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There Will Be Dragons: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Monday, August 11, 2003 23:23 EDT



    They had been traveling for nearly two weeks through the worst weather Rachel had seen in all her life...



    The house had turned out to have an immense quantity of material suitable to take on the trip; Rachel had been surprised and even a little dismayed at how many of the objects in the house had to do with her father’s hobby. At times picking through the piles it had seemed as if Edmund Talbot had more of an influence on the home he had never entered than either of the people living there.

    But the problem was not so much that they had items but what items to pack. They both had good backpacks, late 21st century designs that were light as a feather and fit their bodies like a glove. But filling them had taken careful thought.

    Finally, it was decided that the most important things were food and appropriate clothing and shelter. They had ended up leaving almost everything else. Rachel ended up packing a few items of jewelry and Daneh packed her single “period” medical book, something called Gray’s Anatomy. And with that they set out into the driving rain and sleet.

    The weather had never relented. In the last thirteen days it had seemed to rain, sleet or snow an average of ten hours per day. All of the rivers and streams were swollen and in a few cases the bridges that the hiking groups maintained were washed out. In those cases it was a matter of trying to carefully cross the freezing and swollen stream despite the lack of a bridge or go up-stream looking for a crossing place. Crossing was preferred even though the frigid water flooded under their clothes and seeped into their boots. Better to be soaked than take days out of the way. That finally happened to them at the Anar and it took them nearly two days out of their way before they found an intact log-bridge.

    This had taken them off the main trail that passed the small hamlet of Fredar and onto less well tended trails through the wilderness. They weren’t any better or worse than the “main” trail and the rain had turned them into soup as well. The boots they had dredged up were also late 21st century and the mud slid off them like water from a duck’s back. But the effort was still constant, to lift one wooden foot after another, slip, slide, grab at a tree or go down on your face in the sucking bog. It just went on and on in an unceasing view of trees, swollen streams and the very occasional natural meadow.

    Every day had been the same. After sleeping overnight in their small tent they would get up and make a fire. They had set out snares or fish-lines the night before but with the rain they had gotten little every day. So they would eat a bit of their road-food, flip the tent into its packing form and head off through the woods. Rachel well understood how relatively well-off they were. They had warm, dry clothing designed by specialists at the very tag end of the industrial revolution for exactly these conditions. They had good footwear, excellent foods and water carriers. In this time of madness they were rich. They had passed others on the trail that were not so well off.

    Now, as they crossed over another of the simple log bridges there was one slumped and twisted by the side of the trail looking like nothing so much as a pile of torn clothes.

    Rachel turned her head away, hardly looking at the body tumbled up against the tree but her mother stepped over and examined the woman thoroughly, as she almost always did, finally shaking her head and moving back to the trail.

    “She had something in her bag that the dogs had been at. She was wearing water-proof clothing. And her face looks as if she wasn’t even starving.”

    “She just gave up,” Daneh whispered, slipping again in the mud and grabbing at a tree as she looked at the sky. It was already starting to get dark and it was probably the middle of the afternoon. She looked over at the corpse then at the swollen river. What was the use of putting out trot-lines when nothing ever bit.

    “I can understand how she felt.”

    “Don’t say that,” Daneh said, sharing her glance at the sky. “Don’t even think it. Think about roaring fires, well-tended thatch and beef red at the bone.”

    “Food,” Rachel said. They had been traveling on half rations at first, sharing one of the automatically heating packets between them. But as the food had dwindled and dwindled, despite their efforts at foraging, they had switched to quarter rations. They had been subsisting for the last three days on less than a thousand calories a day and with the walking through the mud and the cold, body-heat-leaching rain, snow and sleet it just wasn’t enough.

    “Not that much farther,” Daneh said, taking a breath. “I hate to camp by a corpse but there’s a stream right here; maybe we’ll be luckier if we put the snares down by the water. What do you think?”

    “What do I think?” Rachel laughed hysterically.

