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Dragon's Ring: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 07:58 EDT



    Warmth. Rich food. More alcohol than she was used to . . . Meb should have slept like the dead. Perhaps it was being in a much softer bed than the thin straw pallet she was used to. This one had, by the smell, old feathers in it. It sagged under her and seemed to threaten to swallow her. It was warm. Too warm. She drifted in and out of sleep and strange shadowy half-nightmare dreams — which were eerily real. Flames, hot, angry and devouring. The spiky dark shape of the dragon etched against the pallid moon. And lines in colors she had no words for. Lines that drifted and wove through everything, in some vast kaleidoscope pattern, that spread out and out and out, shaping waves, edging the very stones of great buildings, a tower that hung over the endless void . . . And then the flames again, flames and a dragon. She woke, sweating.

    Finn stood by the window, silhouetted by the moonlight. She saw the flash of white teeth in the dark face. “Ah. A bit warm here under the thatch,” he said, fiddling with the window.

    It was always confusing in the dark. She could almost have sworn that he was partially closing it.

    Meb was unsure how she’d got here. A vague memory of being let upstairs, and a fear that she’d been undressed . . . but no, she was still in the clothes the gleeman had provided. No wonder she was hot! She undid a button. Pushed the cloak aside, and lapsed back into sleep.



    Fionn stood watching, unblinking. Eventually, when her breathing had slipped back into the regular cadences of sleep, he walked back from the window, and took a small flask from his bag. He poured some of the liquid into his hand. It was a shame to waste it, but she’d been on the verge of setting fire to the place. He traced lines of water-force around her bed, quietly, and as gently as possible picking up the foot of the bed to re-align it. She did not wake.

    After a while Fionn crossed to the window and stepped out onto the sill.

    Meb stirred slightly as the spiky shadow of his wings passed briefly over her face. But she did not wake, as the dragon rose into the night with the swift and powerful beating of his wide wings.

    Soon he was up where the air grew thin.

    Others were already leaving the conclave, and Fionn skimmed low over the broken lunar surface, almost as if having got this far, he was leaving again. It was an effort of will and magic to reach this place, the air being far too thin for flying. It was easier, soon, to land and walk among the scattered rocks — something beyond the dignity of most of Fionn’s peers. That suited him. Mostly he was hidden in the shadows. He came, at length, to a massive crater, and climbed down the rimwall, carefully avoiding certain holds, to enter a fissure near its base. It was dark on the way in here, but Fionn had no need of visible light. He rounded three corners, stepping on certain rocks only. The hoard that lay there was vast, lit up by a warm glowing orb on a high rock shelf. Fionn looked happily at the gold-pile. He had some coins from Zuamar’s tax hall to add to it. He was, after all, a dragon. The model on which others were created.

    Fionn knew a great deal more about gold than most dragons. He know for instance how the magical conductivity of it was what underlay much of the magic of Tasmarin. How that had been used in the creation. Dragons, dvergar and humans . . . they undermined the very fabric of the place, which was quite amusing. Its foundation was the finest tracery of dragon-gold, but they probably had not understood that. Gold could be spun out so thin that it could not be seen. But it could easily be broken.



    Zuamar had used the space and respect granted to the old, the rich and the large and strong within the conclave to find a time and opportunity to have a word with his island-neighbor, Vorlian. They could not talk outside the conclave as that would have meant entering the territory of the other — a difficult and dangerous process.

    Vorlian was afforded similar space of course. He was rich, large and strong, even if, by Zuamar’s standards he was not old. The maneuvering was subtle, but, in its way obvious. Zuamar seldom visited the conclave. It was most likely that he’d come here just for this purpose.

    Their bows were a measured performance. So carefully measured Vorlian, judging his own, as to be precise mirrors of the other. “My good Zuamar. And how does the night find you?” asked Vorlian, carefully urbane.

    “Angry, Vorlian,” said the older dragon.

    Vorlian wished he had less of an idea why. Or knew just how this had come back to him. “Ah.”

    “It’s these humans . . . and I think some of the other lesser species. Things fall apart, and they’re growing restive.”

    Vorlian hoped that his relief did not show. “I think we’ve been preoccupied with the situation, Zuamar. Allowed them to get above themselves.” Actually, he thought most of dragonkind had diverted their attention from the true crisis to the petty pursuit of vendettas and ensuring that they got their respect and dues from those within their demesnes. But if that was what Zuamar wanted to hear about raiders attacking his island . . .

