I REMOVE MY FINGERNAIL SHEATHS BEFORE FEASTING • by Gerald Warfield

I circled the castle twice before beginning my descent.   Soldiers rushed onto the parapets, and people in the village nearby pointed and followed my progress.

The cobblestones within the bailey made for a clean landing without the usual dust storm, but the reek of humans nauseated me.  I folded my wings and drew back my head, ready to strike at the first sign of treachery.  Humans are notoriously sneaky, and the bailey was a perfect place for an ambush.

Grandmother had taken up residence in Grundia Keep, everyone knew that, but what if she had died, or worse, been deposed?  It wasn’t long before more humans appeared, snaking onto the bailey from their holes in the walls and carrying steaming bowls and cloths.  After sidelong glances at one another, they approached with cautious steps.  I reared, but refrained from snatching one up, remembering grandmother’s instructions.

I’d never been touched by humans, yet the warm water soothed me, and I decided to spread my wings for a thorough cleaning.  Then came a surprise.  Four of the creatures presented me with a chain mail vest.  I had ripped through enough chain mail to know it was a flimsy excuse for armor (all right, perhaps a few humans touched me then), but its edges were lined with emeralds to match my skin.  After a clumsy attempt to slip it over my head — they could barely lift the hem high enough — I snatched it from their hands. It hung nicely over my breast.

Then they presented me with pointy silver tubes ornamented with filigree and pearls. A trembling hand slid one of them over my right middle claw. Fingernail sheathes, the humans called them. They doubled the length of my claws but were far too frail to be of any use in combat. Still, if I walked with nails retracted they clicked pleasantly on the stone floor. My grandmother’s design, no doubt.

A tasty-looking morsel bowed and mimed that I should proceed to the entry, unaware that I was fluent in Vulgate. The portal, apparently enlarged to accommodate dragons, opened into a feasting hall. More humans poured in from smaller doors which made me suspicious, just the place to take cover if I released my fire, which I’d been withholding with some reluctance. Grandmother could have roasted half the gathering in a single burst. Yet years ago she chose to defend these weak creatures, holding off the mountain trolls at Highwater Pass. Subsequently, the humans served her. At least, that’s what I’d been told as a youngling.

The nameless morsel escorted me down the center aisle between tables laden with what they presumed to be food. I smelled meat but didn’t see any. If they thought vegetables and bread loaves would impress me, they were mistaken.

A stone platform awaited me to the right of a larger platform, that one clearly intended for grandmother. The pathetic humans stared wide-eyed as I turned, lowering myself onto the stone.

A gong resounded through the hall. Dozens of human males appeared at the main doorway pulling a platform on rollers. Grandmother sat on it, still as stone. At first I thought they had killed and mounted her, but as soon the platform cleared the doorway, she spread her golden wings. It was a perfectly silly display; neither of us could have taken off in that hall, but the weak creatures cheered and raised an extraordinary clamor.  She could, of course, have leapt the entire distance of the room to her perch, and yet she suffered to be dragged slowly to the platform, pelted by flowers.

When she reached my end of the hall, she took her place, lifted her head to the ceiling and roared. One of the human females fainted, and birds perched among the high timbers dropped onto the tables. I, being only half her size, was obliged to lower my head to the floor in obeisance.

She then gestured, a fluid motion that flashed her fingernail sheaths, and humans appeared carrying meat. At least that part of the ridiculous ceremony made sense.

“Welcome, Heisskopf.” At last she recognized me.

“I honor you, grandmother,” I said, again lowering my head to the floor.

“It is well that you followed my instructions.”

“Together, we could roast this hall and feast properly.”

She belched smoke with her laughter.

When the meat arrived, I reached for the spitted carcass of a stag. Her hiss stopped me.

“Remove your fingernail sheaths before eating.”

“Why, grandmother?” I said, though I obediently pulled the sheaths from my claws.

“The humans will think you uncouth.”

“And that matters because…?

I thought she would strike me, but instead, she said: “Treated well, humans will follow you.”

“I do not need followers.” I bit into the carcass. “I can feed myself.”

“Humans increase in numbers. Dragons do not. We must adapt.”

“Dragons do not adapt, we conquer.” I had been overly bold, but she ignored my impudence.

