Dead Dragons aren’t much fun.  Not even if they’re not really dead, just torn away from their roots and now everyone thinks they’ve got some kind of Hero on their hands.  I’m no hero.  I’m no wizard.  This was no disco, nor any country club.  Who was this beautiful King?  I shifted my weight, eyeing the shifting black claws of the Seven Monarch of the Small Kingdom.

“What Peredur wants and what he can have might be different things,” I said with all the confidence I didn’t have.  After all, he disrespected any mortal boundaries, walking through walls and flinging me several miles away with the mere effort of lifting me up by the jacket with his teeth.  That’s not reality as we know it.  I had a piece of him, though, and I knew a couple of wizards.  I wasn’t afraid to use them.

“So speaks the Guardian of the Threshold, the mortal who stands between.  But is he a Dragon-Slayer or just an advisor at the scene?” The King once more climbed up towards the egg, leaning against it and stroking it with those claws to make a thin scratching noise.

I considered the question rhetorical, and took the opportunity to look at the egg.  Was Thomas in there, then, being remade and reborn somehow?  What did they want me to do, crack him open and see if he was cracked?  Great.  It was catching.

“How do we get started?” I asked.  When in doubt, let them lead, right?  Even if it led to swamps and getting your feet wet.  Trouble, and possibly heavy petting.

“Speak, Tom, and be judged, let your silence savor the answer,” the King said, ringing the egg with a thump.  The light inside the egg brightened.

“From the hag and hungry goblin, that into rags would rend ye, to the King of ghosts and Shadows, summoned unto journey.  Do dance you in the Dragon’s blaze, all witches spin and turning, your lady with golden tresses fair, the maiden’s not for burning.”  The words came from a voice that was at once familiar and strange.

“Does he always talk like this?” I asked.

The Seven King answered.  “He couplets prophesy in verse, and so the gift we gave.  But whether his sight is true or cloudy, the truth is grave.”

“He said something that worried you,” I guessed.  “And you want to know if it’s going to become true, or just nonsense.”

The King stiffened, like literally, like a statue of obsidian for just a moment.  Rayya was similarly frozen, but hers faded faster.  She tilted her head, and that spine-tingling sense of curiosity returned.

“It was an easy jump, guys,” I complained. “I didn’t even need the backboard to get it into the hoop.”

Rayya looked confused.

“Nevermind. I’m no good at sports metaphors, and talking about THAC0 makes peoples’ eyes glaze over.  Let’s just say that that was easy, which is why I now suspect it.  But, because I’m playing the straight man, I’ll go with it at least until I get some kind of brilliant epiphany, if ever I am struck metaphorically,” I emphasized the word, “by lightning.”

“By lightning crisped, and fire crossed, the smoke you smell is clearer, though rings be granted, and silver tossed, your reflection is the mirror,” Thomas intoned.

“Does he know we’re out here?” I asked.

“It is not a prison,” Rayya said.  I think she was trying to comfort me a little, however too human a motive to pin to her.  “It is a chamber of sorts. His needs are few in this form, and he is not unduly affected by the Small things that waver and flow.”

“Flicker and flame,” the Seven King corrected, finding animation again. “Nor us to blame.”

No, not them to blame.  He was talking to me.  “They follow the call, or fall the fall,” I said aloud, remembering the phrase from his letter.  I knew then what he meant, or I thought I had.  Now I wasn’t so sure.

“The waves push back, the kraken unleashed, the war has unfolded, and the fallout released,” Thomas responded.  Not pleasant tidings at all.

The King froze momentarily, then flit to the other side of the egg.  “You called the Closer, and he came, my love. Speak of the words that sent us to look above.”

His voice changed, and it rang in my bones.  “Quested, Lost, and Dragon Bested. Small the Cost, Passion Guested. Love we speak, and love we waste, the shadows grow where she’s displaced. The one that fell… she will rise, the one who bites will be chastised.  The reign of kings of spectre’d throne, the rain of kings, all overthrown.”

I turned towards the King.  “What…did you ask him?”

The King transformed back into the dark-skinned lovely, bare and sonsy, the darkness filling out and changing like a wave from toes to top.  She wiggled and gyrated her way off the nest in a way that gave me ample opportunity to ogle her backside, each curve a perfect and pleasant way to rest my eyes.  Not a comfortable one, certainly, but pleasant, yes.

Rayya sighed.  “The Seven King seeks the satisfaction a Tom cannot grant her, as he is never truly belonging to this world.  The Seven King sought the name of a partner.  A Year King.”  Rayya shrugged, humanity flitting across her features.  “A Small thing.”

I backed away, putting my hands up between us.  “Not a small thing.  I mean, male pride aside.”  Great.  It really was contagious.  “I’m um, I’ve got a girlfriend,” I managed to say in my defense.

“One turn of your seasons is not a promise broken,” the King said.  “Tell us true,” she said, moving close, her lips luscious and ripe, “did you have a promise?”

“I had a premise,” I said, stepping back.

