In the Belly of the Beast
Kal the Dragonslayer peeked out over the thick evergreen bush, spying on his daughter. He hadn't seen Marrel in twenty-five years, not since he'd abandoned her to go to Sorcerer Academy when she was five. He clutched his oaken staff tightly as he watched her in pink and the small boy in blue at her side--his grandson?--play in front of their small cottage in the countryside. His own green robes helped him blend into the bush and grassy field.
She glanced in his direction. He ducked. She must have seen some movement since she continued staring toward him. Then she froze, and looked above him. She grabbed the boy's hand and--
What she did next he didn't know as huge jaws engulfed him from above, the jaws of the very dragon he'd been hired to slay. Some dragonslayer--he'd been so engrossed in his spying that a dragon the size of his daughter's cottage had sneaked up on him. He lunged for his crucial supply bag, which lay on the grass by the bush. At the last second he had to pull back as the jaws snapped shut, the eight-inch fangs barely missing slicing off his arm.
Sticky saliva covered him in the darkness as the huge tongue pushed him toward the back of the dragon's mouth. Kal barely had time to raise a protective field with his staff before he went headfirst down the dragon's throat. A moment later he landed with a splash, still headfirst, into the vat of acid that was the dragon's stomach. Only the protective field kept him from burning alive.
Kal sat inside his protective field in the dragon's stomach, listening to the dragon's heartbeat. It came every five seconds like clockwork: bump-bump. . .bump-bump. The stomach, large enough that a pair of elephants could have fit inside, shuddered with each beat. One day had passed since the dragon had swallowed him. With his supply bag, all would have been well. Without it, he was lost.
The dim purple glow of his staff allowed Kal to watch the mass of convoluted red folds that made up the stomach's lining, acid flowed regularly from the intricately puckered walls and ceiling. Droplets fell onto the protective field, a constant drip. . .drip. . .drip. A single breath in that miasma would sear his lungs even as the acid scalded his body. The smell permeated the field, turning Kal's prison into a reeking sauna of rancid meat and vomit.
Bump-bump. . .bump-bump.
Kal woke as the dragon took off, acceleration slamming his body against the wall of his protective prison. He rubbed his good right eye with his hand. His left eye socket contained a yellow marble with a black pupil painted on, a souvenir from a prior dragon engagement. Premature wrinkles covered his sunburned face.
As the dragon continued its flight, Kal wondered what went through its mind. Did it enjoy killing? Or was it, as he suspected, strictly instinct? Kal didn't like killing dragons. It was just a job that had to be done. Yet he felt sorry for this dragon that he had to kill. If a dragon kills because it is its nature to do so and a father abandons his daughter because it is his nature to do so, is either to blame?
Kal felt the dragon's acceleration drop. His feet lifted off the ground as he became weightless and nauseated, his green robes billowing about as the dragon went into a dive. He slammed back onto the spongy floor as the dragon landed and his weight returned. He heard wood cracking and a women's faint scream. A moment later, a woman was writhing and splashing in the acidic bath. Taking a deep breath and closing both eyes, he mentally lowered the field and entered the acidic nightmare.
"Keep your eyes closed and don't breathe," he called. The acid burned at his robes and skin as he strode towards the woman's screams. He was thankful for his thick boots as he struggled to keep his balance in the throbbing and slippery landscape. As soon as he reached the woman, he put the protective field up and the circular field adjusted its size to fit both of them. The woman fell to the ground.
The field took about fifteen seconds to replenish the oxygen. Kal gulped in the still-foul air, knowing the smell would never go away, neither in the protective field nor in his memory.
He waved his staff over himself, running the basic health spell. He wasn't a medical wizard but this would accelerate the healing process and reduce the pain.
The woman's blond hair had escaped the worst effects but not her face. Parts of it resembled a red slab of meat, with blisters that looked like maggots interspersed throughout. Her eyes were swollen shut.
He looked past the injuries and gasped. Marrel!
Kal's daughter had been five when his wife died. He'd been twenty-two and just accepted into the academy. Heartbroken and wanting to get on with his life, he'd given Marrel up for adoption and left for his advanced magic studies.
She was the reason he'd returned to Tinia, his hometown, after all these years. He'd found her and had watched her from a distance, heart pounding. How foolish I was.
She coughed and sat up, eyes still closed. "It hurts," she murmured, laboring to breathe. Her tattered and faded pink dress and leather sandals were little protection against the acid.
"You have acid all over you, and you breathed acid fumes. I'll see what I can do." Squatting down, he waved his staff over her. Her breathing strengthened.
