Well the votes are in, and the winner for the first scene of the month is (surprise!) Dragon Stones (which is holding at #2 on the Epic Fantasy chart over at Amazon.co.uk — thanks, UK readers!). This scene takes place the morning after T’Sian has cremated a man whom she inadvertently frightened to death, and involves various unpleasant odors. Or pleasant, depending on your point of view.
Ponn awoke next to the blotch of scorched earth that marked Parillon’s pyre. The heavy, greasy stink of burning flesh hung in the air like a lingering spirit. He stood and moved away from the spot where his friend had died, but the smell followed him; the smoke of the burning had touched him, contaminated him, clinging to his clothes and skin. He needed to wash it off.
He followed the downward slope of the ground to a creek that flowed through the area. He had heard its quiet waters last night while searching for wood, but hadn’t actually come upon it. The stream was narrow and shallow, but would have to do. He tested the water with his toe. Frigid. Was this really necessary? He lifted up his tunic and sniffed it. Yes, it stank. He’d had guests who smelled worse, but even so, he didn’t want to go around carrying the odor of Parillon’s cremation with him.
Ponn stripped off his clothes and climbed down the bank into the rill. His skin puckered into gooseflesh and he felt his balls creep up his thighs. He quickly splashed water over his body, wiping himself down as best he could; then he dragged his garments in and repeatedly submerged them, wringing them dry each time. Lacking soap, he could do no better.
Naked, he climbed out of the stream and spread his clothes on the tall, spiky grass, hoping they would dry quickly. From behind him, T’Sian’s voice said: “What were you doing down there?” He whirled, startled, then remembered that he had no clothes on and tried to cover himself.
T’Sian smirked in a very human-like manner. “Do not trouble yourself with modesty on my account,” she said. “Your body holds no charms for me.”
“Likewise, I’m sure,” Ponn said. Then: “If you must know, I was trying to wash. The stink of last night’s fire was upon me.”
“From when you burned Parillon.”
She came up close and flicked out her long, serpentine tongue, tickling his throat and collarbone. Its touch was light, soft, and quite warm. “I still taste smoke,” she said.
Ponn backed off, uncomfortable with the contact, and picked up his clothes. They were still wet, but he began to put them on just the same. “I washed as best I could. I have no perfume to mask the odor.”
“It is not unpleasant.”
“To you, perhaps,” he said. “Men don’t like to go around smelling of burned flesh.”
“What do I smell like?”
She stepped up close to him. “I burned your friend. I stood at the edge of the flames. Tell me what I smell like.”
“All right. If I must.” He leaned into her, their bodies touching; it was like embracing a clay statue still hot from the kiln. After his dip in the icy water of the stream, though, he welcomed the warmth. He sniffed her shoulder; she smelled of smoke and ashes, of hot iron, of molten rock. Ponn doubted this odor could be washed away by the water. He stepped back. “You smell like fire and volcanoes,” he said. “You smell like destruction.”
T’Sian appeared to consider this; then she said: “Good.”
Of course she would be pleased to hear something like that. “Some may wonder why a … person of your appearance smells like a blacksmith fresh from the forge.”
“Let them wonder.”
“Yes, of course. And if any should dare to ask, a sharp glare will silence them.”
She raised a red eyebrow at that. “When it comes to odors, you men have little enough right to complain. That inn of yours reeked of sweat and vomit, and I am quite sure more than one patron relieved himself in the corner.”
“True enough, but in a certain kind of establishment, from a certain kind of customer, that is only to be expected.” This led him to another thought. “As we have no money, our options for lodging are going to be limited. We may have to work in exchange for a room, and that room will probably smell worse than the inn at Dyvversant.”
“We have money.”
Startled, he said: “We do?”
“The men driving your wagon carried a trunk full of coins. I took it.”
“Did they?” He rubbed his chin. “It must have been tax revenue. How much?”
“I have not counted it,” she said. “The trunk is too heavy for a single man to carry. I buried it before I changed, not far from where we landed.”
“Well, that improves our prospects. We should take enough for rooms, food, and a few bribes, and leave the rest buried for now.”
“Fine,” she said. “And when we have finished our business, you can have what is left.”
“You don’t want it for your hoard?”
“I have no hoard.” She shook her head. “You men and your fairy tales about dragon loot.”
She turned and began walking up the slope, back toward where they had spent the night, where she had burned Parillon, where she had buried the money. Ponn had to hurry to catch up with her. “So you don’t sleep on a mound of treasure, then?”
“No,” she said. “I sleep on a mound of the bones of foolish men who came looking for a mound of treasure.”
Ponn stopped, picturing the dragon curled up on such a macabre bed; but then he heard her making a strange noise, a cross between a hiss and a series of hiccups.
After a moment, he realized she was laughing at him.
Ah, humans. Endlessly amusing. Just like voting for the next scene of the month!