Author's note: This set of Founders is completely separate from any previously written story or series in which I have participated.
"That," Salazar pronounced glumly, "didn't work well."
"It was a perfectly good plan until the dragon decided to rearrange the furniture," Godric pointed out consolingly. "It's not as if they do it all that often. Wouldn't get the cobwebs you usually see in the corners that way, probably have a more even distribution of soot and dust...."
"A good plan," Salazar said, glaring at him in the dim light, "works."
"It was a reasonable plan, then," Godric replied, undaunted. Godric was not very dauntable. Then again, if he had been, he probably wouldn't have been interested in two-wizard dragon-hunting in the first place.
It had been a reasonable plan. They'd found a nice little alcove past a crack in the cave, deep enough they'd be inconspicuous and small enough that the dragon couldn't be using it, and had lurked there long enough that their own scents would be pretty well masked by the reek of the cave, smoke and old prey. Dragons, like hydras, hunted by scent only outside their own dens.
Salazar sighed, then coughed. The dragon-reek had its own hazards. "This is going to be a long wait, isn't it."
The Welsh Green hadn't given any sign of scenting them. She had even lain down on her hoard with her new trinket. (It looked like a lavishly decorated and very impractical shield. Godric's sword was fancy, but it wasn't dented and folded nearly in half, now was it?) Then she had stood up again, whuffled unhappily at her hoard, and started raking it -- before their appalled eyes -- across the cave. In the end, she'd gone to sleep right against the opening into their hiding place.
"Looks that way. At least she didn't wait a few days to come back and then do this."
They might have been able to climb out over her, had they been inclined to try climbing up a dragon's side in narrow quarters and squeezing out between the ridge of her spine and the ridge of the rock. No. They certainly weren't going to attack her -- all her vulnerable bits, eyes and underside, were turned away from them. This was a mature and well fed dragon; spells or blades wouldn't do any more than tickle the armored green side, not while it lived. A strong one might, but the very best they could do from this angle would be a bruise. A wounded and enraged dragon was not something you wanted to confront from a cranny in her den.
"Point. She'd better have all her heartstrings intact."
"No reason to think she hasn't, is there?"
Salazar considered. "Probably not. With that size, sheen, and hoard, she's young enough for a first clutch and strong enough for the male we caught last month to have been the only one in the area with a chance. Maybe the only one with a chance at him, too. But she'd have laid the eggs by now."
It was always best to kill a dragon before it had clutched thirteen times. The strain of battle was evidently not enough to do it, but the violence of their mating practices would snap a heartstring every time. Male and female dragons had to be fairly evenly matched at the beginning, as otherwise one would drive the other off; by the end, however, the male was generally so exhausted the female could raid his hoard for choice bits, which made female dragons especially tempting prey to those seeking gold.
"Wonder where his first clutch is. We'll probably get called in to kill them in a few years. Just as well he only got to one."
There were entirely too many dragons lately. Some of them had developed the bizarre ability to disguise themselves as Viking longboats, which was bad for the people they raided, eerie for those they raided inland, and probably worse for any real Vikings who actually made the mistake, although Godric was not very inclined to sympathize with the last. (Some people thought Viking sorcerors were disguising longboats as dragons. Godric and Salazar weren't dismissing this as an additional possibility, even if they were assured that the warriors involved would consider this an improper use of magic and probably girly, but they were quite sure about the disguised dragons. Longboats and the people who used them did not bleed green.)
Salazar turned to look at him skeptically. "Are you still planning to be doing this in a few years?"
Godric ticked off points on his fingers. "There will still be dragons -- we may be more efficient than most, but we're not that good. They'll still ravage crops and herds and people if they're not balked or killed when they try. They'll still have heartstrings, hide, blood, meat, and hoards to be taken by those who do kill them and live to boast of it." He grinned. "If we both still live and if you're still with me, I think I'll probably be at it for some time. I do hear I might have trouble finding a new partner if you found something better to do, though. Are you expecting it?"
Salazar had to chuckle at that. When he'd first proposed trying at a dragon with only two people, the idea had been dismissed as the sort of thing young men too eager for glory, too confident in their own prowess, and too ignorant of their enemy always came up with. His protest that if he were that overconfident he wouldn't be looking for someone skilled and willing to go with him had been met with shouts of laughter.
