Fur Flying
By: Walter G. Esselman

"Quit your whining," grumbled Gideon. The boy's orange eyes darted over to the young dragon, who was sulking in step next to him. "You didn't have to walk with me?"

"And do what?" snapped the dragon, Pavataro, with a real snap of his teeth.

"You could just fly," suggested Gideon.

"Done that," said Pavataro. "Bored. You're taking too long with this whole walkie-thing that you're doing."

Since Pavataro and the boy were only fifteen years old, the dragon's head only reached to six feet.

"Well, you said that this castle that we're going to is only about a day away, right?" asked Gideon.

"For you," muttered the dragon darkly.

"Then, why don't you fly ahead, get the book that we're picking up, and come back here," suggested Gideon. "Easy!"

"And do your work for you?" asked Pavataro, with frost in his voice.

"My work?" snorted Gideon in annoyance. "What do you mean 'My Work'? It was you that got us in trouble by…"

Gideon suddenly went still. All bickering aside, Pavataro flattened his triangular ears.

"I hear it too," whispered Pavataro. He nodded his head towards the brush. "Over there."

They moved off the dirt path and soon came upon a clearing. A wolf with an arrow in her left flank was limping away from them.

"Please! Please don't hurt me," cried the wolf. "I have cubs. I didn't do it."

"Wh…what? We're not going to hurt you," stammered Gideon in confusion. He tried to hold up his hands, but his staff—the Pigsticker—was still in one hand. He let go of it, so that it leant against his shoulder. Now, he held up empty hands. "What didn't you do?"

"The werewolf!" said the wolf. She was panicked, but also confused now. "Have you not heard of the Wolf of Cambria?"

"Um….," started Gideon.

"'Um' is not a word," hissed Pavataro in sotto voce.

Gideon ignored his friend. "We were just passing through on an errand."

"A werewolf has been attacking our lands," explained the wolf. "The Two-legs think that it is the wolves, so they hunt my people. I was only getting food for my cubs."

The wolf seemed ready to cry, if wolves could.

In the woods behind them, there came a large noise. It sounded like a large group of men and they were getting close, fast.

Gideon looked at Pavataro who just shrugged.

"Okay," said the boy. He came towards the wolf who growled. "Wait! I'm going to get you out of here, but I'm going to have to carry you."

"You would do that?" asked the wolf suspiciously.

Gideon gave a little shrug. "Well…I can't just leave you."

The wolf glared at him, but then finally nodded. "Can you lift me? You're not very big."

Pavataro gave a snort of laughter, and Gideon shot him a dark look. It was true that Gideon was on the short side.

"I was accidentally raised on dragon's milk," said Gideon. "Gravity is…well, optional for me."

The boy slowly walked over to the wolf. The men were getting closer.

"This is going to hurt," said Gideon.

"Just…get me out of here," hissed the wolf.

Cautiously, Gideon lifted the wolf up, trying to be careful of the arrow, and manage his staff as well. He opened the magic inside him to help carry her. Finally, he found a good balance and they sped off.

***

The wolf gave a little cry as Gideon pulled out the arrow. He quickly dabbed some foul-smelling ointment on it, which helped clot the wound.

"That…that didn't hurt too much," said the wolf in surprise.

"My mentor Regent swears by it," replied Gideon, a little absently, because he was making sure he did not miss any other wounds. He did not want an infection sneaking up and hurting her.

Once satisfied, the boy looked up at the cave that they sat in. He saw that all the wolves were huddled as far away from him as possible. The exception being the wolf's three cubs, who were bouncing nervously near them. Gideon put the jar of ointment back in his coat and tried to lean nonchalantly against the wall of the cave. He did not know what to say, but Pav saved him.

An ex-razor deer dropped into the mouth of the cave. All the wolves jumped, but then looked at it hungrily. Pavataro just sat back on his haunches and smiled with all his teeth.

"Go on," he encouraged.

This made the wolves back up even further, and the dragon looked puzzled, though his teeth all still showed. Understanding dawned on the boy.

"Your teeth," hissed Gideon, and Pavataro looked at him, confused. "You need to sheath those teeth. You're scaring them."

"But…," started Pavataro. However, he saw the fear in the wolves' eyes. Instead of arguing, which would have been fun, the dragon closed his mouth and took a few steps back.

Soon, the wolves pulled the deer inside and began to eat at it desperately.

