Screams echoed through Niffle as people rushed into their homes or fell to their knees and clasped their hands. The sun was shining overhead, but shadows blotted out the city as dragons flew above it. Tafel was eating lunch with her father and mother when a sentry burst in while he shook and shouted, “Milord! They’re back!”
Zollstock frowned. “Already? It’s only been two days,” he said.
“Vur’s back?” Tafel asked. “Can I go see him?”
“Absolutely not! He kidnapped you and held you hostage last time,” her mother said as her knife clanked against her plate. “If it weren’t for your father’s negotiation, who knows what would’ve happened to you.”
Tafel pouted. “But all dad did was flir-,”
“Ahem. Ahem.” Zollstock let out a cough, interrupting her. “I think it’d be fine if Tafel came along,” he said, “building a nice reputation with the dragons can be a good foundation for a future leader.
Tafel beamed at him. “Thanks dad, you’re the best,” she said and skipped to his side.
Little devil, Zollstock thought.
“Oh? Is that so?” Mina asked. “I guess it’s best if I come along too then. You wouldn’t mind, right?”
“A-ah, of course not,” Zollstock said, “but it’s best if we hurry. Shouldn’t keep a dragon waiting.”
“Hi, Tafel,” Vur said as he waved his hand.
Tafel waved back. “Good afternoon, Vur. You’re back so soon” she said. She looked around. “Is auntie not here?” she asked.
“No, she sleeps when the sun is out,” he said. Zollstock looked crestfallen.
“But I brought Snuffles. Snuffles, come here and say hi.” Vur waved at Snuffles who was sniffing a guard’s polearm. Snuffles ran over and oinked.
“This is Snuffles,” Vur said as he lifted him up. “Mama says he’s my son.”
“He’s so cute,” Tafel said and rubbed his head. Snuffles oinked and wiggled his tail.
“Scan,” Mina said as she looked at Snuffles. Her face paled and her mouth fell open.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Zollstock asked.
“The boar’s level 87,” she whispered.
“Tafel, honey. Come here for a second,” he said with a strange smile on his face.
“What is it, dad?”
“That boar’s very dangerous. You should stay awa-“
“Oink.” Snuffles appeared behind Tafel and sniffed her foot. Zollstock jumped back and pulled Tafel towards him.
“Oink?” Snuffles tilted his head and continued to walk towards the family of demons.
“I think they’re scared of you, Snuffles,” Grimmy said and let out a laugh.
Snuffles let out a whimper and his eyes glistened as tears began to form while he looked at the family. Tafel felt a tug on her heart and she broke out of her father’s grasp to hug Snuffles. “It’s okay, Snuffles. I’m not scared of you,” she said as she rocked him. Mina stumbled and grabbed her husband for support.
“I think I need to lie down,” she said and stumbled away. Zollstock looked at his wife’s back and then looked at Tafel. Zollstock opened his mouth to speak.
“C’mon, let’s go to the library,” Vur said. He grabbed Tafel’s hand and pulled her along. “You have to show me the good books,” he said. Tafel turned to look at her father and noticed he wasn’t saying anything.
“Okay,” she said and smiled.
“I know the stories say dragons kidnap princesses, Vur,” Prika said, “but we don’t actually do that.”
Grimmy grinned as he looked at the two children. “We actually prefer to eat them,” he said and licked his lips.
“Eep!” Tafel squeaked and hid behind Vur.
“He’s just kidding,” Vur said. “We don’t eat humans. We just burn or crush them.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Tafel said and sniffed.
Vur frowned. “I won’t let anyone burn you,” Vur said.
“Of course. Dragons don’t lie,” Vur said as he stuck his chest out. The two headed off towards the library with Snuffles in tow.
“The elf isn’t here to chaperone this time?” Zollstock said as he turned towards Grimmy.
Grimmy snorted. “I don’t think Vur would destroy your city if Tafel is close to him,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about that.”
Zollstock started to sweat. I was more concerned for him, he thought, but said, “I see. What level is Vur anyway?”
Grimmy shrugged his shoulders which caused the ground to shake. “We don’t keep track of levels,” he said, “but he’s probably stronger than all your SSS ranked adventurers.”
“Mom, can Vur eat dinner with us?” Tafel asked. Vur and Tafel stood outside a giant wooden door inside the castle. The floor was covered with a red carpet and glowing orbs hung from the ceiling. The walls were made of stone and glass windows let in light.
Inside the room, Mina shivered. “Of course he can,” Mina said. How can I refuse? Mina thought as sweat dripped down her forehead.
“Let’s go wait at the table,” Tafel said. She grabbed Vur’s hand and led the way to a room with a circular table and five seats around it. “This is where we usually eat,” she said. “There’s extra chairs because my brothers aren’t home.”
Vur tilted his head. “Don’t the table and chairs get in the way when you eat?” he asked. “There’s not enough room for the bear.”
“Bear?” Tafel asked. “We sit on the chairs and eat the food off the table.”
Vur made a face. “You’re like the elf people,” Vur said. “I hate eating like that.”
