When people want to say something seems impossible, they say it's harder than killing a dragon. That's because killing a dragon is pretty damn close to impossible.
They're top of the food chain, no question about it, and that's for three good reasons. First, they fly. That means they can go just about anywhere and do so very quickly. Secondly, they breathe fire. That means a dozen warriors in heavy metal armor rushing a dragon pretty much amounts to barbecue. Last and definitely most important, they're covered in spiked, scaly armor. They're basically massive armored furnaces that can fly.
And I aim to kill one.
I don't have anything against dragons personally. I think they're quite elegant from a distance. This particular beastie's been wreaking a bit of havoc in my woods, though. Protecting my home is what I do best, even if it means dealing with this dragon.
The trick is to have a plan. My father sent his best fighters, counting on strength and numbers to defeat the dragon. One crawled back after the second day, both his legs chomped off at the knee and an eye dangling from its socket. He didn't recover.
You might be wondering why a respected laird would send his youngest daughter to do what a dozen strong men failed at. Well, it's complicated, but I'll summarize. The reason's twofold. I wasn't raised to be a warrior, I was raised to be a wife. I was to be the glue that would repair the rift between two neighboring and oft antagonistic chiefdoms.
Laird Padraig Olafsson of the High Mountain, a formidable enemy and our northern neighbor, was my betrothed. A warlord with a taste for blood and practically a mountain himself. The blood of giants runs in the veins of the mountain folk, and you'd as soon forget it as be impaled on the horns that grow from their skulls. He towered head and shoulders above even my father, who is not a small man, and his thick dragon-like horns curled even higher. I remember wondering how he managed to fit through doorways.
Imagine a fifteen-year-old girl told she was to marry this monster, her duty to unite two warring clans. She'd only ever seen him at a distance. Two years later she met him. She was brave, hid her trembling hands, steadied her knees to keep them from knocking together. And he fixed her with those mean blue eyes and laughed at her in front of his entire court. He sent her away. Seventeen and humiliated, a disgrace to the family, she took fate in her own hands that day, vowed never to marry, determined to prove she could be a fighter, good as any man, better even. She had to be. She couldn't be disgraced again.
That was me, in case you missed it. Seven years ago. I've been training as a warrior ever since. It's been nothing but a trial of trying to catch up to men who have been fighting since they could pick up a sword. Proving myself at every turn. Seven years of breaking myself, remaking myself, fighting to reclaim a shred of dignity. I've shown time and time again that I am dependable, strong. But to everyone in the clan, I'm still the odd girl who decided to pick up a weapon, the one who wasn't good enough for Laird Padraig.
That's why I'm hunting this dragon. Honor. Respect. And my father allows it because what good am I to him otherwise? No laird will have me after that humiliation, and no warrior wants a wife who can throw him over her shoulder. But killing a dragon? That brings immediate glory, even to someone like me. So I will kill a dragon. Alone.
I've no armor except a light leather jerkin, more to protect me from the elements than from the dragon. It may seem counterintuitive, but if metal armor can't defend me against a dragon, it's just dead weight, and I need to be swift.
Though I usually favor a solid quarterstaff, I carry a sword at my side today. It's not long, not heavy, but it's sharp enough to shave with. I tried it, just to be sure. My left arm is hairless now, and I'm curious to see how long it will take to grow back. The narrow blade is flexible, dangerously so, but it's thin enough to slip between a dragon's scales, I hope.
My doeskin boots hardly make a sound, though the ground is littered with dry leaves and pine needles. I shift the debris gently aside with my toes, every step I take excruciatingly slow. Better than alerting the dragon to my presence.
She sleeps in a rock shelter in a clearing about a mile off the main road. She's been making it impossible for traders to come up from the plains. I see the scorched remains of several caravans, their contents tramped and scattered all around me. Something glitters in the loam. I stoop and pick up a single silver crown. Flatlander's money from the city miles below. Hardly worth much here in the mountains, but it's smooth and shiny, worn by the many hands it's passed through. I tuck it into my pocket and continue onward.
I can hear her breathing now or, rather, feel the rumble of each breath. I stand at the edge of the small clearing, sheltered by the trees. Now would be the time to turn back if I were so inclined. But I'm not. I won't be a knock-kneed disappointment this time.
