To Kill a Dragon...
The third corridor turned out to be the right one. A few yards down they found a heavy wooden door labelled "Keeper of the King's Game". They knocked.
There was a long pause before a voice said 'Enter'. Bent over a dark desk was a heavily-bearded figure. He blinked behind his spectacles and announced, 'I'm Snorkin.' He paused and then added impatiently 'Keeper of the King's Game. What are you here for?'
Feo stepped forward and said smoothly, 'We regret disturbing your labours, Seigneur Snorkin, but we wish to acquire a Dragon Permit.'
'What sort of permit? If you want permission to import dragons you're in the wrong office. You want the Royal Customs.'
'We want a permit to hunt, Seigneur.'
'Oh, in that case I suppose you've come to the right place.' He leant forward. 'And what makes you think you're entitled to a Dragon Licence.'
Feo's jaw dropped. 'But the King encourages dragon-hunting! They're classified as vermin.'
'Quite so, quite so, but we can't let just anyone have a Dragon Licence. Oh, dear me, no!'
Feo gathered his wits and pinned an ingratiating smile on his face.
'Of course, Seigneur. I quite see that. But you wouldn't have any hesitation in granting one to,' he drew himself up and fingered his cloak-clasp significantly, 'the High Wizard of Bukhat, would you?'
'Of course not! The High Wizard of Bukhat.' Snorkin scrabbled through the papers on his desk, visions of Snorkin-frogs and Snorkin-rats palpably hanging over his head.
'Ah! I have it! Now, how many dragons is it you want to kill?'
'Only one? I can give you a good rate for five.'
'No, thank you. One will be fine.'
Snorkin scribbled busily for a moment, then looked up. 'You know you'll have to travel to a restricted area to find dragons?'
'What do we do about that?'
'You need a Travel Pass. Do you intend to carry weapons?'
'I'm not planning on strangling a dragon with my bare hands!'
Snorkin looked at him disapprovingly. 'There's no need to be facetious. You want an Arms Permit, then. What about your friend here?' He jerked his head at Horsa, who was fingering his moustache in bemused silence.
'The same for him.'
'Why didn't you tell me that at the beginning,' said Snorkin petulantly. 'I'll have to do it all over again now.'
There was silence for several minutes while Snorkin shuffled papers. Then he leant back in his chair and picked up his tablet.
'Now let me see,' he said, licking his stylus, 'You want a Dragon Licence, a pass to travel to the Upper Negus Reserve, a permit to carry weapons, same for companion...' He scribbled furiously on his tablet. 'That will be thirty-five doublards and seven minims.'
'Thirty-five doublards!' Feo looked outraged.
'Oh! I'd forgotten,' said Snorkin hastily, 'since it's the King's third cousin's birthday I can offer you a small discount. Shall we say eighteen doublards all told?'
Feo counted the eighteen coins onto the desk. He watched from the corner of his eye as Snorkin, still talking, put the money away and noted that more than half of it slid into Snorkin's purse.
'There's a sub-licence attached to the Dragon Licence which entitles you to kill two wyverns. The Licence must be taken to the Reserve Officer at Upper Negus for validation. Be sure to keep a copy. You must get the Weapons Permit and the Travel Pass stamped by the Chief of the Town Guard before you leave and the Travel Pass counter-stamped at each waystation on the route.'
Feo wondered what on earth he was going to do with a Wyvern Licence. It was enough to have to kill a dragon, let alone adding a poison-dripping scaly bird.
'Is that all?'
'Yes - oh, there's one more thing. You must hire an official guide to accompany the hunt.'
'And where do I find one of them?'
'That's not my department. Try the Parks Reserves and Outlands Agency.'