At the end of the feast, she instructed those who fed us to give the remains to the “poor.” I did not know the term, but the humans seemed moved by the gesture.

That was the first of many visits. The battle of Cascalaid was not for years later, a decisive victory, and we won because of the humans. When grandmother fell they rose up like a wave. I thought they would flee in panic, but humans can indeed be courageous.

Tallyhern, the bard of Grundia, wrote an epic poem about grandmother and the battle. Her body, pierced by more than three hundred arrows, killed five trolls when it struck the ground. But the song is hard for me to listen to now, sitting in her place in the great hall, and I grind my teeth to hold back the tears.

This evening I receive ambassadors from Eldertorn and Corynthia. The balance of power in the mountains is shifting. Gesturing to old Stallrund to bring the meat, I remove my fingernail sheaths before the feasting begins.


Gerald Warfield’s short story, “The Poly Islands,” won second prize in the first quarter of the 2011 Writers of the Future contest. The same year, his humorous story “The Origin of Third Person in Paleolithic Epic Poetry” took first place in the nationally syndicated Grammar Girl short story contest. “Spores of the Volcano” appeared in NewMyths and the Campbellian 2014 Anthology. “Return of the Mayflower” is scheduled to appear in Perihelion. Several of his flash pieces have previously appeared in Every Day Fiction. Gerald published music textbooks and how-to books in investing before turning to fiction. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writers Workshop (2010) and a member of SFWA.


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Rate this story:
 average 4.7 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • macdabhaid

    I have an affection for dragon stories. The creatures are so much more interesting than vampires. This was a finely-tuned example of how flash should work, flawlessly executed. What else need be said?

  • macdabhaid

    I have an affection for dragon stories. The creatures are so much more interesting than vampires. This was a finely-tuned example of how flash should work, flawlessly executed. What else need be said?

  • “And that matters because…? is so out of whack to the story. When I read it, it was like I had walked into a different room and got locked in.
    Last para- no bono.
    Writing dragon stories for all ages, in my opinion is a waste of time. Children, given a certain time, will thrill to the beat of a great dragon tale, and, by god indeed there have been many. But for shorts the road gets steep, and the extra baggage that must accompany a dragon (the history that makes a kid’s eyes glaze and his mouth drool) gets lost.
    You have done well with such a difficult genre, but I fear the story is weakened by the weight of gold that is missing from Heisskopf’s lair.

  • “And that matters because…? is so out of whack to the story. When I read it, it was like I had walked into a different room and got locked in.
    Last para- no bono.
    Writing dragon stories for all ages, in my opinion is a waste of time. Children, given a certain time, will thrill to the beat of a great dragon tale, and, by god indeed there have been many. But for shorts the road gets steep, and the extra baggage that must accompany a dragon (the history that makes a kid’s eyes glaze and his mouth drool) gets lost.
    You have done well with such a difficult genre, but I fear the story is weakened by the weight of gold that is missing from Heisskopf’s lair.

  • A wonderfully imaginative story full of imagery, wit and symbolism. The author creates a viviid imaginary world from the opening paragraph in the decent into the village, and the swooning of the wings had this reader flying down the page to gobble up more of the fascination. But he wasn’t satisfied with merely an imaginary world and goes on to share a message, teach a lesson about leadership (“treated well, humans will follow”) and independence, (“I do not need followers, I can feed myself.”) Well done!

  • A wonderfully imaginative story full of imagery, wit and symbolism. The author creates a viviid imaginary world from the opening paragraph in the decent into the village, and the swooning of the wings had this reader flying down the page to gobble up more of the fascination. But he wasn’t satisfied with merely an imaginary world and goes on to share a message, teach a lesson about leadership (“treated well, humans will follow”) and independence, (“I do not need followers, I can feed myself.”) Well done!

  • I had trouble with a clawed or taloned dragon wearing something called a “fingernail sheath.”

    The story offers numerous places to tighten the wording and to increase the impact of the action. The landing and parading of the dragon into the castle was, well, pleasantly written.

    The introduction of the Battle of Cascalaid, a future incident in the second line of a para was a stumble for me.The last three paras seemed a too-convenient add-on to summarize the remainder of the story.