    “Stop it,” Daneh said, grabbing her by the collar. “Food. Fires. Warmth. That’s no more than a day or two away.”

    “Sure, sure,” Rachel said with another half hysterical giggle. “Mom, that’s what you said yesterday!”

    “I’ve taken this path before,” she said, determinedly, then shook her head.

    “But…I’ll admit it was a long time ago.”

    “Mother, tell me we’re not lost,” Rachel said shakily.

    “We’re not lost,” Daneh replied, glancing at her compass. She also had a positional locator but that was only useful if the path was traced in on it. And she hadn’t had it the last time she had been through when she had been very young and stupid enough to think that a trip up to the Faire on horseback would make an idyllic time. In retrospect, it had been. The weather had been fair, as scheduled, and Edmund had taken care of 90% of the camp chores. It wasn’t this endless slog through a swamp.

    “We need to camp,” the mother continued. “And set out our snares and lines. We’re not getting much but not much is different from nothing.” She glanced over her shoulder at Azure as the rumpled and foot-sore house lion walked slowly over the bridge. “Maybe Azure will get something.”

    The house lion had actually been bringing in most of the group’s protein. He had started off the trip in fine fiddle, despite the rain, tail high and off on what looked to be a very interesting long walk. That has lasted most of the first day but house lions weren’t well designed for long distance travel and by the end of the day his tail was dragging. Despite that, in the morning he was sitting by the remains of the fire with a dead and only somewhat mangled possum. And he had continued to bring things in from the woods for the entire first week, twice rabbits, three more possums, a female raccoon and on the third day had turned up dragging a spotted fawn. But by the eighth day the cat was getting as fine drawn as the humans and for all practical purposes stopped hunting. Cats were obligate carnivores which meant that they had to eat meat every day. Daneh had shared small helpings of the readimeals, hopefully enough to keep him from having liver damage, but the cat wasn’t getting enough food even with his own foraging to keep him in condition.

    Daneh looked at the cat and her daughter, who had also lost too much weight, and shook her head. “We’ll rest here tonight, up the road a bit in case any more scavengers come around. We’ll lay out our snares and tomorrow we’ll do nothing but forage. Maybe we can scare some game out of the woods for Azure to catch. We’ll spend a good bit of it just resting, though. And if we don’t find anything, we don’t find anything. Day after tomorrow we’ll go on.”

    “Works for me,” Rachel said, shifting her pack. “Couple of hundred meters?”


    Rachel looked around at the rain sodden woods and shrugged. In another couple of days they’d be up to the Via Appalia and some relative degree of civilization.

    Surely the worst was over. How much worse could it get?




    “Ten more refugees today.”

    June Lasker had been one of the first in. She lived in a house not far to the west, up the Via Appalia at the edge of the Adaron Range. It was comparatively well set up for the environment with wood fireplaces and a few items that could be used to cook in a pinch. But she knew there wasn’t going to be anything to cook in it and as a long-time trader at the Faire she knew right how to find Raven’s Mill. She was one of the relatively well off refugees, having come in on her own horse and carrying the tools that had made her a successful dealer.

    Her stock in trade was hand made calligraphy and the reams of parchment, inks, pens and various quills were well received; no one had thought of the fact until they were well into the plan that there was no way to keep records.

    So June had become the primary archivist and was training two of the refugees as scribes, including how to make inks and paper. As soon as a few of the artisans were freed up she intended to get started on a printing press.

    “Anyone we know?” Edmund asked, looking over her shoulder at the lists.

    The rain beat steadily against the roof of the tent that had been set up to receive the refugees. Not far behind it was the mess tent and the sound of the chow lines forming was clear. He turned his attention to the sound for just a moment but it was slow and methodical. Sooner or later they were going to have real problems but the refugees were, so far, just happy to have some food and shelter and people that had some idea what they were doing. Of course, there were many hysterics; the sudden change from a life of peace and perfection was not easy and that had been born out in much crying and nightmares. But the three day food and rest period seemed to do the trick. At the end of that time, most of the groups had gotten their act together and were now helping around the camp. Some had declined the requirements to stay, instead hoping for something better somewhere else. Well, they could just keep looking for the pot of gold, if there was ever another rainbow.

