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My fifty-centimeter dragon scalpel shone dully in the clouded light of day. The dragon did look dead except for the traces of smoke above his nose. One at a time, we climbed the ladder up Baugrath’s side until we could stand on the gentle curve of his enormous belly.

“I have the lanterns and the spikes, James,” said Harriet.

I looked down at my young, 3’9” hunchbacked assistant. “Boiled them all?” I asked. It was Harriet’s first surgery, so I was double-checking everything. She nodded and I used the smallest of the spikes to wedge up the dragon’s plate-sized scales, which was necessary, as I was Commanded not to remove them. Fortunately, once that was done, the thinner skin parted easily beneath my scalpel. Black blood flowed. “Clamp it,” I said. Folding it back was rather like making a huge bed. I then took the mallet and stakes of polished wood to stake the huge skin flap to the outer hide. There was my entry point. With one smooth stroke, I sliced open the connective tissue between the huge abdominal muscles.

“Jacks.” Harriet passed them up to me. I slammed the wooden bars with their iron screws between the abdominal muscles and we began cranking. “This procedure is called retraction,” I said. “We do it on all major surgeries. Keeps the wound open so we can work. Or in this case, breathe while we work. Even so, every now and then, you’ll need to pump these.” I attached my great bellows to its clamps on a smaller ladder, so that its tube was left dangling into the clean, outside air. Then, I slid it carefully inside until I was sure it wasn’t resting on the liver or anything else it might damage. “Now, come on,” I said.

Harriet hesitated. “You want me in there? With you?”

“Well, you won’t do much good out there. Don’t forget the lamps. And the small scalpel. And don’t try to hold your breath; you’ll faint.”


Harriet did well for her first time inside a dragon. Better than I had. But the green cast to her face was alarming. “Do NOT throw up in here,” I snapped. “You’ll cause post-operative infection. We do not want to have to irrigate the abdomen of a dragon.” The belly of the dragon shone with a green, unearthly light, a great glistening cavern over our heads shot through with the blackish cables of blood vessels enmeshed in curtains of omentum: the connective tissue that fills up the gut space in all animals. The roof gently pulsed with the dragon’s great breaths.

Harriet just wrinkled her nose. “Oh, please, James. It’s just the light. If you think this smells worse than cleaning up after drunken orcs every night, you’ve even less experience as a serving wench than I have as your assistant.” I had to grant her the point. Taking the lamps from her, I hooked them into strands of fascia.

“What are these things?” Harriet asked of the knee-high ropes of greenish-black littering the cavernous floor.

“Dragon guts,” I said. “We’re looking for where they’re blocked.”

“And how, I hesitate to ask, do we do that?”

I passed her a lamp. “This procedure is called ‘running the gut.’ We might as well start here. You go that way. I’ll go this.”

“Looking for?”

“When you see a lump that looks unpleasantly like an armored man, yell.”

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