Read below to see what author Naomi Novik thinks will happen (also posted here)
A Dragon And A Swordsman Walk Into A Bar–
“Only,” Temeraire said, “he is so very small.” He peered across the field at the lone man swinging around his sword. He did move it quite quickly, and he had a splendid hand made all out of gold, which flashed appealingly in the sunlight, but–well.
“I don’t see why you are complaining,” Iskierka said. “The last one was small, too.”
“But she was a sorceress,” Temeraire protested.
“Who tried to turn you into a cat,” Iskierka said. “Anyway, you had better win, because I don’t see Granby or Laurence anywhere here, either, and we shan’t be able to go on looking for them unless you do.”
“Well, of course I am going to win,” Temeraire said, but privately he could not help feeling that it was not very sporting. “But perhaps we might–fight in some other fashion,” he suggested, “which would be more fair?”
There was an odd sort of shimmer in the air around them and above the field, after he had spoken, and Iskierka jetted curls of steam from her spikes in disapproval. “Now you have gone and done it,” she said. “I ought to just have set him on fire; you know you cannot just go saying things in this place.”
“I do not mind in the least,” Temeraire said defiantly, because he was sure he would win a fair fight anyway; although privately he was forced to admit, in justice, that peculiar things did seem to happen in here.
The countryside where they were looked perfectly ordinary: rolling hills, streams, and there was always sure to be a cow or a sheep handy if one happened to grow hungry; only even if one flew for ages one did not seem to come across any towns, or farms, or anything outside these battles. And when the battles did begin, everything behaved even more strangely.
There had been quite an exciting moment in the first round, when that fellow Haplo had begun drawing those magical runes in mid-air. Temeraire would have liked to discuss them with him and to learn how to write them himself; if, that is, Haplo had not been trying to kill him with them at the time.
Temeraire had suffered a few anxious moments of dodging attacks–Iskierka’s commentary had not been in the least helpful–and things had seemed likely to go badly. But a lake had appeared quite out of nowhere at the start of the battle, which had given Temeraire the notion of driving the water over Haplo, to wash away his runes. The effect had been all one could have wished for, as evidently a certain sort of salt water drained Haplo’s magic, and had made the rest of the battle easy; so it seemed that whoever had organised these battles meant there to always be some chance, for either party.
This was evidently the case now as well: a mysterious fog had begun to spread across the battlefield.
“So I might as well have said it,” Temeraire added, in his defense, “for I am sure if I had just decided to leap on this new enemy, unfairly, it would turn out that his sword is poisoned, or there would be a trap of some sort, and it would all turn out badly.”
“Nonsense,” Iskierka said. “You might have just dropped a rock upon him; and I should like to see him make a trap big enough for you. Whatever is going on there?”
The fog had cleared away, and Temeraire flattened his ruff against his neck as he recognized the woman standing in the center of the field, by the white lock against her dark hair, and Haplo beside her. “Surely I needn’t fight you again,” he protested. He had not at all approved of being turned into a kitten, however briefly–even if it had turned out that a twenty-ton dragon transmogrified into a kitten still weighed twenty tons, and Polgara had a little carelessly been standing under him while casting her spell.
“No, of course not,” Polgara said crisply, turning to him. “Someone has to work out a level playing field for your next round, however, and determine a winner; so unless you have someone better in mind, we’ve been appointed.”
“But that is scarcely reasonable, when you have just finished being my enemies!” Temeraire protested.
“Certainly it is,” Polgara said. “We will be making the arrangements with Ser Lannister’s prior opponents.”
“It’s Lady Polgara, isn’t it?” a young woman with rather bushy hair asked, approaching from the other end of the field. “I had rather a question about the thaumaturgic theory behind the Will and the Word, could I ask you–”
“Perhaps after the battle, Hermione, dear,” Polgara said. “Now, then: does anyone have a suggestion for how Ser Lannister and Temeraire can meet on even ground?”
“I’ll take a moderately-sized army, and my choice of terrain?” Lannister said, joining the discussion. He cast a wary eye up at Temeraire. “Make that a large army.”
“I don’t see why you should have an army, when Temeraire hasn’t his crew,” Iskierka returned.
“The battle must be individual,” Polgara said.
“We might arm Lannister with magic weapons,” Haplo suggested.
