Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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The Deeper the Lust, the Sweeter the Flesh

by Kimberly Grenfell


Orrin could not shake his feeling of dread, and he could not understand why.

Many a time had he stood before the doors of ramshackle dwellings in the forgotten kingdom village of Nymphshire -- most often to meet the red lips and spread legs of a wanton wench -- and never once had he hesitated to rap his knuckles against the wood. But this time was different; this time he clutched the Warrant.

Five-thousand gold pieces for the heart of Legendfire, it read.

Five thousand.

Enough to buy him a house inside the king's city walls, some expensive wines and ales, and all the wenches he wanted. Five thousand gold, and all it took was the severed heart of a dragon delivered on a platter of silver plating.

Not a simple task, and he knew nothing about dragons, but a desperate man had to fulfill his desperate desires somehow.

Now, as he stood before the door set askew upon its hinges, the odor of rotting meat and sulfur oozing through its cracks, Orrin had paused, hand in mid-air. Something had slithered into the crevices of his mind; something tainted with the foulest doubts and wildest imaginings.

He shivered and tightened his fist. The scroll in his hand crinkled. He peered down at it. Five thousand gold was naught to scoff at.

Orrin made to knock, but jerked back when an eyehole slid open and a gray eye peeked out.

"Nothin' here," called a cracked voice. "Go away."

The eyehole slid shut with a thud against Orrin's fingers. He pried it open, held up the warrant. "Nothing, but a silver-plated platter that craves the slick warmth of its reward, eh?"

Orrin cocked his head. The eye widened.

In a trice, latches rattled, a knob turned, and the door was flung open. Orrin recoiled from the stench.

"Come in, come in." A thickset man with a bristly red beard ushered Orrin inside. "Seems I've been a mite hasty," he said, "a mite hasty, indeed. Hail and well met, my good fellow, and let us discuss the deed." He closed the door, returned the latches, and shuffled away.

Orrin hung back.

Light from the guttering street lamps seeped in behind him to fill the interior with looming shapes and shadows. Single room, no windows. No doors, save for the entrance. Stale air. Like cheap grog. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck, and Orrin cursed his worn woolen clothing.

"The name's Dover," he heard the man say. "Yours?"

Orrin watched Dover take down a lantern from a shelf, blow dust from its top, strike a flint, and catch the wick alight.

"Orrin," he replied, stooping as the room shrunk around him in the illumination, his head a fraction from the ceiling beams where dried herbs hung in tied bunches. They did naught to hide the dwelling's smell.

"Orrin...Orrin..." Dover plunked the lantern atop a table set in the corner, pulled out two chairs, and slid into one. "Then come, and let's talk business."

Boots clumping, Orrin strode forth and unfurled the scroll in his hand. He refused to sit. "Says here, five thousand gold for the heart of Legendfire. This correct?"

"Oh yes," said Dover, "as correct and true as the ink on that paper."

Orrin half-turned, let his gaze roam over the man's meager possessions -- a rusty cast iron stove, an assortment of dented pots and pans, a stained hearthrug, a straw-stuffed mattress, a weather-beaten chest with ragged leather strapping...

"I can pay you the sum, if that's what you're thinking," said Dover, and Orrin returned his eyes to him. "That wretched beast stole my wealth -- nearly all of it -- but that's the least he took from me."

Orrin's brow lifted. "Oh?"

"Yes, and I must have my revenge."

Dover grinned a mouthful of crooked teeth. One eye squinted, and a wide scar along the left side of his face puckered. Orrin rolled up the scroll, tucked it into his vest, and tried to ignore the ill feeling that still gnawed at the pit of his insides.

"Revenge," said Orrin loudly, to hide his unease. "Sounds serious. What did he take from you, besides your money?"

"Sit," said Dover, "and I'll tell you."

He edged the empty chair toward Orrin with his foot; a misshapen thing with pointed yellow nails. Orrin stepped back, repulsed.

"No," he said. "I'll stand."

"So be it."

Dover twisted round behind him and plucked a palm-sized frame, well kept, crafted in gilt flowers and leaves, from a dusty shelf and presented it to Orrin, who angled it into the lantern's light. A fair face painted in oils met his eyes, and Orrin felt his loins flush hot with a sudden desire.

"Beautiful, eh?" said Dover, and he sat back, lit a pipe.

"Yes..."