I slowly creep from cover, edging around the clearing. I can't see her yet, shrouded in shadows as she is, but every so often I see a faint flicker of fire come from within the shallow cavern. She shifts slightly and the ground shakes. I'm close now, glancing down frequently to make certain I don't step on a charred branch or slip on the loose shale. Slowly, ever so slowly, I creep toward the cavern.
I see her.
I don't realize what it is I'm looking at, not at first. Her scales are a dark liquid black like obsidian, shifting and rippling smoothly. They rustle together like thousands of glass leaves, each one as large as my palm. A foreleg. I trace the lines of those scales upward to her shoulder, her neck, her head, a majestic bone crown towering above me. She sleeps.
I can almost touch her now, just a few steps from her foreleg. Closer. I see the life pulsing in her throat. There, that's where I'll strike, bury my blade deep between her scales and slice. If that doesn't do the trick, well…I'll probably be dead anyway. Even if it does work, there's no saying I'll survive. As massive as she is, I could be crushed by her death throes, smashed against the cavern wall and ground into paste.
Better to die a hero than live a disappointment, I remind myself, but a voice in the back of my head has to add dryly: a stupid hero.
I within easy reach now. I can feel the heat radiating off her, hear her blood pulsing through her veins. My sword is already unsheathed. I raise it to strike.
She shifts, a minute adjustment for her, but the ground trembles and I stagger. My outstretched hand brushes against her. Searing heat climbs sharply up my arm. I try to stifle a cry of pain, my eyes watering as I withdraw.
Damn it, that's enough playing around. I raise my sword again, only to find myself staring into one liquid green eye.
As far as last words go, I suppose there are worse. There are certainly better, but I could have screamed like a small child or said "fuck me" to a dragon, which might have given it ideas.
Smoke curls around its nostrils as it tilts its head for a better view of me. It seems confused.
"Must not be a morning person. I know that feeling." I decide it's time to run before the dragon truly wakes up.
I'm only a quarter of the way through the clearing when a wall of sound hits me from behind, sending me sprawling forward. I manage to hold onto my sword, but my other hand takes the brunt of the fall. Something in my wrist snaps, and splinters of dead wood and shale stab into my palm.
"She's awake!" Shouting to myself seems to motivate me. I pull myself to my feet, the ground rocking beneath me as the dragon emerges from her craggy bed. Another deafening shriek pierces the air, punctuated with fire. I feel it singe my skin.
Well, now both arms are hairless, I think to myself as I run recklessly for the trees. Their cover is my only hope.
But the dragon's not far behind me, and she's catching up quickly. Hot breath sears the back of my neck, my skin blistering, my hair curling, burning. I dodge left, skidding on the loose shale. The dragon snags the back of my tunic with a fang and flips me up into the air. It would be an interesting sensation, spinning through the air, if I didn't keep catching glimpses of the toothy maw waiting for me below.
So this is the end. I wonder if she'll bite me in half first, or if I'll slowly roast in the fiery pit of her stomach. I fall, flailing, and those jaws snap shut. Prepared for death, I come to a jarring stop, not at the bottom of that long throat, but at the top, my sword wedged tightly between the dragon's teeth with me clinging desperately to its hilt.
Hot air and ash swirls around me. I've been in the smithy, worked the billows to build up my strength. This is a hundred times worse than that, accompanied by the acrid scent of sulfur and charred flesh. Probably mine.
This is one of those moments where time feels like it's stopped, and you have to decide where the next moment will take you. I could let go, plunge downward into the faint glow that emanates from below. Or I could fight. It's likely going to be a token effort, and I'll die anyway, but it's that or give up.
The dragon shakes her head, and I slam down against her tongue, then back against the roof of her mouth. She feels me in here, rattling around like a stuck bone. I hold on with all the strength I have in my arms. Sharp pain shoots up my left arm. I can't hang on much longer. Time to take a chance. Praying to one of those catch-all gods that's in charge of oddly specific requests, like I'm-about-to-be-eaten-by-a-dragon-please-help, I let go of my sword, drop onto the dragon's tongue, and wrap my arms tightly around it. I pull my hunting knife from my belt and sink it into the lithe pink muscle.
Sound resonates around me, deafening me, but daylight spills through those jaws as they open momentarily. I reach for my sword and manage to wiggle it free just as those teeth crash together once more. I'm pressed up against the roof of the dragon's mouth, her tongue pushing me backwards, the muscles in her throat tightening, pulling me down.