    The older dragon nodded his vast head. “We need some kind of alliance against the pernicious lice. You are too young to remember the dark times before Tasmarin, Vorlian. They pitted dragon against dragon to serve their ends. The alvar and centaur-kind are supposed to be our allies. But they too were a part of it. And it’s happening again. I’ve had a human raid on one of my villages. I went there this afternoon to inspect.” The dragon snorted sulphurously. “I can smell magic, Vorlian.”

    It was an ability some dragons had. Vorlian for one. Magic left traces. “What kind, Zuamar?”

    The Lord of Yenfar stared at him through slitted eyes. “Odd kinds. More than one kind. But one thing has raised my fears and my fury enough to come to seek you out.”

    Vorlian smiled attentively. “And what was that, and how may I help?”

    “There was a dragon there. A dragon on my land. By the prints it was a smaller than average one. I cannot believe that such would dare to trespass. I suspect compulsion. I want that dragon found and I want those who dared compel it, destroyed.”

    Vorlian took a deep breath, absorbing the information. Had Haborym and the sprite found a dragon to serve their purposes? Were they playing him false? “My Lord,” he said carefully, “there are — in these times of upheaval — dragonkind that have been left destitute. Some may have been . . . desperate enough for gold to participate in these activities, without compulsion. It is not easy to compel . . .”

    Zuamar snorted a cloud of pungent steam. “Vorlian. That sort of story is well and good for the younger ones. We’ve done our best to make sure the lesser species believe it. But you are not that stupid and neither am I. We were created impervious to most spells. At best we can be stunned by certain combinations of magic. Otherwise only our own magic works on us . . . except compulsion. How would the First have sent us about their errands otherwise?”

    Vorlian was shocked. The First were seldom mentioned. And talk of dragonkind running errands . . . the subject was completely taboo. Many of the younger ones, those born here, would not know of it all. “We don’t talk of such things!”

    “Forgetting the First is a mistake, Vorlian,” said Zuamar. “You can be certain that centaurs and some of the others do not. Here in Tasmarin we are the masters. But we need to remember that it was not always so. Changes are coming. It may not always be this way. We do not want to return to servitude. We need to deal with any that dare to interfere.”

    Vorlian found himself in much sympathy with that point of view. “I will investigate.

    Zuamar hissed between his teeth. They were large, needlelike teeth. “So will I. I gather like minds, Vorlian. If we find those who consort with the lesser races, we must act swiftly and harshly. It will be dragon against dragon again. Are you with me, Vorlian?”

    “If it comes to that, yes,” said Vorlian with calm assurance. The older Dragon should remember something besides the servitude and the First. Who actually knew what they’d been, anyway? Zuamar needed to remember that Dragons were masters of many things: war, the elements, and deceit. He served a higher purpose. And he was sure that he was not compelled to do so. “You could check on a dragon called Jakarin. She lost her hoard recently. I had heard a rumor that she was looking for any sources of gold.” Vorlian’s mind turned briefly to the smaller dragon of the encounter a few days back . . . Fionn. Dismissed him. He was sharp-tongued. Too clever for his own good. But there was something about him that made Vorlian wary about accusing him. It might just get back to him.



    Fionn spiraled his way in a slow sinistral curve down towards Yenfar and Tarport again. The rain had set in, in earnest now, blanketing the place in cloud. But Fionn could find any place. That was an aspect of his ability, aided by the fact that he saw deep into energy spectra, and Tarport glowed, even through the rain. Soon he landed on the roof-tree of the inn, and changing once more into the form of Finn the traveling Gleeman. He slipped — almost really slipped, back down the roof and into the attic-room. He hadn’t slept, but, well, he was refreshed. Fionn resolved that one day he’d find out why gold affected dragonkind like that. He suspected that it was a catalyst of some sort. They needed it, particularly for molting and breeding.

    The scrap of human-kind was asleep now, sheltered and safe within the wall of dragon-tears. Fionn erased their mark as best he could. Magic would leave a trace for the very skilled, of course. It always did. Fionn lit a candle. There was no one to see how he did so, so he did not bother with his normal fakery. It had taken him years to master not reducing the candle to a pool of tallow with that breath.

    He touched her cheek, and she stirred. Burrowed down into the bed. She looked fragile and very innocent . . . well, if he left her here, she’d be broken soon enough, and they’d use that innocence. “Up you get, Scrap. It’s time we were away.”

    She sat up. Yawned. “But it is not even light.”

    “All the better reason to be away, before it is. We have some distance to travel today.”

    She didn’t argue, just got up, and followed him. He liked that in a human. They were inclined to be complicated early in the morning. Far too full of questions. As usual Fionn had carefully scouted a way out . . . which he had to modify a bit. She wasn’t able to transform her body. But when all else failed there was always the front door. It was so unlikely that people always assumed you’d taken a harder way out.

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