Swirling smoke filled the corner of the room, and Orrin, oblivious to all else, drank in the young woman's delicate features: Skin as pink as a ripe peach. Dark hair, sleek and sheen. Thick lashes that graced the curve of her lids. Crimson lips, set full and sensual beneath a dainty nose. And her eyes -- glorious! As rich as the king's most prized emeralds.

Saints be praised! She's finer than any wench I've ever bedded.

"Geeld."

Orrin blinked, looked up at Dover.

"Pardon?"

"It's pronounced 'geeld'," he said. "The surname, at the bottom there. Go on, have a look for yourself." He waggled an impatient finger, and drew on his pipe.

The weed crackled and glowed, and Orrin brushed his fingertips over the raised lettering entwined with the golden vines. "Gielde," it read. He coughed at a newly exhaled billow of smoke.

"Her name's Fern," said Dover, "and she's the other thing that beast stole from me -- my daughter."

Orrin lifted his head. "A dragon stole your daughter?"

"Yes!" Dover slammed his fist onto the table. The lantern rattled. "So surely you must see why that dragon has to die, no? Look at her," he cried, "just look! Such beauty and grace, and now..." He groaned, sagging. "Trapped in a grotto, atop a pile of her own inheritance, and this" -- he reached behind him again, pulled down a handful of hair tied with a red ribbon -- "this is all I have left of her."

Head bowed, Dover held the bundle out to Orrin who, setting the picture next to the lantern, took it into his hands. The silken strands slid elegant and soft over his calloused skin, and even through the room's stench, he caught a whiff of their inviting scent.

Orrin lifted the hair to his nose and inhaled.

At once, the heady smell of lavender and cinnamon enveloped him. Orrin closed his eyes and, like a dragon driven by the urge to mate, he savored the intense rush of pleasure that filled him with an undue determination and reckless thoughts.

What a choice consort she would make! Fern Gielde, the perfect bed wench.

Surely this man, Dover, couldn't deny his daughter to her bold savior as his ultimate reward, could he? A wealthy beauty at his every whim. Even better than the five thousand gold he had first set out for. His desires would be fulfilled -- tenfold!

A sharp clang broke Orrin's thoughts. He turned his attention back to Dover, who, brow furrowed, tapped his fingers next to a platter of silver plating on the table. Orrin lowered the bundle of hair, grimaced at the return of the sulfuric smell and pipe smoke.

"This is the only piece of material wealth I have left," said Dover, "worth far less than the reward I offer, mind you, and I want that dragon's heart upon it, warm and still beating. Can you do this, Orrin?" he asked. "Can you carve the beast's heart out of its chest and deliver it to me?"

Orrin fondled Fern's hair. Its scent caressed him. He gave a curt nod. "Yes," he said, "I can."

Dover grumbled in doubtful contemplation. "I don't know..." He sat back with his pipe, scrutinized Orrin. "You seem a might lean," he said, "and a might young."

"I can deliver it." Orrin stiffened back his shoulders. "I will deliver it."

"With my daughter at your side?"

"With your daughter at my side."

"Good."

Dover stood, took back the bundle of Fern's hair, handed Orrin the platter, and strode to a small nook, where he rummaged through some clutter within.

"I have a pike, tipped heavy with poison," he said, "and a dagger forged strong enough to pierce dragon hide." He produced the items, turned to Orrin. "Stab the beast's underside with the pike, and after it's fallen dead, gouge out its heart with the dagger. I trust you know how to carve a hunted animal, yes?"

"Of course."

"Stout man!" Dover clapped him on the back, thrust the weaponry into Orrin's hands, and ushered him to the door.

"Wait."

Orrin pulled up. Dover eyed him.

"Have you...tried this yourself?"

"Oh, I have," said Dover, "believe me, I have, but I was lucky, and received only this for my efforts." He pointed to the scar. "No, I'm far too old for such dealings. I need someone hale and hearty, brave, like yourself. But, if you don't desire the reward forthcoming..."

"I do. I want it."

"Then here." Dover tucked a folded sheet of paper into Orrin's pocket. "A map to the dragon's grotto, and may fortune travel with you, my good fellow. You shall be rewarded once the deed has been done."

The door slammed. Latches rattled. A rat chattered in the dark.

Orrin stood upon the stoop, exposed to the chill of Nymphshire's dank night and burdened with a clutter of items -- the pike, the dagger, and the platter. The inkling of dread crept into his mind once more, and he ran a hand across his mouth, smelled the lingering scent of lavender and cinnamon.

Fern.

