hurriedly, her arms flailing with excited gestures.

Timor didn’t understand, and shook his head.

She mouthed words slowly, exaggerating the shape of the words, her hand movements slow, deliberate, and evocative.

Timor decided the maiden was no actual help to his goal.

He turned back to Emporilio to see it had moved three steps farther away, and closer to its lair and the maiden.

“You say you are powerless,” Timor said. “But you seem to still have magic. I must kill you to end this power.”

“That was but a small cantrip,” Emporilio responded. “Had I any real power, I would have used it to kill you as you stand there.  Does that not make enough sense to penetrate your dim-witted skull?”

Timor admitted that it did.

“I know this will seem self-serving,” Emporilio continued. “But being this weak and helpless for the first time in years, I have learned what it must be like to be weak and human.  I have had a flash of empathy for your kind.  I swear on my True Name that I will leave and bother your people no more.”

“Well,” thought Timor to himself.  “That certainly seems serious.  His True Name!”  But he scowled in doubt.  He raised the hammer and took a step forward.

“I see you are still considering,” Emporilio said.  “But consider this: I know I have sinned. I have committed grievous sins upon your people.  But I have confessed! I have repented! I have given you my solemn word!  Surely you must give me a chance, to see if I keep my word.  You have bested me once, so you can always come back and kill me later if it turns out I lied, is this not true?”

Timor said nothing.

“Moreover, I am now weak and helpless.  I cannot stand. I cannot run.  I cannot breathe fire, and I cannot even use magic to defend myself.  What kind of monster would you have to be to slaughter me now?  I repeat: I have seen the error of my ways, and will tread a righteous path from now on.  Does your faith not tell you to forgive the repentant? Should you not give the reformed sinner at least one more chance?

“Look, I am not a sheep, or a rabbit, or a cow.  I can think!  I can feel!  I can speak to you!  I am a person, just like you, albeit in a different shape.  If you kill me, is it not the same as killing an innocent child?”

Timor lowered the hammer.

“If you spare my life, I will dedicate my life to keeping the Kingdom safe from all enemies.  I will also serve you, personally.  Anything you want.  Just spare my life.”

“What if he is telling the truth?” Timor thought to himself.  “Could he really have repented?

“Except, I cannot be the smartest person who ever tried to kill Emporilio.  Young men have been trying for twenty-four years.  Others must have figured out ways to protect themselves from its fire.  Others must have been able to surprise Emporilio and have the chance to end this terror.  Emporilio himself said this was the first time he was this weak and helpless in years.  That means he was this weak and helpless before. Maybe more than once.

“And yet, Emporilio is still here.  Sheep and maidens are still being consumed regularly. Every young man who came up here died.”

Timor took two strides forward and brought the hammer down on the bare patch of ground with all his might.

As the hammer connected with Emporilio’s skull, the illusion of the further-away Emporilio disappeared, and the maiden’s voice returned to her.  Even its blood had lost its caustic power.

A few more blows with the hammer, accompanied by repeated and enthusiastic promises of gratitude from the maiden on behalf of her family, and Emporilio’s reign of terror over the kingdom and its maidens was no more.

Timor did not marry the maiden.  Having killed the dragon and claimed its modest treasure, he was able to choose the maiden with the mildest and most dependable character from among the beautiful brunettes of the kingdom, which he found much more attractive than blondes.

Timor felt that was enough excitement for one life.

He was wrong, but that’s a tale for another time.

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