It was slower going, picking our way around the other fallen ogre. The trail wound to the north, the ground becoming rockier, and Demarra had to navigate off the trails around two rockfalls. We had to lever the vardo from a boggy patch, after which most of us were covered in clinging, half-frozen mud past our knees. Once the vardo was freed, it was agreed that we would take a midday meal.
The gray light of the late morning dimmed further, and when it did not immediately brighten again, I glanced up to see just how large the clump of clouds must be. I nearly fell over backwards. It was no cloud at all, but a steadily growing winged, serpentine shape.
Varis and Gilliam scrambled for their weapons, and Ana grasped her symbol of faith. I felt the calming, golden warmth as Sera drew in threads from the Spheres.
By then, the downdraft from great leathery wings was blowing smoke and embers and snow all about us. The great bulk of a green dragon settled on the rocky outcrop below which we’d made temporary camp. It peered at us with great, unblinking golden eyes. It drew in a great breath, reared back its head back and loosed a roar.
We clapped our hands to our ears against the pressure of the sound, but the twins seemed unfazed. They glanced at each other, and Silva stood up, brushing off her plain white dress.
The dragon drew in another breath, and began another roar. By then Silva had walked over to where its tail brushed against the ground. She gave the tip a sharp kick.
“Paryaptham!” she shouted up at the beast.
The thing’s roar cut off abruptly, its narrow snout snapping downward. Aurora’s figure blurred, then winked back into view by her sister’s side, the tip of her knife resting against the soft flesh inside the dragon’s gaping maw.
“You know what this is,” Aurora said. “Go ahead, finish your bite.”
The dragon’s head snaked back, and it glared — no small feat, since it had neither eyelids nor brows.
“Broodkillers. I recognized the stench of your magics. You trespass. You break the truce. Why should I not bathe you both in my breath, and pluck those stones from your steaming remains?”
“Because if you do, your liege will come down from his mountain and take them from you,” Aurora said. “Would you give Ulghfriss so many of the red? Perhaps my sister and I should just climb his mountain, deliver them ourselves, and save you the pain of his claws and flame.”
“With that many reds, I would be a match for my liege. And with the blacks, be his better.”
“I have already used the black against one of your enforcers,” Aurora said. “Would you share his fate?”
“You have not the strength to use it twice under the same sun. And you have no sword-sisters to use it in your place.” The dragon bared its teeth in what passed for a smile among its kind. “This one is of the other line.”
The dragon’s tail rose, the tip coming up under Silva’s chin like some great green worm. She pushed it away with two fingers, her nose wrinkling.
“I am not so greedy to wish for gold. Silver will appease me. This one smells well aged. Her blood will taste sweet. Let her screams be her song, as I rend the flesh from her bones.”
Aurora’s eyes narrowed, and she bared her teeth.
The dragon’s breath rattled, and it tossed its head back and forth, as if shaking away a buzzing gnat.
Silva held the thing’s tail in her right hand, and the purple veins of the black gem shone like cracks in midnight. She gave the dragon’s tail a wrench to the right, and the we were forced to cover our ears again as the thing howled. She brought her hand back to the left, and the dragon trumpeted another howl, its head snapping down.
Not to attack, but to stare eye-to-eye with the Imperial princess. Baleful purple light shimmered in the silvery depths of her eyes.
“Shall I sing to you the song of the dragon and the Hawk?” [I interrupt here to note that Silva spoke in the hissing, clicking tongue of dragons. I could understand it, though I did not speak it myself. The wording is not exact, but I have come as close to the meanings as I could render, between the draconic and human tongues.]
“No, your Grace.” I never knew a dragon to whisper. Nor its voice to quake with any sort of fear.
“Shall I sing to you of the fates of the children of Veshak and Jerys, and Yshrakh and R’histhesa?”
“Please, your Grace….”
“Perhaps you wish the names of your broodlings added to the song?”
“I beg your Grace! I thought you another copy, like the golden one.” The dragon began to pant. Smoke streamed away from the dragon’s tail, from between Silva’s fingers.
No, I realized, it wasn’t smoke, but shadows.
“This is how you do service to their sacrifice? This is how you remember them? You would threaten us?”
“Please, your Grace…” The dragon actually whined.
“I brokered your peace. Is this what you have done with it, after all these ages?”
The dragon’s tongue lolled out.
“Go from here. Fly back to your Ulghfriss, and bid him recount for you his part in the Twenty Years’ War. Ask him where his children are, and then ask him why I have not done the same to you.”
* * * * *
“What just happened here?” Varis asked, as the dragon took wing, flapping away to the north and east.
“Are you mad?” Aurora asked, staring between her sister and the departing green. “Ulghfriss has had three thousand years to hoard and sleep and molt. He is not the hatchling he was in the Twenty Years’ War anymore!”
Silva blinked. Her eyes had gone back to their regular, shimmering sliver. “Three…?” She waggled her fingers. “This many?”
Aurora reached over, pressed down one of Silva’s fingers and lifted another.
She frowned. “That is very many.”
“It would be best if we were not here, my sister.”
We were all too happy to break camp and be back on the road.
Demarra laughed, so hard she had to wipe tears from her eyes. She would break into chuckles every time she laid eyes on the twins, even after we’d traveled the rest of the day, set up the night’s camp, and had an evening meal of hares and molasses-glazed yams.
“Only one of the Trueborn would be so bold as to take the dragon by the tail in its own lands,” she said, as we sat by the fire, sipping hot kaff, sweetened with cream.