Image is “Saint George And The Dragon” in Alexander Gardens, Moscow
Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.
The George Business
by Roger Zelazny
Deep in his lair, Dart twisted his golden length about his small hoard, his sleep troubled by dreams of a series of identical armored assailants. Since dragons’ dreams are always prophetic, he woke with a shudder, cleared his throat to the point of sufficient illumination to check the state of his treasure, stretched, yawned and set forth up the tunnel to consider the strength of the opposition. If it was too great, he would simply flee, he decided. The hell with the hoard, it wouldn’t be the first time.
As he peered from the cave mouth, he beheld a single knight in mismatched armor atop a tired-looking grey horse, just rounding the bend. His lance was not even couched, but still pointing skyward.
Assuring himself that the man was unaccompanied, he roared and slithered forth.
“Halt,” he bellowed, “you who are about to fry!”
The knight obliged.
“You’re just the one I came to see,” the man said. “I have —”
“Why,” Dart asked, “do you wish to start this business up again? Do you realize how long it has been since a knight and dragon have done battle?”
“Yes, I do. Quite a while. But I —”
“It is almost invariably fatal to one of the parties concerned. Usually your side.”
“Don’t I know it. Look, you’ve got me wrong —”
“I dreamt a dragon-dream of a young man named George with whom I must do battle. You bear him an extremely close resemblance.”
“I can explain. It’s not as bad as it looks. You see —”
“Is your name George?”
“Well, yes. But don’t let that bother you —”
“It does bother me. You want my pitiful hoard? It wouldn’t keep you in beer money for a season. Hardly worth the risk.”
“I’m not after your hoard —”
“I haven’t grabbed off a virgin in centuries. They’re usually old and tough, anyhow, not to mention hard to find.”
“No one’s accusing —”
“As for cattle, I always go a great distance. I’ve gone out of my way, you might say, to avoid getting a bad name for my own territory.”
“I know you’re no real threat here. I’ve researched it quite carefully —”
“And do you think that armor will really protect you when I exhale my deepest, hottest flames?”
“Hell, no! So don’t do it, huh? If you’d please —”
“And that lance… You’re not even holding it properly.”
George lowered the lance.
“On that you are correct,” he said, “but it happens to be tipped with one of the deadliest poisons known to Herman the Apothecary.”
“I say! That’s hardly sporting!”
“I know. But even if you incinerate me, I’ll bet I can scratch you before I go.”
“Now that would be rather silly — both of us dying like that — wouldn’t it?” Dart observed, edging away. “It would serve no useful purpose that I can see.”
“I feel precisely the same way about it.”
“Then why are we getting ready to fight?”
“I have no desire whatsoever to fight with you!”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand. You said your name is George, and I had this dream —”
“I can explain it.”
“But the poisoned lance —”
“Self-protection, to hold you off long enough to put a proposition to you.”
Dart’s eyelids lowered slightly.
“What sort of proposition?”
“I want to hire you.”
“Hire me? Whatever for? And what are you paying?”
“Mind if I rest this lance a minute? No tricks?
“Go ahead. If you’re talking gold, your life is safe.”
George rested his lance and undid a pouch at his belt. He dipped his hand into it and withdrew a fistful of shining coins. He tossed them gently, so that they clinked and shone in the morning light.
“You have my full attention. That’s a good piece of change there.”
“My life savings. All yours — in return for a bit of business.”
“What’s the deal?”
George replaced the coins in his pouch and gestured.
“See that castle in the distance — two hills away?”
“I’ve flown over it many times.”
“In the tower to the west are the chambers of Rosalind, daughter of the Baron Maurice. She is very dear to his heart, and I wish to wed her.”
“There is a problem?”
“Yes. She’s attracted to big, brawny barbarian types, into which category I, alas, do not fall. In short, she doesn’t like me.”
“That is a problem.”
“So if I could pay you to crash in there and abduct her, to bear her off to some convenient and isolated place and wait for me, I’ll come along, we’ll fake a battle, I’ll vanquish you, you fly away and I’ll take her home. I am certain I will then appear sufficiently heroic in her eyes to rise from sixth to first position on her list of suitors. How does that sound to you?”
Dart sighed a long column of smoke.
“Human, I bear your kind no special fondness — particularly the armored variety with lances — so I don’t know why I’m telling you this… Well, I do know actually… But never mind. I could manage it, all right. But if you win the hand of the maid, do you know what’s going to happen? The novelty of your deed will wear off after a time — and you know there will be no encore. Give her a year, I’d say, and you’ll catch her fooling around with one of those brawny barbarians she finds so attractive. Then you must either fight him and be slaughtered or wear horns, as they say.”
“It’s nothing to me how she spends her free time. I’ve a girlfriend in town myself.”
Dart’s eyes widened.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand…”
“She’s the old baron’s only offspring, and he’s on his last legs. Why else do you think an uncomely wench like that would have six suitors? Why else would I gamble my life’s savings to win her?”
“I see,” said Dart. “Yes I can understand greed.”
“I call it desire for security.”