“Oh!” Hermione said, enthusiastically, “and the Flame-Freezing Charm would keep fire from hurting him–”
“That shan’t be useful in the least; I don’t breathe fire,” Temeraire protested. “Ow!” He looked at Iskierka reproachfully; she had nipped him.
“It does not seem in the least fair to me that this person should get all sorts of help,” Iskierka said. “That is only cheating to help him, so it won’t be as though he were beating Temeraire at all.”
“He’s a damned dragon!” Lannister said. “How else do you expect me to face him?”
There was a brief moment of hideous, unfathomable silence–a shuddering void of horror that was not speech nor the absence of speech but its negation. Pitiless and incomprehensible, it yet spawned a kind of meaning which crept slithering like some unnatural gasping nameless thing formed of primordial elements into the back of the mind.
“Well, I suppose that would work,” Hermione said, after Cthulhu had finished speaking.
“I don’t understand,” Temeraire said, doubtfully. “What is ‘reality television’?”
“We have to be able to form an educated opinion,” Polgara said.
“But Gong Su isn’t here to cook for me,” Temeraire protested. “Also, the Quickfire Challenges would be very unfair, as anyone could see it must take longer to make a dish in my size.” He raised his objections a little regretfully; he had quite enjoyed the episodes which Hermione had shown them as examples, although he would have liked to be able to taste the food, and not merely watch it being prepared.
“It seems to me we might devise reasonable Roadblocks,” Haplo suggested. “Where any particular challenge did not suit either opponent, we might use Detours to–”
“I am not racing a pair of dragons around the world,” Lannister said flatly.
There was a pause, which slowly filled with a creeping, hideous awareness, as a basin gradually filling with some corrupted essence from an unseen subterranean source.
Everyone blanched and said, “No!” in unison.
Cthulhu sulked. He was extremely fond of Dancing With The Stars.
“I suppose we had better just go straight for the big one,” Hermione said.
Temeraire peered down at the small black pole. “And I sing into THIS?” he said, lowering his head towards it, and pulled his head back startled as his voice went abruptly very loud.
“Yes, exactly,” Hermione said encouragingly, from behind the judges’ table, with her ears covered. “Only not so close, I don’t think.”
“This is blazingly idiotic,” Lannister said. “What the hell do I know about singing?”
“If you prefer, dear, we can go back to the one-on-one fight,” Polgara said, in a deceptively calm tone.
Lannister glared at her and muttered, “Witch,” under his breath.
Abruptly, the lights dimmed, another extremely bright one shone directly into Temeraire’s eyes, and as he winced away a voice behind him said, “Tonight, America, your finalists face their toughest challenge yet. They’ve made it through the first two rounds, all the way to the quarterfinals. But which one will continue on to the next round? The choice is yours. This… is [TRADEMARK CENSORED].”
There was a great deal of very loud jangling music and even more of the flashing lights, all of which abruptly cut off as Polgara raised a hand and said, “Quiet.” She lowered it again. “Why don’t you just go ahead and sing something, dear,” she said to Temeraire.
“Oh,” Temeraire said, “what ought I sing?” He was quite sure that Spanish Ladies would not do; Laurence had often chided the men for singing it where a lady should hear, but perhaps Roast Beef of Old England, which, he brightened as he realized, would be a little like the other show about cooking, and so Polgara was sure to like it–
The host looked at him. “Do you want our ratings to tank? Let’s try for something from this century.”
“But that is from this century,” Temeraire protested, but evidently the century had been altered, which did not seem fair; he was offered a list instead, of wholly unfamiliar songs, and rather doubtfully selected one after listening to it through; it seemed quite pretty.
“Just watch the Teleprompter,” the host said.
“Did you ever know that you’re my hero,” Temeraire sang, peering at the little screen. “And everything I would like to be–”
He had never tried much singing before–when he had traveled at sea, the men on board did not very well like it if he joined in, as he could not much help but be louder; and one could not very conveniently sing while flying. He was pleased to find it not very difficult, although he did accidentally break into a small–quite a small–roar, in the last chorus, the bit about flying higher than an eagle.
His roar caused the brightly lit sign in the back of the stage to shatter; and also several of the lamps shining down upon him exploded into sparks, and the judges were all forced to dive beneath the desk while the fire was put out; but Temeraire did not see that anyone could blame him for that. Anyway, once order was restored, he finished the song with, he felt, a flourish, and sat back expectantly for the results.
“Pitchy,” Haplo said.
