The sun was shining lustily, shining with all his might. He did his best to make the field look smooth and bright. And that was odd because-
Wait, whoops. Apologies, Mr. Carroll. Let’s try this again.
It was a gorgeous day for a battle over the crown. The sun was shining with all his might and all that, there were the high, fluffy clouds that looked like sheep in the overly blue sky, the birds were singing, the grass looked soft and inviting for a unicorn to be thrown onto it repeatedly. Lion stretched to his full height on his hind legs and let out a pleased, gusty sigh, then settled onto his haunches to wait. Surely Unicorn would be here soon. They had a standing appointment.
An hour later, the birds were getting on Lion’s nerves, the sun was beating down relentlessly on his fur, and Unicorn was nowhere to be seen. Lion gave an annoyed shake of his mane, concentrated, and stepped to the left out of the real world and into the Herald’s Lament, the bar for heraldic devices.
The bar was bigger than it appeared at first glance, stretching away into infinity if you let it. He nodded politely to the German imperial eagle as he walked by, and headed to the little table in the back that Dragon and Unicorn had been favoring of late, for venting purposes. Honestly, he didn’t understand the problem with them. They’d both been incorporated into the British Empire ages ago, why were they still complaining?
As he feared, Dragon and Unicorn were both there and both drunk. Dragon had his head down on the table, and Unicorn was complaining very loudly to the Harp of Ireland, who sang chiming snatches of song in response.
“I was in Babylon, once!” Unicorn exclaimed as Lion reached the table, slamming his pint glass down with a cloven hoof. He swayed alarmingly, and Lion held in a sigh, realizing he had a lot of sobering to do before Unicorn would be even a halfway decent opponent today. “I was important! I controlled the Spring, you know. I vanquished Winter and got things started for growing.”
“You were not,” Lion felt honorbound to point out. “You’re a Scottish Unicorn, you’ve never even been to Babylon.”
Unicorn ignored him, as he often did when he was drunk and maudlin. “And every year, I had to fight this bastard here,” he said, gesturing with his head at Lion and nearly taking out an eye with his horn. “He’s Summer, you know, so every year we had a fight over who was in charge, and every year I lost! Because Summer ALWAYS vanquishes Spring and makes everything TOO BLOODY HOT!” There was a murmur of agreement from the other devices scattered around the bar, and Unicorn slammed back the last of his beer, belched, and motioned to the bar for another. Lion tried to catch the tender’s eye to reverse the order, but the man kept his head carefully down the whole time he pulled the pint.
Lion thought longingly of the days before they’d found the pub. The good old days, back when it was just wine and well watered wine at that. Unicorn hadn’t been nearly so insufferable back then.
“And now I have to fight him every year again, but not because we’re the seasons, oh no! Now it’s because of that stupid Victorian chap! You know, that guy. Liked numbers, wrote some odd children’s stories… Louis.”
“Lewis Carroll,” Lion said. “And the books are-”
“We know what the books are!” Unicorn shouted, sloshing his new pint around as he swung to glare at Lion. “He made me look like Gladstone!”
“He made me Disraeli,” Lion pointed out. “And stupid.”
Unicorn grumbled into his mug and took a long sip. From experience, Lion was pretty sure he’d muttered “you still won,” but he didn’t feel like fighting about it. He always won. That was the point.
“Come on, Unicorn,” he said instead. “The townspeople are waiting for us. I could smell the bread and cake from the field, and you know they always bring the best.”
Unfortunately, that seemed to be the exact worst thing to say. “Oh, the TOWNSPEOPLE!” Unicorn yelled, splashing beer all over Harp, who trilled his displeasure with a falling glissando of notes. Lion gave Harp a sympathetic look, but Unicorn was on a tear now. “What is wrong with them? How are we supposed to live, fed white bread and brown bread and BLOODY PLUM CAKE once a bloody year? And why only bread and cake? What if we’re on a diet? What if we’re gluten intolerant? WHAT IF I JUST WANT A PROPER BLOODY LOAF OF MULTIGRAIN INSTEAD OF WHITE OR BROWN? AND WHY DOESN’T THE DAMN CAKE HAVE PLUMS?”
Dragon stirred for the first time since Lion showed up. “The cake doesn’t have plums?” he asked. Unicorn quivered with rage, and Lion shoved a pawful of nuts in his mouth to shut him up. Unicorn glared but chewed, and Lion breathed out.