Now or never.
I thrust my sword upward, straight into the beast's soft palate, as deep as it will go. It stops for a moment, caught in bone, but then it punches through with a satisfying crunch because, I remind myself, dragon bones are hollow, like a bird's. The dragon goes rigid, her muscles spasming around me, crushing me, suffocating me, and then she goes limp. She lands with a resounding thud, jarring me within the soft folds of her esophagus.
"Is she dead?" I ask through the ringing in my ears. "Are you dead?" I shout, unable to hear my own voice.
I slowly ease my way up the tongue towards the mouth. Closed. I push with my feet and shoulders but can't get those jaws to open. They remain clenched shut like an iron trap, even in death. Not good. It's sweltering in here, the air getting harder to breathe every second. And I swear the faint glow from its stomach is getting closer. Do dragons still belch fire once they're dead?
I tug on my sword. Stuck. I tug harder. Just when I think it won't budge, I feel it give ever so slightly. I twist and yank and pull until it slides free.
"All right. The most vulnerable part of a dragon is…" I slide carefully down her esophagus until I feel the root of the tongue just above me. "Here."
I punch my sword forward. It slides effortlessly through the soft tissue. I slice downward, but the sword only moves a few inches before stopping, caught on something hard and unyielding.
"No!" I scream in frustration, though nobody can hear me, not even me.
I swear the air is getting hotter, and the dragon's throat is pressing in on me from all sides, slick and sour. I punch and slice again, only to have my sword catch once more. This time, though, I feel a gust of cool air on my face.
I push my hands into the opening, peeling away layers of flesh, slippery with blood and saliva. It's too small for me to fit through, but I jam my face into the tear, breathing in the sweet, cool air. If this is how I die, so be it. At least I have a window to the world.
Something rumbles beneath me, and the panic that rises in my gut tells me I'm not ready to die yet. I pull my sword free, slashing again and again with all the desperate energy I have left. The slit opens wider and longer as I hack awkwardly at it. My feet start to burn. Oh gods, not now, not when I'm this close.
Liquid heat climbs from below, the air turning fouler. It burns to breathe. I shove myself into the gash, certain it's still too small, but I push forward anyway. My arms are free, grasping blindly for anything to grab hold of. I feel something. Grass. Thick, dry, mountain grass. Only the toughest plants can weather life on these slopes. I grab handfuls of the stuff and pull. My head is free, then a shoulder. The grass starts to give. I scramble for another tuft, blinking against the light of day. My other shoulder slides free. Yes! The rest should be easy. I feel my torso come free, my hips—
I curse, kicking and pulling, tearing the grass up by the root. I've got arms on solid ground now, and though my legs are still burning inside the dragon's gullet, I wriggle until I feel the cause of my hangup—my belt has caught on something. I hurriedly reach down with my good hand and painstakingly unbuckle it. It slides off and I yank myself free, slipping out of the dragon's throat.
"Is that what birth is like?"
A gurgling sound emerges from the dead dragon, and a moment later thick, smoking bile erupts from its mouth, spewing from the hole in its throat too, burning everything it touches. I scramble well out of the way, using the last of my strength.
My head falls to the earth. I lie in the grass, slimy and bloody, staring up at the sky. Those ominous black thunderclouds are the most beautiful sight I've seen. For a moment, nothing hurts. I don't want to move ever again.
But the pain flares up again as the clouds open and unleash their icy torrent. I slowly pick myself up, every part of my body protesting. I gingerly assess my injuries. My trousers are in tatters, my legs raw and red. They burn, but that's a good sign. It'd be worse if they didn't hurt at all. My wrist is throbbing and swollen. Broken, likely. I have a dozen other wounds, burns and scrapes and cuts, but nothing life-threatening, so I take one last look at the fallen beast at my side and shamble back down to the road, beginning the long trek home.
They say I passed out when I reached the village wall. I don't remember that. I remember stumbling up the road, tripping on every rock it seems, repeatedly picking myself up, grateful for the cold rain that seemed to soothe the burning, washing away the blood and gore. Then I woke up in my own bed, wrapped in linens and furs, the sun shining through my open window.
My father sits at my side now. He came as soon as the physician gave him news of my consciousness.
"Mora!" he shouts, his bellow filling the room.