    “No, but they said there were some wagons on the road behind them. I’d guess that’s dealers.”

    “I expected more before this,” Talbot mused unhappily.

    “I know,” June replied. “She’ll be all right.”

    “They had everything they needed to make it,” he said, definitely.

    “You know, Edmund, no one would take it amiss if you got on a horse and went looking,” she said.

    “I sent Tom,” Edmund replied. “Between you and me. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m taking privileges of my rank. He went to Warnan and down the trail but he didn’t find them.”


    “He said that some of the people on the trail said that the bridge was out south of Fredar on the Annan. If they tried to cross…”

    “They probably went around,” June said. “Daneh wouldn’t try to cross the Annan in full flood. If so they’re on one of the side trails.”

    “And I can even guess which one,” Edmund said. “But if I went out looking, all sorts of people would want to go haring off in every direction. And we can’t have that; we’re running on a knife-edge here.”

    She worked her jaw but nodded in agreement. “Which makes the other piece of news I got all the more unpleasant.”

    Edmund’s face was like stone except for a raised eyebrow.

    “The last group in had been…set upon by a group of men. The men took everything they had of value.”

    “All the wonders of period travel and now bandits,” Edmund said with a snarl. “We’re going to need a guard force faster than I thought.”

    “There are plenty of re-enactors…”

    “I don’t want a bunch of people painting themselves blue and charging screaming,” the smith said with a growl. “This won’t be the first problem by a long shot. We’re going to need professional guards, soldiers damnit, who can get the job done in a stand-up fight. I want legionnaires not barbarians. Among other things, I’m not going to see them become the nucleus of a feudal system or my name isn’t Talbot.”

    “You need a centurion to have legionnaires,” June said with a smile.

    “And the proper social conditions as background.”

    “If we’re lucky the first will turn up,” he said cryptically. “As to the latter; working on it.”

    “Well in the meantime you’d better scratch up a few good Picts before the Norsemen get here.”




    Herzer had been having a very bad week.

    The fall had caught him at home, but like most people he had little of use in the post-Fall world. His parents had kicked him loose at the earliest possible age. Neither his mother nor his father had ever said anything to him about his condition, other than to inquire if it was improving yet, but he was well aware that both blamed the genetics of the other for it. And neither of them were the sort of people who could handle the psychological burden of a child with “special needs.” They had both treated him well when he was young, more like an odd toy than a child, but a well loved toy, however, when his palsy started kicking in they had become more and more distant until finally, when he reached the minimum age to be “on his own” his mother had pointedly asked him when he was moving out.

    Thus he lived by himself. And whereas everyone had a very generous remittance from the Net he used a good bit of it on his recreation games. Thus his home was modest and so were the things he owned; the term “minimalist” could be used for the small house in which he lived.

    He’d never even kept the weapons that he trained with, instead storing them “off-line” to reduce the clutter.

    So when the Fall came, he was caught flat-footed.

    He knew that the Via Appalia was somewhere to the north of him. And he knew that Raven’s Mill was somewhere to the west on the Via. And he knew how to find north. So he started out.

    There had been no food in the house at all. And the only material for shelter was a cloak that Rachel had given him years before. It was far too small, but it served, barely, for his needs.

    The greatest initial problem was that there were no human trails anywhere around his home. And the terrain and vegetation were horrible, the area was flat and covered in streams, all of them running in full spate with the weather. And the area was thick with privet plants, choking the way for miles on end.

    He had followed game trails and his own nose for two days before finding the first human trail. Then he followed that north, striking for the Via Appalia.

    What he found, instead, was Dionys McCanoc.