    • S Conroy
      Maybe 'talon sheaths'? But the humans called them 'finger-nail sheaths' so it might be some kind of concession to appease the humans and help them keep up an illusion of tamed dragons.
  • I had trouble with a clawed or taloned dragon wearing something called a “fingernail sheath.”

    The story offers numerous places to tighten the wording and to increase the impact of the action. The landing and parading of the dragon into the castle was, well, pleasantly written.

    The introduction of the Battle of Cascalaid, a future incident in the second line of a para was a stumble for me.The last three paras seemed a too-convenient add-on to summarize the remainder of the story.

    • S Conroy
      Maybe 'talon sheaths'? But the humans called them 'finger-nail sheaths' so it might be some kind of concession granny made to appease the humans and help them keep up the illusion of tamed dragons. And 'talon sheaths' might not feel so comforting.
  • Baron Ridi

    Table manners! Very important.
    I thought the pace of this was about right for the content. If you tighten and cut a story like this you get so sparse and lean that the reader doesn’t have time to adjust to the world she’s in. This gives us a few lines to adjust to him being a dragon, a few more to soak in the world, and so on. It worked for me. Good job!

    • All in moderation. When I said (wrote) tighten, I was referring to the process of eliminating unnecessary words, not words or descriptions germain to the story - also using stronger verbs, words with a greter degree of impact and in a strong forceful way. This is a story about dragons, not unicorns. As it reads, I get a feel more of a fairy tale, not a strong piece of fiction.
  • Baron Ridi

    Table manners! Very important.
    I thought the pace of this was about right for the content. If you tighten and cut a story like this you get so sparse and lean that the reader doesn’t have time to adjust to the world she’s in. This gives us a few lines to adjust to him being a dragon, a few more to soak in the world, and so on. It worked for me. Good job!

    • All in moderation. When I said (wrote) tighten, I was referring to the process of eliminating unnecessary words, not words or descriptions germain to the story - also using stronger verbs, words with a greter degree of impact and in a strong forceful way. This is a story about dragons, not unicorns. As it reads, I get a feel more of a fairy tale, not a strong piece of fiction.
  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I’d expect a dragon to get away with any degree of couthness it wanted to…

    • Gerald_Warfield
      Hi Sarah. Do you know "His Majesty's Dragon," the first of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik? Your "Chinese empress" brought it to mind. Her series is a fascinating addition to dragon lore, and her first book has one of the most interesting beginnings of any book I've read. Have a look if you get the chance.
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        Tolkien set the fantasy bar so high for me that I read very little in that genre now. But will take your recommendation. You're a fine technical craftsman. But when it comes to dragons, I just can't warm up to a sort of cultured but overgrown iguana. I like the kind who incinerate annoyances at will....
        • Gerald_Warfield
          Haven't read any Eager. The Novik is very different: alternate history, which I don't usually like. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
          • macdabhaid
            He said with a Smaug expression?
          • Gerald_Warfield
            LOL!
  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I’d expect a dragon to get away with any degree of couthness it wanted to…

    Smaug as well-bred Chinese empress? Quenched the appeal of the species.

    • Gerald_Warfield
      Hi Sarah. Do you know "His Majesty's Dragon," the first of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik? Your "Chinese empress" brought it to mind. Her series is a fascinating addition to dragon lore, and her first book has one of the most interesting beginnings of any book I've read. Have a look if you get the chance.
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        Tolkien set the fantasy bar so high for me that I read very little in that genre now. But will take your recommendation. You're a fine technical craftsman. But when it comes to dragons, I just can't warm up to a sort of cultured but overgrown iguana. I like the kind who incinerate annoyances at will....though I liked how Edward Eager handled a difficult one...
        • Gerald_Warfield
          Haven't read any Eager. The Novik is very different: alternate history, which I don't usually like. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
          • macdabhaid
            He said with a Smaug expression?
          • Gerald_Warfield
            LOL!
  • S Conroy

    I’d figured the nature of the beast would out and was fixed to the seat edge from beginning to end. Wonder how long that truce will last…

  • S Conroy

    I’d figured the nature of the beast would out and was fixed to the seat edge from beginning to end. Wonder how long that truce will last…

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A memorable piece, though I did cringe a little at ‘Tallyhern, the bard of Grundia…’

    • Gerald_Warfield
      LOL!
  • Paul A. Freeman

    A memorable piece, though I did cringe a little at ‘Tallyhern, the bard of Grundia…’

    • Gerald_Warfield
      LOL!
  • I keep chuckling at this story. Being a country boy, the word sheath has its own meaning re the equine family. I get a Beavis and Butthead reaction each time I read the word.