She rubbed her eyes and opened them, looking about. "Oh my God."
"We're safe now." Kal sat down next to her.
"I was in my house," she said, "hiding from the dragon with my son, and it just came through the wall." Her body shook uncontrollably. Her eyes were as bright as he remembered them when she'd look up at him, trusting, so many years before.
She studied him, then her mouth formed an "oh" as her eyes went wide. "I know you--you're that creep who was spying on me from the bushes yesterday! I saw you get swallowed by the dragon."
So much for stealth. "I'm sorry about that. It was rude."
"Great. I'm stuck in a dragon's stomach with a Peeping Tom."
Great reunion, Kal thought.
The dragon went into action again, throwing them off their feet and saving him from responding. He heard a high-pitched cry, followed by a splash.
"Bobbel!" Marrel screamed. She jumped to her feet and tried to run to the boy but the elastic field, hard on the outside but flexible on the inside, flung her back. "We have to save my son!"
Kal lowered the field. Marrel crawled across the stomach floor on her hands and knees in ankle-deep acid. Kal winced at the sight of her sandaled feet and hands in acid and followed her over.
"Keep your eyes closed and don't breathe in," he reminded her.
When they reached the child, Kal raised the field over them. They collapsed into unconsciousness.
He was a grandfather.
The boy looked about five. The dragon had bitten off Bobbel's left arm, and much of his face had melted away. Horrified, Kal ran the basic health spell on the two silent forms. It stopped Bobbel's bleeding but his arm would never grow back.
Bump-bump. . .bump-bump.
While Marrel slept, Kal worked up the courage to tell her who he was. He had to do it. That's why he had returned to Tinia, where so long ago he had grown up, married, had a daughter and abandoned her.
When she later awoke, his left hand began to tremble.
"Marrel, there's something I need to tell you."
She yawned. "What's that?"
"Your father. Do you know about him?"
She looked at him, bright eyes flashing. "Besides spying on me, have you been asking around about me as well? Great. Then you probably know all about my father. I hope he got swallowed by a dragon, too."
Kal opened his mouth, then closed it. He had to tell her sometime and face the explosion but not now. Not yet.
"How are we going to get out of here?" she asked.
Should he tell her? She wouldn't like the answer. "We will. Trust me."
"Yeah, right." She waved her hand in a short circle. "And how?"
He'd rather change the subject. "Tell me about yourself."
"Might as well." She took a deep breath. "Well, my mom died when I was five and my dad abandoned me. I grew up in the town orphanage, the only one there whose parents weren't both dead. Other kids went around insisting their parents were really alive; I went around pretending mine were both dead."
Tears filled his good eye. He blinked a few times to clear it.
"An orphanage doesn't exactly prepare you for the real world. When I was eighteen, I spent four years living on the streets." Marrel glanced around. "Wasn't much better than this."
"Who's the father?"
"Bobbar was the first good thing to happen to me. He rescued me from the streets." Her eyes closed, as if in memory. "He was the head cook at the nicest restaurant in town, the Linguiera and I was his chief waitress. We had eight years together." She opened her eyes, now wet with tears. "And then the dragon came. Bobbar was one of the first victims, just one month ago."
Kal had been summoned by the king to slay the dragon well before that. If only he had rushed over. . . .
"Bobbel, he'll never learn magic now. They said he's talented, like my father was."
Drops of sweat rolled down Kal's body in the humid air. He listened to several heartbeats. "Do you remember your father?"
She stared off into the distance. "I remember him as a giant. But all fathers are giants to a five-year-old. Everything else about him is hazy, although I remember how everyone talked about his magic ability. But it doesn't matter. I've closed the scroll on that part of my life."
"I'm sure he had a good reason to leave."
"Hah! There is no good reason to dump a child. If you abandon your family, you aren't human. You might as well be a heartless dragon."
Ouch. Guilty, guilty, and guilty.
When he first got the urgent summons from the faraway king to slay the dragon, he'd mused over it for a month, wondering if maybe, just maybe, he and his daughter could get together again. He hadn't traveled very far from Gargo in twenty-five years, and only this silly, impossible hope had led him back to Tinia.
"How 'bout you, how'd you become a wizard?"
"Huh? Oh. The usual way. Showed some early talent. Went to an academy. Spent eight years with my nose in a scroll, forgot there was anything outside the scroll. You know how school can be." He didn't want to say too much about himself yet, and so changed the subject back to her. "What would you do if your father came back?" he asked.