She moved towards me again, smiling as if this was just a form of dance. “We would have smelled the ties upon you.”

“I’m allergic to ties, except at formal functions,” I said, turning to the right slightly.  “I don’t have any commitment issues.  We’re just at the early stage, embryonic.  I’m all for the right to choose, and I’m choosing to see how it works out.”

She spun around, and touched my jacket lightly.  I could feel the warmth of her fingers through the fabric, and I think my pulse went up a notch or two.  I was feeling light-headed.  “We did not suspect fear. We saw further than you knew.”

“I know what happens to Year Kings.  Human sacrifice makes the sun come back, and the grass grow.” I felt less confident as I said it aloud, but I stopped the dance.

She laughed, the tinkling of icicles crackling at the first breath of spring.  She smelled like mint and a bit like Christmas.  You know, like a really fresh salad, and the frost on the wind, and a bit like fir trees, and maybe a bit like hot chocolate.  “This is the Small Court,” she said.  “Could we reassure you that no death is required?”  She breathed the last up against my ear.  She was taller than I expected, up this close next to me.  And her breasts were amazing.

“I’m sure you could,” I said.  “That’s not the same thing as saying it outright.”

“You are our guest, and no harm shall befall you from our people or our hand,” she said, very serious, but there was something whimsical in the way she ruffled my hair.

“And are there people besides yours I’m in danger from, or, you know, do you kill people with your feet?” I asked.  She touched my face, and I shivered, and my neck, and I shuddered.

“So suspicious.  Why did our Dear Thomas recommend you?” she asked, laughing again.  This was a laugh like the mewling of a newborn kitten.

“He was trying to set me up?” I asked.  “I don’t know.  What happens to Thomas if I,” I gulped, “agree?”  Her hand trailed down lower, somewhere near my zatch.

“Our arrangement is set.  What he wished, we will grant, and the cost will be borne by both. There are echoes of other Courts in what we do, but our needs are different.”

“One more question,” I said.  Her other hand rested at my throat, at that sensitive place between the collarbones, where you are almost ticklish.  An intimate place, and I felt half sick and half excited by it, the heat definitely adding to my dizzy.  “What is the Small Court?”

Rayya laughed.  “One more question, the wizard-friend says.  Did you forget, my King, that he is also the secret-caller?”

“We do not forget, Snowflake,” the King said, but it sounded almost fond. “We remember the warnings, all.  Are we displaced, or do we rise?”

The egg that held Thomas glowed once more.  “Quested, Lost, and Dragon Bested,” it repeated again, in the voice that echoed.  “Kings will fall, and Kings be tested.  Dance with fire, or dance with death, the fiddler cares not you’re out of breath.”

“My question remains,” I said as the King pulled away, looking at the slowly fading light from the egg. “I am being proposed to, and this engagement is awkward.  I am not much of a Queen.” I tried not to make the obvious joke. “What dowry am I bringing? Who am I kissing?” I tried not to blush, too, but I may have lost that battle.  I was better able to breathe now that the King had turned away from me.  Even the curve of her shoulders was gorgeous.  Glamorous.

Of course.

I had a theory, and I was going to try it.

I closed my eyes and tried to Close myself to this.  I tried to find where I was, in a sensory fashion, using my knack, my little talent, and Closed it to anything, drawing up some kind of rudimentary shield.  I don’t know how successful I was, but the massive um… the desire seemed to recede, so either I was successful at thinking about first player shooters and goldfish (the two least sexy things I could immediately name) or this was at least a somewhat useful thing to try again in the future.

Now that I could think of things besides how the fit of my clothing was less flattering with the inevitable physical reaction, I opened my eyes again.

“What truths could we give you that you would accept, what dreams would you dream bereft of the world you know?” the King whispered.

“Once I’ve gone down the rabbit hole?” I asked.   “This is not my world, and I don’t know the rules. I’ll be at a disadvantage and concerned with what’s going on in my absence.  I’m sure the sex would be awesome,” I said, because even without the constant push of arousal, the King was hot.  Really hit my buttons.  “Strained my buttons,” sounded a bit too cheesy.  “But I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request.”

“Are you the fiddler, then?” the King asked, still looking at the egg.

“I can’t play a tune,” I admitted.  “But I can’t dance either.”

“We disagree.” She turned around and twined her hands around me.  She kissed me.

That was a simple way of saying it.  I can’t say at any time I wanted to complain.  She was earth and fire, and magma, and tasted like Santa Claus if his red meant cinnamon-hot candies.  Um, my brain was a little fritzed. She pulled my hair and ground her body against me.

It was nice.  It was distracting.  It wasn’t everything it could have been if I hadn’t managed to give myself at least the mental space, and I would not be honest if I didn’t admit I was a bit disappointed.

Only a tiny bit.

Part of me was noticing it was nice to kiss girls… and it was even nicer to kiss naked girls.  And it was even nicer to be kissed by naked girls who really fit my aesthetic.

That was, of course, the moment the egg decided to start to crack.