    • S Conroy
      So 'talon sheath' would probably not cure that one. :-)
  • I keep chuckling at this story. Being a country boy, the word sheath has its own meaning re the equine family. I get a Beavis and Butthead reaction each time I read the word.

    • S Conroy
      So 'talon sheath' would probably not cure that one. :-)
  • joanna b.

    I was fascinated by this story. Believe it or not, I’ve never read a dragon story other than Pegasus and the Chimera. In that myth, the dragon is promptly killed. Heisskopf’s landing and perceptions of humans, Grandmother’s golden wings, their private conversation, all terrific. Even not knowing the sub-genre, however, I was disappointed by the last three paragraphs. They have a great image (grandmother pierced by 300 arrows killing 5 trolls when her body landed) that fit with the rest of the story but bringing in all those names took away from the tale.
    Four stars.

  • joanna b.

    I was fascinated by this story. Believe it or not, I’ve never read a dragon story other than Pegasus and the Chimera. In that myth, the dragon is promptly killed. Heisskopf’s landing and perceptions of humans, Grandmother’s golden wings, their private conversation, all terrific. Even not knowing the sub-genre, however, I was disappointed by the last three paragraphs. They have a great image (grandmother pierced by 300 arrows killing 5 trolls when her body landed) that fit with the rest of the story but bringing in all those names took away from the tale.
    Four stars.

  • Rold Guenthner

    Very good! I’m filled with intrigue from the first sentence. The fact that the battle of Cascalaid is retold in five sentences is remarkable. I enjoy fantasy but it’s not my preferred genre, however, I would read a novel or series about Heisskopf and his followers. The silly thing is, I can’t shake the image of a dragon hunched over a desk penning this out. But that’s because I’m a dork! Thanks for sharing!

  • Rold Guenthner

    Very good! I’m filled with intrigue from the first sentence. The fact that the battle of Cascalaid is retold in five sentences is remarkable. I enjoy fantasy but it’s not my preferred genre, however, I would read a novel or series about Heisskopf and his followers. The silly thing is, I can’t shake the image of a dragon hunched over a desk penning this out. But that’s because I’m a dork! Thanks for sharing!

  • Great story as always, Gerald. Keep ’em coming!

  • Great story as always, Gerald. Keep ’em coming!

  • lela Abernathy

    bravo!

  • lela Abernathy

    bravo!

  • I enjoyed this story. I suppose we all have to adapt and it is tougher for some than for others 🙂

  • I enjoyed this story. I suppose we all have to adapt and it is tougher for some than for others 🙂

  • Kendall Furlong

    Very good. Dragons are not usually my cup of tea, but you told this well and with your usual flair for language. To the extent I have a critique, it would be the sense that humans are a tad too subservient at the beginning to ever be the useful warriors they become.

  • Kendall Furlong

    Very good. Dragons are not usually my cup of tea, but you told this well and with your usual flair for language. To the extent I have a critique, it would be the sense that humans are a tad too subservient at the beginning to ever be the useful warriors they become.

  • Humanizing dragons is a little hard for me. However, being the D&D guy that I was, dragons have different demeanors and I can take that as it is given. Although, the humans seem a little too subservient for me.

    Over all the I liked the story. Thanks for writing it.

  • Humanizing dragons is a little hard for me. However, being the D&D guy that I was, dragons have different demeanors and I can take that as it is given. Although, the humans seem a little too subservient for me.

    Over all the I liked the story. Thanks for writing it.

  • Connell Regner

    The circle of life. Not bad at all.

  • Connell Regner

    The circle of life. Not bad at all.

  • MPmcgurty

    I enjoyed this very much, Gerald. Thanks.

  • MPmcgurty

    I enjoyed this very much, Gerald. Thanks.

  • JD Evans

    Dungeons and dramamine.

  • JD Evans

    Dungeons and dramamine.

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