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"Milord husband!"

"Yes? I was saying

"Are you honing for a kick in the belly?" She added, "American!"

"Wife...would you kick me in the belly?"

She was slow in answering and her voice was very low. "No, milord husband. Never."

"I'm pleased to hear it. But if you did, what would happen?"

"You—you would spank me. With my own sword. But not with your sword. Please, never with your sword...my husband."

"Not with your sword, either. With my hand. Hard. First I would spank you. And then—"

"And then what?"

I told her. "But don't give me cause. According to plans I have to fight later. And don't interrupt me in the future."

"Yes, milord husband."

"Very well. Now let's assign Muri an arbitrary score of ten. On that scale you would rate—Let me think."

"Three or four, perhaps? Or even five?"

"Quiet. I make it about a thousand. Yes, a thousand, give or take a point. I haven't a slide rule."

"Oh, what a beast you are, my darling! Lean close and loss me—and just wait till I tell Muri."

"You'll say nothing to Muri, my bride, or you will be paddled. Quit fishing for compliments. You know what you are, you sword-jumping wench."

"And what am I?"

"My princess."


"And a mink with its tail on fire—and you know it."

"Is that good? I've studied American idiom most carefully but sometimes I am not sure."

"It's supposed to be tops. A figure of speech, I've never known a mink that well. Now get your mind on other matters, or you may be a widow on your bridal day. Dragons, you say?"

"Not until after nightfall, milord husband—and they aren't really dragons."

"As you described them, the difference could matter only to another dragon. Eight feet high at the shoulders, a few tons each, and teeth as long as any forearm—all they need is to breathe flame."

"Oh, but they do! Didn't I say?"

I sighed. "No, you did not."

"They don't exactly breathe fire. That would kill them. They hold their breaths while flaming. It's swamp gas—methane—from the digestive tract. It's a controlled belch, with a hypergolic effect from an enzyme secreted between the first and second rows of teeth. The gas bursts into flame on the way out."

"I don't care how they do it; they're flame-throwers. Well? How do you expect me to handle them?"

"I had hoped that you would have ideas. You see," she added apologetically, "I hadn't planned on it, I didn't expect us to come this way."

"Well—Wife, let's go back to that village. Set up in competition with our friend the rumormonger—I'll bet we could outgabble him."

"Milord husband!"

"Never mind. If you want me to kill dragons every Wednesday and Saturday, I'll be on call. This flaming methane—Do they spout it from both ends?"

"Oh, just the front end. How could it be both?"

"Easy. See next year's model. Now quiet; I'm thinking over a tactic. Ill need Rufo. I suppose he has killed dragons before?"

"I don't know that a man has ever killed one, milord husband."

"So? My princess, I'm flattered by the confidence you place in me. Or is it desperation? Don't answer, I don't want to know. Keep quiet and let me think."

At the next farmhouse Rufo was sent in to arrange returning the longhorses. They were ours, gifts from the Doral, but we had to send them home, as they could not live where we were going—Muri had promised me that she would keep an eye on Ars Longa and exercise her. Rufo came back with a bumpkin mounted on a heavy draft animal bareback—he Kept shifting numbly between second and third pairs of legs to spare the animal's back and controlled it by voice.

When we dismounted, retrieved our bows and quivers, and prepared to hoof it, Rufo came up. "Boss, Manure Foot craves to meet the hero and touch his sword. Brush him off?"

Rank hath its duties as well as its privileges. "Fetch him."

The lad, overgrown and fuzz on his chin, approached eagerly, stumbling over his feet, then made a leg so long he almost fell. "Straighten up, son," I said. "What's your name?"

"Pug, milord Hero," he answered shrilly. ("Pug" will do. The Nevian meaning was as rugged as Jocko's jokes.) "A stout name. What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"A hero, milord! Like yourself."

I thought of telling him about those rocks on the Glory Road. But he would find them soon enough if ever he tramped it—and either not mind, or turn back and forget the silly business. I nodded approvingly and assured him that there was always room at the top in the Hero business for a lad with spirit—and that the lower the start, the greater the glory...so work hard and study hard and wait his opportunity. Keep his guard up but always speak to strange ladies; adventure would come his way. Then I let him touch my sword—but not take it in hand. The Lady Vivamus is mine and I'd rather share my toothbrush.

Once, when I was young, I was presented to a Congressman. He had handed me the same fatherly guff I was now plagiarizing. Like prayer, it can't do any harm and might do some good, and I found that I was sincere when I said it and no doubt the Congressman was, too. Oh, possibly some harm, as the youngster might get himself killed on the first mile of that road. But that is better than sitting over the fire in your old age, sucking your gums and thinking about the chances you missed and the gals you didn't tumble. Isn't it?

I decided that the occasion seemed so important to Pug that it should be marked, so I groped in my pouch and found a U.S. quarter. "What's the rest of your name. Pug?"

"Just ‘Pug,' milord. Of house Lerdki, of course."

"Now you will have three names because I am giving you one of mine." I had one I didn't need, Oscar Gordon suited me fine. Not "Flash" as that name was never acknowledged by me. Not my Army nickname; I wouldn't write that one on the wall of a latrine. "Easy" was the name I could spare. I had always used "E. C. Gordon" rather than "Evelyn Cyril Gordon" and in school my name had shifted from "E. C." to "Easy" because of my style of broken-field running—I never ran harder nor dodged more than the occasion demanded.

"By authority vested in me by Headquarters United States Army Southeast Asia Command, I, the Hero Oscar, ordain that you shall be known henceforth as Lerdki't Pug Easy. Wear it proudly."

I gave him the quarter and showed him George Washington on the obverse. "This is the father of my house, a greater hero than I will ever be. He stood tall and proud, spoke the truth, and fought for the right as he saw it, against fearful odds. Try to be like him. And here"—I turned it over—"is the chop of my house, the house he founded. The bird stands for courage, freedom, and ideals soaring high." (I didn't tell him that the American Eagle eats carrion, never tackles anything its own size, and will soon be extinct—it does stand for those ideals. A symbol means what you put into it.)

Pug Easy nodded violently and tears started to flow. I had not presented him to my bride; I didn't know that she would wish to meet him. But she stepped forward and said gently, "Pug Easy, remember the words of milord Hero. Treasure them and they will last you all your life."

The lad dropped to his knees. Star touched his hair and said, "Stand, Lerdki't Pug Easy. Stand tall."

I said good-bye to Ars Longa, told her to be a good girl and I would be back someday. Pug Easy headed back with longhorses tailed up and we set out into the woods, arrows nocked and Rufo eyes-behind. There was a sign where we left the yellow brick road; freely translated it read: ALL HOPE ABANDON, YE WHO ENTER HERE.

(A literal translation is reminiscent of Yellowstone Park: "Warning—the varmints in these woods are not tame. Travelers are warned to stay on the road, as their remains will not be returned to their kin. The Lerdki, His Chop.")