“Your hair?” asks Rilor. “That’s ridiculous. Who would want your hair?”
“Rilor,” says the fairy. “I zink you forget ‘oo is in charge ‘ere, no? Eet ees me ‘oo makes ze decisions about ze forfeits and I weel take ze ‘air. Afterall eet ees Lenny’s romance wiz ‘is ‘air zat ‘as caused zis ‘ole situation. One day you weel all learn not to see zings at face value. Lenny’s ‘air ‘as more value zan any of your treasure because of what it represents to ‘im!”
With that she snaps her fingers and my father is rendered instantly bald. He looks very strange, almost naked with his pink scalp exposed like that. He pats his head absent-mindedly, dazed. My mother jumps up from the tree she has been leaning against and runs to him, taking him in her arms. They embrace, lost in their own little world. They are my parents and I love them. My dad shows no sign of rejoining the game and from the death grip my mother has on him, I don’t imagine he’ll be moving anytime soon.
“Lenny ees out of ze game,” says the fairy. “’Ee is unable to continue. Play on!”
It’s just me and the two dragons. I feel sick. Every sip of absinth is a struggle to keep down but when I look over at Elle and my parents, their eyes will me to go on. I can’t give up.
In the middle of the next round Rilor suddenly stops dead and stares into space.
“Wotsh goin’ on guv’nor?” slurs Aslef.
“Can’t you see it?” asks Rilor.
“Shee wot?” says Aslef.
“The mountain of treasure floating in the sky. I need to fly up and get it.
I try to say that there’s nothing there but my tongue won’t work.
The fairy giggles. “Zat is ze wormwood working. Rilor, you are done. You know ze ‘allucinations are not allowed!”
Rilor appears to have lost interest in the game anyway and is making attempts to take off in the direction of his imaginary treasure.
“Looksh like it’sh jusht ush, mate,” says Aslef. “You can alwaysh conshede y’know!”
“Never!” I battle out. “An’ live my life in shervitude to you? I’d rather die of alc’ol poisnin!”
Another shot in, I wonder if I have fallen victim to wormwood as well. I can see my dad’s hair floating in front of my face in a green haze.
“You can’t give up now,” says the hair. It sounds like a million little voices, as if every individual hair were speaking at once.
“What?” I say.
“Shh,” says the hair. “You’ll get done for the woodworm. We’ve come too far to give up now. Aslef only has one round left in him. Do it for us!”
“’Oo are you talkin’ to?” slurs Aslef.
“No one,” I say. “Jusht drin’ your drin’ m’kay?”
Aslef knocks back his absinth, blinks and falls flat on his face, out cold.
I’ve won! I decide to go with the urge to climb on Aslef’s back and I stand with my fist raised in the air.
“I am Edgar!” I shout. “Edgar, the dragon slayer!”
That is the last thing I remember.
When I wake up I am somewhere dark and slightly damp smelling. I’m lying on something soft and Elle is sitting next to me holing a cold, damp cloth against my forehead. I quickly become aware of a sensation like my brain is trying to climb out of my head via my eyeballs. It feels like a badger with poor personal hygiene has slept in my mouth.
“You’re awake!” squeals Elle.
“Please, no loud noises,” I croak. “Can I have some water?”
She hands me a wooden cup.
“How long have I been out?”
“Three days! Where are we?”
“Inside a tree,” says Elle. “The dragons don’t exactly have guest accommodation for humans. I need to tell Rilor you’re awake. And your parents.”
Before Elle can make a move, my mother bursts through the door dragging my bald father by the arm. She flings herself on top of me and smothers me in kisses.
“Yes, mum. I’m alive.”
“Your father,” she says, looking at him lovingly. “Has no hangover. Imagine that!”
“That’s because dad’s bloodstream is already about 90% absinth,” I say. “He was just topping up.”
“How did you do it in the end?” asks Elle.
“Good drinking genes,” says my dad.
“Well that,” I say. “And dad’s hair talked me through it.”
“You see,” says my dad. “I told you all my ideas came from my hair!”
“Sure honey,” says my mum. “I think Edgar needs some more sleep.”
Elle tells me the trolls have already returned to London Bridge as they were unhappy leaving it unguarded for too long. It appears they don’t feel much worse for the outcome of the contest since they never made any use of the book in five hundred years anyway. Also, Elle says, Steen fancies my mum so much, he’d forgive her anything.
When I meet Rilor in his personal treasure cave, I have no idea what to expect. He is sitting on a giant pile of gold with Aslef chained to the floor next to him.
“Well, human,” he says. “I appear to have underestimated you. You have triumphed. When you are fully recovered you may take your family and return to your lives. All contracts between your father and Aslef are void and you owe nothing to the dragons.”
“Thank-you,” I say. “What’s going to happen to Aslef?”
Rilor shrugs. “As victor in the contest, I suppose his fate is yours to decide.”
I look over at Aslef and it’s easy to imagine letting the dragons do what they want with him after the amount of lying, cheating and stealing he’s done. But I feel different since I met Aslef. The adventure he has taken me on has changed me forever. I’ve come to accept my family exactly the way they are and love them for their uniqueness and more than anything I’ve come to accept that who they are will always be part of me and denying who I am has caused me nothing but heartache.
“I think he should stay here with you,” I say. “As long as he never gambles again.”
“Really?” asks Aslef.
“Then it is so,” says Rilor. “There is one other matter to resolve though.”
Oh god, what now…
“You have returned our book to us. The deed must be rewarded. You must visit my personal treasure store and pick an item to exchange for the book.”
I know exactly what I want and it’s not hard to find. There are hundreds of rings sticking out of the mountain of gold in Rilor’s care.
“Will you?” I ask Elle.
“Of course I will,” she says. “You’re Edgar, the dragon slayer aren’t you? Who am I to say no?”
Author’s note: it’s a fairytale, right? Probably the world’s weirdest fairytale but a fairytale nonetheless, so I suppose you want to know what happened to everyone…
Edgar and Elle got married and traveled all over the world together. They have a three-year old daughter. Her name is Colin.
Lenny’s hair never grew back, although he regularly meets up with it and the fairy for chats in the pub. He is still touring with The Truth.
Ruby wrote a bestseller called “Florista, The Dragon Queen” and is a proud, if overbearing grandmother to Colin.
Lenny and Ruby are still happily married.
Not long after the drinking competition, Torhen won a bet on a cat race with some very naïve elves. He won enough money to pay his debts and for him and Steen to return to Oslo and buy their own bridge. They’re working on a business plan for setting up a franchise.
Aslef lasted six months in the Forest Of Dean before an incident with a witch and some magic beans got him kicked straight back out. I still see him in Camden sometimes… above a Chinese takeaway on the high street. As much as he complains, I think he loves it.