Sacred Logs and Crocodiles
By: Walter G. Esselman

Gideon shot up into the trees, as easy as a spider monkey. He hopped into the air over the treetop and almost hovered for a moment.

The boy had been adopted by a dragon and weaned on dragon's milk. It had had several odd side effects on him, including the ability to alter his gravity as dragons themselves did (their wings being inadequate to the task of lifting their enormous weight).

Now, he hovered as if he weighed almost nothing.

"There it is!" cried Gideon, pointing to the castle in the distance. He dropped back into the trees, hopping from branch to branch.

"It's about time," grumbled the young dragon, Pavataro, below him. He was in a sulk as he walked through the wood, flattening small trees and assorted vegetation as he went.

"Come on," coaxed Gideon, dropping next to the dragon. "It didn't take us that long to get here."

"You're slow," said Pavataro. "Like, sick grandmother slow."

"And you could have flown ahead, blah-blah-blah," said Gideon.

"They better feed us when we get there," said Pavataro.

"No doubt," said Gideon. "We're…what's that fancy word for visitors…oh, emissaries. Yes, we�re visiting emissaries.

"What we are is hungry," said Pavataro. "All this over one book.

The bushes exploded around them and out jumped a group of soldiers waving crossbows.

"Friend or foe!" demanded the first one. "I am Sergeant Spudd of Lord Fullo'it's Guard. Declare yourselves at once!"

Gideon looked at Pavataro, who shrugged, and then turned back to the soldier.

"Neither," said Gideon.

Spudd blinked. "What do you mean, 'neither'?"

"Not really a friend, since I don�t know your name, and definitely not a foe," said Gideon.

"I don't know," said Pavataro. "They keep waving those crossbows in my face…"

"That is making it hard to concentrate," said Gideon to Spudd.

"What? Well, tough!" said Spudd. "I ask the questions around here!"

"I didn't ask a question," said Gideon.

"Never mind," said Spudd. "Who are you?"

"I'm Gideon, and this is Pavataro, from Bon Su Pear, and…," started the boy.

"Bon Su Pear? You got our message already!" exclaimed Spudd excitedly. "Where's the rest?"

"The rest what?" asked Pavataro.

"Never mind," said Spudd. "Come on, his lordship said to bring you to him right away."

"He did?" asked Gideon as they were whisked off.

***

"You must be the scouts, right?" bellowed Lord Fullo'it. "When's the rest of the lads coming?"

"Or did you just bring dragons?" asked Spudd, excitedly looking at Pavataro.

"Um, we only needed two people for this one," said Gideon.

"Actually, he could've taken care of it on his own," said Pavataro. "But, I'm just here to keep him company."

"Like the netherhells," said Gideon to Pavataro. "It was your fault too that we're here."

"You started it," sniffed Pavataro.

"I never," said Gideon.

"Boys, boys!" said Lord Fullo'it. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to see you here. You must be the best of the best if they only sent two of you for one monster. And this one is a beaut. We might have to mount it when you're done with it."

Both boys turned and spoke as one. "Monster?"

Lord Fullo'it suddenly looked angry. "Of course! What did you think we were talking about?"

"Pterry Wintersmith's �Never Met A Turtle I Didn't Like'," said Gideon. "You borrowed it from Bon Su Pear library last year, and it's long overdue."

"You're here about an agripping book?" bellowed Lord Fullo'it.

"No," said Gideon. "We're here about an overdue agripping book."

"You got to be kidding me," said Lord Fullo'it.

Gideon just looked at him.

"Aw netherhells," said Lord Fullo'it.

"What're we going to do?" asked Spudd.

"Like I know," snapped Lord Fullo'it. "It's all Sir Nedrick's fault anyway."

"I thought you told him to get the log?" asked Spudd.

"Shut up," snapped Lord Fullo'it.

"So, what is going on here?" asked Gideon.

"We have a bit of a problem…" said Lord Fullo'it.