“It was not!” Temeraire said indignantly.
“That’s what one says, as I understand it.” Haplo shrugged. “I’m a wizard, not a musician.”
Temeraire flattened back his ruff and looked at Polgara. “It’s a charming song,” she said, calmly. “And you sang it very nicely.”
“That,” Temeraire said, injured, “is just the sort of thing one would say if one only meant to be polite, and didn’t like it at all; but I cannot see that you have anything to complain of, and I sang it much better than only nicely, I am sure.”
“We’re the judges, dear, you oughtn’t argue with us,” Polgara said, which Temeraire did not understand at all, when they were plainly wrong.
Cthulhu then conveyed his own boundless and infinite approval of the performance, and also somehow the impression that Temeraire’s soul would be exceptionally delicious, which was at once gratifying and unpleasant; then Hermione said, flatly, “Well, it’s a bit schmaltzy, isn’t it? Not what anyone would like to hear on pop radio these days–”
“Radio?” Temeraire said.
“It’s not current, is all I’m saying,” Hermione said. “You could at least have done the Weird Sisters or U2 or something.”
Temeraire rather despondantly retired to the side–there was no room backstage for a dragon–and watched Lannister take his turn. And brightened rapidly, as it turned out that Jaime Lannister, while he might be a splendid swordsman, could not sing in the slightest. He had chosen a very peculiar song, all about this girl named Lola, and a pub of some sort, called the Copacabana. Temeraire was rather envious of the elaborate clothing which Lannister had been given to wear, however–no one had offered him anything like a fringe, or sparkling beads.
Lannister also seemed to realize things were not going well, because he stopped short of the end and merely threw up his arms, exasperated, and said, “There, that’s enough; damn you all, I have my dignity.” He looked down at his clothing. “What’s left of it.”
“Pitchy,” Haplo said again, this time without so much as looking up from the tome he had conjured to read.
Polgara had a rather peculiar expression on her face, as though she were tasting something not very pleasant. “I’ve heard better from Garion when he was drunk,” she said.
Cthulhu applauded perhaps even more enthusiastically for Lannister, but Hermione made up for that quite thoroughly by saying, “That was utterly atrocious. It was a bit like–a cat being murdered slowly, if we were the cat.”
“So I have won!” Temeraire said, jubilantly, only to be interrupted by the host reappearing like a jack-in-the-box on the stage and saying, “And now it’s up to you, America! Which contestant will make it through to the next rounds? The lines are open now!”
Temeraire deflated, and settled in to wait.
The voting seemed to be taking a very long time. “Mayn’t we just declare me the winner yet?” Temeraire said, nudging Hermione a little.
“Er, well,” Hermione said. She was using a sort of magical box called a laptop. “According to this website, Lannister’s taken an early lead, I’m afraid.”
“What?” Temeraire said, appalled.
Hermione looked rather furtively over her shoulder, at where Lannister was standing with a tall, beautiful woman who looked very like him, speaking to her in low voices. “He’s really good-looking?”
“But what has that to do with singing?” Temeraire said. “Surely no one of sense could vote for such a dreadful performance.”
“Rather a lot of the voters are tweens?” Hermione said.
Temeraire crept away, rather staggered, and told Iskierka the dreadful news. She snorted and sat up. “This is the outside of enough; we will never find Granby and Laurence like this,” she said, and stalked over to speak with Hermione.
Temeraire did not see what there was to be done; the contest itself had ended, and they could not change anything about it, nor–what Temeraire most keenly felt unfair–did it seem as though there were a change which would have made any difference, if Lannister were only winning because he were handsome. It was not, Temeraire thought, injured, as though he were not himself generally held a handsome dragon, which one might have thought would count for something, in such a case–but perhaps dragons did not vote in this contest.
Shortly they were summoned back to the stage, to hear the verdict: the cheerful, impersonal voice announced brightly, “The voters have spoken, and the winner is–”
There were a great many small bits of paper suddenly falling all over him, wedging inconveniently into his harness; Temeraire snorted and shook his head, rather taken aback.
“Pray don’t think I am in the least ungrateful,” he said to Hermione, when he had managed to clear enough of them away, “but I thought Lannister was far out in front?”
“That was before I had her post the information that he mates with his sister to those people in the box, the ones at TMZ,” Iskierka put in smugly, and crisped away a swath of the little bits of paper with a small gout of flame.