Pavataro walked over to Gideon and the wolf with some meat. He dropped it in front of the wolf with an airily look, as if he did not want to get caught doing something nice. Before she could thank the dragon, Gideon came to his rescue.

"Tell me about this Wolf of Cambria?" asked Gideon as she tore off a hunk of meat for her pups.

"We don't know who it is exactly," said the wolf between mouthfuls. "Several fat moons ago, there was a terrible fight out in the woods. A werewolf had been stalking our lands. One of the Two-Legs had found it, and they were fighting. He killed it…"

"But not before it bit him," finished Gideon.

"You…you've heard of this thing happening?" asked the wolf.

"I've read about it, yes," replied Gideon. "So now, he's a werewolf."

"And he leads the searches for the wolves saying the monster is still out there!" moaned the wolf.

"I'm not sure what we can do," said Gideon thoughtfully. He looked sideways at the dragon.

"We'd have to flush him out," suggested Pavataro.

"Just a little dangerous," said Gideon.

Pavataro turned to the wolf. "Do you know what this werewolf looks like?"

"No, but we know he smells strongly of the flowering vines," said the wolf hopefully.

"Flowering vines? That's it?" sniffed Pavataro.

"Pav!" hissed Gideon.

The dragon turned to glare at the boy, especially since he was right.

"Not much to go on," said Gideon gently to the wolf.

"And how do we know that her story is true?" asked Pavataro.

"Wolves can't lie," replied the wolf.

"That's convenient," replied Pavataro.

"Actually, that's true. Pritchett talks about that in his book 'So I dated a wolf'," said Gideon. He looked at the wolf. "Okay, we'll see what we can do. He looked around the cave and saw a pile of shed fur. "Actually, can I have some of that?"

***

"And how are we supposed to get our money now?" cried out Gideon in anger.

"It's not my fault," replied Pavataro hotly.

"Of course not, it's never your fault!" said Gideon.

Three hunters sprang out of the woods. They carried nasty looking crossbows, which were aimed at Pavataro.

"Stop right there!" called out one of the hunters, Hoyd. He strutted confidently towards the boys until Gideon whirled on him.

"You!" snapped the boy.

Hoyd blinked in surprise. "What? Me?"

"Yes, you," said Gideon. "You in charge?"

"What? Yes, of this team," said Hoyd.

"Did I ask you about your team?" asked Gideon with ice in his voice. "I mean this whole operation."

"Um…," started Hoyd.

"'Um' is not a word," said Pavataro, showing his teeth.

"Oh! Ah! No, Burgermeister Loam is in charge," said Hoyd.

"Well, you better take me to him! Now!" said Gideon.

"Are you covered in blood?" asked one of the hunters. Gideon looked down at the wolf's blood, which had gotten on his clothes.

"From a wolf," growled Gideon. "I'd hate to get any other kind on it."

"Let me take you to the Burgermeister!" said Hoyd quickly.

*

"And what is this?" asked the tall man as Hoyd raced up to him with Gideon and Pavataro.

"Are you The Man?" asked Gideon. 

"I am High Burgermeister Herbert Loam," said the man with a puffed-out chest.

"Okay. But, are you The Man, or not?" huffed Gideon.

The Burgermeister's face darkened.  "Yes, I am in charge."

"Well, what're you doing with all these dead wolves?" asked Gideon.

"Why do you want to know?" asked the Burgermeister suspiciously.

Gideon held up the fluff in his hands.  "Because this probably isn't enough proof, is it?"

"Of what?" asked the Burgermeister.

"We killed a wolf, hoping that there might be a reward…AND THEN THIS ONE," shouted Gideon as he turned on Pavataro.  "ATE THE DANG THING."

"I was hungry!" protested Pavataro with mock innocence.  "I told you we should've eaten before we went out."

"With what money?" asked Gideon.  "We don't have food, and we can't buy any, and I don't think that this is going to do us any good."

Gideon threw the wolf fluff flying into the air.  The Burgermeister looked between the boy and dragon as they bickered.  And then at the dried wolf's blood on the boy's clothes.

"Boys, boys!" he held up his hands.  "Don't fight."

"But now we have to go find another wolf," said Gideon sadly.

"Enough," said the Burgermeister.  "Let me take you back to my tavern, and we'll get you some food."

*

The town seemed to flinch when the Burgermeister walked in, like a dog that's been hit too much. People eyed the boys suspiciously as the Burgermeister steered them towards the large building in the center. It was the old tavern, but you would not know it because of all the wolf pelts hanging outside.

