Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! Here's a short Crockett & Crane story for you, featuring everyone's favorite dragon (aside from Malcolm, of course) matching wits with a famous creature from Irish folklore.
It was particularly embarrassing for me to become trapped in a cave. I am a dragon. I am good at caves. Usually.
But on this occasion, I was in my human form, and I did not hear the sliding of the rocks before it was too late. They fell across the entrance to the cavern, blocking my exit in seconds. And then the tunnel continued to collapse further in, so I had to run a long way to the cave to escape. By the time I finally got to safety, there were several hundred yards of rock between me and the nice, fresh air.
I know what you are asking yourself. Why did I not simply shape shift into a dragon? Regrettably, not all problems can be solved by turning into a dragon. Most, but not all of them. And in this case, it was not a good idea to do anything involving fire. I could smell gases in the mine, and the sparks and fire and things that accompany my transformation would almost definitely have exploded those gases. Which could have left me half-human, half-dragon, trapped under miles of rock, and dead.
So there I was, imprisoned underground, stuck in the body of a handsome yet puny human, and unable to use any of my wonderful fire powers. On the bright side, there was gold keep me company. And also, my leprechaun trap had worked.
Did I mention that the cave contained a gold mine operated by a leprechaun, and that I had set up a trap for him in the tunnel? I might have forgotten to bring that up.
I was very proud of the trap. It was unquestionably one of my best inventions. I would explain all the mechanical whatchamawhiches, but you might find it boring. In short, it had lots of metal arms and gears and sprockets, and was powered by a glowy green jewel I had brought over from the Old World. It was designed to drop down from the tunnel ceiling when a leprechaun passed by, and shackle him up completely in the space of a few seconds. The chains were charmed to prevent the leprechaun from using any magic, and the metal arms would automatically remove any weapons or magical items from his pockets so he could not possibly be a threat.
The surprised yelp amid the clanking of pistons had been very satisfying. If only it had not been immediately followed by the sound of falling rocks. Why trap a leprechaun, you may ask? Why not simply use my awesome dragonishness to steal all his gold and laugh in his face? You ask many questions. And you seem to be obsessed with dragons. But these questions are easily answered. Gold is one thing. But the three wishes leprechaun will grant you if you trap him are another thing entirely. Why settle for gold when you wish yourself a gold-making machine? Not that I would actually want one of those, of course, because it would just reduce the market value of gold in the long run. It was only an example.
Leprechaun gave me a very annoying little smile as I approached him. I was not looking my best, of course – my clothes were covered in dust and my hair was all ruffled up. The tiny man was not unlike a dwarf, except for his green hair and beard. He rattled his chains mockingly. The trap allowed him some freedom of movement, but not much. The chains extended from a metal panel behind him, which had a keyhole set into it just to the left of his head. The metal arms that had grabbed him reached up from behind the panel. They were motionless now, looming in the darkness like spider legs. The glowing gem at the back of the machine was a welcome source of light in the cramped, shadowy cave.
“You're not looking so smug now, are you, Mr. Dragon?” he sneered. “I suppose you thought you were pretty clever, trussin' me up like this. Pity that rockfall had to happen. It'll make the negotiating bit more complex for you.”
This was true enough. But I had gotten out of many complicated situations before. This one did not worry me.
All right, it worried me a little. But I had a plan. Hush. You will see.
“Good afternoon,” I said, deciding it was best to be polite.
He made that noise people make when they start to laugh but do not finish. I don't remember what it is in your language. “Don't you mean ‘buenas tardes,' friend?” He spoke the phrase in a very bad Quixotan accent.
I frowned. “Just because Quixotan is my first language does not mean I am supposed to always say ‘buenas tardes' instead of ‘good afternoon' when speaking Annwish. Just as you Fionnish people do not go around saying ‘faith and begorrah' all the time.”
He blinked. “I don't even know what that means.”
“I rest my case. Now, shall we exchange names? It will make this conversation simpler.”
His eyes narrowed. “I don't know about that. Names –”
“– are powerful things, yes, yes, I've heard that many times before,” I said impatiently. “They are not that powerful. People just say they are so they can act all magical and mysterious.”
The leprechaun looked disappointed. “Fine, then. My name's Conor.”
“Khulyrithar,” I replied. “But you may call me Julio.”
“I suppose your first wish will be for me to get you out of this cave, then?” He tried to look innocent as he spoke, but I could see the sparkling of mischief in his eye.
I smiled. “Nice try. I am not a fool. I know how your people twist words this way and that. A wish phrased too simply could end in you transporting me to the depths of the ocean, or something.”
He pushed out his lips and looked thoughtful. “That particular idea hadn't occurred to me, but it's a good one. Shame you're not one of the stupid dragons.”
“I feel extremely sorry for you, in a sarcastic way.” I rubbed my hands together. “Now, shall we get down to business?”
“Hold on,” said the leprechaun. “Since you're one of my more discerning customers, I think we'd better get a standard wish rider drawn up.” He patted his jacket a few times, then jerked his head toward the back of the trap. “Ah, would you mind getting the little scroll your machine here took out of my pocket? It's probably got my pen as well.”
I snapped my fingers, and the trap whirred. One metal arm moved forward, holding out the scroll. Another held up a quill pen with green ink dripping perpetually from its tip.
As I opened up the tiny roll of paper, it expanded until it was several feet long. Green ink started to scribble across it all by itself.
