Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 16.
The randy-dandy Burgomaster.

"Mirrors hung?" boomed the Burgomaster of the City of Oaks, his voice echoing through the unfinished council chamber. Anxious sweat beaded on the brows of the workmen, hauling a massive mirror towards its designated hook.

"Official note from the Imperial Council itself," one mumbled, hoisting with all his might. "Says 'hang em ASAP.'"

With a final grunt, the mirror settled in place. "Perfect," the Burgomaster declared, rubbing his rotund belly with a sigh of relief. "One less item on my already overflowing list."

But the reprieve was fleeting. News had just arrived - the Countess of Flowers, her cavalry, and a ragtag band of survivors from the fallen City of Bridges were making their way towards his humble town. Whispers even hinted at the Princess and the Knight of Hearts hiding in the nearby forest. Surely, he scoffed, that was just tavern talk.

"Hard to believe, isn't it?" he mused to a nearby workman, a man he'd never exchanged more than grunts with. The worker, startled, simply nodded politely.

"Quite overwhelming," the Burgomaster muttered, ignoring the awkward silence. "Haven't even had a moment to catch my breath, can you believe it?"

The workman, still wiping sweat from his brow, mumbled a hesitant "Yes." Days spent rushing to complete the town hall had taken their toll.

"Didn't even have breakfast!" the Burgomaster lamented, his voice rising a notch.

"No?" the workman offered, unsure where this conversation was headed.

"No!" the Burgomaster boomed, puffing out his chest. "Did you?"

The workman, momentarily speechless, finally stammered, "Yes."

The Burgomaster's hand clapped the workman's back with a patronizing pat. Inside his head, tasks whirled like a chaotic hamster wheel. Stepping outside, he squinted in the sudden sunlight, momentarily warmed by its touch on his cheek. Nothing calmed him like the filtered sunbeams dancing through the broad leaves of his city's signature acorns. The vibrant summer green soothed his soul, temporarily silencing the mental clamor.

With a jolt, he sprang into action. The imposing shadow of the new town hall loomed over him as he entered. "Impressive," he muttered, taking in the grandeur. "A symbol of progress for our quaint city, a gift from the Empire itself." Then, a frown creased his brow. "Though necessary, it did require sacrificing quite a few beloved oak trees."

Sweat-drenched workers approached, inquiring about remaining tasks. "Not much, I hope," he sighed. Their assurances were lost as his gaze darted past them, landing on girls decorating the streets with flower wreaths.

Bursting out the door, the Burgomaster bellowed, "Those things are crooked! Don't you realize who's arriving? The Countess, the Princess, even the Fool Knight! Do these paltry flower arrangements befit an Imperial reception? And what are these blooms anyway? Dreadful!"

The Burgomaster stormed off, his face turning the same shade as a sun-ripened tomato. Why now, of all times, did visitors have to descend upon their quiet town? Usually, and "usually" meant rarely in the sleepy Oaks, they received months of warning. Now, he had mere hours before the Countess and her entourage arrived.

Panic gnawed at him. "Where's the marching band?" he barked, his voice echoing emptily in the sun-drenched street. The townsfolk exchanged bewildered glances, unsure if their leader had been sampling the baker's wares a little too enthusiastically.

"The marching band?!" he roared again, his voice cracking with desperation. This time, the baker's wife peeked out her window, her eyebrows raised in concern. "Haven't seen them," she offered, her voice laced with confusion.

Suddenly, a new fear gripped the Burgomaster. "The banquet!" he bellowed, the word sounding foreign and urgent even to his own ears. The baker's wife exchanged panicked looks with the bystanders, their expressions mirroring his growing disarray.

"I need meat!" he declared, barreling towards the butcher's shop. "Meat for the banquet! All of it!" His voice echoed off the cobblestones, sending chickens scattering and children scrambling for cover.

Inside the shop, the butcher gaped at him. "But sir, I only have..."

"Doesn't matter!" the Burgomaster bellowed, throwing coin on the counter. "I'll buy it all, and then some! Find more!"

The waiting customers, who had been patiently queuing for their sausages, erupted in protest. "What are we supposed to eat then?" they shouted, waving their fists in the air.

"Leftovers!" the Burgomaster declared, throwing a dismissive shrug over his shoulder. "Always plenty of leftovers after a royal banquet!"

An angry murmur rippled through the crowd. "So we just wait until you're all done stuffing yourselves before we get a bite?" one woman yelled. "We have work in the morning, you know!"

"But my job," the Burgomaster blustered, puffing out his chest, "is to ensure proper protocol for official visits! And this, for your information," he declared, gesturing wildly, "is for the good of the entire town! The better the banquet, the more the Countess will favor us, and the Princess too, don't forget the Crown Princess!"

He stormed out, searching for another butcher with a magical meat surplus. Alas, each shop echoed the same grim news: their stock was as bare as a winter pantry.

Defeated, the Burgomaster leaned against the city gate, gasping for breath and sanity. A curious little girl, having trailed him like a puppy, piped up, "Go see the Huntress! My parents always get their meat from her."

Hope flickered. "Meat, you say? Does she have any left at this hour?"

The girl chirped. "If not, she just grabs her bow and brings more. She's that good!"

"Lead me to her at once!" boomed the Burgomaster, nearly yanking the child's braids off with his enthusiasm.

Bursting through the gates, he bellowed, "Huntress! Huntress!"

At the hunting lodge, the woman waited expectantly in the doorway. "Such urgency? Must the forest tremble?"

"Meat!" he gasped, hunched over. "Banquet tonight. Butchers empty! You're our only hope!"

"A banquet, huh?" The Huntress's drawl contrasted sharply with his frantic energy. "Honored I am."

Though red-faced from exertion, the Burgomaster couldn't help but notice her calm demeanor. "Are you truly... legendary? Forgive my ignorance, but your name is new to me."

The Huntress finished buttoning her leather coat, a half-smile playing on her lips. "Whether you've heard of me or not," she said, "doesn't change my talent for finding meat. That's your responsibility, isn't it, Burgomaster? To know such things?"

The Burgomaster bristled. In his world, dissent was met with averted eyes and mumbled apologies, not sharp rebukes. But he was cornered, dependent on her expertise. He stammered, paralyzed by the unfamiliar sensation of his authority waning.

The Huntress saw his discomfort and softened her tone. "Listen," she said, "I'm the best hunter in these parts, and right now, your only hope."

"But... your husband," he sputtered, clutching at straws. "Surely he can assist?"

A throaty chuckle escaped her lips as she whistled, summoning her horse. "Husband? I have no husband, Burgomaster. They don't call me the Huntress because I'm some hunter's wife. They don't even call me the Huntress because I hunt. They call me the Huntress because I am the hunt."

The weight of her words settled on him, silencing his bluster. She mounted her horse, her gaze holding his for a moment. "Fear not, little man," she drawled. "Tonight, I shall provide your banquet with enough meat to silence even the most critical guest." With that, she rode off, leaving the Burgomaster alone with his churning anxieties and a newfound respect for the woman who embodied the very essence of the hunt.