An old friend of mine and I decided to go into business together building houses. He loves to work with timber and tools, and I just got my masters license for masonry. I thought this was the chance of a lifetime. But when I lay a stone foundation and say it will take at least a week for the mortar to set, he's framing up a floor and walls on it in five days. When I tell him the chimney has to cure for a month, he's pushing to build around it before three weeks are passed. Half the time he uses two nails where four are needed! What's worse is that he's accepted orders and started construction on so many houses that I can't keep up with him to fix his mistakes and prevent him from rushing ahead on construction! What if one of our houses falls down? We won't just be out of work, we'll be lynched! I have to get out of this business deal or I'm going to go crazy. What's the best way to do that?
For a change, it was a slide of rocks that woke me out of my midday sleep. "Hold still," I said to the blanket-covered dragon beside me.
"Good day to you," said a huntsman, following a game trail down the hill. "Say, that's a big horse you got with you. Don't you worry about 'im wandering off?"
I used my staff to help me climb to my feet and dusted off my robe. "I'm a shaman, I don't need to tie this beast."
"Ohh," he said. "You can talk to the animals then?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"So to speak," rumbled the lump of blankets.
"Huh?" said the huntsman. "Who said that?"
I coughed and held my midsection. "That was my stomach rumbling. Sorry, just a bit of the Wayfarer's Gurgle, you know how it is."
"That I do, Shaman, that I do. Why once when I drank of the East Oak Stream away on the other side of this mountain, I got the Mountaineer's Misery so bad I just stopped wearing pants for about two weeks. Hey, your horse is shaking. Is he sick? Is that why you've got him all covered?"
"No, the nights are cold yet, and we're going to a horse market out on the coast, and I don't want him growing an unseasonably thick coat of fur, so I have to keep him warm." I could hear the dragon's giggles getting the best of him. I coughed again and gripped my waist, stepping from foot to foot, hoping that the huntsman might take a hint and vacate the area.
"Even his head? I never heard of keeping a horse's head in a sack before."
"Covering his head keeps him from being startled by new things he sees."
"I see," the man said, scratching at his beard. "What kind of new things will he see in a forest, though, I wonder."
"Huntsmen. Now will you kindly travel on and leave an old woman to her afternoon nap?"
"Oh, yes, I'm on my way, Shaman. Take care and try not to let your horse run into things with that sack on his head."
"Don't step in anything you don't like the smell of," the dragon called after him.
The huntsman turned and looked back at me. "What?" he asked.
"I said, 'Don't forget to think of all the ones you love' -- you know how important that always is." I cleared my throat and tapped my fist on my chest. "Allergies, sorry. Makes my voice funny."
"Sure and I won't. Don't think I ever have. Good travel to you!"
"What'd you have to go and mention smells to him?" I whispered. "Now he's going to be thinking about what-all leaves scent and maybe find the piles you left last night and wonder that there's dragon droppings galore but no horse turds to be found."
"Well, this disguise isn't working for me at all anyway," said Dudalos, using one taloned forefoot to snatch the flour sack from his head. "And stumbling around over these damned rocks is wreaking havoc on my nails."
"Fine. Fly off and be damned. All you ever do is complain. You might as well find yourself an outraged township and get slain for your troubles. Any minute now, a crow or raven is going to fly over, spot you, and start screaming. Mr. Huntsman will be back here in a trice, and I won't be able to convince him that it was just the sight of an old shaman's hairy legs that scared them."
"Oh, bugger," hissed the dragon, and pulled the sack over his shiny head again, using his talons to position the eye-holes. "Why don't I just fly on ahead at night, and wait for you to catch up during the day?"
"And just how do you expect me to find your temporary hideouts along the way? Smoke signals that say 'Dudalos is to be found HERE?' What if you can't find a cave? Are you going to carry your disguise in a neat bedroll, and just hope that no one notices a huge, blanket-covered creature hanging around the edge of a village?"
