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Fido is a Loving Beast
by Ardath Mayhar
The clanging of metal upon metal brought Florelle to the
edge of the forest. "God's boots and buckler!" she said
aloud, reveling in her irreverence. "What can that signify?"
She listened, her golden head cocked on one side, the better
It was not the urgent yammering of the great iron bell
that her father was so proud of. Besides, that only
signalled war, and all the neighboring principalities had
made peace long since. A couple of her father's peers were,
even now, working in the hayfields with him and all the serfs
they could spare from necessary tasks.
No, that sounded like ... she sighed. Another noble
lackwit, come to make his name by slaying the last dragon in
all the known lands. Drat! He was hammering with his sword-
hilt upon the metal-studded gate of the keep, even though the
thing stood wide in time of haying.
She pulled her oldest gown above her knees and sped back
the way she had come. Poor Fido! He was such a loving
beast. It always upset him when this happened. And she! It
made her wince to think of all the far from noble dodges she
had been put to in order to protect her unlikely pet.
But she had reared him from a tiny creature, hardly
eight feet long, Just from the egg, he had been, when his
mother had fallen victim to just such a one as now stood at
the castle gate. Florelle had been wandering the forest, as
her habit had been since she was tiny, and had found him,
lying all but starved in her path.
For months, nobody had been able to explain the
disappearance of hens and eggs from the poultry runs. Then
he had graduated to live game, which had relieved her of much
unpleasant scrambling about after disturbed hens in the most
distant of the runs.
It was too bad the forester had sighted him. By then,
of course, he was at least half grown and a very respectable
dragon, indeed, with lengthy coils and scarlet wings. The
word had gone out at once. Another dragon for the slaying!
And all the idiots with nothing better to do had donned
their armor to come and do battle with him. As if Fido knew
how to fight armed men! Only his mother could have taught
him that. All Florelle could do was to teach him to trick
them, and that she had done with a will.
Of course her father had been forced by tradition (and
her mother, who felt herself to be tradition's mainstay)
to offer his daughter's hand to the one who would deliver his
principality from the fearsome beast. That was the way it
was done, notwithstanding the fact that the aforesaid beast
had never harmed a creature under his protection, unless
you might count those early hens. Prince Paulus's forest was
singularly free of predators and of large rats, as well,
though nobody could account for that, except for Florelle.
Now she ran among the huge boles of oaks and beeches,
and her thoughts were as unprincesslike as her gait. The
charcoal -- was there enough? Yes, she had seen to that
after the last attacker, back in the late fall. And the
cauldron of dye as red as blood? It was full. She had
checked only a week ago. Still, she must warn her pet, for he
was entirely too trusting for one of his species.
Pausing before an outcropping of rock that had tumbled
down the steep cliff at the edge of the wood, she whistled
sharply. There came a grumbling roar in reply ... a very
soft one, she was glad to note. Fido had learned not to give
full voice after shaking the ground all the way to the
nearest cathedral town and setting the bells to ringing at
midnight. That had given her a fright, indeed, though the
scholars and theologians luckily decided that the Devil had
been unusually active in Hell on that night.
Fortunately, men were mainly fools, she had decided long
A large head with liquid green eyes and golden whiskers
came slithering out of a cranny in the rock-slide. The eyes
went soft when they saw her, and a burbling purr came from
the cart-wide span of his mouth.
She smiled in spite of herself. He was so loving! But
entirely too trusting. She scrambled into the cavern and
sat on a rock. The great creature arranged his coils among
the stones that furnished his home and laid his chin -- or
what served as such -- at her feet.
"There is another one at the gate this moment," she told
Fido. "Metal from head to heels, and likely a helmful of
purest granite. He will probably dine and sleep the night
before coming out to find you, but I want you well hidden,
just in case he is in a hurry. I shall slip away before the
house wakes in the morning and stoke up the fires at the back
of the cave.
"You go into the deepest places and keep very still. Go
to sleep -- you do that so well, dear. I'll make a dragon
for him, smokes and flames and all, and if he is like the
rest he will claim to have slain you and nobly renounce all
reward before he leaves. Heaven knows what I should do if
one came who had no honor at all and tried to claim me. I
might well bring him here for a dalliance. Yet I would
hesitate to give you a taste for humanity. That might become
The big creature burbled softly, and she patted the
scaly head. "We shall worry about that when there is cause,"
she said. "Until then, go quickly and hide. I shall visit
you after we have put this newcomer to flight."