“Quite. In that case, forget my simple-minded advice. All right, give me the gold and I’ll do it.” Dart gestured with one gleaming vane. “The first valley in those western mountains seems far enough from my home for our confrontation.”
“I’ll pay you half now and half on delivery.”
“Agreed. Be sure to have the balance with you, though, and drop it during the scuffle. I’ll return for it after you two have departed. Cheat me and I’ll repeat the performance, with a different ending.”
“The thought had already occurred to me. — Now, we’d better practice a bit, to make it look realistic. I’ll rush at you with the lance, and whatever side she’s standing on, I’ll aim for it and pass you on the other. You raise that wing, grab the lance and scream like hell. Blow a few flames around, too.”
“I’m going to see you scour the tip of that lance before we rehearse this.”
“Right. — I’ll release the lance while you’re holding it next to you and rolling around. Then I’ll dismount and rush toward you with my blade. I’ll whack you with the flat of it — again, on the far side — a few times. Then you bellow again and fly away.”
“Just how sharp is that thing, anyway?”
“Damned dull. It was my grandfather’s. Hasn’t been honed since he was a boy.”
“And you drop the money in the fight?”
“Certainly. — How does that sound?”
“Not bad. I can have a few clusters of red berries under my wing, too. I’ll squash them once the action gets going.”
“Nice touch. Yes, do that. Let’s give it a quick rehearsal now and then get on with the real thing.”
“And don’t whack too hard…”
That afternoon, Rosalind of Maurice Manor was abducted by a green and gold dragon who crashed through the wall of her chamber and bore her off in the direction of the western mountains.
“Never fear!” shouted her sixth-ranked suitor — who just happened to be riding by — to her aged father who stood wringing his hands on a nearby balcony. “I’ll rescue her!” and he off to the west.
Coming into the valley where Rosalind stood backed into a rocky cleft, guarded by the fuming beast of gold and green, George couched his lance.
“Release that maiden and face your doom!” he cried.
Dart bellowed, George rushed. The lance fell from his hands and the dragon rolled upon the ground, spewing gouts of fire into the air. A red substance dribbled from beneath the thundering creature’s left wing. Before Rosalind’s wide eyes, George advanced and swung his blade several times.
“… and that!” he cried, as the monster stumbled to his feet and sprang into the air, dripping more red.
It circled once and beat it’s way off toward the top of the mountain, then over it and away.
“Oh George!” Rosalind cried, and she was in his arms. “Oh, George…”
He pressed her to him for a moment.
“I’ll take you home now,” he said.
That evening as he was counting his gold, Dart heard the sound of two horses approaching his cave. He rushed up the tunnel and peered out.
George, now mounted on a proud white stallion and leading the gray, wore a matched suit of bright armor. He was not smiling, however.
“Good evening,” he said.
“Good evening. What brings you back so soon?”
“Things didn’t turn out exactly as I’d anticipated.”
“You seem far better accountered. I’d say your fortunes had taken a turn.”
“Oh, I recovered my expenses and came out a bit ahead. But that’s all. I’m on my way out of town. Thought I’d stop by and tell you the end of the story. — Good show you put on though, by the way. It probably would have done the trick —”
“But — ?”
“She was married to one of the brawny barbarians this morning, in their family chapel. They were just getting ready for a wedding trip when you happened by.”
“I’m awfully sorry.”
“Well, it’s the breaks. To add insult, though, her father dropped dead of a heart attack during your performance. My former competitor is now the new baron. He rewarded me with a new horse and armor, a gratuity and a scroll from the local scribe lauding as a dragon-slayer. Then he hinted rather strongly that the horse and my new reputation could take me far. Didn’t like the way Rosalind was looking at me now that I’m a hero.”
“That is a shame. Well, we tried.”
“Yes. So I just stopped by to thank you and let you know how it all turned out. It would have been a good idea — if it had worked.”
“You could hardly have seen such nuptials. — You know, I’ve spent the entire day thinking about the affair. We did manage it awfully well.”
“Oh, no doubt about that. It went beautifully.”
“I was thinking… how’d you like a chance to get your money back?”
“What have you got in mind?”
“Uh — When I was advising you earlier that you might not be happy with the lady, I was trying to think about the situation in human terms. Your desire was entirely understandable to me otherwise. In fact, you think quite a bit like a dragon.”
“Yes. It’s rather amazing, actually. Now — realizing that it only failed because of a fluke, your idea still has considerable merit.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”
“There is — ah — a lovely lady of my own species whom I have been singularly unsuccessful in impressing for a long while now. Actually, there are an unusual number of parallels in our situations.”
“She has a large hoard, huh?”
“Among dragons, a few centuries this way or that are not so important. But she, too, has other admirers and seems more attracted to the brash variety.”
“Uh-huh. I begin to get the drift. You gave me some advice once. I’ll return the favor. Some things are more important than hoards.”
“My life. If I were to threaten her, she might do me in all by herself, before you could come to her rescue.”
