Lions & Tigers & Beer, Oh My! (A Short Story)
Every wizard needs a sidekick, right? When I started transitioning from Western Romance into YA Fantasy, I was inspired to start writing short stories around a fun theme, which I call, Wizards of the Wild West.
As I developed the characters, I decided I would have more fun giving my Wizard hero an on-again, off-again ally from the Otherworld, instead of an animal familiar.
Since my hero, Rogan “Rogue” Dair, is Irish, I relished the conflict that could come from pitting him against a dwarf fairy called a Cornish Knocker. (The Irish and the Cornish weren’t exactly friendly in America, during the 1880’s.)
I had loads of fun writing this short story. Enjoy!
Wizards of the Wild West
Dair Meets His Match
Nothing annoyed Rogue Dair more than cats – except winged cats, who’d been sent to spy on him.
That’s why he was ignoring the disembodied green eyes that had materialized in the cherry-scented cigar smoke above his poker table. The purring, gloating nuisance had teleported to his Pullman railway car to announce – out of the blue — that he had exactly 12 minutes to find a magical ally before his deadline at midnight.
Apparently, while Rogue had been on vacation, hunting dinosaurs in the Jurassic Era (his favorite epoch to go on safari,) an ambitious young witch had risen to power, and she’d passed a new edict, aimed mostly at him. All wizards, who wished to remain in good standing with the queen, had to partner with a familiar.
*Scram!* he telepathically commanded the feline, who’d identified herself as Cora.
The purring sounds crescendoed.
Rogue scowled. He liked to work alone. No felines, no rodents, no amphibians, and especially no arachnids. Spiders got squashed too often – like, every half hour — and then a mage had to go through the aggravating process of recruiting a new one. To complicate matters, none of his preferred allies was on the “queen-approved” list. Apparently, Tyrannosaurus Rexes too closely resembled dragons, and dragons had an abysmal reputation for devouring virgins (which would really put a cramp in Rogue’s love life.)
Not that he wanted any sentimental attachments, of course. As an interdimensional bounty hunter, who chased magical outlaws across Time, he had enough trouble keeping body and soul together. He didn’t want to add the disintegration of another creature to his failings — even if that creature was the queen’s cat.
*Cora not scared of big, bad Whizzer,* she taunted. Her voice in his head sounded silvery and flutelike above the lazy beating of invisible wings. *Cora thinks Whizzies yummy.*
*Cora’s gonna get her tail kicked to the moon.*
*Cora make Whizzie see stars, first.*
Rogue gritted his teeth. The other problem with cats? Eight guaranteed reincarnations made them impudent.
He glanced out the window of his chugging train. Somewhere beyond the rush of saguaros and scarps, where the Superstition Mountains touched Orion’s star-studded belt, a thunderbird or a werewolf might be persuaded to cover his rear-end and assure the queen he already had an ally.
But a hop to the Superstition Mountains would force Rogue to give up his seat at the stud poker game. While an interdimensional bounty hunter was allowed to teleport to any era in history, he wasn’t allowed to freeze time or alter it for selfish reasons. That meant that Rogue couldn’t put the game on hold while he was leisurely scouting the sagebrush for an ally to satisfy his snooping queen.
Wistfully, he eyed the $1,000 in silver that he’d just lost to a crude, loud-mouthed copper miner named Trelawny. At least $10,000 more was piled next to the Cornishman’s neatly stacked pyramid of empty shot glasses. Trelawny was a cheat, and Rogue sorely wanted to teach the cardsharp a lesson – without using magic, of course. (Rules, rules, rules! Why must there always be rules?!)
As eager as Rogue was to end Trelawny’s winning streak, he couldn’t quite forget the queen’s threat to bust his smart-alecky rear back to Temple duty. That meant that this time tomorrow, Rogue could be chasing drunken pixies from the nectar on Her Ladyship’s altar if he didn’t find an ally. And fast.
Grumbling about magical snoops and preposterous edicts, he was just about to make nice with the cat (at least for tonight,) when a flash of green disturbed the smoke cloud. To Rogue’s surprise, a dwarf fairy materialized beside Trelawny’s ear. The wingless fey stood no taller than three-and-a quarter inches – correct that. The Knocker wasn’t standing. The Knocker was hopping up and down on the Cornishman’s shoulder. Trelawny was so busy dealing cards from the bottom of the deck, that he was oblivious to the curses being heaped on his head by the wee, wrathy stowaway from his Mother Country.
*I’ll collapse a mining shaft on your head, you bugger!* the dwarf was bellowing at the top of his lungs. *I’ll pluck out your eyes, and boil your blood, and suck the marrow from your — *
Rogue politely cleared his throat. Knockers, like the Cornish miners they favored, hated his kind. Unfortunately, beggars couldn’t be choosey.
*Come now, lad,* he cajoled as a waiter toted a tray of empty liquor bottles from the car. *Trelawny can’t be all bad – even if he is a Cornishman. What did the rascal do? Tug your beard? Steal your magic pick ax?*
*He didn’t order me a beer!* the Knocker wailed.
*That double-crosser,* Rogue agreed solemnly. *Go on then. Whiz in his whiskey.*
*I’ll do a whole lot worse than that — *
The Knocker started, as if realizing that he’d been conversing with a mortal. Scowling, he spun to face his chestnut-haired sympathizer.
*You can hear me?*
In a flash, the Fey had materialized on the cigar that was clamped between Rogue’s teeth. *You’re Irish!* the Wee One accused, glaring through the silvery-blue smoke.