My ears still ring a little from my encounter with the dragon. I wince. He notices and quiets himself.
"You've made me proud today, daughter," he continues, fiercely stroking his thick black beard to channel some of his excitement. "I sent the boys down the road to see if it was true. If you'd slain the fell beast."
"I wouldn't have returned otherwise. You know that."
He smiles and rests a hand on my shoulder, squeezing painfully. "Aye, that I do. And look at you. Couple of burns, a snapped wrist. You'll be back to good health in no time. Small price to pay for singlehandedly slaying a dragon!"
It starts to sink in. Not only am I alive, but I did it. I've slain a dragon.
"Here." He plunks something down on the bedside table. "Duncan pulled this off the beastie. Thought you might want to keep it."
I look at the object, a scale, one of the smaller ones, about the size of my eye.
"Thank you," I mutter. "Didn't even think to claim anything afterwards."
"Who could blame you? Duncan said there were tears in its throat, like you'd crawled out of it."
I smile weakly and nod. "Gods, do I have a story for you."
"Ha ha!" my father laughs heartily. "Good! Soon as you're on your feet, I'll have the feast prepared, and you can regale us all with the tale of how you slew a dragon!"
The door opens suddenly. "Brian! Stop shouting!"
"Lyssa, my love!"
My mother gives him a stern look, and the big man shrinks a little.
He continues in a hushed whisper, "Forgive me, my dear, but our daughter did just slay a dragon."
"And almost died. You've kept her long enough. Out."
He stands obediently and heads for the door, but not before shooting one last proud smile back at me. My mother shoos him through the door, casts a disapproving glance back at me, and leaves.
I revel in the soft glow of success that follows, accompanied only by the ringing in my ears.
My wounds heal quickly. It helps that my mother stands guard outside the door, waylaying even my most dogged admirers. My father visits twice more, and my brothers Duncan and Dougal once, but aside from that, I'm left alone to heal.
After a week, my burns have scabbed over, and I can walk freely. The hair on one side of my head has all burned away, and some may never grow back thanks to some scarring. My arm's in a sling and will be for at least a month, but none of this really bothers me. Like my father said, it's a small price to pay.
The feast begins as soon as I am cleared to leave my room. I emerge into the square and find myself assaulted on all sides by members of the clan. I can smell the pigs roasting in the fire pits, their juices dripping and sizzling on the flames. The kitchen hands have the feasting pavilion decked with colorful ribbons, knotted and adorned with dragon scales that glisten like black glass in the sun. Food covers the tables. It'll be there all day as people come and go, eating what they please until evening, when dinner will be set. While everybody else eats, I'll stand before the roaring fire and tell my story.
"How are you going to tell it?" Duncan asks when I manage to duck away from the crowd to snatch a bite to eat. "You've had a week to think on it."
"Not sure. I'll see how I feel."
"Ugh," Dougal groans behind me. "You're giving me a stomachache just thinking about it. How can you be so utterly underprepared? I'd rather fight a dragon than stand up there without a plan."
"That's easy to say now that the only dragon in the vicinity is dead," Duncan points out. "Go on now, Moraine. You have to have given it some thought. Are you going to go the stoic route? Straight facts? Or are you going to be a little more heroic? Do you have an epic poem for us or something? Maybe a song?"
"Ha!" I bark out a laugh, spewing crumbs over the table. Swallowing painfully, I joke:
"Dragon, dragon in the night,
You stole our oxen, sheep, and shite.
But I will stop you in your tracks
And cut you open with my axe."
Neither of my brothers seem impressed.
"You don't have an axe."
"And the meter was a bit off in the third line."
"Like either of you could do better," I scoff.
"Actually," Duncan informs me cheerfully, "We did." They both clear their throats and recite in unison:
"I went to fight the mighty beast,
Which thought to make of me it's feast,
But though it had me in its maw,
I stuck there in the massive craw.
A stubborn little meal was I,
So stubborn that the dragon died!"
"I'm laughing, truly. On the inside," I remark flatly. "I'm not doing any poetry tonight. No dancing either. I'm just going to tell it exactly how it happened."
I have to admit, however, that once I'm there, standing in front of the massive tables, all eyes fixed on me, the fire blazing behind me, I give into temptation and embellish a little.
