Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 05

Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 05

Chapter 4

Fionn the dragon looked down across the bay. Across the burning crofts. It was a lucky thing for most of the villagers that there’d been a thunderous rockfall on the cliff that had drawn their attention to the sea. If that hadn’t happened he might just have had to bestir himself, with all the consequences that that might have had. It was none of his business, after all, but he did come from an earlier time, when life had been more precious.

The bulk of the fishermen, and their women and children, had fled, scattering into the gorse. There were always one or two who were damned if they’d leave, and they’d paid the price. But what had been oddest was the dance of energies around the village. Someone had been using magic. Using it liberally too, in a place that should barely have boasted a midwife, let alone a spell-worker of great power, if vast ineptitude. Magic had its price, and the village could certainly not have afforded it. Odd. It was also a place that was truly not worth a tenth of the cost of that raid. Even if they’d taken alive every man, woman and child to sell, outfitting and equipping at least a hundred and twenty men would cost far more than the profits could be. Human slaves were cheap, after all. There was a strong magical compulsion on those raiders. There’d have to be. Raiding this deep into Zuamar’s territories was a risky pastime, as Fionn had reason to know. The old dragon was lazy, but this was still his territory.

Magic and money had been spent on wiping out this fishing hamlet. Why? And why had someone else expended magic on making it a good place to live? To a planomancer such as he, the energies of the place were as twisted as any he’d seen. Fionn puzzled on it, briefly. It was not his business, although he had made a habit of interfering in things that weren’t his affairs . . . It would be fascinating to find out, but he had a lot to do in a fairly short time, if he was going to finally destroy Tasmarin. He’d done the little adjustments necessary for the energy flow in this area. A matter of aligning some rocks and destroying a small dam on the stream.

He’d spent enough hours here. He stretched his wings to fly, and kicked off up into the twilight, riding the last thermals of the dying day, using his magics to multiply their effect. He flew up, up into the thinner air. Far below Tasmarin’s endless lacework of sea and islands stretched out to the sunset. When he got high enough he could see the other dragons flying up, distant shapes against the purple of night-fall.

It was something of a conceit having the seat of the conclave in the sky, far above the world below. Fionn rather liked it.

It also meant that it was a place no lesser life-form could ever reach. Even if they had the magic to assist the flight and infall, none but a dragon could manage the airlessness.

Fionn always thought that particular aspect of the conceit something of a delusion. But then, he smiled to himself, dragons were prone to delusions. He could think of several mechanical means, let alone magical ones, of achieving the trick.

As moons went, this one was an unimpressive thing, and it took a fair amount of bending of the laws of physics to keep it up here, so close that the great rock was almost in the atmosphere of Tasmarin.

It was not a very stable arrangement. But then, neither was the plane of dragons that was this world. The plane that dragonkind had carved out for themselves had all the permanency and stability of a hen’s egg balanced on the small end, on a sow’s back. A drunken sow, at that. Fionn felt that it was fitting that the conclave should be held in a place equally frail.

The guardian towers were all visible from up here. Six great bastions on the edges of the world . . .

Fionn smiled wickedly to himself. There had been seven for many years. Soon there’d be five. And after that the fall would be fast.

He spiraled in to land at the gates of the conclave. He’d bet that they didn’t even remember that it had been he, who, all those long years ago, had arranged for air to breathe up here. Dragons could cope without it, but it did limit conversation to pointing and hitting. That was fine if you were the biggest dragon with the longest and the most powerful tail, but Fionn wasn’t. Talk opened far more opportunities for making size a slightly less relevant factor in winning arguments. Not that talk counted for too much. Among dragons, size was really what counted most.

Fionn furled his wings and walked in through the portal. The great cave was full this evening. Dragons were normally solitary creatures. They mated and parted. Young dragons were hatched and reared by the mother. And she didn’t keep the young past learning to speak and fly. It had made the isolation that had made the all-powerful dragons victims to other species that did organize. They maintained they did not need others . . . but the conclave gave them something that they’d lacked hitherto: a place to brag. And that had, to some extent, socialized them. Fionn grinned at them all, long sharp teeth showing, which of course was normal for dragons. With the amount of hot air being produced here tonight, he needn’t have bothered with providing an atmosphere. He sauntered slowly through the vast, dragon-crowded cavern. More than one dragon drew their wings aside, as if fearing contamination. Fionn thought that that was pretty funny too, all things considered. He found himself a position near one of the magma vents and sat down to listen. He had very keen ears — keener than the others realized, and he had discovered that if he was patient enough all the news and all the rumors in this place would eventually come to him.

Listening in: It was the usual soup of plots and counterplots. Of petty fights and shifting alliances. Of ineffectual plans to do something about the destroyed guardian-tower. They’d been at that one for the last seventeen years, and were still no further on. They weren’t much good at admitting that they lacked the skill. Of course, there was also a steady discussion, and the usual dissent, over what should be done about the slow dissolution of Tasmarin. The latest break-up, it would appear, had caused the dragon Jakarin’s lair to collapse into the sea . . . along with the better part of her hoard. Fionn found that almost as funny as if he’d done it himself.

He did laugh a little immoderately. Enough to pause the heated conversation taking place some yards away, and turn several arctic eyes onto him.

“And what, if I may ask, is so funny?” demanded a large vermilion dragon. Myrcupa, if he recalled the name correctly. One of the self-appointed guardians of the guardian towers. A self-important tailvent if there ever was one. Even in this select company of like-minded dragons he was exceptional. Called himself a High Lord!

“You are,” said Fionn, cheerfully. “And she is.” He pointed a wing at Jakarin.