Orrin turned, stepped out into the street in search of a tavern where he could gather a few provisions for his journey.

A severed heart of a dragon delivered upon a platter of silver plating. Not a simple task, and Orrin knew nothing about dragons, but he was a desperate man, and even desperate men had to fulfill their desperate desires...somehow.

Orrin trekked through the night.

By the glow of a lantern, he picked his way along stretches of forestlands, following the map's directions, resting and eating only when he needed, until at last he reached the base of a secluded cliffside lake, where morning light seeped across the rock to find a low and ragged hole.

Some distance away, Orrin halted. A golden glint caught his eye.

The dragon's lair!

He snuffed out his lantern and crept closer.

Behind a nearby cluster of brushwood he crouched, poisoned pike in hand, dagger at his waist. He lay the platter at his feet next to the lantern, then watched and waited. Slowly, the sunlight strengthened and brightened the lonely beach, and soon Orrin could see clearly into the heart of the grotto.

Three shapes took form.

The first, a glittering mound of gold pieces and gems rose high against the back slope of the shallow cave, whereupon the second sat, perched atop it: a lone female figure adorned in a dress of pale blue -- the sensuous Fern.

Orrin flushed hot once more and, from the bushes, took in her gentle movements, her cascade of black hair, the supple curves of her body. What kept Orrin from rushing forth in a heedless surge of bravado and lust, however, was the third shape, a hefty lump between him and his desire -- Legendfire himself.

The dragon lay on his side like a fat sack of grain beneath the arch of the grotto, lengthy neck stretched and red skin asparkle in the dawn light. His scaly feet twitched. His horned tail flicked. The tips of his tucked wings shivered.

Orrin listened, watched. Over the chirp of birds, he heard the heavy rattle of a deep dragon breath, slow and steady, and saw streams of smoke waft from the large nostrils as the beast exhaled, slow and steady.

Asleep!

The dragon was asleep. But he was also enormous, with four sets of curved claws and a jaw full of fangs.

Orrin shrunk back. He eyed the platter at his feet. Perhaps he could pawn it for more than it was worth. But the possibility of a wealthy wench at his beck and call, fulfilling his every carnal whim...

"Oh!"

He heard the voice -- a young woman's voice -- cry out in faint surprise.

Orrin looked up.

There stood Fern, alight with the late morning sun, at the crest of the golden mound, gaze fixed upon him, face bright with excitement. At once, she hitched up the edge of her skirt and began to clamber down from the pile.

Coins clinked and tinkled in her quick and sliding descent, and Orrin cringed, hearing Legendfire give a violent snort in his sleep. Smoke puffed. Wingtips shivered again. Fern halted behind the dragon's back and with a slender hand beckoned to Orrin, tugged at his loins with an invisible strand of desire.

Orrin saw his chance. The belly of Legendfire was exposed -- Stab the beast's underside with the pike -- and he girt up his courage, gripped the shaft of the weapon, shifted it forward, focused upon the scaly folds under which lay the warm and still-beating heart...and burst forth from the brushwood.

His feet pounded the ground. His muscles pumped, burned with vigor. Wind whistled past his ears.

At last! Fern would be his! Wealth would be his! His desperate desires would be fulfilled -- ten, twenty, thirty fold! Orrin let out a fierce cry and lunged, thrusting the pike end at the dragon's vulnerable underbelly.

A sharp crack and the shaft snapped.

The heavily poisoned tip spun high in the air, arced over his head, to land with a clatter at the edge of the lake's beach, and Orrin stumbled headlong into the dragon, who snorted, this time awake and aware.

With a great whump of his tail, Legendfire heaved upward and seized Orrin, hoisted him aloft and roared. Webbed wings flexed. Hot spittle rained into Orrin's face, spewed upon a breath of rotting meat and sulfur.

Stiff and terrified, Orrin let the odor wash over him, and he glanced down at Fern, who stood before the dragon, her expression taut and reproachful.

"Stop this!" she called. "Stop this at once!"

The dragon snuffed, cocked his head at her, then he folded back his wings, rumbled and dipped his snout, Orrin with it. Orrin grimaced at the churn of his insides, heard the dragon answer in a resonant voice.

"But my sweet, the night was long, and I don't care to be woken so rudely."

"And you have naught but yourself to blame." Fern crossed her arms. "You instructed him, didn't you?"

"Yes, but I didn't expect his arrival so soon. I gauged a full day's travel, at the very least, with him. He didn't seem sturdy enough to trek overnight."