    At first he’d just been glad to see him. Dionys had his usual cluster of sycophants around him and it was at least a group to attach himself to. But the attachment palled quickly. Benito had tried to make a bow and arrow to hunt, but none of the rest of the group bothered to try to find food. They had had a small amount of food when Herzer arrived, but the eight full grown males, nine with Herzer, quickly ran through it. After that Herzer had tried to forage, but his training had never run that way. He had borrowed a knife and whittled a gorge then baited it and fished. But it took all day for him to catch just two fish and they were both distinctly strange looking. Neither of them was shaped the way a fish was supposed to be shaped and they had strange whiskers coming from their lips. He also had no idea how to prepare them but he finally decided that doing it the same way as game would work. So he cut of the heads, gutted and skinned them. Then he had to get a fire started in the pouring rain. Dionys had a very old fashioned lighter and with great reluctance he gave it up for the experiment. After several tries Herzer managed to get a fire going in the shelter of a fallen tree. Then he cooked the fish by sticking them on a forked stick. The first stick had caught on fire after getting too hot, nearly dropping the precious piscines into the fire and ruining them. After that Herzer kept in mind the prescription about a “green” branch for cooking. Several pieces of the fish had fallen in the fire anyway as they cooked. And when he was done there was a bare mouthful for everyone in the group. But it was something. And it was hot.

    It was only this morning, after going through all of that for a mouthful of half cooked fish, that Herzer had started to wonder about Dionys’ plans. The giant didn’t seem to be going anywhere or doing anything. He seemed to have an attitude of waiting.

    As soon as he flung off the sodden cloak in the morning, Herzer braced Dionys on his plans. It had not, in retrospect, been the most politic move possible. There was no breakfast and no prospect of dinner unless one of them somehow found some food in the rain. And Dionys was not one to take a challenge to his authority lightly. He had heard about half of Herzer’s diatribe then struck the young man in the center of the chest with a punch that would fell an ox.

    Herzer had been in innumerable full sensory fights but rarely with his fists and never at full stimulation; only real idiots or masochists had the pain systems turned all the way up. So for just a moment he lay in the mud wondering if the madman had killed him. Finally he got up out of his fetal curl and walked away into the woods.

    He wasn’t sure where he was going, just that he wasn’t going to look Dionys in the face for a while.

    He returned to the encampment after noon having found no food and no answers. Dionys, in the meantime, had sent some of the hangers on out to watch the trail. Then Dionys had gathered the rest, including Herzer, together for a speech.

    “The days of weakness are over,” he said, standing in the rain with his sword unsheathed and planted on the ground in front of him. “Now is the time for the strong to teak their proper place.”

    It continued in that vein for a good thirty minutes as the four that were not out on watch sat in the rain and, at least in Herzer’s case, wondered where this was going. Finally the purpose of the speech got through to him.

    “So, you’re saying we’re going to become bandits?” he asked incredulously.

    “Only for the time being,” Dionys responded reasonably. Since Herzer returned he had been treating him with more respect than he had any of the others. “In time we will take our proper place of leadership in this New Destiny.”

    “New Destiny,” Herzer said, wiping the rain out of his eyes. “Isn’t that what Paul calls his group? And doesn’t Sheida sort of have control of Norau?”

    “For the time being,” Dionys responded. “For the time being. But that depends upon her allies on this continent. In the meantime we can carve out our niche and get out of all this,” he said, gesturing around at the sopping woods. “Surely you don’t want to live in this for the rest of your life?”

    “Hmmm,” Herzer said, not looking around. He had done several scenarios where there were bandits to be dealt with and in most of them one of the ways to win was infiltrate the bandit camp. Well, I’ve infiltrated the bandit camp, he thought. How many points do I get?

    But he suddenly realized it wasn’t about points. Dionys was deadly serious. Emphasis on deadly. The sword was not out just as a prop; he was more than willing to use it. And Herzer felt a cold chill run through his body as he realized that Dionys was primarily thinking he might have to use it on Herzer.