The vermillion Dragon was not amused. “Your manners are as offensive as your misshapen body, runt,” snarled Myrcupa, pushing the incandescent Jakarin back, and pushing his extensive chest forward instead. “Jakarin has just suffered a terrible loss.”

“Tch. That’s too bad,” said Fionn in mock sympathy, grinning.

“Bad? BAD! Is that all you can say, worm?” demanded Myrcupa, thrusting his flared nostrils into Fionn’s face.

Fionn wrinkled his nose. “Bad seems a good description. Nearly as bad as your breath, in fact. Been eating carrion again?” asked Fionn, waving a languid wing-edge in front of his face, and winking at the shocked onlookers.

“Carrion!?” shrieked Myrcupa.

“Well, it’s not surprising really. It’s all you can catch with a body that’s nearly as flabby as your wits,” said Fionn loftily. “Now, I can recommend a course of swimming. It’ll help you and that fathead to lose some lard. And maybe you can save some of her hoard in time for molt. I’d shift shape into something more suited for swimming, mind you. Maybe a well-larded whale. It could only improve you.”

Jakarin and Myrcupa’s tails twitched almost in unison. Odd. The thought had never struck Fionn before, but they looked remarkably like cats about to pounce. Direct insult and straight derision was something they’d probably not had to deal with for many years. They were both very large. And very stupid. As far as Fionn could see the two traits seemed to go together far too often. It was a natural progression, really. When you were that powerful, you didn’t have to think. And to imply that they’d shift shape to something less lordly than their dragonish forms was the vilest insult to most of dragonkind. Dragon was, after all, the ultimate form! Heh. Any moment now these two idiots would start a fight right here. That would solve a few problems for everyone.

And then, just when it was all going splendidly . . .

“Jakarin. Myrcupa.” The dragon Vorlian pushed forward. He was bigger than both of them. And there was no fat on him. “Cease. You know our law as well as anyone. He is baiting you to that end.”

Briefly, Fionn allowed himself to scowl. What call had Vorlian to interfere? Without him, the problem of a dragon without a hoard could have been avoided. Vorlian was big enough to be safe from likes of these two, away from here. Looking at the idiot Jakarin, she was close to molt. She’d have to get enough gold before then, and that meant trouble for the smaller, younger dragons. Better if she’d been dealt with here and now. And it would have gotten Jakarin’s charming friend away from the guardian-towers. Not that he’d be in any position to stop what Fionn had planned for them. Even dragons couldn’t resist those forces.

Jakarin and Myrcupa, thus paused, realized just where they’d been heading.

The self-named High Lord narrowed his slit-eyes and peered angrily at Fionn. “I won’t forget this. And you won’t always be in the conclave, runt.”

“Indeed,” said Fionn. “And my hoard is out there, somewhere too. If you look hard you might find it and me, before Jakarin molts.”

“Bah. Your hoard!” snorted the now-hoardless Jakarin. “You wouldn’t have two bits of gold to rub together.”

Fionn grinned. “Actually, I have a hoard far bigger than any other dragon. I’ve been collecting for a long time. A long, long time. All you’ve got to do is find it. Here.” He tossed a coin at the startled Jakarin. “A start for your new hoard. A small thing, but of great age. It’s a ducat from lost Earth.”

The dragon caught it. No dragon could resist gold, no matter what. They needed it, come molt, and they could never have never enough. No dragon gave it away. Not ever. Not even one coin. Fionn’s action shocked the surrounding dragons nearly as much as it did the catcher.

“Of course, if you still want to fight, you can step outside the conclave,” said Fionn, cheerily.

“Right,” said Myrcupa firmly, turning immediately. “I’ll see you there. Come Jakarin.” Together the two stumped towards the entry, and went out.

The large Vorlian looked at Fionn, who was sitting watching them leave. “Are you going?” he asked, eventually.

Fionn regarded him with some amusement. A chief, or a king of dragons, was a ridiculous concept. But Vorlian would have been one among the alvar or the humans, had he been born among them. “And why should I go out there?” asked Fionn, in mock puzzlement. “I don’t want to fight. Would I fight here in the conclave?” he said, loudly and sanctimoniously.

This was too much even for Vorlian. “But you said . . .”

“I said if they wanted to fight they could go outside. They obviously do.”

“But they wanted to fight you!” Vorlian shook his huge head in exasperation.

Fionn spread his wings against the vents, enjoying the warmth. And laughed. “Ah well. You know what they say: ‘You can’t always have quite what you want.’ I don’t want to fight, and I’m not there. They’ll have to make do with each other.”

Many of those present considered laughter beneath their dignity. Some of them lowered that dignity.

Fionn knew himself to be reasonably safe. Even a dragon couldn’t remain in the thin bare traces of air out there for too long. Dragons had been designed to survive all the conditions that the planes of existence could throw at them. But vacuum was strictly something they could only cope with merely passing through. Myrcupa and Jakarin had slim choices. Come in again, or fly off down to the thicker air. If they thought to wait lower down where they could breathe, the spill of dragons leaving from the conclave flying hither and yon to their lairs would see the two of them doing a fair amount of exercise before morning. They’d be lucky to have breath to fly, let alone fight. If they came in again . . . he doubted that they’d be as good at keeping their tempers twice, even with Vorlian’s intervention. And given the events of the evening, the other dragons, as little as some might like Fionn, would have no choice but to act. They could act. Dragon could kill dragon. Fionn had no such luxury. It was awkward that he could not simply directly eliminate his dragonish problems, but those were the constraints he worked within.

One of the joys of being the dragon of no fixed abode was that Jakarin and Myrcupa couldn’t go and wait around his lair for him. And Fionn never told anyone where he planned on going next.

As it happened, it was a place called Tarport on the island of Yenfar, in the dragon Zuamar’s demesne, where he had some unfinished business.

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