Gideon looked around the makeshift camp, which sat over a mile from the castle.

"Assume that we worked that part out," said Gideon.

"Is it just me?" asked Pavataro as he peered on his long neck towards the castle. "Or is there no front door?"

"We are currently missing a front door," said Lord Fullo'it.

"It bashed right in," said Spudd in a weirdly hollow voice.

"You saw it?" asked Gideon to Spudd.

"I was standing right next to the door when it happened," said Spudd. "It was big. Really big."

"But if you two great fighters go in there," said Lord Fullo'it, "You can kill the beastie, get back that book that I borrowed, and we'll even feed you afterward. How does that sound?"

Pavataro started laughing. "Wow, you're bad at conning people. Not even I would fight a monster for nothing but a free meal.

"Neither of us would," said Gideon.

"We�ve got some gold," said Spudd.

"Shut up," hissed Lord Fullo'it.

"We're not that interested in gold," said Gideon, and Pavataro just shrugged. "I mean, it does make some things easier…"

"Like eating," said Pavataro.

"But too much of that stuff warps your brain," said the boy.

"Books then," said Lord Fullo'it in a flat voice, and Gideon smiled.

"Twenty books from your castle," said the boy. "My choice."

"Outrageous!" cried Lord Fullo'it.

"Okay," said Gideon, and he and Pavataro turned to go.

"Wait, wait!" cried Lord Fullo'it. "Two books."

"Fifteen," said Gideon.

"Five," said Lord Fullo'it.

"Ten," said Gideon.

"Seven," said Lord Fullo'it.

"Eight," said Gideon.

"Fine! Eight books," spat Lord Fullo'it.

"And my choice. I don't want any doorstops," said Gideon. "It�s amazing what some monks and scribes think are worthy of copying."

Lord Fullo'it ground his teeth.

"Fine," he said finally.

"Okay," said Gideon. "Oh, and you do still have to feed us afterward." He nodded at Pavataro. "He gets cranky on an empty stomach."

"What?" snapped the dragon. "I do not!"

"Okay! I agree!" snapped Lord Fullo'it.

"Right," said Gideon and he and Pavataro headed down towards the castle.

Lord Fullo'it glared at Spudd. "Get your squad together and follow�em," he barked. "Now!"

As the boys walked down a slight hill towards the castle, Pavataro looked at Gideon.

"I can't believe you went down to eight books," said the dragon in a low voice.

Gideon shrugged. "I would've been happy with two or three new books. But he was being such a jerk."

"At least we got dinner out of it," said Pavataro.

"I don't know," said Gideon. "Don't start counting your bread rolls until we've seen what we're dealing with."

Spudd's squad clanked behind the boys.

"You guys should've taken notes from Lord Fullo'it," said Spudd to Gideon and Pavataro.

"The way he schooled you in the art of negotiating."

Gideon and Pavataro smiled.

"He was really something," said Gideon. "So, Spudd wasn't it?"

"Yessir, Sergeant Spudd," said Spudd.

"What in the netherhells happened here?" asked Gideon.

"Well, we were having a trade dispute with the Mao'ri people over that way," said Spudd as he waved in a Southwesterly direction. "And they were being really tough. I mean, we only wanted a few of their farmlands."

"Is that all?" asked Gideon flatly.

But Spudd missed the tone. "I know, right?" he said. "Well, Sir Nedrick skewered a few, and they were just starting' to see reason, when this big lizard came out of nowhere and scattered his knights. Well, it turns out that that lizard is their guardian, called a croak-a-dial, or something like that, and it really likes this sacred, err, log."

"Did you say sacred log?" asked Pavataro.

"Log," confirmed Spudd. "Well, Lord Fullo'it gets the great idea to have Sir Nedrick steal the log and bring it back here. But then, it wouldn't burn. They couldn't even chop it."

"And you had it in the castle," said Gideon.

