Fool's Gold (The Dragon Lords #1) - Jon Hollins



It was a confrontation as old as time. A tale begun back when the Pantheon of old first breathed life into the clay mold of man and set him down upon the earth. It was the tale of the untamable pitted against the master. Of the wild tearing at the walls of the civilized. It was man versus the beast.

Will placed each foot carefully, held his balance low. He circled slowly. Cold mud pulled at his feet. Sweat trickled down the crease between his eyebrows. Inch by inch he closed the distance.

The pig Bessie grunted at him.

“Five shek says she tips him on his arse,” said Albor, one of Will’s two farmhands. A strip of hairy gut was visible where he rested it upon the sty’s rickety old fence. It was, Will had noted, significantly hairier in fact than his chin, which he scratched at constantly. Albor’s wife had just departed the nearby village for a monthlong trip to help look after her sister’s new baby, and Albor was three days into growing the beard she hated.

“I say it’s face first, he lands,” said Dunstan, Will’s other farmhand. The two men were a study in contrasts. Where Albor’s stomach swayed heavily over his gut, Dunstan’s broad leather belt was wrapped twice around his waist and still flapped loose beyond the buckle. His narrow face was barely visible behind a thick cloud of facial hair, which his wife loved to excess. She had a tendency to braid sections of it and line it with bows.

“You’re on,” said Albor, spitting in his muddy palm and holding it out to Dunstan.

Will gave a damn about neither beards nor wives. All he cared about was his father’s thrice-cursed prize sow, Bessie. She had been his dancing partner in this sty for almost half an hour now. He was so coated in mud that if he lay upon the sty’s floor, he would have been virtually invisible. He briefly considered this as a possible angle of attack, but the pig was as likely to shit on him and call it a good day’s work as anything else. There was an uncanny intelligence in her eyes. Still, she was old and he was young. Brute force would win the day.

He closed the distance down by another inch.

Bessie narrowed her eyes.

Another inch.

Bessie squealed and charged. Will lunged, met the charge head-on. His hands slammed down hard against her sides.

Bessie flew through his mud-slick palms and crashed all of her considerable weight into his legs. The world performed a sprawling flip around Will’s head, then hit him in the face.

He came up spluttering mud, and was just in time to hear Dunstan say, “That’s five shek you owe me then.”

Bessie was standing nonchalantly behind him, with an air of almost studied calm.

Will found his resolve hardening. Bessie had to die. With a roar, he launched himself at the pig. She bucked wildly. And yet still one of his hands snagged a bony trotter. He heaved upon it with all his might.

Bessie, however, had lived upon the farm longer than Will. She had survived lean winters, breeched piglets, and several virulent diseases, and was determined to survive him. She did not allow her limb to collapse under Will’s weight, advanced years or no. Instead she simply pulled him skidding through the mud. After several laps, he appeared to be done. With her free hoof, she kicked him in the forehead to emphasize the lesson, then walked away.

“I think you almost got her that time,” Albor called in what might be generously described as an encouraging tone.

Will did not respond. Personal honor was at stake at this point in the proceedings. Still, there was only so much mud a man could swallow. He clambered to his feet and retreated to consider his options.

Dunstan patted him on the shoulder as he collapsed against the fence. Bessie regarded him balefully.

“She’s too strong for me,” Will said when he’d gotten his breath back.

“To be fair, you say that about most girls,” Albor told him.

“I have to outsmart her.”

“That too,” Dunstan chipped in.

“Don’t usually work, though.” Albor chewed a strand of straw sagely.

“This,” said Will, his temper fraying, “is not so much helpful advice as much as it is shit swilling in a blocked ditch. That pig has to become crispy rashers and if you have nothing helpful to add you can go back to picking apples in the orchard.”

For a short while the only sound was Bessie farting noisily in her corner of the