Marrel's eyes blazed. "I'd feed him to the dragon."
Kal wondered how many dragon swallowings it would take to drive away the guilt.
Bump-bump. . .bump-bump.
Kal woke from another doze when he was slammed back against the stomach's wall. The dragon was in action again. Then the dragon stopped and a moment later there was another splash. Another drop-in.
"I have to lower the field," he said.
Marrel leaned over the sleeping Bobbel, protecting him with her body. Kal lowered the field, and at his urging, the man who had dropped in clambered over. Kal raised the field and once again ran the health spell over each of them.
The new arrival looked thirtyish and carried a longsword. He wore a shiny metal helmet, which along with shirt, pants, and boots, all made of thick leather, left him mostly unscathed from the acid. After a short introduction, the man Reger, collapsed on the floor by the wall and surveyed his surroundings.
"Mom?" Bobbel sat up. The parts of his near-skeletal face that still had skin were pale from loss of blood. He rubbed his eyes but kept them shut. "Why do my eyes hurt? And my face and hands burn. And something smells." He grabbed his left shoulder with his right arm and began feeling about for his missing left arm, looking confused.
Kal wondered what you tell a child who wakes up in a dragon's stomach with a missing arm and half his face melted away.
"Everything's fine, dear, go back to sleep," Marrel said.
"Where's my arm?" Bobbel cried. There was nothing his mom could do to comfort him over the next hour as he desperately searched for his arm, over and over crying out, "Where is it?", tears flowing down his face. Kal watched the salty tears flow over Bobbel's acid burns, knowing how painful that was.
Later Bobbel managed to open his eyes. After staring at his left shoulder for a moment, he looked at Marrel. "I had a nightmare, mom. A dragon was chasing me. It got my arm, didn't it?"
"We're safe from the dragon, honey. You need to sleep and get your strength back."
Reger stood and began swishing his gleaming longsword.
Bobbel watched. "Who are you?"
Reger stopped his swordplay. "I am Reger, a knight in the king's service. I was out looking for the dragon when it found me."
"You were looking for it?" Bobbel's eyes went wide.
"Yep. You see there's this dragonslayer the king's hired to kill the dragon and when he gets here, the king wants to tell him where the dragon is. So he sent scouts like me out to find it."
"How'd it get you?"
"Son, let me be the first to introduce you to the evils of drinking." Reger raised an imaginary glass in a toast. "Nothing wrong with putting away a few pints but never mix work with pleasure, or fall asleep while looking for a hungry dragon."
"You were drunk!" Bobbel laughed.
"Yup. Otherwise I would've whupped this dragon."
Bobbel next faced Kal. "Who are you?"
"I am Kal, a wizard." He bowed.
"Wow! I had some lessons. Watch this!" Bobbel held up his right index finger. The tip started to glow.
"That's very good!" Kal told him. An easy trick, but not for a five-year-old.
"I'm hungry!" Bobbel announced.
"I used to be able conjure a few simple foods," Kal said.
"Bread'll be good," Bobbel said.
"I could use some mutton and wine," Reger said. "Food for a man."
It took Kal a few tries to get the nearly forgotten food spells right.
Reger took a bite from the mutton, then spit it out. "It's spoiled!" He grabbed the goblet of wine and gulped it down. Sputtering, he spit that out as well. "It's like vinegar! Is this what we have to live on?"
"Do you have honey I can put on the bread?" Bobbel asked. "It's kinda stale."
Kal wished he'd expanded his culinary magic a bit more. "Sorry, I can't do honey. This is the best I can do."
Marrel asked, "How are we going to get out of here? Can you conjure us out or something?"
Kal grimaced. People were so naive about wizards. "Other than keeping us alive, there's not a whole lot I can do."
"Did you learn anything useful at wizard school?" Reger asked.
"Would you like to see how long you'd last without this rather useful protective field?" Kal watched as a droplet of acid worked its way down the side of the field, joining a small river on the ground.
"Okay wizard, I'll grant you that," Reger said. "But how do we get out of this mess?" He twirled his sword about with his wrist.
Kal hated the part where he had to explain the situation. "We could try to climb out through the dragon's throat and mouth. If we don't suffocate or die in the acid, and if the dragon doesn't have the swallowing reflex that all animals have when things are in their throat, then we'd be in a dragon's mouth. If it doesn't decide to chew us and if we can sweet talk it into opening its jaws so we can conveniently walk out, we'd be free and standing in front of a live dragon."
"Okay, that won't work," Marrel said.