Godric had been about the last sort of person Salazar had expected to end up dragon-hunting with, and they both knew it.
"I'm not expecting anything in particular, no. You're right -- it's a very effective road to wealth and status... and perhaps better for the soul than most of those. But you?"
Godric's smile faded. "I wish you'd get over this idea that I'm giving up a chance at a crown. The witan doesn't even know about me; Elfwynn is officially in a nunnery in Wessex and childless. My mother knows very well who she is and who her mother and grandfather were, but it's not exactly common knowledge just because Father let other wizards in on it." With her intended reign and marriage suddenly out of reach, his mother had not been particularly averse to being spirited off by a handsome wizard-thegn. His magic meant he could keep her rather more comfortably than his actual station, and his previously intended and rather timid bride, when pressed to assert herself, had asserted that she didn't actually want to marry at all.
Elfwynn, daughter of Aethelflaed and granddaughter of Alfred the Great, had no qualms about asserting herself. She did, however, have too much good sense to let on to her uncle that the woman who'd gone into the nunnery wasn't the one he'd bundled off, not without a good deal better lever on the balance of power than she presently had.
"You could announce yourselves," Salazar pressed.
The dragon snored.
For once Godric agreed with her. "And then what? Even if by some miracle no one objected to her having slipped her guards and married, brothers and sons would be much more likely successors than I. It's not practical, Salazar. I'd have at least as much trouble convincing anyone I ought to be king as I do convincing some of your friends I ought to be considered a real wizard." He rather suspected he'd have had more trouble convincing Salazar if it weren't for the confusing addition of royal blood and, perhaps more importantly, the willingness to try dragon-hunting. Godric could certainly understand taking pride in having consistent magical breeding, and was (usually) tactful enough not to comment on which families were all-magical because their Muggle neighbors had refused to have anything to do with them for the past dozen generations.
Salazar snorted. "You can convince most of them. You may be neither here nor there, but it's hard to say 'You're not a wizard!' to someone who can take your wand away from across the room in a fair fight."
The grin again. "So you can still say it?" They'd never dueled.
"If I'm depending on you against a dragon? No."
Godric snickered. "I wouldn't leave you to it anyway."
"No, but I would sound like a dimwit."
"That doesn't always stop you -- ow!"
Salazar had deftly jolted Godric's elbow back against the rock. "You deserved that."
"I don't know if I'd go that far, but I'll grant I provoked it." Godric rubbed his elbow and glared at the expanse of dragonhide blocking their way. "Enough of that. I wonder if there's anything we could do to get her to roll over."
"I thought you wanted to be doing this in a few years. Sit down and be patient."
"I'm sitting." Godric shifted onto a potentially more comfortable rock and laid his sword across his knees. "I wondered when you first brought it up if you'd been listening to Rowena, with her notions of building a school for wizardry." Rowena's family had long been famed among wizards for scholarship and had, it turned out, involved themselves enthusiastically if discreetly in King Alfred's educational efforts. Godric had been taken aback but rather pleased at their reaction to his great-grandfather's name.
Salazar laughed aloud. "Her school. Hah! She wants to do too much at once."
"Does she? I rather liked the plan."
"You've heard her. She wants to teach dozens at once and show them all they'd learn from any seven apprenticeships in the time of just one, and make scholars of them besides at the same time. How she means to get any apprentices at all I don't know, either; even if she meant to take them on normally, she's far too young yet for anyone to want to listen to her. It's a mad idea." He grinned across at Godric. "And a splendid one. For doing thirty years or so from now."
"Ah, I see. With the thirty years to be spent gaining age, wealth, and status so as to be seen as desirable teachers."
"Well, that and for comfortable living."
"That might be long enough to tire of chasing dragons, true." Godric snorted. "Or lying in wait for them."
"Lying in wait for them is tiresome within hours. But worth it, I hope."
"You saw her hoard and the size of her as well as I did--" Godric broke off as the dragon shifted in her sleep. Both men held their breaths, but then she settled back down on her belly instead of rolling quite over. "Bah. And climbing over is still out."
"There's just a sliver of space between armor and the ground now, though." Salazar had gone over to crouch down, examining it. "Not enough space to put a blade in and do much good, though. Maybe a wand, and enough of a blasting spell...."
