art by Richard Gagnon
by Frank Dutkiewicz
James wondered what kind of idiot he had become. Here he was, mere feet from the entrance to a dragon's lair, and not just any dragon's lair, the dragon of all dragon's lair. They didn't call Cirole "terrible" because of a pleasant disposition.
"I changed my mind."
Fredrick turned and glared at him, his expression matching the farmer's they crossed when they admitted they were headed for Cirole's cave.
"You can't change your mind now," Fredrick said. "We've journeyed a week to get here and climbed a thousand feet up this cliff. All the gold in the world is within reach. Why would you chicken out now?"
"The thought of walking into a man-eating monster's cave just sunk in."
"It just sunk in? You mean, up until now, it didn't occur to you this quest might be dangerous?"
James pointed at the ground. "The fact we're both kneeling inside one of his footprints kind of hit it home for me."
Fredrick drummed his fingers on the boulder they were hiding behind. "Look James, life is dangerous. As long as we're gruel-eating peasants we run the risk of death everyday. We're subject to subjugation in the king's army whenever he decides it's a good time to launch another crusade. Half of everything we grow is the property of our lord. We've got nothing." He jammed a finger at the cave. "In there is an escape from nothing. We get to be the lords, with damsels, and moats, and all the rest of the stuff we only dreamed of. It's gold that separates us from nobility, nothing else."
James wiped sweat off his brow. All Fredrick said was true, but was it worth it? "What if he's in there?"