another year in stories: four

This story is about a dragon and a ruler. This will likely be a story that continues throughout the year. Like a specific storyline. A recurring one.

Warning & Exile

The Kreivi is very busy so for now you will wait until you’re summoned.

Guo leaned back with a yawn and stretched her arms over her head. She turned to the guard, Will you fetch me a glass of water?

The guard snorted, her knuckles white over the staff of the halberd.

She leaned against the stone wall and studied the large wooden doors before her. Every move she made creaked against the wooden planks beneath her feet and the howling of the wind cut through the air beyond the walls.

Tell me something, Guo scratched at her handless wrist.

The guard’s expression hardened, her jaw set.

Have you ever seen what a dragon does to stone? What a dragon does to people? How spacetime itself tears and distorts around them?

The guard’s eyes unfocused and she stared past Guo and time traipsed round as Saol rolled over away from the suns.

Guo closed her eyes, the echoes of the place filling her skull. The voices of centuries wailed from beneath and around her, and then a sundering as a grey roiled and rippled across the air.

The door creaked open and a man hunched by age dressed as a fool hobbled through, his beard nearing his belt, The Kreivi’ll see you but you’re not to speak till spoken to. Come.

Guo followed the fool into the court. The room was large and conical, with the highest point five meters above. Two hearths warmed the hall, their chimneys reaching up and through the pointed ceiling. At the far end sat the Kreivi. Young but bald, he lounged in his wooden chair, legs crossed. Behind him stood a stuffed troll whose arms held up the ceiling. As Guo approached, she passed many men with stern faces, their armor made of bones, and the Kreivi began clapping. He continued clapping as they approached.

The fool walked to the Kreivi and stooped beside him gesturing towards Guo and spoke through the clapping, Taikuri has arrived from the far eastern islands. She is a wanderer and scholar and warlock respected and loved far and wide by the Sami.

Honored Kreivi, Guo stood with her arms crossed as the Kreivi still clapped, Thank you for welcoming me into your hall.

Beloved Taikuri, he slowed his clapping, What brings you to my realm?

She smiled, A dragon approaches, Kreivi.

For a moment silence and then the Kreivi laughed and clapped lazily once more. His laughter bouncing through the room, filling it as if with many voices, and the longer he laughed the more those present joined in.

Guo waited, her eyes closed, her left hand absently rubbing at the stub of her right arm.

The Kreivi wiped his eyes, faint laughter still spilling from him, We live among gods and angels and demons and giants and trolls. We live among a thousand types of legends, but a dragon isn’t one. I’ve seen too much to discount their existence, sweet Taikuri, but such a creature has never been to our northern lands. So, sweet Taikuri, why would a dragon come to our cold, barren land?

It’s not for mortals to know why dragons do what they do. It’s only for us to stay out of their way. Which is why I’ve come to you, Kreivi. You and your people must leave this place. Your northern lands are no longer safe. Soon the ice will flow and the houses will burn and a great dragon will become king of the ash left behind.

The Kreivi stared long at Guo, clenching and unclenching his jaw. He leaned over to the fool and said, Ukko, what do you know of dragons?

The fool shrugged then dived forward into a roll and sprang to his feet before Guo. On tip toes, he brought his face level with hers and studied her blackeyes from centimeters away.

Dropping back to his heels and looking over his shoulder back to the Kreivi, Lord, much has been said about dragons throughout time and across Saol. They are the eldest and wisest but they speak only to the Drache, the Dragonlords of the far south. It’s said few dragons ever lived and fewer remain in the world.

The Kreivi raised a hand, Dragons are fire made flesh. They’re the daughters of the suns themselves. What could bring them to our cold world?

Guo shrugged and a murmur went through the hall.

Is that all? You come to the home of my forefathers and tell me to abandon everything, and your only reaction is to shrug? I could have you drawn, quartered, and eaten right here and now. The Kreivi smiled as he spoke and uncrossed his legs as he leaned forward.

Guo shrugged again, Kreivi, this ancient land of the Sami will belong to the dragon, just as it once belonged to the original Sami, now gone from this world.

The Kreivi stood, We are Sami.

Guo smiled, I don’t wish to argue history with you, Kreivi. Especially not the history of your people and the people whose name you’ve inherited. Honorable one, the dragon comes. None know why it comes or what it wants, but the dragon approaches.

Then we shall fight it, he shouted to much cheer. He beat his chest and dropped back into his chair, a smile dancing over his face.

Guo threw back her head and laughed.

Ukko leapt away from her caustic laughter as if attacked and scrambled back to the side of the Kreivi. The men watching stepped forward and the Kreivi’s skin rose.

Silence, he shouted.

Guo doubled over as if struck, her laughter clanging through the hall. She tried to speak through her laughter, I’m sorry, great one. It’s just—oh, by the very moons shattering in the sky. You cannot stop a dragon. No man can. No army can. To fight a dragon is to lay waste to your home and all the people who live here. As you say, fire made flesh, the daughters of the suns. But even that says too little.

Perhaps we should listen, my lord. The voice came from a greybearded bald man.

The Kreivi raised a palm toward the man, his voice came clear and flat, Taikuri, have you any experience with dragons?

Guo shook her head, No, Kreivi. I have not had that misfortune.

So you don’t know? the Kreivi said, his smile crawling over his face.

Great Kreivi, Only the Drache know and those they annihilated to build their kingdom in the south. Do you know where Garasun gets its name from? They are called the Kingdom of Glass. Their palace and much of their capital is built of glass created by the dragons during their ancient war. Before the war and the dragonglass, they had a different name. Tsurī. That was their ancient name. The Kingdom of Trees. Oh, if only you could have seen it. If only any of us could have seen it! The palace and all their homes made from the trees themselves. They lived directly in nature as a part of it. When the dragons came and burnt their lives away, they adapted quickly. They gave up nature and learnt to live through fire, to turn it into glass.