“Feel free to peruse it,” said the little man with a smile. “It's all quite routine and above-board. And don't worry about the magical writing – your shackles are still working. The magic's coming from the ink, not me. It just responds to my commands.”
I skimmed the document. It did not take me long to find a problem. “The party of the first part – which I take it means me – agrees to forfeit two of his three wishes?”
Conor nodded. “Just one. You'll be able to make me rescue you from this cave-in. But I'm afraid that's it.”
Well, that was certainly a disappointment. However, I was prepared for such things. I knew that dealings with a leprechaun were extremely dangerous. Escaping from this alive and without any horrible, unbreakable curses might be the best I could manage. I had hoped for more, but I knew better than to let my greed put me in jeopardy.
“Fine,” I said, after pondering for a few moments. “Let's see what other nasty surprises you've got in here.” I ran a finger down the page and mumbled under my breath as I read.
“Nothing unreasonable, I assure you,” said Connor. “No need to be so suspicious.”
My eyebrows shot up as I read a line halfway down the page. “In exchange for the granting of a wish, the party of the first part agrees to be the slave of the party of the second part for all eternity?”
Conor shrugged. “Is that a problem?”
“You cannot possibly be serious.”
“I have a very keen sense of humor. If I were joking, you'd be laughing.”
“You cannot make demands like this!” I argued. “You are my prisoner!”
“True,” said leprechaun, tapping his chin, “but you're trapped in this cave, and I'm the only one who can get you out. So looking at it from a different angle, you're *my* prisoner.”
“Careful,” I warned. “I think you may be forgetting that I am a dragon.”
“Oh nevermind all that bluster. My kind have tangled with yours since time immemorial. We are both powerful, and we both like gold. Hence the battles between our peoples when this part of the world was first settled.”
“Those conflicts were between you and the Eastern Dragons,” I reminded him. “I'm a Western Dragon. I have no quarrel with you.”
The leprechaun grinned. “You're not quite a full-blooded dragon, though, are you?” He sniffed the air. “There's a whiff of fae in your veins, as well. On your mother's side, if I'm not mistaken.”
I glared at him. “Stop smelling my blood.”
“No offense intended, I assure you. So, do we have a deal?”
I had my head. “It seems I have no other choice.”
He clapped his hands with glee. “Excellent. Just sign on the dotted line, then, and set me free.”
I picked up the pen and wrote my name at the bottom of the contract. Then I produced a key for my pocket and slid it into the keyhole. As I turned it, all of Conor's shackles fell off.
“Much better,” he said. He snatched up the contract, which rolled back into a tiny scroll. “Off we go, then.”
There was a loud *pop*, and a moment later, I found myself outside once more, with Connor standing next to me. The sun was sinking low over the horizon, turning the sky a lovely shade of orange. A cool evening breeze blew across the desert.
Connor giggled happily. “Right, then. Sorry things have worked out this way, but that's life. The first thing I want you to do as my slave is –”
“Oh, that?” I waved a hand in the air. “Sorry, but that will not be happening.”
He snorted. “You think you can break a deal with me?” He waved the scroll in the air. “Lad, you're about to find out that these contracts pack quite a punch.” He smiled and pointed the rolled-up paper at me like a wand. Green sparkles flickered across it. “Let's get this over with, then. Try to defy the terms of our agreement so you can learn your lesson once and for all.”
I laughed. Though everything had not worked out quite the way I had planned, I was still going to enjoy the results. “All right, then.” I drew in my breath and blasted him with a huge fireball, right in the face.
Because he was magical and so forth, this did not turn him into a crispy dead person. It did, however, blacken his green coat, singe his eyebrows, and leave his face covered in soot. The contract crumbled to ash, which blew away in the wind. “Wha…guh…” he stammered, tottering around in confusion.
“My apologies,” I said. “I am sure it will not take very long for your eyebrows to grow back.”
He finally got control of himself and managed to speak actual words. “How is this possible?” He cried, his voice becoming squeaky. “You can't violate a contract with a leprechaun!”
“You can if the contract was invalid to begin with,” I said. “I cannot remember exactly how it read, but it said something about ‘freeing the party of the second part,' right?”
“Of course it did!” Conor spluttered. “That was the whole point!”
“Ah, but you cannot free someone who was not trapped to begin with.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
I pointed to his jacket. “Check your left pocket.”
Now completely builder, Connor plunged his hand into his pocket and pulled out…a key. Just like the one I had used to free him from the trap.
“My little invention dropped that into your pocket at the same time that it removed all your dangerous magical items,” I explained. “You could have gotten out of the trap at any time.”
“But I didn't know it was there!”
I shrugged. “That is your problem. Besides, it is not as if I am not disappointed as well. If it had not been for that cave-in, I would not have had to use up my one wish on something so boring. But, at least I am not your slave for all eternity.”
For a few seconds, it seemed as if the leprechaun might try to murder me with his bare hands, not bothering to use magic. Then his expression became a bit more friendly, and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.
“Well-played, Mr. Dragon,” he said. “Very well-played.”
I got from the waist. “Muchas gracias, Señor.”
“Faith and begorrah,” he replied. “Whatever that means.”
I presume I do not have to spell out the moral of the story for you.
What? I do? Really? I thought it was obvious. All right, here goes: do not have any dealings with leprechauns.
Unless, of course, you are me.
You are not, by the way. Sorry about that.