The practice did not seem very sensible, as it was sure to cause problems with the eggs, but Temeraire did not entirely see what it had to do with singing, either, so he could not help but feel this equally improper grounds for victory, particularly as it had all been Iskierka’s doing. He wrestled with his conscience–certainly he had to go on and find Laurence, that was of all things the most necessary. But he could not help thinking–when he should find Laurence, and Laurence should ask how Temeraire had found him, that it would be quite awkward if he were to have to confess victory by such means.
“No; I cannot allow it to do,” Temeraire said, reluctantly. “I shall offer him a rematch: anyway I would quite like to try that other song, that one about one’s heart going on–” He turned decisively to speak to Lannister, and startled to hear a rather awkward wet thump.
“Oh–oh, no,” Temeraire said distressed, pulling away his hind leg and looking down. Lannister was–rather flattened. “Whyever was he standing just there, where I could not see–” Then Temeraire looked a little more closely: Lannister’s sword had been in his hand, and there was a stain of faintly glowing, greenish ichor upon the blade.
Temeraire looked reproachfully at Cthulhu, who conveyed a shrug like the rough slouch of some inescapably monstrous and amorphous beast, its flesh rippling with horrors. He approved of evil, after all.
“It is just as well,” Iskierka said. “Now, if you are quite done being absurd, perhaps we can move on? I do not like to think what may have happened to Granby in all this time.”
The crowds are quiet when the knight and the dragon enter the ring, whether because of the early hour or the gravity of the situation, it would be hard to say. Temeraire insisted that they begin at dawn, and Jaime, having no love for rising early but neither any desire to prolong the matter, agreed.He has come in light armor, studded along the left side with throwing daggers–the best he can do for ranged combat without a bow. The crowd adores him. When he strides into the center of the arena, a murmur ripples through the stands, like a woman’s sigh. He expects this will be a challenging match; Temeraire has defeated two powerful sorcerers so far. Jaime eyes the dragon from across the field, a black, gleaming mountain. The Kingslayer thinks of his previous opponent and shudders.
The buzzer has yet to sound, but Temeraire seems to be preparing something–Is that allowed? Jaime wonders. The sunrise glints off of an iron kettle, as a large bowl is poured for the dragon, and a tray prepared with… a teapot?
The tray with the steaming cup is carried across to him by one of the men. Jaime eyes it and doesn’t drink. Do they take him for a fool?
After a moment, the dragon–speaks. It has startlingly crisp diction. “Only I thought,” the dragon says, with a doubtful air, “that it would be more civilized if we drank tea together, first?” He pauses, seemingly uncomfortable now. “I thought, you know, from one warrior to another…”
Jaime doesn’t move. The silence stretches awkwardly. Temeraire lets out a long sigh. “Very well, then,” he says, and just as the buzzer resounds over the field, the dragon unfolds his wings and rises up over Jaime.
But Jaime is already running, trying to circle around the dragon to get the rising sun at his back. He feels air rush past him as the low-flying beast swipes at him with a claw and drops to the ground, rolling under the bite he knew was coming–the claw was a feint. The beast would have made an excellent swordsman, he thinks, and flings one of his daggers up into the dragon’s mouth as he finishes his roll. He is gratified to hear an anguished roar behind him and jumps up, grateful for the thousandth time that he listened to his brother’s advice to forego the plate armor. He draws his sword as he stands, feeling the heat of dawn on his back.
Temeraire has retreated to the other side of the field. There are no rocks for him to throw, Jaime notes, nor trees for him to uproot. Bias on the part of the tournament managers? He waits to see what the dragon will do. He knows about the divine wind; he has a plan.
Sure enough, the dragon is hovering in midair, seemingly filling his lungs to bursting, and Jaime strikes, running toward the behemoth to slice open his inflated belly. His way is clear. He smiles, already feeling the warm glow of the crowd’s adulation–
And then the sword strikes something hard amongst the scales, rebounding with all the force of Jaime’s initial blow, knocking him back. There is an enormous and sudden weight on him: Temeraire has put his hind leg down over his body.
“Of course, a member of His Majesty’s Aerial Corps always keeps his tack in good order,” Temeraire says. Jaime has just enough time to see the dark chain links protecting the dragon’s belly like a coat of mail before the dragon crushes away his life.
Predicted Winner: Temeraire
(Temeraire is a character from Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series; Jaime Lannister is a character from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.)