"That's right," said Spudd.

"And that's when the big-lizard-guardian-whatever showed up," said Gideon.

"That's the long and the short of it," said Spudd. "It ate Sir Nedrick and his knights. So how're you going to kill it?"

"I don't know," said Gideon. "We might not even have to."

"I don't know if you heard me," said Spudd. "It. Ate. Sir. Nedrick. It deserves what's coming to it."

"Right now," said Gideon. "Let's just get it out of the castle, and then we�ll go from there."

"Sure," said Spudd. "I can see that."

Gideon looked ahead and saw an old man sitting in front of the drawbridge. He was skinny with a dark complexion and ceremonial tattoos on his face.

"And who is that?" asked Gideon to Spudd.

"What the netherhells is that guy doing there?" asked Spudd.

"'I don't know', would have sufficed," muttered Pavataro.

"He looks like one of those Mao'ri people that Sir Nedrick fought," said Spudd. "I�ll go skewer him."

Before the soldier could draw his weapon, Gideon put up his hands.

"Wait! Wait!" said the boy. "I want to hear what this fellow has to say."

Reluctantly, Spudd took his hand off his sword.

When they came within earshot, the man called out. "It's about blinkin' time." Gideon stopped in front of him and the old man grinned at him. "I suppose you're the cavalry?"

"I'm afraid so," said Gideon, and he introduced himself and Pavataro.

The old man said. "I'm Happy Bright Ray of the Tanga Mao'ri clan."

"What�re you doing here?" asked Gideon.

"Want Alice back, but she won't listen to me," said the old man Happy Bright Ray and he glared at the soldiers. "Not since these idiots stole her Nummi."

"Alice?" asked Gideon.

"Alice, yeah," said Happy Bright Ray. "That�s the big girl in there. Well, she's a Huru-Kareo, but I call her Alice, and she hasn't bitten my head off yet. But if she does, at least I�ll have fed her one last time."

"Nummi?" asked Pavataro.

"That sacred log of hers, it�s her Nummi. Darn thing�s so heavy, I can't even roll it."

"So, if we just return the log," said Gideon. "Alice will follow it?"

"She said it came from the Whoo'oni Tree, that holds up the world," said Happy Bright Ray. "Chela got angry and hurled a lightning bolt at the tree and knocked off a branch. Apparently, that's just a sliver of the real branch. She keeps it for good luck."

"And you believe that?" asked Spudd derisively.

"Who am I to say?" shrugged Happy Bright Ray. "But some days I wonder if she ain't just got a brain the size of a walnut, know what I mean.". The old man stood and turned to enter the castle.

"Well, come on!" he shouted, waving for them to follow.

Spudd just looked at Gideon in puzzlement.

Gideon shrugged. "You heard the man." He walked into the castle with Pavataro.

Reluctantly, the soldiers followed.

Gideon moved to walk beside Happy Bright Ray.

"I assume you have a plan," said the boy.

"Probably the same one you did," said Happy Bright Ray. "Saw it on your face, as you were coming up."

"Me and Pavataro might be able to lift the log, but we're not going to be able to move fast," said Gideon.

"And I really don't want to be eaten by a lizard," commented the dragon.

"She's just going to be twitchy right near her new nest," said Happy Bright Ray. "We get her out into the open, and maybe she don't eat us."

"How're we going to distract her?" asked Pavataro.

"That's where I'm hoping those boys will come in handy," said Happy Bright Ray as he nodded back to the soldiers, who suddenly looked concerned.

***

Alice, the giant crocodile, looked up from where she curled around her log. Someone began to loudly bang swords on metal shields. She snarled and moved towards the sound.

***

"That's a big lizard," said Gideon as he watched the crocodile move away.

"Like big, as a full-size dragon big," agreed Pavataro. "Maybe bigger than my father, and he's considered impressive."

"Let's not hang about," said Happy Bright Ray as he ran towards the log.