"We could try escaping the, um, other way. We'd have to crawl through dozens of yards of intestines while bathed in acids and holding our breath. We wouldn't make it to the exit."
"I can cut our way out." Reger pantomimed an aggressive chop. "Willy here's pretty sharp."
"Won't work," Kal said. "Dragon flesh is as tough as leather, but much thicker. With the first cut, the dragon will buck about like a demon on ice, and you'll be sliding about in acid."
"You're a defeatist," Reger said.
Kal ignored him. "So we can't get out the front door or the back door, and we can't get out the side. So we wait."
"Are you crazy?" Reger said.
"A dragon has a pretty fast metabolism and needs to eat a lot. Usually they eat about a person per day. If a dragon doesn't eat, it starves to death in a few weeks."
Reger dropped his sword in mock surprise. "So you are saying we just sit around here for a few weeks, hoping the dragon stops eating?"
"We don't hope it stops eating. We starve it."
"I get it--anybody it swallows you bring into the field!" Marrel exclaimed.
Smart girl! "Exactly." Kal nodded. "Nothing gets digested."
"You know, we might get rescued," Reger said. "There is that dragonslayer from Gargo the king hired, Drago. He's supposed to have killed dozens of dragons."
"Can a dragonslayer really kill a dragon this big?" Marrel asked.
"Those dragonslayer wizards are pretty nasty," Reger said. "They just cut dragons to pieces with their spells and magic swords."
Kal smiled to himself. "So you both hope to be rescued by this dragonslayer, this Drago?"
"It's either that, or cut our way out," said Reger.
"Then Drago will rescue you." Kal stood up, stumbling as the floor bucked from a heartbeat. "I am Drago the Dragonslayer!"
Marrel and Reger both stared at him. Marrel started giggling. "Yeah, right," Reger said. "And I'm the magic tiger that delivers goodies to children on their birthdays."
"Really?" exclaimed the suddenly awake Bobbel.
"Then why did you say you were Kal?" Marrel asked.
"Drago is my professional name. Kal's my real one."
Reger scoffed. "Don't play games, wizard. Dragonslayers slay dragons. They don't get swallowed by them."
"I am going to slay this dragon!" Kal exclaimed.
"Looks to me like the dragon swallowed you." Reger went back to his swordplay.
"I've starved nineteen dragons to death this way," Kal said. "Really! Usually I have a bag of supplies, for me and others, but the dragon caught me off guard and I couldn't grab it in time. Masks, gloves, shoes, robes, all acid proof, plus food and health stones. Also some scrolls to read."
"You mean it?" Marrel said. "You really are Drago? But we can't just wait here. My son is very sick. He's lost a lot of blood, has a fever, and who knows what else. You've got to help me get him to a healer." She pointed at his staff. "Is there anything you can do with that thing?"
"I've already run the health spell," Kal said.
Reger thrust his sword against the field. It sank in, then the field pushed it back. "This is stupid. We have to get out of here now."
As if to prove his point, the stomach chose that moment to rumble, giving everyone a strong shake.
"We're going to stay in here as long as it takes," Kal said.
"There might not be anyone left alive by then!" With a twist of his wrist Reger's sword swished to Kal's throat. "Lower the field. We're getting out of here now."
Kal felt the tip of the sword jab into his flesh. He pointed his palms at Reger, mentally putting everything he could into pushing the warrior back. The invisible magic swirled out, knocking the warrior back several feet. The force field flickered for a second as Kal lost his focus and they were showered with droplets of acid. There were cries of pain. Kal ignored several acid droplets that burned away at hands.
Reger kept his balance and the sword swished back to Kal's throat. The warrior laughed.
"Is that the best you can do, dragonslayer? A little tap like that? A child could hit harder."
Kal sighed. It was the best he could do. He was no warrior.
He turned his good eye on Reger. "You want to try to cut your way out, go ahead." Maybe the ignorant warrior was right and he, the educated wizard, was wrong. Was there a chance of getting help to his grandson sooner this way? "I'll lower it when you're ready and raise it again as soon as you're out."
"Lower away--time to give this dragon some new plumbing."
Blood spurted when Reger's sword cut into the stomach. The walls quaked, throwing him across the floor like a pebble in a rattle. Kal, Marrel and Bobbel banged against the side of the field.
The dragon roared, a deep bass that vibrated through the stomach even as the heartbeat tripled in speed.