“How do you eat then?”
“I break the neck because Grimmy says I shouldn’t play with my food. Then I tear off strips and eat them. I don’t like the guts though. I feed those to Snuffles.”
Tafel turned pale. “What do you count as… food?” she asked.
“I eat the big bears. The little ones aren’t as tasty. Sometimes I eat fruit. In the desert I ate a lot of scorpions and antlions,” Vur said while he started to drool. “Those were really tasty. Have you ever tried scorpion?”
Tafel shook her head. “We usually eat a little meat with vegetables,” she said.
Vur frowned. “I’ll take you home and feed you lots of delicious things,” Vur said. “Grimmy says you can’t grow big and strong if you don’t eat enough.”
Servants started to bring in plates of food and Zollstock and Mina entered the room. Zollstock was wearing a purple robe and Mina wore a white gown. “It’s a pleasure to have you for dinner with us, Vur,” Mina said.
“I know,” Vur said and nodded. Mina’s face cramped.
Tafel nudged Vur. “You’re supposed to say, ‘the pleasure is all mine’,” she whispered. “My mom’s a stickler for etiquette.”
“Oh. Oops,” Vur said and turned to Mina. “The pleasure is all yours.”
Mina sighed and Zollstock put his hand on her shoulder. “At least he tried right? Come, let’s not worry too much about his manners,” he said and proceeded to sit with Mina next to him. Tafel pulled Vur over to a seat making sure to leave the seat to the right of him empty while she sat on his left. The servants passed out the plates and some trembled as they handed Vur his.
Vur stared at the steak in front of him and poked it with his finger. Mina stared at him. Tafel saw her mother looking like she wanted to stab Vur so she nudged Vur’s shoulder. “You’re supposed to use the fork and knife,” she whispered and made sawing motions with her knife, “like this. See?”
Vur watched Tafel cut the steak with her knife and he moved his hands to mimic her. He stabbed the fork into the meat and a shattering sound resounded through the room. Cracks spread out along the plate, causing it to break. Tafel’s mouth fell open and Zollstock stopped moving. Mina paled and her hands trembled as she held her knife. Vur tilted his head and shrugged as he proceeded to cut the steak with his knife. A sawing noise was heard and a line of gouged out wood could be seen after Vur lifted the piece of meat.
“Honey, don’t you think it’d be better if Vur sat on the floor?” Mina turned to her husband and asked.
“Are you kidding me?” Zollstock whispered back. “We can replace a table, but it’ll be a pain to replace the floor.”
“You can’t make Vur sit on the floor; he’s a guest,” Tafel said. “Prim says we have to treat our guests with courtesy.”
Mina smiled. “Yes, of course. Silly me for suggesting such a thing,” she said as her teeth ground together. “Please forget I even mentioned it.”
“Mentioned what?” Vur asked. He grabbed the rest of the uncut steak, folded it, and ate it in one bite.
Mina just stared and shook her head. “Nevermind,” she said.
“So, what did you two do today, Tafel?” Zollstock asked.
“We went to the library and Vur read me stories,” Tafel said. “Did you know that Vur can read elvish? All the scribes and librarians sat down to listen also.”
Mina raised an eyebrow and stared at Vur who was still chewing with his cheeks bulging. “Really? I wouldn’t have expected that,” she said.
Vur swallowed and a huge bulge could be seen traveling down his throat. “Auntie says I’m very smart because I ate fruits of knowledge,” he said while nodding.
“Really?!” Tafel asked. “Is the tree really as big as the stories say it is? What did it taste like? Can you get me some?”
Vur shook his head. “The tree was very big and the fruit tasted sweet. Not as good as bear meat though,” he said. “But I knocked the tree down, so there’s no more fruit.”
“That was your fault?” Zollstock asked. He had received a report saying the tree of knowledge no longer existed when he inquired earlier to get a fruit for Tafel. His face paled when he recalled what Grimmy told him.
“No. It was the tree’s fault for being too weak,” Vur said and pouted, “but I got blamed anyway.”
“I see,” Zollstock said and nodded, “yes, it was the tree’s fault.”
“Vur also told me stories about his home. Can I go visit?” Tafel asked.
“No!” Mina yelled and then cleared her throat. “Ahem. I mean no, sweetie, you wouldn’t want to impose on the dragons; I’m sure they’re busy doing dragon things.”
“Not really. We usually just sleep all day after hunting,” Vur said and then added, “although I started reading a lot recently. It’ll be a lot of fun if Tafel came to play.”
“I think it should be fine as long as I go with her,” Zollstock said and stroked his chin. Tafel smiled and dimples appeared on her cheeks.
Mina glared at him. “Does this have anything to do with that pretty elf lady?”
Zollstock paled. “Of course not. It would be rude to refuse an invitation from a dragon; I’m just making sure Tafel stays safe,” he said.
“Nonsense. What if something happens to you two? Who will lead the country?” Mina asked.
“Nothing will happen to them,” Vur said. “Dragon’s honor.”