Gary Galavant groggily got up from his couch and shuffled over to the door, where an insistent knocking had interrupted his poetic musings. He opened the door to reveal an eager-looking Sidney.
“You can just let yourself in,” Galavant said.
“The last time someone told me that, it was Gareth, and he’d forgotten to disable the booby-traps he was testing on Madalena.”
“We’re fairly devoid of booby-traps around here,” said Galavant. “We’re semi-retired.”
“Well, could you reconsider? I heard about this cursed field.”
“You’re a full-time knight yourself, deal with it on your own.”
“I’d love to,” said Sidney, “but I was told it usually requires a team effort. Whatever that means.”
“Sidney?” Isabella called, joining them at the door. “Welcome! What brings you here?”
“Nothing he can’t handle.” Galavant clapped him on the back. “Certified hero that he is, eh?”
“Oh, please let me consult,” Isabella said, “you have no idea how boring it gets around here.”
Sidney shot a glance between Isabella’s pleading, and Galavant’s contended, faces. “I think I do.”
Upon realizing that Isabella would be accompanying Sidney on his quest whether or not he did, Galavant’s resistance quickly ebbed.
“So what kind of curses are we talking about here?” Isabella probed, as they climbed into the sailboat she kept docked nearby in case of incident. Her parents had suggested something fancier, but the royal standard of Valencia was prone to attract unwanted attention during stealth missions. “Weeds? Poison? Those creepy-looking sunflowers that just follow you around with their eyes?”
“I’m not sure,” Sidney admitted. “All I heard about was grass and dirt. But it was hard to understand the guy through his mask.”
“What sort of a mask?” asked Galavant.
“Pretty enormous. He was dressed up like a dragon, but not a very realistic one, he had this large fabric headpiece that was supposed to represent a dragon’s mouth breathing flame. Looked pretty silly to me.”
“Are we talking, you know, a Tad Cooper dragon? Or a real dragon?”
“I think he was trying to look like a real dragon, but not very well. I mean, he was still a biped. And couldn’t fly. And had a bunch of bulky clothes on instead of scales. And the fire wasn’t real, it just sort of dangled out of his mouth.”
Isabella toyed with the rudder. “Cursed with bad fashion sense, apparently.”
The weather held as they journeyed along the coast, and once they angled up a river that met the sea near a bustling pier. After that, however, the wind turned against them, and Sidney and Isabella took to rowing. They made efficient time, until Sidney noted “Galavant, this is your boat, why aren’t you rowing?”
“You’re the one who dragged me into this,” said Galavant. “And there’s only two paddles.”
“There are two more belowdecks,” Isabella pointed out. “Though it’s probably better to use both or neither, it can get a little imbalanced.”
“Belowdecks?” Sidney asked. “You don’t even have one deck, this is a sailboat.”
“Strapped to the hull.”
“And when exactly are you supposed to dive under to pull them out?”
“You never know.” Isabella shrugged. “Could need something to bribe angry mermaids with.”
“Not this far upriver?” Galavant shuddered. “I’ve never seen a freshwater mermaid.”
“You’ve never seen a saltwater mermaid either, you don’t get out much.”
“I spent almost a year on that pirate ship between seasons,” Galavant pointed out. “We’ve seen some stuff.”
Before Isabella could mock him, she glanced forward and examined the horizon ahead of them. On both sides of the river, the skies were clear, and the first dark blue stripe of sunset had made its appearance. Dead ahead, however, a sizable gray cloud was steadily raining along the shore.
“I don’t suppose we’re going to get out and walk that way?” she asked, nodding in the opposite direction.
“Of course not!” said Sidney. “I mean, what would you do with this awesome boat?”
“Well,” she said. “I think we’ve found the curse.”
Just outside the area where the rain was falling, nine Dragons stood and sulked.
Not dragons. Nine dragons standing and sulking in the same place would be an implausible event even by the standards of the seven kingdoms’ narratively unlikely twists. Usually they would begin circling over each other or biting tails or exchanging puffs of smoke to compete for dominance.
These were Dragons. Humanoid beings who wore matching shirts with the letters DRAGONS on them, and small patches shaped like dragons, in case the letters weren’t a sufficient clue. One of them was twirling a large club menacingly.
“Uh, put that down,” said Sidney. “We’re here to help.”
“Help what?” asked one of the Dragons.
“The...curse. Your friend in the, uh, you know...” He gestured vaguely. “The dragon impersonator? Told us you needed some cursebreakers.”
“Oh.” Club-twirler set down her weapon and rolled her eyes. “I told you we didn’t need a mascot. What’s a mascot going to do for us, I said? And did anyone listen to me? Nooooo.”
“A mask...what?” Galavant asked.
“Someone who dresses up in a stupid dragon costume to pretend we’re dragons.”
“Well, that sounds stupid.”
“Exactly what I said! It only makes the real dragons mad!”
“I’m not sure what that has to do with this problem?” Isabella nodded at the raincloud, which was precisely localized over a patch of grass that had been demarcated by a few crude fences. In the middle, four sacks formed a rough sort of diamond, while a pile of dirt was clumped together in the center as if something had been hastily buried there.