“No, she’s a demure little thing. Anyway, it’s all a matter of timing. I’ll perch on a hilltop nearby — I’ll show you where — and signal you when to begin your approach. Now, this time I have to win, of course. Here’s how we’ll work it…”
George sat on the white charger and divided his attention between the distant cavemouth and the crest of a high hill off to his left. After a time, a shining winged form flashed through the air and settled upon the hill. Moments later it raised one bright wing.
He lowered his visor, couched his lance and started forward. When he came within hailing distance of the cave he cried out:
“I know you’re in there, Megtag! I’ve come to destroy you and make off with your hoard! You godless beast! Eater of children! This is your last day on earth!”
An enormous burnished head with cold green eyes emerged from the cave. Twenty feet of flame shot from its huge mouth and scorched the rock before it. George halted hastily. The beast looked twice the size of Dart and did not look in the least retiring. Its scales rattled like metal as it began to move forward.
“Perhaps I exaggerated…” George began, and heard the frantic flapping of giant vanes overhead.
As the creature advanced, he felt himself seized by the shoulders. He was borne aloft so rapidly that the scene below dwindled to toy-size in a matter of moments. He saw his new steed bolt and flee rapidly back along the route they had followed.
“What the hell happened?” he cried.
“I hadn’t been around for awhile,” Dart replied. “Didn’t know one of the others had moved in with her. You’re lucky I’m fast. That’s Pelladon. He’s a mean one.”
“Great. Don’t you think you should have checked first?”
“Sorry. I thought she’d take decades to make up her mind — without prompting. Oh, what a hoard! You should have seen it!”
“Follow that horse. I want him back.”
They sat before Dart’s cave, drinking.
“Where’d you ever get a whole barrel of wine?”
“Lifted it from a barge, up the river. I do that every now and then. I keep a pretty good cellar, if I do say so myself.”
“Indeed. Well, we’re none the poorer, really. We can drink to that.”
“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.”
“Now supposing — just supposing — you were to travel about. Good distances from here each time. Scout out villages, on the continent and in the isles. Find out which ones are well off and lacking in local heroes…”
“… And let them see that dragon-slaying certificate of yours. Brag a bit. Then come back with a list of towns. Maps, too.
“Find the best spots for a little harmless predation and choose a good battle site —”
“Thanks. Then you show up, and for a fee —”
“That’s what I was thinking, but I’ll bet you’ve got the figures transposed.”
“Maybe fifty-five and forty-five then.”
“Down the middle, and let’s drink on it.”
“Fair enough. Why haggle?”
“Now I know why I dreamed of fighting a great number of knights, all of them looking like you. You’re going to make a name for yourself, George.”
About the Author
Roger Joseph Zelazny (May 13, 1937 – June 14, 1995) was an American poet and writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, best known for The Chronicles of Amber. He won the Nebula award three times (out of 14 nominations) and the Hugo award six times (also out of 14 nominations), including two Hugos for novels: the serialized novel ‘…And Call Me Conrad’ in 1965 (subsequently published under the title This Immortal the following year). He won for best novel again in 1967 for his arguable other best known work, Lord of Light. Special thanks to his son, executor and damn fine author in his own right, Trent Zelazny, for allowing us rights to this story.
About the Narrators
Hailing from the rain-sodden, North Western wastelands of England, Phil Lunt has dabbled in many an arcane vocation. From rock-star to conveyor-belt scraper at a bread factory, milkman to world’s worst waiter. He’s currently a freelance designer, actor and sometime writer/editor and impending father. For his sins he’s Chair of the British Fantasy Society, a role that can be more complicated than herding cats, at times. He’s still considering becoming an astronaut when he grows up, and you can follow him on Twitter.
Wilson Fowlie has been reading stories out loud since the age of 4, and credits any talent he has in this area to his parents, who are both excellent at reading aloud.
He started narrating stories for more than just his own family in late 2008, when he answered a call for readers on the PodCastle forum. Since then, he has gone on to become PodCastle’s most prolific narrator, reading or appearing in over 30 episodes.
He’s also narrated for many other podcasts, including PodCastle’s sister casts, Escape Pod and Pseudopod, as well as StarShipSofa and other District of Wonder podcasts, Beam Me Up, Cast Macabre, Dunesteef Audio Fiction magazine and the Journey Into… podcast. He fits in all this narrating between his day job as a web developer in Vancouver, Canada, and being the director of a community show chorus called The Maple Leaf Singers.
Cheyenne Wright is a freelance illustrator and concept artist. He is the color artist on the three-time Hugo Award winning steampunk graphic novel series Girl Genius, and co-creator of many other fine works; Including 50 Fathoms and the Ennie award winning Deadlands Noir for the Savage Worlds RPG. He has also produced graphics for Star Trek Online, the Champions MMO, and t-shirt designs for T.V.’s Alton Brown. Cheyenne lives in Seattle with his wife, their daughter, and an ever growing stack of unpainted miniatures. In his spare time he is teaching himself animation, and narrates short stories for a variety of venues where he is known as Podcasting’s Mr. Buttery ManVoice, and is an EA Storyteller.