Third Gramaltioff From the Other Side
By Jeff Baker
Prince Almazotz stood on top of the ridge and wiped the dust from his eyes. The road was dry and dusty but the hills ahead were green and inviting. There was a farmhouse to one side and to the other what looked like an old, ramshackle Gramaltioff Stadium. One of the smaller ones; he’d seen a few of them used for barns and even schools but nobody had raced one in a century. Further on down was another hill and what looked like a town edging up the side of a mountain. It spoke of the possibility of food and drink and a bed that wasn’t under a tree with chembugs swarming all around. It was a good distance from home.
He smiled to himself; he doubted anyone from his Province would be looking for him here, if indeed his Father, Prince Agromotz was determined to bring him home to get married. He was no more interested in marrying the Duke of Urkross than he was in working for a living. But, he was probably going to have to do something to earn food, water (possibly wine) and lodging for the night. But not right then, he thought as he patted his trousers. The pouch full of coins was still full, and if he was careful it would remain nearly full. As he walked into the town he saw a huge sign by the side of the road, depicting three huge grey lizards running side by side. gramaltioff races! Prince Almazotz may not have known much about work but he knew a lot about scales on the run. He grinned. With a little luck, he might have to buy a second pouch to carry his coins.
The weather was pleasant and the new stadium was open as Prince Almazotz settled into his seat. His pouch was near empty but he’d been able to check out the racing gramaltioffs in their pens at the start of the track. He’d put down some money on “the third one from the outer side,” and felt confident. That was the only one whose legs were long enough or strong enough to run fast. He was grateful his father had forced him to work in the stables as a boy. A winter shoveling lizard dung had been worth it.
The Invoker in his green robes stood in front of the stands and began the long invocation which ended “May Zavid and Zannic watch over you.”
Prince Almazotz realized he’d just heard a blessing for horses; did it count when used on lizards?
After a few minutes, a Celebrant with a sword stepped onto the track, raised the sword pointing at the sky then swung it to the ground as the trainers released the big lizards. The seven gramaltioffs were about four times the size of the Celebrant, but he had more time to nimbly step out of the way as the gramaltioffs slowly lumbered down the track. It took them a full three minutes to round the first bend, and Prince Almazotz considered taking a nap until the end of the race. But he had money on it, so he stayed awake and even considered yelling “Go, Third!”
The lizard he had money on was ahead, the other six were behind its swinging tail. One of the others even glanced around like it was looking for a place to take a nap.
The seven of them rounded the third bend and a small cheer went up from the crowd when one of the gramaltioffs in the back suddenly arched its back, unfurled parchment-thin wings and took off, not quite soaring but made a huge hop over the others, landing right in front of the finish line which it easily crossed. The blend of angry and triumphant yelling from the crowd was rendered totally unintelligible. In the end, three things were certain; Contrary to legend, flying gramaltioffs were no longer extinct; their wings really did blend in with the rest of them, and the rules against mixing flying and non-flying lizards in a race (which had been dropped during the updating of the rules in the previous century) meant that a lot of people were out of money.
And Prince Almazotz was going to spend the next few months working in the back kitchen of a tavern if he wanted to eat.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: My previous story about Prince Almazotz was posted December 1, 2018.