"As you can see," boomed the Burgermeister. "Business has been good. But that darn werewolf is still elusive."

"I've heard wolves were actually shy creatures and never bother people," said Gideon conversationally. "At least, that's what the village idiot told me."

"He was an idiot indeed," replied the Burgermeister. "They are cruel, and vicious, and need to be put down, for their own good."

"Of course," agreed Gideon carefully.

Inside the tavern, it was dark and dusty. There were only a few people in there at this time of day. The Burgermeister immediately went behind the bar and put his crossbow above a painting of a man fighting a pack of wolves.

"My grandfather!" boomed the Burgermeister. "He had to fight wolves to carve out this town. He built this tavern with his own two hands."

"Wow," said Gideon obediently.

"Now to feed you two," said the Burgermeister. "You both look skinny as rails." He grinned at Pavataro. "And I don't want this one eating me by mistake."

*

The food was passable, but it had lots of potatoes in it, so that was good. Gideon leaned back happily at their table while Pavataro licked his bowl clean. The sun was setting, and more people were filing into the tavern, but they had a haunted look on their faces. No one was happy to be here.

"Where's the Burgermeister?" asked Gideon.

Pavataro craned his long neck. "Dunno."

Gideon got up and headed across the room, followed by Pavataro. The barmaid, Kelkie, watched them carefully from behind the bar.

"Hello," said Gideon. "Where's the Burgermeister?"

If he had not been looking directly at her, he would not have seen the flinch in her eyes.

"He's down in the basement," said Kelkie, pointing towards a door. "He likes it down there, making beer."

"Thank you," said Gideon as he headed towards the door. He knocked on it, but there was no answer. Opening it up, he saw stairs going down and looked at Pavataro. Gideon tested a stair with his staff, but it seemed solid.

"Definitely dangerous," sighed Pavataro.

"But if anyone knows who's been acting oddly these past few months…," started Gideon.

"True," replied Pavataro reluctantly.

They went down the steps into an earthen basement lit by torches. The Burgermeister stood before a workbench with his sleeves rolled up and an apron on. He was mixing the ingredients for beer.

"Wow!" said Gideon, pretending to be excited. He went over to the bench. "You get to make beer too!"

"What are you two little scamps doing down here?" asked the Burgermeister jovially.

"How do you make beer?" asked Gideon, now kinda curious. He must have touched a sweet spot, because the Burgermeister went into a long spiel about the art of making beer.

"So, you use water, yeast, barley and hops to make beer," recited Gideon. "Wait, what are hops?"

"They're a kind of flowering vine that I grow," said the Burgermeister. "The dried flowers act as a preservative."

Gideon stilled. He watched the Burgermeister as he worked on the beer. The big man reached up on a shelf for something, and his sleeve moved. Exposed, for just a moment, was a large bite mark on his arm.

"My, what a big bite mark you have," said Gideon, and everyone froze for a moment. Pavataro looked up in surprise.

"What would you know about that?" asked the Burgermeister.

"Someone went out and killed the old werewolf," said Gideon. "But they got bit too. Which is never good."

"The werewolf has never been caught," said the Burgermeister carefully.

"No, the new werewolf has not been caught yet," replied Gideon, gripping his staff carefully.

The Burgermeister lunged at Gideon. The boy only just dodged out of the way, hit the dirt floor and rolled.

"You…you'll ruin everything!" snarled the Burgermeister.

"Sounds like you broke this all by yourself," said Gideon. "But you shouldn't have brought the wolves into it."

"Wolves!" cried the Burgermeister and he roared in anger. Gideon and Pavataro backed up.

"Oh, oh," said Pavataro.

"We better…," started Gideon as they shot towards the stairs.

With a great leap, the Burgermeister launched himself at the stairs and smashed through the wall that surrounded it. Now crouching on the stairs—blocking the way up—the Burgermeister changed. It was horrible. Bones broke and reknitted themselves, making Gideon almost lose his lunch.

Now the werewolf glared at them with mad eyes.

"Mother of Bees," said Gideon and Pavataro together.

Exploding toward them with an insane fury, the two boys dove in opposite directions to get out of the monster's path. But the werewolf was too quick and slashed at Gideon's shoulder. His dragonskin coat stopped the claws, but the force was too great. He spun through the air and smashed into a bench, which buckled.

