Alice was a shrewd wife. She could smell a purse lighter by three pence and a tall tale by the first “ahem”. Franklyn drummed his fingers on his closed lips then pinched one eye against the sun and held a hand over his brow. He snapped his fingers and, with a prayer, jumped in. “Have ya ever heard the tale of the Dragon’s Chest?” He asked Alice as she crouched in the field beside him.
“Hand me that spade.” Alice popped out her hand and Franklyn obliged.
“It’s fascinating, a truly amaz–”
“Tater.” Alice demanded. Franklyn deposited the lumpy, dust-covered vegetable.
“So… it started ages ago, back before anyone’s grandfather can remember.” He waited but there were no warning signs, so he gathered his courage and went ahead. “It all comes down to this one thief who were the first person ever to find the red Dragon’s cave and make off with a hefty pile of jewels.”
Alice kept on plopping potatoes into the earth without showing the slightest sign of interest. Franklyn leaned over to catch her eye and cleared his throat. He scrubbed at the dirt with his finger. “Anyway, this particular Dragon were different.
They say she took a liking to other females and so the story goes she were cast out from her whatsit… her flock or whatever. Dragons ain’t a tolerant folk, if you get my meaning.” Franklyn nudged Alice in the ribs a couple of times with his elbow, then paused and thumbed the edge of his hat.
Getting no response, he cleared his throat. “Ehm. Where was I?”
“Hoe.” Alice beckoned.
Franklyn obliged again, spilling over the basket of potatoes. He let them lie and forged ahead with the story. “So, there she sits alone in her mountain… her mountain lair.” He let his voice build with energy. “The whole place was filled with all kinds of… gold, rubies, diamonds, you name it.” Franklyn lifted handfuls of the brown vegetables and let them tumble through his fingers with a look of awe on his face. “But once this thief makes off with her booty, that Dragon, well she shuts her teeth on the whole durn town!” Franklyn yelped and jumped into the air as if he’d been bitten. He slammed a potato into the dirt with a smash. “For years, she’d swaller any manner of beast or man what came near her. Them were dark days for that town. So them folks spread word of her treasure in hopes some fool party of Dragon slayers would do ’er in for ’em.”
“Mm-hmm” Alice mumbled, her gaze not wavering from the earth she was digging.
Franklyn could see he was losing her attention, so he stood and spoke louder yet, turning in circles to address the entire field. “Well.” He barked out a single laugh, adjusted his britches and spat into the dust. “Their plan worked only half so well. The first part were a big hit. Knights, warriors, thieves, princes and the like all came running to take on that old red she-Dragon. Except that they hadn’t bargained on her being such a tough old snake.” Franklyn looked down and caught sight of Alice, two rows over, planting potatoes with religious zeal. He skipped over the berm and joined her. “Where was I?”
“Tater.” Alice put her hand out again.
“Oh yes!” Franklyn deposited the brown lump and took off again. “That big red Dragon was a-toastin’ armoured knights by the dozen and picking her teeth with their swords.” His voice dipped low and he twinkled his fingers menacingly over Alice’s bent back. “It were like a merry-go-round of flame and ashes. One group would come running out the cave, smoke burning their trousers and another would gallop on in only to get slapped down just the same.” He got carried away and launched a few potatoes across the field. Alice lifted her head to give him a steely eyed glare. “Sorry.” He high-stepped across the field to retrieve them.
Once he placed the retrieved items back into their basket, he continued the story. “It went on like that for years until, they say, one day a maiden visited the Dragon in her lair… and they struck a deal!” Franklyn swished his hips in a small circle around Alice. “She was supposedly clever and curvy, but that’s all anyone knows.” He paused for a moment to catch his breath.
“So, the thing is, the Dragon disappeared… along with her hoard. No-one knows where she went.” He paused again, this time for effect, then exploded into motion. “Oddly enough, though, a new tavern appeared in that town, set up just at the base of the mountain where the she-Dragon had her lair and it’s called The Dragon’s Chest.” Franklyn emphasised the title with his eyebrows. “It’s run by two women, and one of ’em is a bit… off.” He tipped his hand back and forth. “Folks say she’s as tall as any man, with flaming red hair and freckles. If you look real close, though, they seem more like scales.” He drew a few fingers down his face for emphasis. “When she laughs, it rumbles the walls. What’s more, more than a few town guards have sworn they’ve seen something long and spiked slither under the hem of her dress.” Franklyn held his arm out behind him like a tail. “When folks ask about the name of her establishment, she tells them with a chuckle and a wink,” his voice rose to a girlish pitch: “There’s nothing a Dragon likes better than a full chest!”
Franklyn paused to let Alice come to the same realisation that he had. He spread his arms out wide, chest puffing and head nodding. Then the thought hit him like a stray potato thrown at his head. He’d done it. He’d made it through the whole thing.
Alice looked like the same thought had occurred to her, too. She was looking up at Franklyn now, with a curious and expectant expression on her face. She rose up slowly and let her hoe drop to the ground. “How much?” she asked him, crossing her arms.
“They said it would be a simple snatch-and-grab quest,” Franklyn stated with what he hoped was a tone of authority. He hurried on with soothing hand motions, in an attempt to show the confidence he actually lacked. “There’s seven guys and one of them is a descendent of that first thief who stole the Dragon’s gold way back when. He knows how to get in and out without being seen.”
“How much?” Alice tapped her foot impatiently.
“Much less than you’d expect for a sure thing like this.” Franklyn swallowed. Sweat began to drip from under his hat.
“We’ll get one eighth of the share,” he said meekly. “And it’s Dragon’s gold, you know. Nothing to sniff at. We’ll get our money back just as soon as…” Franklyn withdrew a few steps as Alice looked him up and down, as if sizing up a jackrabbit she was about to skin for supper. Then she performed her usual, familiar gesture: one hand out, palm up.
He took out his flat coin purse, wishing it were still full of the coins they had saved to buy a plow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. He had lost… no, invested its contents. That was it. He had invested in the quest, and would make a nice profit. Or so he hoped fervently. “We’ll get our money back and more, just as soon as the adventurers get back.” Franklyn gave her his most winning smile, placed the empty pouch in Alice’s outstretched hand and gave it two pats. He folded her fingers over the drooping thing and with a gentle push nudged it back in her direction.
Alice was a shrewd woman but Franklyn had long since learned to be fast on his feet. He made it clear across the potato field in the time it took her to launch four potatoes towards his head.