This story was originally titled Guilding the Lily, and was sold to Jane Yolen for Xanadu 3, published by Tor in 1995. It’s one of my favorites of all time, allowed me to honor Fritz Leiber and his Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories a bit while doing what I seemed to do best, which is take some standard genre conventions and poke at them until they squealed. In this case, it’s not so much a fantasy story as it is a story about living in a fantasy.

Neither of us liked the original title, and neither of us could really figure out what the title ought to be, so I mentioned my working title, which is actually an obscure reference to an obscure Bill Cosby comedy bit, and so we ran with that. You will either really like this story, or you’ll really hate it; it tended to polarize readers based on whether they could put up with me playing games with genre conventions.

This work is not public domain. It is copyright 1994 by Charles Von Rospach. Please do not republish or post it anywhere else without my explicit approval.

Gord and Fnord Go To the Zoo

“Gord!  Gord, wake up, dammit!”

Across the stained and battered table, a mightily-thewed warrior lifted his head and groaned, staring at his companion through blood-shot, unfocused eyes.

“Keep your voice down, Fnord.  My brain hurts.  What do you want?”  The head fell back to the table with a thump.

The thin-faced, shifty-looking thief stared at the quivering hulk of his partner.  “Gord, I’m bored.  Let’s go do something.”

Gord stirred again.  “You woke me up to tell me you’re bored?”  He sat up.  Swaying, he almost fell off his stool, but grabbed the table to steady himself.  “Would you rather be bored?  Or dead?  Barkeep!  Another beer!”

“Gord, it’s going to be another week before the Count musters the army and marches us off to attack the Archmage Frelming’s castle in the Valley of the Archetypes.  Until then, we have nothing to do.”  A large, bald man scurried up, left a full tankard, and hurried back behind the bar across the room.  “We can’t just sit here drinking for another week!”

“Why the hell not?  Seems like a reasonable pastime to me!”

“For one thing, you overgrown dolt, if we sit here for a week doing nothing but drinking and watching you pass out for hours at a time, the readers are all going to flip past us and go read the next story.”

“Who cares?  I don’t care about those voyeurs, anyway.  Have you ever seen one?  If they were real men, they’d be carrying swords, not reading about them.  The hell with them.”  Gord took a huge swallow and then symbolically belched at the ceiling.

“For another thing, we only have enough money for one more day of drinking at the rate you’re putting it away.  After that, we’re on the wagon unless we can find some cash to tide us through until the muster.”

“Well why didn’t you say so?”  Gord shuddered and then gulped down the last of his beer.  “I am not looking forward to meeting Frelming sober.”

“You don’t have to.  I know where there’s a large treasure store about a day’s walk away.  We’ll even get a reward from the Count for recovering it, and have enough cash on hand to not only let you drink yourself into oblivion, but to do so at Katrina’s House of Humping.”

The Barbarian’s face lit up.  “Really?  Great!”  Suddenly, the face clouded over in a frown.  “What’s the catch?  If it’s only a day away, why hasn’t someone else gone and got it yet?”

“Nothing serious, Gord.  The treasure is protected by a dragon, that’s all.”

“That’s all!”  Gord reached across the table and grabbed the thief by the throat.  Around the room, conversations stopped.  A few of the more timid people dove under their tables.

“Gord!  Gord, put me down and listen!  GAK!  Gord!  Put me down!”

The barbarian let go, and Fnord fell to his stool with a clunk.  He sat there for a second, rubbing his throat and staring at Gord in disgust.

“Listen, you lunkhead.  Think it through.  We have a week before the war starts.  We’re almost out of money.  There’s a treasure hoard just out of town, and it’s being guarded by a dragon.  The author needs a sub-plot to keep the reader interested in the story until the real action starts.  All we need to do is wander down to the dragon’s cave, kill the dragon, bring back the money, and then the Author will send us offstage for a few days of carousing until the war starts.”

“Right, Fnord.  Why can’t the Author simply have us kill the dragon offstage and give us a few days of on stage carousing at Katrina’s instead?”

“We’re not in that kind of book, Gord.  You know that.”

“Yeah, well.  How do you know the sub-plot isn’t two idiots get eaten by a dragon’?”

“Think about it.  Have you seen any other characters in this story?  Everyone in the bar is a spear carrier.  They don’t really exist.  Even the bartender is a generic stereotype, and he’s the only guy who’s even had a walk-on.  We’re the stars of this novel.  The Author can’t kill us off for at least another 100 pages!  Nothing can go wrong!”