    “Well, of course I don’t want to be in this for the rest of my life,” Herzer snorted. “And I see no reason that we shouldn’t take our rightful place.” There, absolute truth.

    Dionys stared at him for quite a while and then nodded.

    “Benito, Guy and Galligan are out on watch. There will, eventually, be people moving on these trails. Some of them will choose to join our little crusade. Some will have items to pass on as a toll for use of the roads. All of this to the good. Some will demur. They will have to be… persuaded.”

    There was a rough chuckle from around Herzer and he realized that the entire charade had been for his benefit; the… creatures around Dionys had long since sold their souls and had no problem at all becoming bandits under the conditions of the Fall. Only then did he wonder if they had all started off as he had, a toy to be added to Dionys’ collection of fallen souls. He also realized what Dionys had been waiting for. He had been waiting until any of the remnant hold-outs, like Herzer, were hungry and desperate enough to have stopped caring.

    Herzer also knew that he was surrounded; probably by prior arrangement the others had gathered to either side and at his back. And whereas several of them had knives, and Dionys of course had his sword, Herzer hadn’t even found a stick that was to his liking; he was essentially unarmed.

    But at the same time he finally realized just where he stood. He was damned if he’d be the villain. He was damned if he would fall to the level of banditry and brigandage, which was what Dionys was talking about even if he didn’t know the words. Herzer might have some questions about his feelings, especially about feelings about women, but he had never acted as anything other than a good and just person. And he wasn’t going to start just because he was a little hungry. There were too many strange looking fish in the world.

    The only question was how to extract himself without having his throat cut. And right now the answer was: acting.

    So he’d acted. He knew that acting fully convinced would be wrong, but he’d been willing to go along. Thereafter he noticed that one of the others was always around him, watching, waiting.

    It was in this unpleasant state of paranoia, gnawing hunger and delayed mayhem that Benito came running back to say that they had their first customer of the day.




    For purposes of foraging, Daneh and Rachel had split up with Daneh taking the south route back along the trail and Rachel, accompanied by Azure, the north.

    Daneh had left three snares at likely looking small game trails along the west side of the walkway. The snares were simple period ones, braided horse-hair bound into a loop. If a rabbit or something came down the trail it would tangle into the loop and get held there until the snare was checked. Or until something else came along and ate it; that had happened more than once on the trip and they’d lost one of the snares that way. But it was the best they had. She had reached a small stream, crossed by a simple log bridge, and was considering whether it would be a useful place to lay their last trot-line when three men appeared out of the woods.



    Herzer’s stomach dropped when he saw Daneh being held by Guy and Galligan.

    “Dionys, this is a friend of mine,” he said. He had taken a position as far at the rear of the group as possible, but Benito was still behind him. And as the group spread out on the trail Boyd and Avis dropped back as well.

    “Well, that’s a nice looking friend you have,” Dionys said. “Who are you?”

    “I’m Daneh Ghorbani. And I know who you are, Dionys McCanoc. What is the meaning of this.” Daneh’s jaw was set but her voice trembled ever so slightly at the end.

    “Well, there’s a toll for using this road,” Dionys replied. “I wonder what you have to pay it with.”

    “You’re joking,” she snapped, looking at the group then at Herzer who was looking anywhere but at her. “You’re… you’re insane.”

    “So some people have suggested,” Dionys said, drawing his sword and placing the tip on her throat. “But I wouldn’t suggest using that term at the moment, woman. Ghorbani… that name rings a bell. Ah! The wife of Edmund Talbot is it?”

    “I… Edmund and I are friends, yes,” Daneh said quietly.

    “How pleasant!” McCanoc replied with a feral grin. “How exceedingly pleasant. And where is your daughter.”

    Daneh had been half way waiting for the question. “She was in London when the Fall happened. I hope she’s all right.”