Pavataro head-butted the werewolf and both dragon and monster staggered for a moment. Gideon shook off his pain and jumped toward the werewolf. Swinging his staff, he hit the monster across the back of the knees. Unbalanced, the werewolf cried out as it fell back.

Pavataro swatted at the monster with his tail as it fell, which sent it hurtling through the air. The werewolf smashed through a beer barrel, sending liquid everywhere. Pavataro started strutting when the werewolf jumped up and threw a barrel at him. The dragon went down in a shower of beer as the werewolf leapt out.

Gideon took a defensive stance with his staff, but the monster swatted the staff aside. Bearing the boy down to the ground, the werewolf gave a low growl, teeth inches from Gideon's nose.

"You know I was raised by a dragon," huffed Gideon, trying to get his breath back in full force. "I only mention it because Mom gave me dragon's milk."

"Rrrr?" asked the werewolf in confusion.

"It had an odd effect on me," said Gideon and he took a deep breath and thought about flashpoints.

The werewolf, tired of the waiting, began to snap at Gideon when the boy opened his mouth. A wide burst of flame came out of his mouth; not very hot, but hot enough to singe fur. The monster jumped back in panic, his head smoking. Flying up the stairs, the werewolf smashed through the door above.

Gideon jumped up, scooped up his staff and nudged Pavataro in the flank with his boot.

"Come on," said Gideon. "We're still working here."

"Good job," said Pavataro. "You scared the werewolf right into a crowd of people."

"You can gripe later!" snapped Gideon as he pounded up the stairs. "Right now, we gotta take this fight into the street."

Gideon came out on the ground floor and saw the werewolf in the middle of the tavern, crazed and confused. Everyone was pressed into the walls trying to escape. The screaming was making the monster more unstable. The creature needed a focus. Gideon ran up to it and hit it in the stomach with his staff. The cold fury of the monster turned its focus on Gideon.

"Oh, oh," muttered the boy.

Pavataro roared by.

"I got the door," shouted the dragon and he ran right through it, splintering the wood. The dragon staggered out into the street seeing stars.

Gideon jumped towards the door and ran out with the werewolf, hot on his tail. The monster hit him, and he went flying forward. Two of the men ran out of the tavern with swords.

"Get it!" cried Hoyd, and they attacked while Gideon managed to get back on his feet.

The werewolf knocked the blade aside and was going to eat Hoyd's face off.

Gideon dropped on the werewolf's back swinging his staff around into the monster's mouth. Like a horse's bit, the monster could not bite through the staff. Gideon pulled it tight, riding the werewolf's back.

Having recovered, Pavataro stood just outside its range and danced around it.

"What're you going to do now?" asked Pavataro.

"Haven't a clue," said Gideon. "I think 'letting go' would be bad."

"Really?" asked Pavataro sarcastically. "You think so Lunchmeat?"

There was a whistling sound and a silver tipped arrow poked out of the werewolf's shoulder almost hitting Gideon.

"Sorry," said a voice. Gideon looked up to see the barmaid, kelkie, reloading the crossbow. Another shot hit dead center in the monster's chest and the werewolf dropped to its knees. A third shot pierced the monster's heart and it fell forward, into the dirt.

Rolling off, Gideon sat on the ground. Pavataro walked around and sat next to him on his haunches.

"How did you two find the werewolf?" asked Hoyd.

"Dumb luck," shrugged Gideon.

"I gotta find the Burgermeister and tell him that we…," started Hoyd, but then he stopped as the werewolf began to shift back. After a moment, the Burgermeister's cold dead eyes watched the crowd. Everyone stopped.

"Right," said the barmaid flatly. "I think we all need a drink, except the young'n's."

The young'n's moaned at this as their parents ushered them back into the tavern.

After a moment, Gideon got up and dusted himself off.

"We better go," said Gideon as he pulled his staff from under the werewolf Burgermeister. He made a face at the drool on it. Using a scrap of the Burgermeister's torn clothing, the boy wiped it off.

Pavataro was looking inside the tavern.

"Are you sure we have to go?" asked the dragon. "We stopped the werewolf. They might feed us."

"And their leader is lying dead in the street," said Gideon as he headed out of town.

"But…they might feed us," said Pavataro. However, he followed Gideon sadly. "Can't believe that you drove the werewolf into a crowded tavern."

"Give it a rest," grumbled Gideon.

And as they left, a wolf song of thanks and praise went up and followed them deep into night.

-

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