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Defending His Master’s Keep

This one is for Moonshine, who ended up in the emergency vet’s office last night for stitches after taking on an assault gopher.  That’s what most normal people call a groundhog.

If you like this, and want more, check out “Coming Home“.


 

Water of Fire settled down upon the floor in front of the fireplace. The mistress and her pups had left him inside this day, believing that the ground outside was too wet and sloppy for him to stay in the yard while they were gone to visit neighbors. He did not understand this reasoning, for there were few things in life he enjoyed more than taking a long run at a mud puddle, then slipping and sliding across it. A smile came to his muzzle at the memory of mud dripping from his sides and tail as he lined himself up for another run at the low spot in the corner of the yard.

Other than him, the house was empty. The new dog, whom his humans had christened with the name “Bounder,” was with the Master of Beasts, he of the liver-flavored biscuits and occasional stabs in the rump, for the day. She was a good sort, if a bit too energetic for him, but she was fitting in well with his family. The elder war hound, Turf of Azure, rest her soul, no longer occupied her usual spot in the warmest part of the kitchen, and had gone on to that place where the sunbeams never moved and the bowls never emptied.

The cats, those skulking hunters of mice and filchers of treats, had been banished to the barn so that they could clean out an infestation of mice, which had chewed their way into the grain stores for the coming winter. One of the felines, the tan one with the black face and blue eyes, had cursed in his high, lilting voice the entire time that Water of Fire’s boy had carried him out of the house. That memory caused the hound to chuckle as he lay his head upon his paws.

The warmth of the fireplace and the absolute silence of the house, not even broken by the soft pads of a cat’s paw on the pantry shelves, overwhelmed the hound with bliss. As the sun peeked through the tall windows in the north wall, a broad sunbeam washed over him, infusing his black fur with even more heat and relaxing every muscle in his body. Soon, the silence was broken by his snores and an occasional whimper as he chased a horde of bloodthirsty squonks in his dreams.

Overhead, a flight of geese honked loudly as they cleared the manor’s roof. Their calls to one another caused one of the sleeping dog’s ears to cock up for a moment, swivel as he tried to find the source of the disturbance, then drop as the noise faded. His mahogany eyes never opened, and the incident only intruded momentarily on his dream of small, fuzzy creatures in an open field.

Then, an almost imperceptible breeze swept across the study, which ruffled the fine silver hairs frosting the hound’s black fur and caused some of the papers on his master’s desk to stir. Water of Fire opened his eyes at this, wondering if there was a window open somewhere, when he noticed more movement upon the desk.

Lifting his head, he saw a piece of paper swirl, as if caught in a zephyr, and lift from the desk. He sat up completely and cocked his head to the side, never taking his eyes from the floating piece of vellum. Then, to his surprise, it began to fold inward upon itself, first pulling one side toward the other, then the top to the bottom.

After a few moments, in which the paper fluttered and twisted a few feet in the air above the desk, it took the form of a small paper bat. Flapping its wings, it sailed around the room. Alarmed at such wizardry, Water of Fire stood up and barked at the paper flying mouse, causing it to hover for a moment and turn its face toward him. The hair on the back of the dog’s neck stood up and his ears lay back when he saw that instead of eyes, the apparition had two red, glowing spots, which bored down at him.

A deep growl rose from the hound’s chest, and the war dog leapt at the paper bat, trying to grasp it in his teeth. The bat swooped away, making chattering noises as it flew higher than he could jump. As he watched and snarled at the creature, it flew up to settle on one of the high beams supporting the peaked roof. Water of Fire barked again, filling the study with his high-pitched war cry.

“This is my domain!” he cried out in a way any foe worth having could understand. “I accuse you of being a coward and a fool if you do not come down to face me!”

This caused the bat to squeak loudly in indignation, hurling insults down at the war dog. It launched itself from its perch, pulling its wings back and diving directly at the black hound. Water of Fire jumped up to meet it, barely missing its tail with his teeth. The bat whooped in triumph, and banked hard to avoid crashing into the polished wooden floor.

Water of Fire tracked his foe as it swooped back up toward the rafters, then leapt at it. Two fast strides brought him to his master’s chair, and he reared up on his legs, pushing off from its high back to leap high into the air. Behind him, the chair fell back onto the floor with a thud and a rattle, but he was rewarded with the taste of parchment in his mouth as he caught one of the demon’s wings with his teeth.

The hound landed on his mistress’ writing desk, scattering papers, crystal vials of potions and ink, and a book of poetry, in which she was pressing several flowers from the garden. The bat squealed in pain, tearing at his face with its papery claws, then shrieked as he shook it as if it were a rat. Pieces of paper fell like new snow upon the desk and floor beside it as he tore it to bits. Finally, he chewed up and swallowed the pasty remnants of his foe, triumphant in defending his home.

Water of Fire sniffed the scraps of vellum scattered across the desk, then surveyed the mess around him. Iridescent ink dripped from a vial without a stopper, causing a swirling purple puddle to expand on the floor. Meanwhile, another vial lay in the middle of a sizzling pool of some potion or another, which was slowly eating into the desk’s finish. The vapors from it smelled of rotten eggs and ashes, and made Water of Fire sneeze when he sniffed them.

The book of poetry, most of its pressed flowers scattered across the floor, moved when his paw brushed it as he descended from the desk. The hound pushed at the tome with his nose, curious about the many smells that its contents exuded, then left it behind as he returned to his spot next to the fireplace.

Water of Fire pushed out his front legs, arching his back and tail to stretch after his exertions. As he took the first of his customary three turns before resuming his favorite resting position, he heard something scrape on the floor behind him. He turned in a flash, his ears back and teeth bared, ready to pounce. But instead of another paper bat diving at him, the dog saw the book standing up on its own. As he watched, small arms and legs popped out from the cover, and with the rustle of pages against one another, it sprinted toward the door.