    “Better than you, I think,” McCanoc said with a smile. “And I know just how you can pay your toll!”

    “Dionys,” Herzer said with a strained voice. “Don’t do this.”

    “Oh, I wouldn’t think of taking first place,” he said, turning to the boy and pointing the sword at him. “That’s your job.”

    Herzer stumbled forward as Boyd struck him in the back and he found himself looking directly at Daneh. The journey hadn’t been easy on her, either; her bones stood out fine on her face and there was a smudge of dirt on her cheek. He looked her in the eyes and saw in them resignation backed with something else, something very old and dark.

    “Dr. Ghorbani, I’m sorry,” he whispered and leaned forward to drive his shoulder into Guy.

    The man was smaller than he and was rocked out of the way. From that position all that Herzer had to do was keep his feet to start running. He made it across the small bridge in a single bound and quickly turned left smashing his way into the brush and trees along the trail. With that, he was gone.



    “Well,” McCanoc said, swishing his sword back and forth. “That was… somewhat unexpected.” He looked at Guy who was crumpled up on the ground and shook his head. “Get up from there. What a wuss.” Galligan had caught Daneh before she could get away and now held both of her arms behind her. “Hmmm… well, it’s still time to pay your toll.”

    “Do it,” she spat. “Do whatever you’re going to do and be damned to you.”

    “Oh, we’re already damned. Benito, hold her other arm. You others, grab her legs. I haven’t had a woman in over a week and I’m tired of jacking off.”



    Herzer stumbled through the woods, looking for a stick, a tree branch, any sort of weapon. He finally collapsed to the ground, panting and crying. Even through the rain muffled woods he could hear sounds behind him but he closed his ears to them, looking for something, anything that could help.

    The forest was old grown with a thick undergrowth of bracken and privet. The branches that were on the ground were all old and rotted but finally he found a sapling that had grown to man height then died off from lack of sunlight. He tried to find his path back through the woods but the privet had covered it over. Finally he found a stream, he hoped it was the right one, and he followed it back, part of the time splashing through it.

    Dionys was the main threat, with his sword and size. But even Benito’s rotten bow and lop-sided arrows, despite the rain, would be a danger. The others just had knives. If he could just make it back in time.



    Guy heaved himself off the doctor and looked down at her.

    “Should we cut her throat now?” he asked. “That’s what we always do with the homunculi.”

    “No,” Dionys said, wiping at a scratch on his cheek. “But take her rain coat and pants as penalty for not paying the toll willingly,” he laughed. “Let her live.” He kicked Daneh in the side.

    “Live. Go and tell your paramour what we did. Tell him we’re coming for him. Not today, not tomorrow, but soon enough. And then, we’ll finish the job.” He gestured at the group and walked down the path to the south across the bridge.

    “There’ll be more where she came from.”

    Daneh rolled over on her side in the mud and covered her face with her hands and the group walked off. She wouldn’t cry. She refused to let them get that satisfaction. She had stayed stone faced through the entire ordeal and she knew that that had taken some of the pleasure of it from them. It was the most she could do and she wasn’t going to lose it now.

    She waited until she was sure they were gone and got to her feet, fumbling her clothes on as best she could. She wished that she could tear them off and throw them away, burn them even. But she had to have something against the cold and the wet. She stumbled to the stream and rinsed her mouth spitting out the foul taste and worked at a loose tooth; Dionys had tried to get some response out of her, but other than that one scratch when she worked her hand free she wouldn’t give it to him. There were other cuts and bruises on her body and she winced at the pull of her ribs; there might be a crack there.

    Finally she sat down on the bridge and just let the rain fall until she heard steps squelching up the road. Afraid that one of them had come back for seconds, she stood up and turned to run. But it was just Herzer, holding a sapling taller than he was with dirt still attached to the rootball.



    Herzer took one look at her and dropped to his knees, head down, cradling himself around the useless stick.

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