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Mortal Enemies

Margaret Speaker Yuan is an award winning author of speculative fiction. She escaped from academia before she received a PhD in French. Her interests include travel, volunteering, children's literature, and storytelling. One of the characters in her story is based on her younger child's dog, who sits up and watches TV but who doesn't drink beer.

Frydthorn waved her wand. The last drunken shrimp from her cocktail flew into her mouth.
"Nice trick," said the knight in chainmail next to her. "Scooping up your shrimp with your chopstick."
The dog on the barstool beside the knight coughed, a dog's cough, but somehow it sounded like the word 'Magic.'
Frydthorn sighed. The well-known idea, that women couldn't do magic, made people unable to see that she was a fully-trained magician with a powerful wand.
In the past, she had tried wearing a false beard and shoulder pads. She'd bespelled her voice down to a baritone. People saw her perform magic when she cross-dressed but her disguise made the ladies want to cuddle up. Not to her, only to her magic. Some of them were very cute but would they be interested in her when they found out she wasn't a guy?
The knight nudged his barstool closer to hers. She sighed. The call of magic was acting on his blood.
Frydthorn waved her wand again. The alcohol in the knight's drink ignited and singed his beard.
"Wow. Spontaneous combustion." He beat the sparks in his beard out. "I thought that was a myth."
The dog rolled his eyes. He barked, 'Blind.'
Frydthorn sighed. All she wanted was to be seen as she really was. Magician and female plus her last, most important secret. She had never even dreamed of revealing it.
She stretched, sliding her hands out as far as they would go. Her butt should have gone up in the air at the same time. Nope. She wasn't going to give herself away. Her backside stayed firmly planted on the barstool.
The dog snorted. Cute little pooch, thought Frydthorn. Short-haired, maybe 15 pounds, he sat up with his front paws on the bar, for all the world like a small person. He lapped his beer from a saucer and coughed, "Ah."
The knight edged his barstool another few inches toward Frydthorn. "So," he said, "what's your sign?"
"Cliche," coughed the dog.
"Shut up," said the knight.
Frydthorn, about to reply, closed her mouth and looked at him askance.
"Not you, miss. My poodle. Actually, he's a mix. Shitzu-poodle. A shitpoo. Thinks he can talk. Name's Gynrick. The dog's name, that is. Call him Rick. I'm Marrapanoth. Noth for short."
"Noth, I'm Frydthorn." He's going to ask me to dinner, she thought.
"Frydthorn," said Noth in a knightly tone, "would you accompany me to a local fine dining establishment?"
"No," barked Rick.
Behind Noth, a barbarian, tatts all over his bare chest, muscles bulging, loomed as only a barbarian could loom.
"No, thank you," said Frydthorn. "I need to wax my wand."
"What?" said Noth. A smile played at the corners of his mouth, as if he thought she might be making an innuendo.
"Oh, nothing," said Frydthorn. Rick bared his teeth in a dog's grin. He had an adorable little underbite. She glanced at the barbarian, gulped the rest of her drunken shrimp cocktail, and stood up. Rick jumped down off of his barstool.
Frydthorn heard a bottle break. She thought, Ah, the evening's entertainment is about to start.
The barbarian slammed Noth's head down onto the bar. Noth swung around with a knife in his hand. "Why'd you do that?" he yelled.
The barbarian grinned. Rick ran between his feet. Noth lunged. The barbarian's bellow "Waauugh!" morphed into "Woopsie!" as he tripped over the dog.
Unable to stop himself, Noth stumbled over the man and dog on the floor. With a jangle of chainmail, he slammed into the back wall of the barroom.
The barbarian tried to get up. He planted one hand on Rick's back. The dog yelped.
Frydthorn kicked the barbarian in the face and scooped Rick into her arms. "Hey, you OK?" He licked her face as she rubbed his back.
She skirted the other barbarians who were closing in on Noth. "Rescue him?" she said. Rick shook his head.
A barbarian sailed past them. He crashed into the swinging doors and landed face down in the dusty street. A second later, the doors fell on top of him. He jumped to his feet, wiped his nose on his hand, and screamed a battle cry as he charged back into the bar. He still held a broken bottle.
That was part of the barbarian code, never drop your weapon, thought Frydthorn. I should trip him. That'll add to the general ambiance. She raised her foot but he leapt right over it and landed in the fray.
Noth was probably at the epicenter of it. Not even his head showed over the swirling mass of fighters. She carried Rick outside and set him down on his feet. She said, "So, where are we eating?"
Rick coughed, "Fish. Tacos."
"My favorite. Julio's?"
Rick nodded. He trotted next to her, for all the world like a small dog, but his shadow showed a tall man with a pack over his shoulder.
"You can drop the disguise if you want," said Frydthorn.
She blinked as he shapeshifted. Now his shadow showed a small dog.
"I'm cursed," he said when she cocked an eyebrow at him. "Not a dog or a man."
"Cool," said Frydthorn. She wondered whether she had the courage to show him her true self. "We ought to be mortal enemies, you know?"
"No, I don't," said Rick. "Why?"
Seven of nine lives down, she thought. I've never been so nervous.
Her pulse sang in her ears. She turned so that he could see her shadow. "You already guessed my secret, didn't you?"
He sighed. "I was hoping I'd made a mistake. So we can't be friends? Or more than friends? Because that's the way of the universe, isn't it?"
"Mmm, well, women can't do magic and dogs can't talk." She reached out to embrace him. "But we don't believe that, do we?"
Their shadows, hers of a huge cat and his of a tiny dog, merged when they kissed.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 7th, 2022
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