"I slid down the monster's gullet, its weight crushing me, its heat searing me. I thought I was dead for certain. But I still had my sword, so I climbed my way back up its throat, sulfurous fumes billowing around me. All was black. The dragon raged all around me, fighting to keep me down, but I made it back up to its mouth and thrust my sword straight into its skull. It thrashed once. Twice. Three times! Brains oozed down my arm, but I didn't let go until the beast had gone still.
"But the foul beast wasn't done with me yet. Even dead, it still could kill me, for its jaws were clamped tightly shut. I was trapped. I could feel the flames from its belly climbing up its throat. I knew the only way out would be to cut through the dragon's flesh. My blade pierced it, cutting deeply, but not deeply enough. My feet were burning. I sliced again and felt air. Once more, and I plunged through the wound, dragging myself back into the light of day, the dragon dead at my feet."
For a moment, everyone waits in silent anticipation. Then my father stands with a loud cheer. Others follow suit. Soon my name echoes into the night sky, and my father stands at my side.
He holds his hands up for silence.
"This is a proud day for the O'Haig clan. Who would have thought that the scrawny, freckled little girl of yesterday would make us all so proud? Few in these mountains can claim the title of dragonslayer, fewer still before they have reached their twenty-fifth year. As a token of our gratitude and pride, I bestow upon you, Moraine O'Haig, this blade, forged over the dragon's ashes and sheathed in its own skin. Give it a worthy name."
I take the sword, aware of the eyes on me as I test its heft and balance, running a finger across its sharp edge. It bites into my skin, blood running before I feel a thing.
Lifting it high, I shout, "Fang!"
The others cheer, and this time it is the name of my new blade that ascends to the gods.
I let my father escort me back to my place at the table, and we drink while the musicians take over. People dance, but I don't feel up to it tonight. I use my injuries to excuse myself. I simply fill my tankard once more and relax in a corner, watching the festivities with a smile. I think back to that girl, knock-kneed and trembling in a grand stone hall, dozens of eyes on her. The laird on his throne, towering over her even while seated. Those cold blue eyes twinkling with mischief.
"You are Moraine, daughter of Brian O'Haig? You scrawny little whelp? Get out of my sight." His laughter still echoes after me.
I drink and grumble, "Now what would you say to me, I wonder."
"Muttering to yourself again?"
I jump a little, and Duncan laughs. "Come on. Father wants to see us. Says it's urgent."
Rising, I take one more drink and follow my brother out of the crowded mess hall. I don't recall seeing my father leave.
"What's so urgent he let himself get called out of a feast? Last that happened was when Padraig's men attacked on Mother's birthday, and boy was she furious."
"No idea." Duncan shrugs. "We'll find out soon enough."
Light flickers in the windows of the great hall, where my father receives guests and conducts business. It's the only other building that isn't dark and abandoned this night.
Dougal is already present when we arrive, along with my father and a grizzled man I recognize as one of our scouts. He hasn't even taken off his traveling cloak.
"Glad you could make it," my father greets us, all traces of celebration gone. His face is dark, eyes serious and troubled. "Owen, please tell them what you just related to me."
The man nods and begins, "Me and my scouts were sent north to keep an eye on our neighbors. We noticed Padraig's men arming up for what looked like a fight, but they went farther north, into the pass. I had my men stay on them, because nothing comes from that pass except—"
"Should Be," Duncan finishes gravely.
"Aye. Those vile creatures usually don't come above ground. The cold in the pass is disagreeable to them. But I saw them, sir, with my own eyes. Enough to take out half of Padraig's men and send the rest back limping."
"His men are strong," my father notes. "A few Should Be Dead wouldn't be enough to set them back."
"'Twas more than a few, sir. Dangerous more."
My father nods. "If that's the case, then I'm sure it won't be long before he calls for a council. He'll call on all the mountain lairds for aid."
"Let him deal with them on his own. It's his land, his concern," I spit.
"Mora," my father begins with gentle reproach, "I realize you don't like the man—"
"It's not just that," I respond heatedly. "When did he ever come to our aid? We fought the flatlanders back alone five years ago, while he was sitting high in his snowy citadel, rubbing one out."
"She has a point," Duncan agrees.
"Thank you. And furthermore, the next year several of his men waylaid caravans of our goods for trade. We had a thin winter thanks to him."