"Well, the sooner, the better," she said. "The sooner, the better."

Orrin watched Fern saunter closer to peer up at him through the rich emerald eyes he had seen in the painting. She lay her hand upon his upper leg, and he gripped the underside of the dragon's finger, heart thudding, and caught a whiff of lavender and cinnamon.

"So what was I this time?" she asked of the dragon. "Niece? Cousin? A friend's stolen wife?"

"My daughter," he answered.

"Oh!" Fern laughed and, with a toss of her head, clapped her hands. "Champion, Dover, my love! Champion!"

Orrin gasped, glanced at the dragon's face, where a wide scar sliced down the left side. A gray eye shifted his way, and the beast's scaly lips stiffened back.

"He refused to sit in the enchanted chair," Dover said, "so I had to use the ribboned locks."

"Ah yes, the ribboned locks." Fern smiled. "I remember. Powerful spell, that one. I crafted it so even the most reluctant would give in."

"Reluctant! Pah!" Dover spat out a sizzling gob, eyed Orrin with a growl. "He could scarcely contain himself. He reeked of male human musk, and I had to light a pipe to rid my room of the stench."

"Poor you..."

Fern pouted; a teasing curl of her crimson lip. Dover's expression softened.

"But then again," he said, "all men eventually succumb to your natural beauty, my sweet."

"Oh, Dover, you flatter me."

Fern caressed the dragon's snout, laid a gentle kiss upon his forehead.

Orrin's eyes darted from Fern to Dover and back to Fern, whose fingers began to crawl up toward Orrin's loins, her face pressed to his inner thigh. His body responded, and he heard Fern utter a sensual moan.

Dover tightened his grip, bared his fangs. Orrin wheezed, felt ribs crack. Pain pierced his sides. Fern laughed, and she pulled away.

"Your jealousy always gets the better of you," she said. "At least he didn't slash you in the face like the last one did."

"Right." Dover rumbled. "And he won't."

Orrin's mind began to swim, his chest to ache, and he struggled for a moment, unable to break free. That ill feeling! I should have paid heed to that ill feeling! Then he fell still, closed his eyes, found his quavering voice buried beneath his thick tongue, and whispered a slur of words.

"Who is Legendfire?"

"Who, indeed," said Fern. She dug beneath Dover's finger, searched Orrin's waistband, and wrenched out the dagger. "I thought you would have figured that out by now."

Orrin winced. His vision narrowed. Fern flicked the blade point with the end of her thumb.

"Platter?" she asked.

"Platter," said Dover.

"At least we can reuse it."

"Who...is...Legendfire?"

Orrin wheezed again, and Fern sighed.

"Does it truly matter now?" she asked.

"Yes..." He had to know. He was a desperate man, after all, with desperate desires that had to be fulfilled.

"So be it." And with her thin finger, Fern traced out a fiery set of letters that burned before him in the air: f-e-r-n-g-i-e-l-d-e.

Orrin read the name.

Fern Gielde.

He blinked, confused. At once, the letters, crackling like Dover's pipe weed, rearranged themselves. Orrin read the name again and groaned. His thudding heart sank.

Legendfire.

"I am Legendfire," said Fern. "And I shan't be trifled with."

Orrin coughed, tasting a swell of vomit and blood, and he swallowed, jerked his chin at the dragon. "Then...he's...not...?"

"Dover?" Fern scoffed. "Of course not! Who would ever hunt down and kill a dragon by that name? We use mine; it's far more gallant. Now, please" -- she motioned to the beast -- "move your fingers, my love. You've squeezed him long enough, and he's not soon leaving, I suspect."

"As you wish."

Dover spread his fingers, and Orrin, weakened, lay heaving, helpless within the dragon's palm. Fern grinned, and she lifted the dagger high, wiped away her slaver.

"Yes," she whispered, "the deeper the lust, the sweeter the flesh. Well done, Dover. Well done, indeed. He will taste absolutely perfect."

THE END


© 2009 Kimberly Grenfell

Bio: Kimberly Grenfell is a stay-at-home mother of two who has studied creative writing and editing both independently and through college courses. Her flash fiction piece, Ugly Stone, was published online at Abandoned Towers Magazine in September of 2008. Currently, she is working on a full-length dark fantasy novel, for which she plans to seek representation in the near future. Kimberly is also a member of the Writer's Beat.com writer's forum and has been a contributing editor for Writer's Beat Quarterly, its official publication.

E-mail: Kimberly Grenfell

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