Gideon and Pavataro circled it trying to find a good angle. They touched the log. The boy and the dragon were not only able to change their gravity, but anything they were immediately touching.

They tried to lift it as a test run. After a moment they set it down heavily.

Happy Bright Ray winced at the boom. "Don't be messing around. Hurry."

"Heavy," commented Pavataro thoughtfully.

"Really heavy," agreed Gideon.

Pavataro reluctantly said. "If we put it on my back, it'll be easier to carry."

Gideon looked up. "You okay with that?"

"No," admitted Pavataro. "So, we better do it before I change my mind."

Gideon turned to Happy Bright Ray. The boy held out his fighting staff, the Pigsticker. "Can you hold this?"

"My old bones could use a walking stick," said Happy Bright Ray and he leaned on it.

Hunching down, Gideon managed to move the log very carefully over Pavataro's left wing and onto his back. As soon as the log touched the dragon's body it became lighter, but they both needed to hold it, lest it become too heavy.

Standing next to the dragon, Gideon put both hands on the log. "We good?"

"Let's just get this done quickly," grunted Pavataro. Slowly, he began to make his way toward the castle entrance. "This book better be worth it."

"Well, books," Gideon said. "The one we came to collect, and eight more. But yes, they had better not be doorstops."

"We really appreciate this," said Happy Bright Ray.

The castle entrance was only a short distance away, but to Gideon, and especially Pavataro, it felt like they were walking towards the moons.

"Just a little bit farther," encouraged Happy Bright Ray.

A clanking came from the left and suddenly a knight in filthy armor leapt in their path. The knight waved a sword at them unsteadily and his eyes glinted with madness.

"Where…where do you think you're going?" demanded the knight.

"That way," said Gideon nodding with his chin towards the entrance.

"Heavy," whined Pavataro.

"No, you're not," said the knight. "You can't take that away."

"Who are you?" asked Gideon.

"I am Sir Nedrick," said the knight with a moat full of pride.

"Please, we don't have much time," said Happy Bright Ray and Sir Nedrick focused on him.

"You? One of them!" snarled Nedrick. "Come to steal my prize!"

Nedrick lunged at Happy Bright Ray.

Gideon let go of the log and Pavataro groaned as it suddenly doubled in weight.

Jumping to Ray's side, Gideon grabbed his staff from the old man's hands and parried Nedrick's sword. The boy swept his staff at Nedrick's legs, but the knight dodged away.

"Gideon," moaned Pavataro.

Sir Nedrick clanged towards Pavataro, ready to attack.

Gideon jumped between the knight and his friend and momentarily stopped Nedrick.

"I'm gonna rupture!" said Pavataro.

"I'm trying," said Gideon.

The boy started swinging at Nedrick quickly, for no other reason than to shift the knight�s focus.

Pavataro saw the way out and reluctantly started to walk towards the entrance.

Behind them, there was a loud reptilian cry.

"Oh no," said Happy Bright Ray as he ran past the dragon.

Alice was bearing down on the log and Pavataro.

Happy Bright Ray tried to wave the crocodile aside, but the creature just flicked its head to one side, hitting the old man. Ray was knocked head over teakettle across the floor. He was dazed, but alive.

Pavataro could almost feel the sunlight from the entrance, but Alice was closing.

"Gideon?" called out Pavataro, but the boy was trying to keep Nedrick from attacking his rear.

The crocodile snapped at Pavataro's tail. The dragon only pulled it away at the last moment.

The creature was almost at his back legs.

Suddenly, Alice let out a roar as it looked back. The giant lizard squinted at Spudd, who pulled his sword tip from her butt.

"Oh netherhells," muttered Spudd, realizing that he had just made a Very Large Mistake and turned to run. The creature spun in place, bounding after him.

"Help!" Spudd cried.

Pavataro kept moving, plodding.