“Well, what do you think the first actual dragon who flew by thought of us? Calling ourselves metaphorical dragons, as if we could incinerate any water in the vicinity? She cursed us with a raincloud that wouldn’t let up, that’s what she did!”
“Can you back up a little?” Galavant asked. “Why did you make this...field? Why are you wearing matching clothes? And why are you carrying around wooden clubs?”
The Dragons exchanged exasperated glares, and then began their explanation.
“No matter what gloves fit you
Or how big a bat you wield
You can’t defend your honor
If you don’t have a home field.
It can be a rustic corn patch
It can be a modern dome
It can be a wizard’s hideout
But you need a place called home.
We labored hard to build
This park called the Dragons’ Den.
But the dragons didn’t like it;
You can guess what happened then.
So we’re doomed to be the visitors
If we find a place to play
Since our homeland has been flooded
By this endless rain delay.”
“Why here?” Isabella asked. “I mean, the river is a prime location and all, but you seem to be...out in the middle of nowhere.”
“We got an awesome bargain
Since we brought an exorcist.
The ghosts that haunted this place
Made the former owners...very angry.
But just because they’d built it
Didn’t mean the ghosts need come.
Our shortstop talked them down
Till they went back to where they’re from.”
“Shortstop?” Galavant asked.
“Over here,” waved a lanky man.
“He’s not remotely short.”
“That’s just...how it is.”
The heroic friends must have looked more confused than usual, because the Dragons decided another explanation was called for.
“Why are there three strikes to an out?
Or three outs for every half-inning?
Why do we stand up in the seventh
Whether we’re losing or we’re winning?
As well ask why witches wear hats!
Why court jesters dress up like fools!
These rituals must be honored:
We follow the fantasy rules!
Why do we chew sunflower seeds?
Why do unicorns prefer
The relatively inexperienced
To the sexually mature?
What keeps dragons up in the air?
What explains the strange infield fly?
The world is made up of such mysteries
Though nobody really knows why.
Why do we wear rally caps backwards?
Why do Vikings pillage and plunder?
Why are there no comfortable jockstraps?
Why do sorcerer duels feature thunder?
Why can’t we allude to no-hitters?
Why can’t we make mock of the king?
As well ask why we’re in a genre
Why we randomly all start to sing!”
“You can make mock of the king now,” Galavant pointed out. “He’s chilled out a bit and sort of gotten over his complex.”
“I think it was a rhetorical question,” said Isabella.
“Let me make sure I understand,” said Sidney. “You have a friend who dresses up in a stupid dragon costume. This, and your silly boasts, antagonized an actual dragon. In return, she cursed this field to be rainy all the time, and this makes you upset because you want to use it.”
“That’s correct,” said the tall shortstop.
“And you can’t use someone else’s field, because...”
“Because this is our home,” said another Dragon. “We exorcised the ghosts ourselves.”
“I see,” said Sidney. “Have you considered apologizing?”
“You’ve learned your lesson, not to compare yourselves to real dragons. Can’t you just wait until you see her again and tell her you’re sorry? And that your friend won’t do it again, because let’s face it, that was an ugly costume. And ask her to lift the curse.”
The Dragons murmured amongst themselves. “We...could.”
“But there’s no guarantee that the dragon will come back,” Isabella pointed out. “You could be waiting through a lot of rain.”
“Oh, I suspect she’ll be back very soon,” said Sidney.
“What makes you think that?”
“The fact that Galavant is too absentminded a sailor to remember to drop anchor. So there’s a lovely, but very unstable, boat just floating here, that could be scorched into ashy driftwood at any moment—”
“Hey!” Isabella yelled, making a futile dive for her boat just as the dragon swept down to accost it, and was met by shouts and waves from the repentant Dragons. Galavant lunged as if to pull her out of the river, but she ignored him and paddled to shore herself, dripping wet but satisfied that the boat was at least temporarily safe.
“You didn’t actually need us for this,” Galavant told Sidney, “you could have come up with that plan on your own.”
“I could have,” Sidney said, “but you’d have been bored without something to do, admit it.”
“Well...” said Galavant, “the boat trip was nice.”
“Nice for you,” said Isabella. “You’re rowing all the way back.”
A few weeks later, the friends sat in rickety bleachers beyond the fence. The only cloud in the sky was the underside of the dragon herself, who had taken to being a much more fearsome mascot than any disguised humanoid could manage.
The former mascot, however, had not abandoned the team. Instead, he paced the bleachers, refreshments in stow. “Pheasant! Get your hot pheasants here! Hot pheasants and cold mead!”
“I’ll have a mead, thanks,” said Isabella. “Anything for you, Sid?”
“Nah,” said Sidney. “I need my hands free in case any home runs come out this way.”
“Who are we facing today?” Galavant asked.
The vendor nodded down at the field. “The Royals.”
“They look like commoners to me,” said Isabella.
“Well,” said Sidney, “there’s always the out-of-realm scoreboard. Pirates versus Giants should be a classic.”