Rogue grimaced, tugging the stogie from his lips so he wouldn’t go cross-eyed. *Aye, lad. Guilty as charged.*
For the first time, Rogue got a good look at the dwarf. Completely green -– in all the various shades of that color -– the cousin to Ireland’s Leprechauns was a big-nosed, unattractive mite with slanty eyes, pointed ears, and a wealth of beard that stuck out from his chin like a pin cushion. The rest of the Wee One was stout, even muscular, with oversized hands that were well-suited for swinging a pick ax, which was natural for a fellow who lived in a copper mine and helped (or hindered) Cornwall’s miners.
Rogue rested his cigar on an ashtray. *Here,* he said, shoving his tankard closer to the Knocker. *Drink my beer.*
Suspicious jade eyes, as stormy as the Cornish Sea, looked him up and down. *What’s wrong with it?*
*Now is that any way to start a friendship?* Rogue countered in wounded tones.
The Knocker snorted. *You’re Irish,* he repeated, as if talking to a doorknob. *And worse, you’re a wizard. Don’t think I don’t know what that black bullwhip with the dragon-headed handle can do! Your kind is way worse than cheapskates like Trelawny.*
*Sorry you feel that way. Carry on, then. I’ll just polish off this Stout by my — *
In a flash, the Knocker had re-materialized on Rogue’s tankard. *Guinness Stout?* The mite poked his head over the rim, his nostrils flaring eagerly at the dark brew, half a mug away. *Real West India Porter?*
*Well, sure, lad. Did you think I’d be drinking a pint of Bass?*
The expression on the Knocker’s face turned downright lustful. *Whaddaya want for a full pint?*
*No wishes? No treasure? No protection?*
*Just your good will.*
The Knocker rolled his eyes. *Cut the blarney. I ain’t got all night.*
Rogue discreetly tapped the side of his tankard with a forefinger. The pewter mug refilled itself. The Knocker looked torn between diving in with his mouth wide open and negotiating the requisite deal full of loopholes between a mortal and a Fey.
*Replenishing Spell, eh?* the Knocker asked wistfully.
*Nah. Irish Beer Finger,* Rogue deadpanned.
*You’re a real rip-snorter.*
Meanwhile, Trelawny finished dealing. He slammed down the remainder of the deck. “Place yer bets,” the Cornishman growled.
The ten of hearts was showing on Rogue’s pile. He peeked at the rest of his hand. He held a pair of twos.
*It’s crap, ain’t it?* the Knocker said.
*Wanna know why?*
*Trelawny’s wearing a ring shiner. That’s how he sees which cards he deals you.*
*Thank you kindly.*
The Knocker scowled. *Bugger! You already knew! That means I still owe you!*
*Only if you drink the Stout.*
Oh, I’m drinking the Stout, lad,* the dwarf mimicked him irritably, folding his arms across his chest. *All right, ‘fess up. A Knight of Khiet-Sîn doesn’t breathe the same air as a stinker like Trelawny ‘cause he likes the stench. You came to Apache Country to hunt something. What is it? Man, mineral, or monster?*
Before Rogue could answer, the clock on the wall began to chime the Witching Hour.
Cora chuckled with glee. Her Human nose began to materialize and below it, her chin-length fangs. By the third peal, her red lion’s mane was clearly visible to anyone in the car who could see into the Fifth Dimension.
Rogue locked stares with the Knocker.
The dwarf was hyperventilating. *A Manticore is stalking you?*
*Now lad — *
*Holy, freaking feldspar!*
*If you’d just give me a chance to explain — *
Rogue cursed under his breath. The Knocker had vanished.
A black scorpion tail took shape in the cigar smoke. Cora stretched the toxic barb over the ruddy, striped fur of her spine. By the fifth chime, she was flexing her tiger claws in smug satisfaction.
*Queen Cyndar sends her regards,* Cora purred, dragging a murderous-looking nail through Rogue’s curls.
Fortunately, only he could see and hear the maneater — not that he expected a car full of 19th Century shovel-stiffs to know what India’s mythical Manticore liked to do to a wizard and his staff.
*Seems more like Cyndar’s sending a message,* he said dryly. *Still pissed about me and that mermaid, is she?*
*Naughty Whizzie,* Cora agreed, smacking her lips.
Only four chimes were left. The moment the twelfth peal struck, Cora would fully manifest – looking like a harmless orange tabby, of course. Even Cyndar didn’t let her pets strike fear into the hearts of mortals. Unless they were former lovers.
Rogue thought fast. He supposed he could apologize to the witch. Or summon a dragon. He liked the second idea better, since he’d be fighting fire with fire, so to speak.
The tenth bell chimed. He reached for his bullwhip.
Suddenly, the Guinness started sinking in his tankard. The stout drained so fast, Rogue imagined a whirlwind had sucked it through an invisible straw. A rude belch followed, rattling his poker chips. Golden bubbles floated past the pint’s handle. In the next moment, the Knocker staggered into view, swinging his pick ax with a vengeance.
*Scat, cat!* the dwarf roared, jabbing at the maneater’s nose. *No Irish beer finger is big enough for the both of us!*
Cora hissed, her eyes slitting in defeat. With a scowl and a snarl, she winked out of sight just as the twelfth chime pealed.
The Knocker slumped against the tankard, his rump forging a trail through the condensation as he slid with a plop to the table. He was grinning like a blooming idiot.
*Set ‘em up, and keep ‘em coming!* he bellowed.
Rogue grinned. *You got a name, mite?*
*I ain’t that drunk, Doorknob.*
Rogue chuckled to himself. At least he’d won an ally.
And not a moment too soon.