Why do you tell us this? What are you saying? Should we turn into water as the dragon melts the snow?

No, Kreivi, she said, You should run. We all should.

Another man, this one younger, full head of hair and shaven face, Lord, would it not be prudent to at least make a plan to evacuate, should the need arise?

The Kreivi stepped forward from his chair, You ran here to tell us to run?

Dear Kreivi, I only walked quickly.

He waved her words away, Where is the dragon, Taikuri? Where is it?

Can you hear it? It buckles the very air around us, rattling the bones of Saol. It nearly tears my skin from my bones. You cannot ignore its approach. Even to be near it is Death. A Death neverending.

The Kreivi smiled, You ask too much, Taikuri. We can no more leave this land than we can give up our own heads. If the dragon comes, we’ll fight it, even if all of us rot and die and burn to ash to ride the wind like snow.

 

Guo stared at the walls of her room at the inn as a knock came to her door. Turning to the candle at her side, she leaned in, her lips puckered as if ready to blow, but then she leaned back again.

More knocking came and the thick voice of a man, Taikuri, open the door. It’s unkind of you to leave me in the hall like a commoner.

Guo sighed and crossed the room in one step to open the door.

Tall and thin, his cheeks and eyes sunk deep into his skull, he said, Invite me in.

Guo yawned and waved him inside and he walked past her.

I’ll never understand the formality of nobility, she said. You demand to enter my private room but then wait to be let in.

He turned as she spoke, Quiet. You’ve done a foolish thing, shaming the Kreivi as you did today, and within his year of mourning. That’s not how things are to be done.

Guo dropped into the bed, The dragon comes, broken social laws or no.

And you’ve forced the young Kreivi into choosing pride! Don’t you see, Taikuri? You’re said to be caustic but kind, but you’ve brought ruin upon us all if what you say is true.

Not if he gets over his pride.

His eyebrows raised as his eyes drooped and his shoulders became loose as he slumped towards her, You antagonized him! His pride is all he has! He has a realm to run and all say he’s too young, not strong enough, not willing to do what’s necessary. His father was a great warrior with a severe hand and—

Guo yawned, Ja, ja. I’ve heard it all before.

He slammed his palm on the table, It’s only your title and stature that keep me from beating the sense into you, so please listen and understand, Taikuri. You have insulted him in front of all the nobles who serve him and who may someday usurp him. Word will spread now of this conversation. Half will say he should listen to you. Half will say he should have cut off your other hand and shoved it up your woman parts while relieving you of your sharp tongue. But the worst part is that all will agree that the young Kreivi handled this poorly.

What’s your name? Guo said.

Olafur.

Olafur, has no one told you that it’s rude to enter someone’s room without introducing yourself?

This is not the time for games and jokes, Taikuri. We need to fix this problem you’ve created.

Guo’s eyebrows became a question mark.

He sighed, You have ruined him before he ever had a chance to rule.

He can rule when his town is safe. He can rule you all in the southern mountains.

Olafur shook his head, Whether we leave by his decision or through mutiny, he will never rule again. His reputation will be broken and so his only recourse is to fight.

Sitting up, Guo shook her head, You people are strange. So very unlike the rest of the Sami I know.

He snorted, You spend too much time in the mountains.

Guo’s voice came soft and she stared into the blackness of the window, Perhaps you’ve all forgotten who you are since you began building with stone.

How do we fight a dragon?

She turned to him smiling but his expression was one of desolation, which shipwrecked her lips, There is no fighting them.

What of the dragonslayers?

She scowled, Those are rare, if ever there truly was one. Perhaps a Dragonlord of the south has killed a dragon, but such things would be more than legends. Even word would reach here of her deads.

Word has reached here. I hoped—I came here hoping you may know one, from your many travels.

She waved her hand through the air as if swatting insects then fumbled in her shirt pockets until she brought out the boneflute, which she played briefly.

The dragon is coming and we must leave. That’s really the only choice.

He sighed and looked down, Then we all fall.

 

A riptide through the air cutting down sound and atomic movement. Even the dust splintered and ceased as the soundless roar tore through the countryside, the vast empty white.

Guo pulled her hood down and her cloak tight.

Behind her, a dozen humans lifted themselves back to their feet and out of the snow which swirled once more about them.

She played the boneflute as they walked, often stopping to stomp down with her boots to remove the snow.

Trudging through the valley and up the slope of the otherside, she turned to see a long stream of humans leaving Kivi behind. A horn blew and the flags came down.

One of those closest to her approached. She was young, her body and hair hidden beneath furs and skins but her face was thin and long. Her voice shivered through the air, Taikuri, has the Kreivi given up?

Guo stopped playing the boneflute, I very much doubt it. The question becomes: can he rule in exile? and how will you, his people, respond to him saving your life? Already there are those surely calling him a coward while others call him a savior. There’s no winning for those who rule.

What about the Vapaaherras and the Ruhtina?

Guo smiled, If they stay, then all is lost. The dragon comes. You can feel it in your bones. Even the bones of the world shudder at its approach. It will lay waste to those who stand in its way or it will ignore them entirely. Who can say what a dragon will do? But it’s better to be far away, just in case.

Where will we go? the tears rose in the girl’s throat.

Guo patted her head, That’s for your Kreivi to decide.

And the shadow descended as the dragon pierced the horizon, its wings blotting out the sun as it rose. The sight of it knocked the Sami to the ground, clutching their ears and eyes, holding their breath. It flew overhead and past them until it reached the Kreivi’s stone hall, where it began circling.

All who saw began running as quietly as possible.

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