Skull-duggery; skulduggery is mischief, of an underhand sort. And today’s picture prompt ‘skulls’ from KL Caley at New2Writing.com suggested skulduggery to me. I hope you enjoy the story, 985 words with some old friends — and here’s the #writephoto prompt:

Skull-duggery

“And here we have the major find, a set of skulls, exhumed from the pit.” The museum curator waved at the collection, heaped together in a spare drawer and shoved on top of a cupboard.

“Only the skulls?” Sir Woebegone asked. “That’s odd.”

“Well, they’re only animal skulls. Nothing important about them. Still, the carbon dating puts them at 14th century, maybe earlier.”

“Thirteen hundreds…. Hmm. Any human remains on the site?”

“No bones. Only weapons, spear heads, that sort of thing. Not sure what this is…” The curator moved to another drawer and brought out a numbered metallic disc. He handed it to his guest. “What do you think?”

Sir Woebegone turned it over in his hand. He was glad he’d taken his gauntlets off and stowed them carefully behind his surplice. “Looks like a piece of a suit of armour to me. One of my specialities, costume.”

“I can see that. That’s a very authentic-looking re-enactment outfit you have on.”

“I do like to take trouble over the details. I mean, re-enacting and getting it wrong is very tiresome, don’t you agree?”

“Oh yes, yes, absolutely.”

After his tour of the museum, Sir Woebegone headed up the road out of the town to the hill where the major battle had taken place. He wandered around the site for a bit, and then let himself down into the cave where the skulls had been found. 

It was dark.

He tutted at his lack of forethought and put his hand on his empty scabbard. The sun moved from west to east across the sky, shining through the entrance hole, and illuminating the sides of the cave for him. When it got back as far as the skull diggings, he stopped it, and started scraping at the remaining dirt.

“Ah!” He picked up some more small items, metallic, not bone, that looked extraordinarily like dragon scales to the tutored eye. He put his hand on his scabbard once more. As a time machine it was inert, but it lent power to the extraordinary magic Sir Woebegone gained from his former sword, now back with its owner.

It was the former owner he now pictured in his mind.

*

“Greetings, oh magnificent one,” Woebegone said, bowing to the dragon. The fearsome reptile snorted. It’d been sleeping on a vast pile of treasure in an underground vault at least forty times the size of the cave Woebegone had just left.

“Oh, it’s you. What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“That you’re hiding from me.”

“If you can tell it’s there I’m not hiding it from you.”

“Stop being pedantic and show me.”

Sir Woebegone drew out the small metallic disc, and held it on the flat of his hand.

“Oh!” The dragon leapt up, stretched to its full height, then put its face right down to nose the object on Woebegone’s hand.

It breathed the scent in, very gently, making sure it didn’t sniff the object up its nose or blow it away to be lost among the coins.

“And this.” Woebegone drew out one he’d found in the cave. 

The dragon examined it closely too.

Then it drew back, looking from one to the other, two or three times, then fixed its gaze on Sir Woebegone’s face.

“Where?”

“Battle of Marshelsea, 1453 by reputation, not confirmed by their new-fangled dating methods.”

“Corroboration?”

“They’re more interested in the remains of your dinners. I knew it must be you, because you like to keep the skulls after you’ve licked them clean and heat-treated them for contaminants. The cave’s all but gone, completely filled with earth bar for the little pot hole they’ve excavated.”

“So… my treasure?” The dragon surveyed its hoard, anxiety for its pride and joy showing in its voice.

“No sign of it. Either it’s buried too, or someone’s robbed it and filled the hall in.”

“How on earth could they do that?”

Woebegone’s chainmail rattled as he shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno. It’s a whole lot of earth to shift.”

“Either that or they gave the skulls to the museum and kept the jewels for themselves.”

“What do you want me to do, then?”

“Take me there!”

“What now? Or er… whoops.” Sir Woebegone lost his composure as the dragon picked him up in its fangs and threw him onto its back. 

“Hold on!”

*

The smell of the sea once more assaulted Sir Woebegone’s nostrils. 

“It’s right… here,” he finished as the dragon neatly inserted itself into the cave entrance and disappeared. 

He frowned. Surely the beast didn’t fit in the cave he’d left. He poked his nose down the hole. The dragon had shrunk to fit the cave, but was rapidly excavating it, flaming the earth into piles of soot. 

“Dig, Woebegone, dig!”

Woebegone dug. Gauntlets made pretty good spades, after all.

It wasn’t long before the dragon uncovered a small pile of gold and jewels. 

“Is that all that’s left?” Woebegone asked.

“You don’t think I’d leave all that lying around for any old treasure hunter to find, especially these detectorists they have in this era?”

“Detectorists?”

“Never mind. Help me get this out.”

“Er, how…”

“Just sit here. And…” whoosh.

*

And… back in the cave. The big cavernous, vast wealth-filled dragon’s hoard cave with the dragon at full size again. Along with the now-large treasure from the cave.

“Good. Saved that from those villainous descendents of yours.”

“Mine? but…”

“Do me a favour, Woebegone. Nip back in a few days and bring me a newspaper. I’d love to see how they explain it.”

Woebegone ‘nipped back’ on the Friday. It was headline news.

“Skull-duggery at the battle cave: Vandals dig up ancient ruins: Police looking into it.”

“That’s all right then.” The dragon yawned, and Woebegone ducked. The flame missed him by at least a foot. “If the police are looking into it I can sleep soundly. Night, night.”

Sir Woebegone made his own way out.

© J M Pett 2021

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Skull-duggery | Flash Fiction #writephoto
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