“Not for a while, no. See, the English-”
Unicorn had chewed too quickly. “The English are food liars! All of them! It’s all plum duff and plum pudding and PLUM CAKE, only none of it has plums, it all has raisins! And those things that look like raisins, but aren’t!”
Lion rubbed a paw over his face. “Currants,” he said.
Unicorn squinted at him. “No, they’ve got nothing to do with electricity.”
Lion really, really missed sober Unicorn. This was the creature he had to beat up every year? This was embarrassing. It made him look like a bully, beating up such a dumb beast. Bloody horse brained unicorns. “Currants, with an a. They’re small edible berries.”
“Oh.” Unicorn seemed to file the information away, and took another sip of his beer. “But they’re still not plums.”
“It’s an English thing,” Lion tried again to explain. “By the time of Elizabeth the first, all dried fruits were called plums, and it stuck. Like all grains are corn.”
“Food liars,” Unicorn grumbled. He finished the pint and looked sadly down into the empty mug. “I’d like the cake better if it really did have plums. And I really hate drumming. And losing to you.”
“It’s just the way it is,” Lion said. Dragon snorted, flame flickering from his nostrils. “We all have to do what we’re designed for.”
“You don’t even know how lucky you are,” Dragon said. Unicorn thumped his mug on the table in agreement. Even Harp chimed in. “You’ve always been part of the coat of arms. But me, well, I was part of the coat of arms of England back in, oh the time with that King. Named for his dad, lots of wives.”
“Henry,” Lion said.
Dragon squinted at him “Henry? No, doesn’t sound right.”
“Henry,” Lion said. “The Eighth. Had six wives, used you to help support the seal.”
“Along with you! You’ve always had a job! Me, I get some folklore about fighting this other dragon, getting drunk, being buried, messing up some walls, FINALLY being freed due to that bird guy, that important wizard chap-”
“Yes, whatever! Anyways, I get out, I finish fighting that other dragon, save Wales, and they slap me on a flag! And a seal! I was important! I was useful.” His wings slumped, and Dragon dropped his head onto the table. “Then they shove me aside for more lions,” he said.
None of this was getting Unicorn sober and to the field, but Lion felt a twinge of sympathy for Dragon just the same. “And that was very wrong of them, yes, but-”
“You want to talk about wrong?” Unicorn was shouting again, and he’d clearly caught his second wind. And somehow he had yet ANOTHER mug of beer. Lion glared over at the bartender, who avoided his eyes. Everyone was against him today, clearly. He stilled his tail, not letting it lash in exasperation, and shook out his mane to flatten it.
“Let’s talk about this damn chain,” Unicorn said, pulling on it with a hoof. Dragon and Harp leaned closer, inspecting it, then Harp played a question. “I’m so glad you asked. I have to wear it, because-” Unicorn drew himself up dramatically, and Lion sighed, unable to help himself. His tail flicked once before he could stop it. “I am too dangerous without it! Without the chain, I would always win our battles!”
“You don’t know that,” Lion pointed out. Unicorn glared at him.
“Let me take it off, and then we’ll see who gets beaten around the town! I could beat you out and in and three times over, see if I couldn’t!”
Lion shook his head, trying to be sympathetic and just getting more frustrated. “It’s not how you were drawn,” he said. Unicorn kept glaring. “Look, I know it’s not fair, but we have to do what we’re meant to.”
“Don’t see why,” Unicorn said to his beer. He took a long draught and turned a bloodshot, boozy eye on Lion. “You’re the only one who really enjoys this anymore.”
Dammit, James, Lion thought, why did you have to redraw your coat of arms and bring your whiny Unicorn with you? Yes, yes, uniting the kingdoms and all that, but me and the other lion had been doing a fine job up to that point. Out loud he said, “It’s not that I enjoy it, really…”
“You do, though,” Dragon said. “Everyone knows that. Why else would you be here, trying to bully Unicorn into going to fight you for fake plum cake and dry bread?”
Unicorn nodding vigorously, again nearly taking out one of Lion’s eyes. “Yes! Why is it always plain bread? Why can’t we have toast and marmalade once in awhile?”
FINE, Lion decided, and motioned to the bartender. They can both fight drunk just this once. “Blame Mother Goose,” he said, and sat down. “If I agree to go easy on you, can we get back to work?”
“Are you going to drink?” Unicorn asked warily, brightening when Lion nodded. “Oh, excellent! Yes, let’s make this fair!”
Whatever fair means when you’re a heraldic device, Lion thought, and drank the beer. It tasted like white bread, and brown bread, and plum cake. It tasted like victory.