Godric came over to join him in inspecting the change. There was perhaps a handsbreadth now between the heavier scales on the dragon's side and the stone of the cave. "What about a stunner? No blasting spell is going to kill at that angle either, and I thought the idea was not to get her angry while we're still inside."
"You're not going to put a dragon down by stunning it once, either."
"Both of us together, repeat it if there's time, and she'd at least be dazed."
"That could work." Salazar eyed the dragon measuringly. "Lumos. Get out of the way while I pick a spot." He added in a mutter, "I'm not listening to the next person who wants me to crawl down a cave, though."
Godric obligingly backed up. "Who else has been suggesting it?"
"I've never met anyone so determined."
Godric arched an eyebrow. "To drag you into a cave?"
"In general, actually, but she has this odd notion that she dreams her way into the cave where Sigyn protects Loki from the serpent's venom. She asked if I wanted to come along and talk the serpent into drooling somewhere else so she and Sigyn could have a more relaxed conversation."
Godric considered this. "I thought she was Christian."
"She is. She's also a Dane, or partly, and she thinks Sigyn is very admirable."
"Maybe she's trying to get you into bed."
Salazar laughed. "She'd only have to ask. I don't know that we'd make a good match, though. We're both far too stubborn."
"But are you stubborn about the same things?"
"Probably. Here, if you want to stun the dragon, this is the place. I think we can aim for the heart."
Relieved at the prospect of doing something at last, Godric stretched out his arms and legs -- they might have to move quickly -- and then joined Salazar at the dragon's side. He angled his wand up carefully in the gap between heavy scales and stone, sword drawn in his other hand. The two wizards watched each other, then in the same breath put everything they had into the spell. "Stupefy!"
Being a dragon, the dragon was not thrown deeper into sleep but rather started up onto her legs at the shock of the magic. But she swayed and stumped unsteadily, snorting smoke instead of flame and clearly groggy.
As she turned to bring her head to bear on them, both wizards scrambled out of the niche, firing off the same spell again at her eyes and mouth as they darted around her and split up at the first opportunity.
The dragon shook her head unhappily and coughed out another billow of thick smoke; only one of the second set of spells had connected.
Godric sucked in another breath, eyes and lungs burning (but fortunately not literally). Squinting past the sting of sweat and smoke, he located the dragon through the murky air by shadow and sound. "Stupefy!"
"Impedimenta!" He heard Salazar cough immediately afterward.
Both had gone for the heart again this time, and the dragon's head swung one last time toward each of them before drooping gradually to the ground while her legs buckled. Salazar hastily cast a spell to shove her over onto her side, exposing her belly. Godric stepped in to open her throat with his sword, standing well aside to avoid the scalding green blood that spurted out, hissing as it struck the rock. He pulled his sword free and stepped further from the stream, wiping droplets from his face before they could burn much.
"Let that run out --" He broke off as Salazar, with an irritated hiss, yanked him by the arm away from a sluggish but still potentially deadly sweep of a clawed leg. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Watch yourself." They both backed away from the slow-motion death throes of the dragon to the cave mouth and seated themselves on either side of it to watch from a safe distance, breathing cooler and cleaner air gratefully. "That could have gone worse."
"The dragon's dead and we're both in one piece. Of course it could." Dragon-reek wasn't nearly so bad when you had freedom to move and the prospect of using the carcass and hoard. Godric started cleaning his blade so the blood couldn't corrode it. "So. Rowena's mad idea, when we start to slow down?"
A snort answered him. "Before we slow down too much." A slow smile, and Godric could almost see the plans unfolding behind Salazar's eyes. "We'll see."
Review responses for "Doors":
Sylvia Alvarez: I'm glad I could brighten your day, and thanks for letting me know. :) I'll work on getting some more stories written and posted!
Andrea13: Glad you liked it. :) I imagine he dutifully came out to let Poppy check on him, so it was all right if she couldn't find his door -- although perhaps she had some sort of exception in case of emergency.
Nightcrawler1089: I have to admit, I didn't think it was quite that funny, but I'm glad you liked it! :)
DazedMarauder: I do try to be moderately original sometimes. Couldn't resist the earmuffs!
Mcily Nochi: Thank you! I've written Dumbledore some before, but not often from his point of view; I'm glad the characterization worked well for you.
Katja: Why thank you. :)