"Blast and damn it, I'm on fire again!" crabbed the dragon, having nicked his talons on a rock of flint and sent sparks into the blanket covering his foreparts.
"That's what you get for stomping around." I doused him with my waterskin, putting out the smolder. "If you keep setting yourself on fire, you'll run me out of water, I'll die of thirst, and then, Dude, you are going to be on your own."
"Don't worry," he snapped, "you'll be breakfast before that happens. Goddamn rocks," said the dragon, examining his front toenails.
"Wrap the ends of the blankets around your toes. If we get to the top of this ridge we ought to be able to get out of this flinty stuff. Come on, I'll sleep a little later."
If there's anything worse than traveling overland on foot with a dragon at night, sleeping by day, it's traveling with a cranky dragon. Maybe you think it's because of the danger of being eaten, but not all dragons eat people -- at least not all the time. If you've studied the ancient books of lore you'll find that dragons tend to crave conversation and storytelling as much as food and fine jewelry. By and large, if you can keep up your end of a witty conversation, an encounter with a dragon doesn't necessarily mean he'll make a sandwich out of you. But if you run out of snappy comebacks, and the dragon can't exercise his immense, egotistical draconic intellect, the dragon gets grumpy, and then you might as well forget things like "resting," or "sleeping." What sounded like a grand adventure worthy of tale-telling in every bar from here to Shaddir turned out to be a flat out pain in the ass.
I owed the dragon Dudalos a favor, so I was trying to sneak him across country under cover of darkness to the city of Cliffhaven. He wanted to get the wizard Cloudraft the Great to magically fix his caved-in lair. It was likely that Cloudraft would be less than thrilled to get called out for a roofing job, but then he owed Dudalos two favors, maybe even three.
"Well, since you're already awake, we may as well keep going. Tell me, how much longer do you think it will take to get to Cliffhaven? Are we traveling cross-country as the crow flies -- heh-heh, just a little joke there -- or are you meandering about to make the journey easier on your little pink legs? How do humans trim their toenails? Does Cliffhaven have suburbs around it? Have you heard any reports of wild boar in these mountains? A bacon sandwich would be really tasty right now. You're not very talkative today, Aser, what seems to be your problem?"
"The problem is that I need to sleep, and you keep waking me up every twenty minutes to ask pointless questions! When we get to the top of this hill, I am going to find a hemlock tree to crawl under, and you are going to let me sleep until nightfall -- can we manage to do that?" I could see the stand of hemlocks and hurried on ahead.
"You don't have to be so pissy about it," peeved Dudalos. "And I don't ask pointless questions. If I think I have a tarnish spot starting, I have to have you look at it during the day, now don't I?"
"Not every hour on the hour!" I shouted.
A distant voice shouted, "Hallloooo! Is someone there?"
"Oh, crap," said the dragon. "You and your big mouth. Here we go again."
"Cover up your tail, will you? And just hold still and let me do the talking for a change."
"You always have to have the last word, have you ever noticed that?"
Dear Secret Mason,
Forming an alliance with someone who turns out to be a jerk can indeed be very frustrating. Not only does the alliance no longer provide satisfaction, but there's a sense of betrayal, of loss, as the friend you thought you loved so well turns out to be someone else after all. Instead of finding a partnership, you find yourself becoming a keeper. Instead of enjoying the companionship, you begin to dread the next conversation. What should have been comradeship becomes a daily irritation. I understand that one completely -- a three day journey with a dragon I met once seemed like it took three years to complete, and by the time it was over, I hoped he'd hibernate for a century!
However, you can't get out of your partnership at the drop of a hat; it's going to take time. You have a responsibility to the people who are looking forward to their new home. You can't quit on them. Sit your partner down and tell him frankly that you won't do masonry on any more houses after the ones you've already contracted. Stop doing any work by yourself and work along side the partner so that you can oversee his work. Finish the houses you've started, and then shake the carpenter's hand and say thank you, good luck, good bye. And let me just add that when that day comes, it's going to feel mighty good, so start laying in a supply of champagne NOW.