The hound yipped in surprise. His nails skidded on the floor, trying to gain purchase as he pursued the demon in its new form. He skidded into a bookshelf on his way out the door, dislodging a vase of dried flowers, which shattered against the threshold. Bits of glass and flower petals flew in all directions as the war dog righted himself and shot out into the hall.

The book, still running as fast as it could go, vaulted onto the bannister at the top of the stairs. Water of Fire heard its evil laughter echoing from the stairwell’s high ceiling as it slid down, leaving him behind. He sprinted down the stairs, gaining ground by touching only every third step. His teeth crashed together several times as he tried to catch the book, but always missed by not more than the width of a few of the book’s pages.

With a cry of glee, the book sailed off the end of the oaken bannister, flying through the air toward the open door to the kitchen. Water of Fire vaulted off the last step, colliding with the book in mid-air and dragging it down. The two combatants slammed into the wall and ripped down a tapestry depicting a scene from the Eyrisch countryside. The book hopped up and tried to make its escape, but was slammed to the floor by a mighty paw. It screamed as Water of Fire sank his teeth into its pages, then shook it back and forth. The book opened and shut itself forcefully, smacking its cover into the dog’s face in its struggles.

Water of Fire shook the book again as he stumbled into the kitchen, then slammed it back down onto the floor again. He held it down with one paw, ripping at its soft paper underbelly. Finally, the book moaned and ceased its struggles, its pages torn and its spine broken.

Water of Fire panted for air as he lifted his head from the demon’s carcass. His mouth was gummy with ink and the remnants of the dried flowers he had consumed during the fight. One eye was sore where a stiff corner of the cover had caught it in the battle, and one of his ears rang from a blow. He gave the book a final swipe with his foot, then limped over to the water bowl to wash the taste of paper from his mouth.

Lapping up the water, Water of Fire pondered what was to be done about the state of the house. While she was an intelligent creature, his mistress could not understand him when he tried to communicate with her, only catching the occasional vague idea of his meaning. Lifting his head to gaze back toward the hall, he knew that there was no way that she would not notice the mess his battle had created. Perhaps if he were to show her the items the demon had possessed, she would sense the residue of its presence and forgive him.

As he pondered what would happen when the family returned, he heard a noise coming from the other side of the kitchen. A sound, similar to that made by a morsel falling from the table to be scooped up, made his ears perk up and his mouth water. He bent down to look along the floor and sniff, and saw an entire loaf of fresh-baked bread lying in front of the oven.

He approached the bread, sniffing the intoxicating aroma of yeast and wheat deep into his nostrils. The loaf remained inert, even when he poked it with an outstretched paw.

No, he thought, better to leave it. He was not that hungry, and he knew that the mistress would not want to bake more bread, even though this piece was on the floor, which was normally his domain when it came to food.

Water of Fire turned away from the oven and took a few steps toward the door. He just wanted to go back upstairs and sleep until the family returned. Perhaps he could think of a way to deal with their displeasure. His reverie was broken, however, when he heard the sound of small, soft feet padding across the tiles.

The war hound spun around, expecting to see a maniacal cutting board or meat mallet racing toward him, but was surprised to see the loaf of bread, now sporting a set of stubby, crusty legs, running toward the open window. It left a trail of golden crumbs in its wake as it raced across the floor. With a growl of frustration, Water of Fire gave chase once again.

This time, the demon chose to fight, rather than run, when it noticed his pursuit. The bread turned, red eyes glowing in the wall’s shadow, and launched itself at the dog. Surprised, Water of Fire skipped to the side with a yelp as the heavy loaf impacted on his hindquarters, knocking him sideways. The bread jumped upon his back, grabbing at his fur with two stubby hands. More crumbs flew about the kitchen.

Water of Fire whirled around in a desperate attempt to rid himself of his attacker. The bread cackled as it hauled back on his fur, then grasped at his tail. The war dog cried out in pain as he felt the end of his tail pull at an odd angle toward his back.

The hound rolled onto his side, extracting a squeal of anger from the yeasty demon as he crushed it with his weight. He swung his head around, again catching his foe between his teeth, but this time he took no chances. Rather than rip the loaf to bits, as he had done with the book and the paper bat, he swallowed it in three large bites. The demon screamed as it went down his gullet, then fell silent.

Water of Fire collapsed to the cold tile floor. His tail ached badly, and he whined in pain every time he tried to move it. His stomach hurt from being overstuffed with paper and bread, and his back was sore where patches of fur had been ripped out by the savage baguette monster. He limped out of the kitchen, his belly gurgling and his ear ringing, and up the stairs to the study. There, he found that the potion, which had pooled on his mistress’ desk, had stopped smoking and sizzling, although it had eaten a hole about a quarter of a paw’s depth into its thick wooden top. The numerous papers and other things he had knocked to the floor were intermingled with the spilled ink, which was coagulating into a pearlescent purple blob. He almost cut his paws on a few sharp pebbles of glass, but made it to his spot next to the fireplace without injuring himself further.

The war dog, the silver highlights in his fur now muted by dust, crumbs, and bits of his enemy, flopped down onto the floor without any of his customary ceremony. With a final sigh, he closed his eyes. Perhaps the mistress would not be too upset about the damage if he met her at the door and tried to explain.

Besides, he thought as he drifted off to sleep, I did it defending my master’s keep.

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. OldNFO

     /  June 10, 2018

    ROTFLMAO! AND he will ‘pay’ for his defense of his master’s castle… 😀

    Reply

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