Reger continued to slip about, trying to cut into the dragon's stomach but failing. His hardest sword thrusts penetrated half an inch and they were followed by more dragon earthquakes as he skidded across the ground. One convulsion threw him face down into a puddle of acid. He popped to his feet, screaming, his face glistening with forming blisters. He half walked, half crawled back to the field, and pounded on it with his sword.
"Let me. . ." His voice trailed off as he collapsed.
Kal lowered the field and pulled him in. Reger's hand and his sword's hilt had melted together into one mass of molten skin and steel. The rest of him was worse. No health spell could help him.
Bump-bump. . .bump-bump.
"Okay, I admit it. You were right." Marrel sat down beside him. "I've been pretty unfair to you and so was Reger, poor man. You have to understand that I've got a pretty sick kid."
Kal closed his eyes. I have to tell her who I am. How will she react?
"His head is just burning up and he's so weak," she continued, her voice cracking. "And there's nothing I can do."
"We'll do the best we can. We'll get him out." He hoped it would be in time.
"What's it like being a wizard?" she asked. "Could Bobbel ever be one?"
"It takes years of school and lots and lots of reading and studying. Bobbel could do it, but he'd miss out on a lot of other things."
"Yeah but that's okay if he's doing it to help people. I mean, you never forgot why your nose was in a scroll. You did what you needed to learn how to kill dragons in your own unique way and that's how you help people."
Marrel continued. "And I bet you have a family that loves you, that you go home to and take care of when you're not off killing dragons."
His smile vanished. "Actually, no. I. . .have no family. Not anymore."
"Really? I'm sorry to hear that. Neither did I for many years."
He turned away to hide his tears. When would he tell her? How could he tell her?
Over the next week people continued to drop in, expanding their numbers into double figures. The repeated acid baths took a heavy toll on these stablehands, blacksmiths, farmers and hunters, ordinary people suffering an unordinary fate. Of course, jamming in with the others in the protective field was better than the alternative.
Some had missing limbs. Whenever the limbs fell into the stomach, Kal retrieved them to keep them from being digested. These limbs and Reger's body, rapidly decomposing, turning the already foul air in the field into a gaseous compost heap.
The acid had blinded at least three people. Others were burnt from the dragon's flame. Kal's health spell kept the injured alive for now but he didn't know how much longer that would last.
About once a day, water came pouring into the stomach as the dragon drank. Kal would drop the field so everyone could rinse off. They still had to hold their breath and so the field could only be down for about a minute. But it was a minute they looked forward to as it washed the acids from their clothes and skin, some of the smell from the air, as well as the unavoidable human wastes they kept in one corner. It also gave them fresh water to drink instead of the sour goat's milk and vinegar-like red wine that Kal could conjure.
Bobbel continued to weaken and often was comatose for many hours at a time. Kal figured out a cooling spell, which helped cut down on the fever. He also ran the healing spell over and over each day. He tried to ignore the blackened skin near where Bobbel had lost his arm. Infection.
As their numbers grew, the field grew larger. Kal didn't know if the dragon was male or female but it must have looked pregnant with a protruding belly full of people.
One day the dragon swallowed a huge bear. They watched as it struggled in the acid, burning and suffocating. Once it lay still, Kal lowered the field. He and several others dragged the bear and stashed the body in the field. For the next few days they feasted on its raw flesh.
"I have an idea, a way to get out sooner" Kal said. Bobbel was getting worse and he knew the boy wouldn't survive much longer.
The others, totaling a dozen, gathered around. "It can take weeks to starve a dragon. But what if we take away its water as well?"
"How would you do that?" someone asked.
"When the dragon drinks, we can bring the water into the field. Without water, it'll die in days."
"How would you get the water in the field?" Marrel asked.
"That's the bad part." They'd put up with a lot so far, and now it was about to get worse. "The ground here isn't level. When the dragon drinks, we'll all go to the lowest part of the stomach. The water will flow there and when I put up the field, it'll go around most of the water as well."
"Won't that mean an awful lot of acid gets inside the field?" Marrel asked. "And won't the water have acid in it?"
"Yes to both," Kal said. "But it's the only way. Since it's already starving, the dragon shouldn't last long."
They put the plan into action that afternoon. The water greatly diluted the acid that came in with it, yet it still burned and they developed sunburn-type rashes. Bringing in the water meant dropping the field more often, which meant more showers of undiluted acid and screaming pain whenever it touched human skin. They endured because they had no choice.
Bump-bump. . .bump-bump.
