Authors: Steve Anderson
By Steve Anderson
To Dana L., for all your support.
To David K., for reintroducing me to dragons.
Cover Art: Randall Rogers
Copyright ©2013 by Steve Anderson. UrbanGorilla Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording or by any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of UrbanGorilla Productions, LLC, unless such copying is expressly permitted by United States of America federal copyright law. Address inquires to Steve Anderson, PO Box 600714, Saint Paul, MN 55106, United States of America. http://dragontalker.com/
Mandan village is the northernmost village in the region known as Angalia. Nestled in a valley surrounded by low mountains, the only visitors it sees are merchants selling wares, men looking for brides, and the occasional prospector looking for gold or silver (always disappointed, but the legends live on). Villagers only leave when they have extra crops or fish to sell, are looking for something the local metal smith can’t make, or want to find a bride. It is, by all accounts, a typical village. Although its history is not so typical, today, it’s just like a hundred other villages through the land. Even the dragon which claims the village as one of its own only visits the village twice a year. Its second and last visit of the year is three days away.
Uris, tall with broad shoulders, even at 60 years of age, patted Sandeen on the back. “This time, I want you with me when I meet with Samora.”
“Really, I know I’m ready. I can do this. Do you want me to do the talking?” Sandeen spoke so fast Uris almost couldn’t follow.
“Slow down, my young friend. We still have three days and if there is one thing you should never do when it comes to dragons…”
“…is to rush. I know, but I’m ready. I really am.” There was an element of pleading in his voice.
“We will continue this after the mayor arrives.”
“Is he coming now?”
“I hear his heavy waddle as if it were next door. He’s bragging to Selma about how well the village is doing. He will be here in about ten minutes.” Uris shook his head and continued, “As a dragon talker, there are always powers to deal with, the dragon and the mayor. Never forget…”
This time, Sandeen interrupted, “only Samora can freeze your bones. I know. I know all the rules, all the customs, everything.”
Uris smiled, “Everything is in your head, and that’s good, but when you talk with a dragon, it’s about your heart, too. Mainly keeping it from exploding from fright.” Uris laughed. “I have been talking with Samora for 40 years and I still don’t know what to expect. This I know, it is a trickster, and the only thing more dangerous than dragon anger is dragon humor. Lest we forget what happened to my mentor, Herran.”
At the mention of Herran, both Uris and Sandeen touched their first two fingers to their foreheads and then their hearts and stood in silence. Talking about the death of a dragon talker, especially in a village that has only had two, has two typical effects: black humor and laughter, or silence. In this case, the silence won out. Uris returned to checking their soup bubbling in the kettle for lunch. He refrained from putting another log in the fire; if the soup was ready when the mayor arrived, he would surely ask for some. Uris then sat in one of the two chairs in the hut, took out his knife, and started carving more detail into the wooden dragon sculpture he had been working on for the last three weeks. Sandeen joined him, sitting in next to him and carving a winter fox out of a piece of pine. He knew Uris often used this time spent working on wood to think through upcoming conversations and that he preferred time to think before speaking with the mayor.
Five minutes later, Sandeen heard the mayor walking towards their hut, which stood separate from the village in case their dragon ever decided to visit its talker up close instead of the traditional meeting field. Living next to a talker is not safe, and it only takes one dragon landing on a neighbor’s hut or opening the matting of a nearby roof to get a quick snack before everyone agrees to help build the dragon talker his own place, near enough to the village so he can be reached quickly in an emergency, but not so near as to put any one in needless danger.
As the mayor entered their hut, he went straight to the fire, rubbing his hands to warm them after his walk in the pre-winter chill. “So, are you ready for the meeting?” he asked.
Uris was surprised he did not mention the soup and thought he saw a large black and grey dog in the distance as the door closed. The mayor made an are-you-going-to-answer gesture.
“We are… mayor. We have a cart of dried river trout…” Uris froze in midsentence as he heard, off in the distance, the mayor talking to Selma about the cold snap that had come down from the mountains and Selma asking if she hadn’t just talked to him a few minutes ago. Uris felt his heart pounding. “We…we have the cart and everything…” Uris looked at the mayor, forcing a smile, and then to Sandeen. Sandeen was looking at him quizzically; he had rarely seen his mentor at a loss for words. Uris mentally willed him to leave the hut, but his gift was that of incredible hearing, not wind talking, as the mages called it. And it was a mage who was standing in their hut, rubbing his hands and looking like the mayor. Why, he did not know, but he knew they were in danger. “In fact,” he improvised, “I was just sending Sandeen out to double check. Go ahead, Sandeen, head out to the cart and then go down to the stream and see if we have any fresh fish in our nets.”
Sandeen started to head out of the hut. “Oh, that won’t be necessary,” said the mayor, waving his hand dismissively. In an instant, both Uris and Sandeen felt their bodies grow heavy, as if their chests and limbs had turned to stone. Uris could see the panic in Sandeen’s eyes. He was sure it matched his own. The mayor sat down in one of their chairs. With another wave of his hand, both Uris and Sandeen felt their bodies turn, feet scraping the dirt floor as their bodies realigned to see not the mayor, but a mage sitting in one of their chairs. Even sitting, it was obvious he was tall, over six feet. He had dark eyes, closely cut black hair, and a bushy black beard and through the collar of his sturdy wool cloak, they could see a deep blue ruffled shirt, the fancy type a villager might see on a trip to a larger village but never be able to afford.
