Drawful the Awful is the ongoing series/novel in progress following the pursuits of the dragon, Drawful, who is awful at being a dragon, and his “kidnapee” the Princess Brooke. The full series can be found here.
Drawful had offered to cook breakfast for them, but the Princess had insisted it might be better if they went out. It would keep Drawful’s home from being the setting of any conflict should Princes or warriors come sniffing after them, and they had a heavy purse thanks to Drawful’s cleverness the night before- not to mention another day’s per diem they could pick up at a Kingdom bank.
The morning was delightful, the sun washed the fields as they walked to one of the nearby villages where Drawful knew a delightful bistro and the air was crisp and pleasant. The Princess had a question she wanted to pose to the dragon, and was mulling over whether to broach the topic over food, or perhaps later. Since it was an outright change to the arrangement Drawful had made with her father, she was currently worrying quietly over whether this might be treason, or if a Princess could actually commit treason short of committing outright patricide.
The dragon and princess were walking down a gentle slope that led to the flat valley where the village of Beckenworth was located. The village was protected by an eight foot high wall that wrapped around from its eastern to southern side, the rest of it hugged a riverbed of a rushing river a quarter mile across that was its own natural protection and served as a port for trade with other villages downstream.
Drawful and the Princess Brooke did not have much time to take in the smart city planning than Beckenworth took pride in. Two figures at the gate they were approaching noticed them coming down the hill and got up from their post at the gate to approach and meet them on the level path from the village.
The city was bustling, but this far from the village, they were alone with the two new fellows. One walked ahead of the other, a Prince in fine tailored and embroidered riding clothes. Once more, the Prince had perfectly coiffed hair. This one kept his hair trim, and it shone with some sort of application that must have helped him achieve the razor line perfect part on the left side of his head and keep every single hair perfectly combed in that sculpted swoop.
Brooke did not recognize this Prince and might have told Drawful as much, but the dragon quickened his step to get in front of Brooke. Brooke realized that as with the other Princes, the dragon was fairly adept at reading the sorts of pampered and entitled jerks kingdoms and palace privilege tended to produce. This prince wore it plainly and proudly in a knowing smirk at the Princess, and shot up a flare of reiteration when he made a quick kissing face at the Princess before he looked up at Drawful.
“Greetings, Prince. I presume you are here to challenge me for the Princess Brooke?”
The Prince raised his eyebrows haughtily in regard of Drawful and looked behind him at his companion. The companion was no Prince. It was doubtful the companion was attendee of any royal court, or even royal guard. He wore boiled leather for armor over his broad chest. His wide shoulders and thick arms were uncovered and laced with scars and burn marks amid and under a number of black tattoos. He was armed with a sword and curved dirk on his hip, small throwing knives in each of his boots, and a small axe on his thigh.
“I’m here for the Princess, but I’ll be outsourcing the challenge to my friend, Cristiano.” The Prince gestured at the burly man who stepped ahead of the Prince and cracked his knuckles, then cracked his neck with a quick twist of his head. The mercenary rolled his shoulders to loosen up and shifted his feet in the dirt to ready himself for a fight.
“Outsourcing?” Drawful asked.
The Prince scoffed at Drawful. “Why strain myself when there are experts for hire in the field?” He winked at the Princess again causing her to visible revulse further away from the Prince behind Drawful.
Cristiano placed a hand on his dirk, awaiting the fight and lowered into a fighting posture. He straightened with a huff of impatience when Drawful instead gripped the bridge of his snout in exasperation. “Prince?”
“Prince Trevor of Hubrista,” the Prince finished helpfully.
“Prince Trevor,” Drawful repeated, with a tired tone as he regarded the mercenary Cristiano momentarily. Under the dragon’s gaze, the mercenary immediately snapped back to a ready fighting posture. Drawful shook his head and looked back at the Prince. “Sir, this is highly untoward for a Prince to win a Prince by way of hired steel.”
“Untoward?” The prince laughed loudly. “A dragon would presume to lecture a Prince on how he rules?” The Prince’s nose curled at Drawful. “What a dragon sees as untoward is undoubtedly the wisdom of a ruler accomplishing his aims effectively.”
“You think it’s wise to use a hired mercenary to win your Princess for you?” Brooke called out challengingly.
Brooke furtively slipped the coin purse to Drawful while Trevor snorted in refute. “I think you’ll see the wisdom of it when you’re crowned as my queen.”
Drawful gave a knowing nod at the Princess and presented the heavy purse, tossing it lightly in his hand for the mercenary to see. “You, Cristiano,” Drawful addressed with a grin.
The Prince looked offended. “How dare you address my contractor in my presence! You will not ignore me! I am the Prince, you shall deal with me!”
Cristiano rolled his eyes before he looked at Drawful with a silent, yet polite regard for hearing what the dragon had to say. “Quiet little Prince, your employee is a person and I am speaking to him as such.”
“I am the Prince!” Trevor screeched at Drawful.
Drawful sneered wickedly. “And he is a man. Princes can take and give much, but they can neither take nor give humanity-” Drawful lowered his gaze darkly and his voice rumbled threateningly, “-except their own.”
The prince fumed but was frozen in the face of Drawful’s change in tone. Drawful immediately snapped from the glower to regard Cristiano once more affably. “Sir, I am always pleased to meet a person who takes pride in their work and craft. Especially if you have gained notoriety to be hired by a royal, you are no doubt superlative at your work.”
Cristiano pouted a lip out in consideration, and modestly accepted. “Thank you, I do work hard at it. Nice to be noticed.”
“First time working with a royal?”
Cristiano smiled proudly and puffed his chest up. “Yes, I was pretty stoked when I received word that the Prince was interested in my services and his proposal.”
“Oh, the Prince sent you a proposal right away? No discussion over your standard rates?” Brooke asked.