"Flatlanders and raids are one thing," Dougal says. "But as you just pointed out, peace with Padraig's clan has always been tentative at best. We thought if you married him…well, let's just say that didn't improve things." He shoots an apologetic glance at me, knowing I hate it whenever the debacle of my failed engagement is mentioned, but he continues, "This would be a good start to rebuild that peace."
"His raiders have been skimming our trade supplies again, despite his claims to the contrary," Owen points out. "And there were rumors not too long ago that he was going to make a push south. That would put him right on our land. 'Tis why we were scouting up there to begin with."
"Aye," my father agrees solemnly. "And if this threat with the Should Be is as bad as you say it is, we might not be able to afford sitting this one out. Padraig's our last defense against them. What happens if he falls?"
We are all silent. As much as I don't mind the idea of half-rotted monsters chewing on Padraig's bones, we've all heard the stories of the last time Should Be came down the mountain.
Nobody knows their origins or what they really are. Humanish in form, but broken and bent with pale, rotting skin, they're called the Should Be Dead because by all accounts they should be dead. They look like corpses, smell like corpses, and they don't bleed, breathe, or seem to have a heartbeat. Cut off the head and the rest of it will keep fighting. At least, that's what I've heard. I've never seen one, due to the Laird of the High Mountain's efforts to keep them where they belong. Inside the mountain.
That's where they came from in the old stories. An earthquake split the mountain open and they came pouring out like thousands of spiders from a nest, overwhelming everything in their path. The chiefdoms were destroyed, the survivors driven down to the flatlands. The Should Be nearly took the city itself, only driven back by the great mages of old. New lairds were given the solemn task to guard against another scourge like that. Giants, some of them, ancestors of Padraig and his men, brutal and capable. The rest of us are descendants of the refugees that helped fight to take back our lands in the forested foothills of the mountains.
"If Padraig falls, we all do."
"There are other rumors, laird," Owen murmurs. "Kieran and Wallace have been restless as of late. They've been encroaching on our territory for years. Should Be are bad enough alone, but the eastern lairds might not be farsighted enough to realize the danger. I fear they might make a move on our land if we are distracted."
"Surely if Padraig calls council, they'll be busy assisting with the Should Be as well," Dougal argues.
"Not necessarily," my father disagrees. "None of us are bound to honor the council. They may not even show, much less pledge any forces. They'll likely wait to see what the other lairds do."
"Say we lend Padraig a hand then, and Kieran and Wallace attack. Surely Padraig would return the favor. Once the Should Be are contained, he and his men could help us take our land back."
"You'd lose a lot of lives that way," Duncan points out. "What of the farmers and the outlying villages? What happens to them? And if Padraig refuses to help us?"
"We split up," I suggest. "Someone could take a small force of elite men to bolster Padraig's forces, and the others could take the rest east in a show of strength. It might deter the eastern lairds. We'll need to leave enough men to defend home, of course."
"My thoughts exactly," my father agrees solemnly. "I cannot be away for long, I fear, or I would lead the men to Padraig myself. I am older than I would like to be, and I need to be here for our people. That is why you will go in my stead, Mora."
"What?" I exclaim. "Father, you know that under any other circumstance, I'd be honored, but you go too far this time. You know how I feel about that man."
Duncan steps forward, opening his mouth to volunteer, but my father cuts him off before he can even begin.
"I don't make this decision lightly, Mora. I need your brothers on the east front. They've trained with our warriors since they were small. They have a rapport with them. They've trained to lead them."
"But so have—"
"You work best alone," he interrupts gently. "And you will be a great asset to Padraig and his men. That dragon you killed is proof enough. They will respect you for it."
I feel flustered and angry, and I don't want to let it show, because I've always been taught to accept my fate stoically, but damn if I don't just want to hit something.
Speaking over my silence, my father continues, "When Padraig calls council, if he calls council, I will answer, and you and twelve of our elite warriors will accompany me. If he deems it necessary, you will remain behind as an independent force. You will not take orders from him, but I strongly suggest that you find a way to work together. Duncan and Dougal will ride out to the east as soon as our men can be gathered."
While my brothers pledge their obedience, I can only bow my head silently. I never thought I'd look upon that solitary stone fortress again. Nor did I ever expect to see Padraig, unless it was on the battlefield, with him on the end of my sword. I'd mount those twisted horns of his on my mantle.
This time, he will not laugh at me. Of that, I will be certain.