Gord rubbed his forehead.  “I dunno, Fnord.”

“Here, look at this.”  Fnord reached down to the floor for his pack, opened it and pulled out a sheaf of papers.  “This is the first draft of the book.  I sneaked if off the clerk’s desk at the Hero Guild before we signed up for this story.  We not only survive the dragon, but we go on to rally the armies when all seems helpless and carry the day on to victory.  We’re heroes, Gord!”

“I can’t read, Fnord.  I’m a Barbarian, remember?  Never trusted all those squiggles and stuff.  I still don’t know.  Dragons are nasty business.  I don’t like the idea of going up against a dragon single-handed.”

“You won’t be going against it alone.  I’ll be there, too.”

“Oh, well, that’s different.  What the hell.  Let’s go.  I like the idea of finally being the star of my own story.”

# # #

The next morning, the two adventurers set out.  Gord, his furs only slightly matted and his eyes almost focused, bore a huge, gleaming broadsword slung across his back.  The thief was in his green-dyed leather armor, and carried a short sword and two daggers stuck into scabbards in his belt.

“Wow, Gord.  What a great day.  We’re heading out on adventure, just like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, or Bing and Bob.”


“Never mind.  Just some other famous teams of adventurers.”

They followed the wagon path out of town, and at a fork took the smaller path that led off in the general direction of Mount Blackheart, a huge, black outcrop of obsidian that loomed to the south.  It was there they’d been told the dragon had his lair.

They made the base of the mountain by early afternoon and decided to rest before beginning the climb.  While munching on their cheese and stale bread, they saw a huge black shape cross the sky and disappear into the mountain about a third of the way up.  “See, Gord!  There he is!  Piece of cake!”

The barbarian shuddered.  “You don’t suppose we can convince the Author to turn the dragon into a rabid wolverine, could we?”

“No, Gord.  Has to be a dragon.  C’mon, let’s go.”

“How are we supposed to kill this thing, anyway?”

“Well, here’s how the Author’s written it in the first draft.  We climb the mountain to the dragon’s cave.  He’s just returned from feeding on the Count’s cattle, so he’ll be sleeping.  We sneak into the cave without waking him up.  I sneak behind the beast to hamstring him, but the dragon wakes up and swipes at me.  I’m thrown against the wall and badly injured.  It looks like the end for both of us, but in a final desperate move, you make a wonderfully dramatic attack and behead the beast.  It dies, you give me the potion of healing I have in my pack, and then we grab as much gold as we can and the head of the dragon and head off for our reward and a few days at Katrina’s.  Sound reasonable?”

“I don’t like this, Fnord.  How about I give you the broadsword and you make the dramatic attack?”

“Gord, we can’t do that.  I’m a thief.  You’re the barbarian, right?  The Guild rules say that I have to run around in the background and make sneaky backstab attacks, while you scream at the top of your lungs and do berserk things with your sword.  You don’t want to lose your card, do you?”

“Um, no.”

“Good.  So it’s settled.”  Fnord stood up.  “Let’s get climbing.”

There was a sudden rush of wind and flapping of reptilian wings, and the dragon landed on Gord from above.  Gord did the only possible thing: he collapsed in a heap.

The dragon turned around and stared at Fnord.  He smiled.  “Ah, fresh meat!  And they deliver.  How nice.”

The thief stared at the huge, black beast.  It picked up the former barbarian in one large claw and poked him with the tip of one wing.  “Hmm.  They sent this one already marinated.”  With a sudden movement, the dragon snapped off Gord’s head and swallowed it.  The dragon dropped the former barbarian to the ground and looked at Fnord.  “Your turn.”

“You can’t do that!  You’re supposed to be up in your cave asleep so we can kill you!  We saw you come back from your cattle hunt!”

“I wasn’t hunting.  I was at a Dragon Guild meeting that ran late.  I’m lucky I got home in time for your visit.”  He licked his chops.  “I’m starved.”

“You can’t do this!  The Author won’t allow it!  We’re the heroes of this book!  We can’t die!  We’ve got at least another 100 pages and a war to fight!”

“How long has it been since you checked in with the Guild?  You dimwit!  There’s been a change.  The Editor thought you two were boring, so the Author cut you out of the book.  This isn’t a novel any more.  It’s a short story!”

That day, the dragon fed well.  The next, he returned to the Dragon Guild to apply for a new story.

# END #

This work is not public domain. It is copyright 1994 by Charles Von Rospach. Please do not republish or post it anywhere else without my explicit approval.