Cristiano looked hesitantly at the Prince for a moment. The royal’s face had flushed red and he was stiff with ire at the exchange taking place. “Well, no, he is a Prince, after all,” Cristiano defended.
Brooke gave a theatrical look of bafflement, “that certainly isn’t how our castle works. If we hire outside contractors for anything, we research their standard rates, and generally offer them a markup on their rates for the prestige and quality expected.”
“Mark up?” Cristiano asked, crossing his thick arms over his chest and leaning forward to verify what Brooke had just said. “You mean you pay the contractors above their standard rates?”
Brooke blew an easy breath of air at the question and waved a hand lightly at it. “Of course, we expect more so we pay more.”
Cristiano looked over his shoulder at Prince Trevor once more whose face had drained of color as the Princess had explained the Alabaster economy in brief. “Oh really? See, I was convinced the prestige of working for a royal was worth offering myself at a discount.”
“It is, fool!” Trevor hissed. “Win this fight and you’ll be set for life, you’ll have more work than you can ever get done. You could start a mercenary firm with the number of inquiries that’ll come your way.”
Drawful commanded the attention of the Prince and Cristiano once more with a toss of the bag in his forepaw and a loud jangle of the coin. “Fighting a dragon is no small task either. That already is itself a mark-up on a mercenary’s daily rate, or should be at any rate.”
Cristiano didn’t speak, but by the expression on his face, Brooke and Drawful could both tell that the discounted rate he had been hired by Trevor for wasn’t even a discount on his rate for dealing with superhuman creatures and monsters. Drawful looked at the Princess and smiled. “Say Cristiano, this may be impolite to ask, but I feel we’re getting to know each other quite well.” Cristiano nodded slightly for Drawful to proceed. “What is your rate for the day’s work here?”
Trevor stammered to try to stop Cristiano from responding, but the strong man answered easily and quickly. “Eight gold coins.”
The Prince looked in terror at the sound of the heavy purse of coin that bounced in Drawful’s hand again. “What would the going rate, your standard rate be, for say, retrieving a person of interest and delivering them somewhere?”
“No killing? Just a bag and drop?” Cristiano put a finger to his chin and ran some numbers in his head. “Ten gold, standard. Half up front for supplies, rate goes up depending on the person and distance and all that.”
Drawful untied the purse. “Well, I think a Prince is quite a person to hire you to bag and drop, isn’t it Princess?”
Brooke grinned broadly and concurred as Drawful poured a portion of the coin into his other palm. “I think it’s worth about thirty gold from the sound of it.” The Princess raised at eyebrow inquiringly at Cristiano who pursed his lips to try unsuccessfully at restraining his smile.
Drawful glanced at the Prince Trevor who while clearly aware that he was in the process of being outbid for his hired muscle, clearly didn’t understand the catch and bag portion of the negotiation. “And the royal mark up for the prestige of the Alabaster Kingdom?”
Brooke straightened her posture and adopted a sardonically regal tone. “I think forty gold coin would do well to both honor my Kingdom’s name, and to convey to our contractor the import of his work.” The Princess Brooke looked at Cristiano and instructed. “Sir, my counselor will provide exact details of your assignment, and pay you in full in advance. This generosity and up-front payment does first require your immediate abdication of any pre-existing work.”
Cristiano laughed and nodded pleasantly and walked up to Drawful despite the hoarse protests of the Prince who was now stamping his feet angrily in the dirt. Drawful held out the forty gold coins to Cristiano who scooped them off Drawful’s paw while Drawful spoke. “Sir, here is your fee. Forty gold coin. Please accept this and the assignment to catch and deliver one Prince Trevor safely back to his Kingdom and palace. It seems the Prince has been gallivanting about in ways unwise and unbefitting a Prince.”
Cristiano poured the coins into his own purse, and gave Drawful and the Prince casual salutes in turn while grinning stupidly. He turned to the Prince Trevor and reached for a length of rope looped and hung on his belt. Trevor continued stamping his feet and throwing his tantrum railing at Cristiano, the Princess and Drawful loudly until the mercenary grabbed the Prince’s hands in a loop of the rope and bound them. With expert finesse, the Mercenary looped and tied the Prince’s hands, as the Prince continued his tirade.
“If you’re good, I’ll let you ride a horse,” Cristiano assured.
The Prince spat in his face.
Silence fell instantly like a concrete slab among the group. For his part, the Prince was stricken once more with pallor of terror and looked as if he would pay a more than fair wage for anyone who could rewind time for him. (Unluckily for Trevor, this person was elsewhere seeking Drawful and the Princess, and would not have taken the contract).
Cristiano began to snicker menacingly and looked at the Princess Brooke, “I agreed to delivering you safely.” Trevor still yanked the rope to make the Prince stagger forward and kneed the Prince in the groin. “Didn’t say unharmed.”
The Prince coughed and his eyes bulged in pain as he slowly crumpled to his knees in the dirt. “Come on,” Cristiano barked, and yanked the rope. Drawful was impressed that when the prince instead fell face forward into the dirt, the mercenary was strong enough to drag the royal through the dirt without much challenge at all.
“You can either be smart from here on, or you can get put up on a beam like a stuck pig for the ride back to Hubrista. Your call,” Cristiano threatened. The royal sputtered and finally began regaining his breath while being dragged in the dirt. The look on his face at the Princess and Drawful as he was dragged off was one of pure tragedy.
The Princess watched proudly as yet another idiot was deflected. When Cristiano disappeared into the crowds past the entrance to the village, she turned back to Drawful. She was surprised to see the dragon had his fist in the air before her. He winked at her and she made a fist and bumped hers against it.
“Brunch?” He asked, and that was all that needed to be said. The continued into the village and requested a table for two at the Bistro.