The sunlight lit up his nose and the drawbridge groaned as he went over. He made it out onto the grass and his legs gave out. Pulling in his right wing, he tipped the log off his back and onto the grass. Then he collapsed.

"Ow," moaned Pavataro softly.

The knight fought desperately with Gideon, who only just managed to keep his head.

Happy Bright Ray shook the cobwebs from his head and sat up. He saw Gideon fighting and suddenly moved. On his hands and knees, he stopped behind the knight and looked up at Gideon.

The boy realized what he was doing.

Jumping forward, Gideon used his staff to push Nedrick back.

The backs of Nedrick's knees collided with the old man and the knight lost his balance. Tumbling backwards, he hit the ground with a great clatter.

Gideon helped up Happy Bright Ray as they turned to the knight.

Nedrick tried to move, but his armor was too heavy and awkward to get up in. He was trapped, like a turtle on its back.

"Curse you," cried Nedrick. "Help me up!"

"I think we'll just leave you there, for the moment," said Gideon, but Happy Bright Ray kicked the knight's foot.

"That's for stealing our property," cried Ray.

"HELP!" called out Spudd, from farther inside the castle.

Gideon and Happy Bright Ray turned and ran towards the cry. Well actually, only the boy ran. Ray walked as quickly as he could, because he had bruised his foot, kicking Nedrick's armor.

They found that Spudd, in his lighter armor, had climbed a table and managed to get hold of the bottom of the chandelier.

The table was now smashed and Alice, the giant lizard stood patiently under Spudd, licking her lips. She seemed to know that he would drop soon enough, like an armor-plated apple from the tree.

"Oh, snail burgers," said Gideon as he girded himself to charge the lizard.

"Wait!" called out Happy Bright Ray.

Gideon just looked at him for a moment and then stepped aside. The old man stepped closer to the lizard.

"Hey Alice!" cried Happy Bright Ray. The crocodile stopped, and then looked at the old man. "Where's your Nummi?"

The lizard made a concerned noise as she looked around suddenly.

"Where's your Nummi? Come on! Follow me!" said Happy Bright Ray as he walked toward the entrance. "It's right over here."

Alice started to follow, and Gideon moved around her to help Spudd down. He came down with a clatter, but unharmed. Then, Gideon went to follow the old man and the lizard. When he got outside, he saw Pavataro backing away from the beast.

"Here's your log," said Happy Bright Ray, motioning towards the sacred log. The crocodile made a happy noise and picked it up easily in her teeth. "Let's go home."

The old man waved to Gideon and Pavataro. "Thank you!"

Then he and the crocodile walked off.

Pavataro slowly moved over to Gideon, all four knees quivering from the burden he had carried.

"We're going straight home," he said.

"Library first," said Gideon.

"Fine. But you carry the books."

***

"You molycots!" cried a voice from the main part of the library.

Pavataro was having a snooze and Gideon just ignored the voice. He had several books tucked under his arm.

"How did you find this?"

Gideon looked at Lord Fullo'it, who stood framed in the secret door.

"It was not hard to find," said the boy. "The shelves for the secret door are made from a different color wood, for one thing."

"And there are scrape marks on the floor, from when the door had been swung open in the past," said Pavataro, without opening his eyes.

"But…but…," started Lord Fullo'it.

"Any eight books from the castle, my choice, and the borrowed book as well." said Gideon, and then he turned giving lord a hard look. "If you're true to your word."

The lord paused for a second, but then relented. "Eight books, your choice, and the borrowed book."

"Did you find Nedrick?" asked Gideon as he turned back to scouring Lord Fullo'it's secret stash.

Honestly, it was not that good. Maybe he'd take only five at the most. But he couldn�t say that out loud, it would be very impolite.

"Nedrick will survive," said the lord.

"Pity," sniffed Pavataro.

"I think you would be wise not to mess with those people again," said Gideon with a warning tone.

"I think you're right," said Lord Fullo'it, defeated. "Dinner will be at six."

-

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