Kal felt he had to tell Marrel the truth. He waited until everyone was asleep that night, each leaning against the side of the force field so that only their legs and waist were in the fiery water. He tapped Marrel lightly on the shoulder, trying not to wake Bobbel, who slept in her arms, above the water. When she opened her eyes, he motioned for her to join him off to the side, away from the others.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she carried Bobbel, she asked, "What's wrong?"
How to begin? "Remember when I told you I was Drago the Dragonslayer and at first you didn't believe me?"
"Well, sure but what did you expect when you just announce it like that?"
"Would you believe me if I told you something even more unlikely?"
"What could be less likely than someone in a dragon's stomach claiming to be a dragonslayer?" She was now fully awake, smiling and eyes bright. "Let me guess. You're also a bunnyslayer, right?"
This was the big moment. He knew that a 110-pound daughter could have a bigger bite than a twenty-ton dragon.
"When I tell you, you have to promise you won't feed me to the dragon."
Now his daughter's eyes went wide, and from bright to blazing. He'd never known the difference until seeing it here. She stared into face. "You're my father."
"Yes." He'd barely gotten the word out before she slapped him on the cheek. The sound went through the dragon's stomach like thunder, waking most of the occupants.
"Mom, what was that?" Bobbel asked sleepily.
Kal closed his eyes, trying to ignore his stinging cheek. She began punching him in the chest. He made no attempt to defend himself.
"You horrible bastard! How could you keep that from us. . . from me!" She grabbed his hair and yanked. He yelped in pain as strands of hair tore out, yet still did not defend himself.
"Mom, what's wrong?" Bobbel asked. "Why are you hitting Kal?"
She finally stopped. "Bobbel, meet your grandfather."
Bobbel's eyes went wide. "Grandpa? Grandpa!" He grabbed Kal's robe, and tried to maneuver himself from his mom's arms to Kal's. Halfway there, he weakened and collapsed. Kal grabbed him before he could fall.
In a strained voice, Bobbel said, "Mom's been telling me about you all my life! About your being a powerful wizard and all and how someday you'd come back!" He buried his head in Kal's robe.
All the dragonfire in the world didn't match up with the look Marrel gave him, standing behind Bobbel so the boy couldn't see it. "Where have you been all these years?" Her voice had no inflection, other than a slight strangling sound at the end of the sentence. "Why did you leave?"
"I was young and foolish, and--"
"--and idiotic, and moronic, and every other bad word I won't say in front of Bobbel. We know all that but why did you really leave?"
Kal knew the truth was a lot simpler. "All those horrible words that do describe me back then. . .that is why I left. I was selfish, and stupid, and--"
"--and dumb, and dim-witted, and obsuse," Bobbel joined in, laughing.
"That's 'obtuse' and that's enough," Marrel said, putting her hand over Bobbel's mouth. She turned back to Kal. "You can tell us the rest later. I've hated and loved you all my life and all I've wanted was for you to come back."
Tears filled his eyes. His legs quivered and he fell to the watery ground in a heap still holding his grandson.
"Dad, I want to hate you for leaving, and even more for not telling me all this time here. But I have to ask you--if we get out of this alive, what are you planning to do?"
He knew the answer. "I want to stay with you. I want to be a father again, a grandfather, Bobbel's magic teacher, and--"
She put her hand up, interrupting his diatribe. "Save it for someone who cares." She pulled Bobbel from his arms and moved as far away as the protective field allowed.
A thousand dragons swallowed Kal whole.
Something woke Kal. He sat up and listened.
There was no heartbeat. That was what had woken him.
He woke the others. There were now about fifteen jammed in the field, now hip-deep in water, taking up nearly all the space in the motionless stomach. He dropped the field long enough for one brave man, holding his breath, to painfully crawl on hands and knees through the dragon's throat, now horizontal to the ground.
A moment later they heard his faint voice. "I'm out!"
Kal lowered the field as they escaped to safety, the healthy helping the crippled. One dragged out Reger's body for a proper burial. They had been in the dragon's stomach for two weeks.
Bobbel had been nearly comatose for a day and Kal didn't think he'd last another. Depriving the dragon of water had worked, probably saving them a week. As Bobbel's mother carried him toward the dragon's throat, the boy opened his eyes.
"Grandpa?" he murmured. Then he came fully awake. "Grandpa!"
Marrel looked back, meeting Kal's eyes for the first time since she'd learned who he was. "He's heavy and I could use your help."
He held Bobbel in his arms as he and Marrel splashed and crawled their way to fresh air and freedom. It was a short journey out of the dragon and a slightly longer one to the best healer in the region. Other than the loss of his arm, Bobbel would be fine.
The real journey for Kal and his family lay ahead.