Jorrick’s father nodded a greeting to the dwarf and then turned to his family. They were standing in front of their wagon, which had Fine Musical Instruments blazoned across the side in bright gold paint. “We’ll set up here. The dragon ride should bring plenty of people─some of them should be interested in our instruments.”
Jorrick’s mother tied their horse to a nearby rail, and Jorrick opened up the side of the wagon to display their wares. Pipes, drums, whistles, and three lutes were arranged invitingly for fair customers. Jorrick took his pipes and sat nearby, but his eyes were on the burly farmer climbing on the dragon nearby. It was made of yellow-painted steel and sported a worn leather saddle behind the ferocious head. Jorrick played a martial air as the man struggled to hang on, but the fellow was lying on the sawdust-covered ground in under fifteen seconds.
“Nice try,” the dwarf said. “Who’s next?”
Jorrick gave the man a rueful smile and resumed his playing. Just as he did, he caught a glimpse of the girl in the opposite stall.
His sharp intake of breath made his pipes squawk, and Jorrick turned beet red. She was beautiful. Long brunette hair, blue embroidered gown, and she was currently laying out beaded vests and bags on a clean linen tablecloth.
For the rest of the day, his eyes kept drifting toward her, and he noticed she quite often had her gaze on the mechanical dragon riders. Later, he badgered his father into allowing him a coin to try, and he took a deep breath as he settled himself into the smooth leather seat. It might as well have been greased. His arms were wrenched loose on the first dip, and Jorrick slunk away, brushing off sawdust, too ashamed to look for the girl again.
That evening, he wheedled some sweet rolls from his mother and approached the dwarves’ fire. “Is there some trick to it?” Jorrick asked, for several of the dwarves had ridden the dragon for the full minute to demonstrate that it could be done.
The dwarf who’d done most of selling brushed crumbs from his gray-streaked beard and barked out a laugh. “Lots of practice, lad. We’ve all been on the sawdust many a time.”
“Well, is there a way I could practice, too?” Jorrick asked. Surely the girl would notice a fellow who could stay on the dragon an entire minute.
“What do you have to offer besides the rolls?” the dwarf countered.
“I can play,” Jorrick said, pulling his pipes from a pocket. “I’ll sit between our stalls and make music to go with each try.”
The dwarf smiled. “Can you accompany this?” He broke into a stirring song about riding the dragon, and after one verse, Jorrick was able to follow it enough to play a simple harmony.
“That will work,” the dwarf said. “I’ll get the dragon started.” He walked over to the inert form, murmuring a chant under his breath.
Jorrick shot an agonized glance at the stall across the way, but the girl and her family were nowhere in sight. He breathed a sigh of relief and climbed on.
He gripped the leather pommel with every bit of his strength, but as soon as the thing started moving, he slid. He made a frantic grab, but he couldn’t hold on tight enough, and he was on the ground spitting sawdust out of his mouth.
“Come, lad; you’ll have to do better than that,” the dwarf said. “You have to move with the dragon. It does no good to fight it.”
Jorrick gave it his best, over and over, but he had nothing but bruises to show for his efforts that night. He hadn’t even lasted ten seconds.
He played the next day as agreed, and the dwarves must have been reasonably pleased for they continued his instruction the following night. At the end of that one, something came together for him, for on his final attempt, the dwarf assured Jorrick he’d stayed on for a half-minute.
Jorrick played his best for the dwarves the following day. The lovely girl’s gaze strayed often to the dragon ride, and she applauded when her brother managed to stay on for the entire minute. Tomorrow was the last day of the fair. It was Jorrick’s last chance to impress her, to prove he was more than a mere piper.
That evening, Jorrick discovered the trick was to keep his chest upright no matter what. Every time he turned sideways, he slid. But the wretched thing kept throwing him to the side.
“You did well, lad,” the dwarf said. “You were only ten seconds short that last try.”
“One more time?” he asked, but the dwarf shook his head.
“You can have another go tomorrow, lad.”
The next day, Jorrick swallowed hard and climbed on the dragon under the girl’s watchful gaze. No matter what, he had to stay on. He risked a glance across the way and had to yank his attention back again as the dragon started to move. Chest up, chest up, chest up, he chanted silently. He slid but caught his balance at the last moment. One final wicked roll and the dragon came to a stop. The dwarf rang a bell announcing his victory.
The girl applauded, and emboldened by this, Jorrick set his shoulders and marched across to her stall. “I did it!” he said and then flushed. She’d been watching─of course she knew.
“It was very nice,” she said politely, and Jorrick sighed and turned away.
“Wait, please,” she said, and it was her turn to blush. “What I’ve really been wanting to ask is if you could show me how to play the pipes. I’ve always wanted to learn.”