“Tell me of your dragon, talker, and I might let the boy live.” He looked around the hut as he waited for his reply. “How you people live like this, I will never understand. They say this village used to really be something, back when it was ruled by one of us. Now, it’s amazing we are the same species.” The mage returned his gaze to Uris. “Oh yes, forgive me.” With another wave of his hand, Uris felt his jaw and tongue return to normal.
“Let the boy go, and I’ll tell you what you want.”
“Isn’t that what I already said? You village people are so stupid…Talk already.”
“Let the boy go first and I will.”
The mage dropped his head. “Why do I bother? You are no better than animals. Giving me orders….You never make it simple, do you?” He stood and walked toward Sandeen. As he did, he pulled out a narrow blade from the left sleeve of his cloak. It glinted orange in the light from the fireplace. Upon reaching Sandeen, he placed the tip of the blade on his jugular vein, pausing just long enough to make sure Uris was watching. As he pushed in the blade, he said, “Pigs to the slaughter.”
Uris expected the horror of watching streams of blood rush out with each beat of his assistant’s heart. The thick, slow pouring of blood was almost worse for its alien-ness. The mage wiped the blade clean on Sandeen’s chest, put it back in his sleeve, and took two steps back. “With a body stiff, like I have made the two of you, we should have about five minutes before this little piglet bleeds out. I suggest you speak fast.”
“Please…stop it. I will tell you anything.”
“Seriously, you are going to give me a headache. Your dragon, talk.”
“What do you want know? It’s called Samora. Ice dragon…blue, of course.”
“Ice dragon. That’s interesting. Male or female?”
“I don’t know. It never told me.” Uris could not take his eyes from the thick blood leaving Sandeen’s throat.
“Never told you. How long have you been this village’s talker?”
“Forty years.” The mage shook his head in wonderment. “You are either the stupidest talker or this is one cagey dragon. What is it, my friend? Are you stupid, or is this dragon guarded with its secrets?”
Tears were slowly building in Uris’s eyes. Sandeen’s blood was moving down his shoulder and then his arm, a slow motion avalanche of blood. Even in the dim light of the hut, Uris could see the color drain from the boy’s face. “The dragon’s a real son of a bitch. I’m telling you the truth. I don’t even understand why it talks to me. I swear. It stops by twice a year, eats our fish, and leaves.”
“Really? That would be discouraging if true. Why take over a village and then ignore it? Well, I guess we’ll just have to find out if what you said is true.” The mage pulled the knife back out and, without a word, quickly stabbed deeply into Uris’s neck. Wiping the knife on Uris’s chest, he returned to the chair. “You are…Free!” With that, Uris felt his body return. His hand immediately went to his neck, but even as he reached for it, he fell to the floor, joining Sandeen, who was already dead.
The mage watched as Uris lost consciousness, his hand dropping to his neck only moments before his life quietly and quickly left his body. The mage pulled a small pouch from under his cloak, opened it, and poured a blue powder into the palm of his hand. He licked the fingertips of his free hand and then placed them in the powder. As he rubbed the powder on the lips of Uris, he said, “frair en salanar, fair en trenitar” (“The truth of the body, the truth of the soul”).
“So tell me, Mr. Dead Uris, were you telling me the truth.” The mage leaned in – the dead had a voice, but it was rarely loud.
“Yes.” The mage frowned. “..and no” whispered Uris.
“I knew it, you tricky little village talker. Which is the lie?”
“I know why it talks to me.”
“And why is that? My little piggy.”
“To imbue me with a bit of its power. To kill the likes of you.”
The mage frowned. “Well, I think your power was a bit delayed, don’t you, Mr. Dead Talker?”
“My dragon,” replied the corpse of Uris, “has a terrible sense of humor.” With that, Uris’s dead arms grabbed the Mage, gripping him like a vice. The Mage felt his arms go numb as intense cold stung him and began to freeze his arms. He tried to move, but couldn’t. He felt the sting enter his chest and knew he didn’t have long. The Mage closed his eyes and began chanting, “Fiero tante, feiro tente” (Fire rising, fire raging.”) His own hands burst into flames. Uris’s flesh began to burn even as more of the Mages froze. He chanted louder, faster, “Fire rising, fire raging,” and the walls of the hut burst into flame.
Ice and fire competed in the bodies of the men. The hut felt the heat. The chairs and thatch were the first to catch fire. After that, the wood framing logs began to burn. As more and more smoke filled the hut, the mage weakened. Uris, already dead, did not need air to continue his half of the fight. The sorcerer looked around in desperation, looking for anything alive and wondering where the hell his dog went off to. If he could find something alive, he could transfer at least part of himself to it, but the heat had already chased away the few mice hiding throughout the hut. All he saw was a kettle of soup, boiling over. He felt the cold freeze his heart. As his brain was succumbing to the lack of oxygen, the mage died with one final thought on his freezing mind,
I hate dragons
Yuri ran his fingers over his medallion for the fifth time as he approached the open field, and resumed pushing a heavy two-wheeled cart filled with dried fish and three wicker baskets of fresh fish. Sweat ran down his back, causing a chill in the cold fall. The sweat may have been from pushing the cart the mile to the clearing, or it could be the fear of what was to come. The heavy-set mayor, Seth, and a grey-haired village elder, Lindale, were already there, waiting. Yuri straightened as he approached them at the edge of the field. He was a dragon talker, after all, and the dragon scale encased in his silver medallion was a symbol of that singular honor. No fish cart would wear him down.
The mayor opened his arms wide and smiled at Yuri. “There he is! The young man who is going to save our village.”