Fido arranged his coils and glided away over the stony
floor, his scales rustling in a shivery fashion. His friend
and mistress watched him go with a fond smile.
Florelle arrived home a bit late and more than a bit
untidy from her exertions. She was met by her mother, who
was more indignant than usual at her daughter's unladylike
"Here's a fine young man, come all the way from Bar-
Bludgeon to fight the dragon and claim your hand, and you are
poking about in that dirty wood, getting insects in your hair
and dirt on your dress. If only I had produced a proper
daughter! But you are too like your Aunt Alzabel. Entirely
too like! I wonder why I consented, when your father asked
me to wed. I knew Alzabel. I should have been warned!"
Florelle was too used to such tirades to listen. She
washed and changed and went meekly down to dinner, where she
was all a young girl should be, quiet, meek, agreeable. So
much so that her mother glanced suspiciously at her more than
The knight, once he peeled off his crust of armor, was
very young. Almost, indeed, as young as Florelle. All of the
others had been hard-bitten sportsmen with nothing in their
heads but spoor and tracking techniques. They had wanted her
as little as she did them, for all their lust had been for
poor Fido. Until, of course, they came within sight of the
cave, with its billows of smoke and its scarlet flames
shooting out of the cavern-mouth.
Once they established in their minds that a real ...
live ... dragon lived there, it was a matter of much
simplicity to send them flying. A bellow from Fido, rumbling
up from the depths where she hid him, always had done the job
She rather hated to do that with this one. He looked
too ill-at-ease, too unsure of himself to play such a trick
on him. After dinner, for the first time in her life, she
consented to sit at one side of the fireplace with him while
her mother sewed on the other, within sight but out of easy
"Why do you come hunting our dragon?" Florelle asked
him, pretending to poke back a stray coal into the fire.
"From your look, I should say you would take naturally to
farming, as my father does."
His hand stole from his side and found hers, where she
had carefully left it waiting under a fold of her skirt.
Florelle felt something that had not occurred to her before.A
most interesting sensation, indeed. She looked questioningly
at him, then at her mother.
A grin touched her lips. "Edred, do you like to get up
early? Very, very early? There is something I might show
you, before dawn tomorrow, if you would meet me at the
postern gate." She watched his face closely.
A smile touched his own lips. He shot a glance at the
old Princess, but her eyes were fixed on her work. "I'll be
there," he breathed.
Fido liked Edred at once. When he overcame his
surprise, Edred found the big beast every bit as affectionate
and interesting as did Florelle. Before the sun rose, the
two young people had gone deeper along the cliffs to find
another cavern, better hidden and less accessible than the
Getting Fido there was not as chancy as it would have
been later in the morning. Once he was well hidden they
poured the cauldron of "blood" on the floor, whacked about
with Edred's blade to scar a few rocks, and made it look as
if a terrible battle had taken place there.
The Prince came, when they called him to view the place
where the dragon had been slain. Though no body was found,
everyone agreed that not even a Worm could withstand the loss
of so much blood without dying, sooner or later.
"He flew away," said Edred, gesturing upward. "I would
guess that he fell in the mountains beyond the cliffs. He
could hardly fly at all, and he wavered in the air."
The Prince sighed, partly with relief that such
foolishness was over, at long last, and partly with regret at
what he must say next. "And now I must, by my word, offer
you my daughter's hand in marriage. What say you? Though I
admit that she will be sorely missed."
Edred's face reddened, but he stood squarely before the
older man. "Sir, I will accept her hand, gladly, if she is
willing. Not otherwise. And if it please you and your lady
wife, perhaps we might live here with you. It seems that you
have need for another pair of strong hands about your fields.
Farming is my interest and my love, after your beautiful
"My father has many sons and you have none. Would that
So the two were wed. Amid much rejoicing, they rode
away for a fortnight of privacy, as was proper. They never
told anyone they spent the weeks in Fido's cavern, visited
often by the big beast.
And no one ever understood why they and their children
spent so many fair summer days wandering in the forest at the
foot of the cliff near the mountains.