“One. Two. Three.”
He watched the stone fall over the cliff. Against the grassy plain below — far, far below, so far it was as if he stood on a cloud — the black, volcanic rock stood out, even as it fell further away.
“Four. Five. Six.”
The stone passed the ledge. Davi almost stopped counting. Like the other stones before this one, he didn’t until he counted to twenty-four and saw it bounce, a near invisible speck.
“Everything else may be wrong in my life,” he muttered, “but there’s nothing wrong about my eyesight.” He snorted. “One thing.”
Mirriam was a beautiful girl. The smith’s daughter, he had been struck by her as if from her father’s hammer. Since they had been children, since the days of splashing in the stream looking for frogs, through the days of schooling, further still to these days of man- and womanhood, he loved her with a passion that hurt.
Now she was gone.
What more was there for him?
Davi toed another black stone to the edge of the cliff and kicked it over.
“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six…” This last he said with emphasis as the latest stone in a very long line dropped past the ledge. Eighteen more counts, a bounce.
The sword her father had taken the entire winter to forge lay in the dewy grass. It would fetch the kind of coin that could keep a man comfortable for a year, maybe more. The naked blade sat on the ground instead of in oiled leathers. Davi cared not for the rust already attacking the exquisite edge, sharp like the ocean’s horizon cutting the sky in half. He cared only for the point: brutal, like a spear that didn’t know it was supposed to be a sword.
The sun crawled higher. It would be a hot day, not that Davi would see much more of it. The cliff beckoned him wordlessly.
A huff. A scraping of metal on stone. The animal sounds of impatience. Nearer, louder, less muffled by a tunnel of stone, less amplified by its confinement.
Davi bent down and picked up the sword. He gripped it upside down, both hands on the hilt, clutched with an inexpertness obvious to even non-soldiers.
Another huff, echoless.
He counted, helpless against the routine of the morning’s rocks.
The head against the cliff face.
It came further out on a heavy neck.
Davi struck the dragon’s head with a falling body more powerful than anything his two arms alone could have delivered. The improbably-pointed sword found the top of the thing’s skull, just above the neck. His hands slipped. He bounced away from the ledge.
Davi fell. Mirriam was there in his thoughts, clutched in the claws of that awful beast. It tore her there in the field, clothing rags, flesh and blood scattered, chewing and gulping.
Men had tried and failed. Scores of men in groups and singly. The monster was too big, too strong, with scales too thick for ordinary swords and ordinary arms.
The grass rushed to him, like a long-departed lover ready to embrace him, enfold him in a clutch that would never release.
Davi saw the scattered black stones, all becoming bigger. He had perhaps a count of three to decide whether he had killed the dragon or not. He tried to twist, to see if the thing’s carcass fell behind him. There simply wasn’t enough time.
He had. He must have.
Mirriam lay in the grass among scattered black stones and embraced him.
Robert J. Santa has been writing speculative fiction for more than twenty years. His work has appeared in Paradox, On Spec and Artemis. When not writing, Robert heads Ricasso Press. He lives in Rhode Island with his beautiful wife and two, equally beautiful daughters.