The Second DragonCalla shoved open the door of the Crown and Jug and stepped inside. Her clothes were torn, her mail filthy. “But I’m alive,” she said aloud.
Head swiveled to stare.
“Miss?” The innkeeper said. “Might you be in the wrong place? The ladies—”
“Can you sell me a strong drink and a bite to eat?” Calla interrupted.
“But, Miss—ladies don’t—” He shut up as Calla laid a hand on her sword hilt. This young woman was confusing him. Calla took pity.
“I’m no lady.” A murmur in the room prompted her to raise her voice and clarify the statement. “I am the Dragon Emissary, and I’ve had a trying day.” The murmur got louder, but no one was asking what her prices might be. The innkeeper poured something in a glass and shoved it at her while he shouted to someone in the kitchen to bring out a pasty and a few slices of beef.
Calla took the glass, smiling, and sank into a seat at the closest table. A minute later she was tearing into a pile of food as though she’d not eaten in days. Maybe she hadn’t. She’d rather lost track.
She was on her second round when a messenger arrived, breathless. He managed t deliver his message between gasps. “Is the Dragon Emissary here?”
Calla swore. Years of training with the soldiers had given her an extensive vocabulary, and several men expressed admiration. Some of the younger ones appeared to be taking notes.
“Here.” She didn’t stop shoveling food into herself.
“The king says you must come at once, Emissary. There’s been something terrible on the Dragon Border.”
Calla sighed. Of course there had. She picked up a final pasty to eat on the way out, and threw some coins on the table to pay for it all. “Very well. Take me to him.”
The messenger gaped. “Like that?” He gestured at her clothes, which not only bore the signs, but also the smells, of battle.
“Do you think His Majesty would rather wait while I bathe? I do not.”
“You must go at once to settle this,” the king said at the end of the report on the trouble. The courtier who had told the tale bowed and stepped back into the midst of his companions.
Calla glanced at the high windows that slashed three sides of the hall. It was long past night, and with no moon was black out as the vestments of the DeadMen who cleared away corpses. “I will go in the morning, Majesty.” Or maybe in the afternoon, she thought. It had been a very long day, and she would need to sleep.
“What?” The king wasn’t accustomed to anything but instant obedience. Calla was unimpressed, and firm.
“I must go into my library and learn more of this dragon and this case.” She’d raced off to her first case without any preparation, and had to fight her way to a solution. Calla preferred not to repeat that mistake. Fights with dragons too seldom ended well for a human. She and her liege lord locked gazes. The contest went on long enough that the courtiers began to fidget. No one defied a king. This young woman made them very uncomfortable.
Female or not, Calla was the Dragon Emissary, without whom the kingdom could not survive. The king broke the gaze and nodded. “I will have food and drink sent to you there.”
“I thank you.” Now that she had made her point, Calla could afford to be gracious. Aware of her armor and filthy clothes, she said, “I shall bathe first. Send the food in one bell’s time.” A sigh passed like a breeze among the courtiers. Whether for the resolution of the contest or her promise to bathe, Calla didn’t know.
An hour later, clean and robed and nibbling idly at the fancy cakes a servant had brought, Calla began to learn what she could of the dragon WindDancer, accused in the latest attack. Her Da’s words, “Take it one dragon at a time,” had come back to her, and she thought that might not only mean to divide and conquer, but to know your enemy. Dragons were no more all alike than humans were. Knowing how the opponent thought was a kind of weapon.
She read on, not stopping with all that was known of WindDancer. She needed to know her job, too, and her reading at last yielded another clue. Taking up a hammer and chisel she had found in the Emissary’s desk, she approached the back wall of the small library. Knowing now what to look for, it was easy to spot the right place, and it took only one blow. The chisel shattered the loose mortar, and she removed a stone.
Ever cautious—her Da hadn’t had time to teach her the specifics of her job, but he had taught her well in a general sense—she prodded the space with the tools, and pulled out the sharpened rat trap that clung to the end of the chisel. Another sweep with her sword allowed her to pull an envelope to the edge of the hole without risking her fingers in any additional traps.
Calla opened the envelope without eagerness. This would tell her what her job was, beyond the keeping of peace with the dragons. She gently pulled a piece of ancient parchment from its casing and unfolded it. The message made her raise her eyebrows.
So that was her job. No wonder Da had said so little.
The king would be surprised.
My 5 words were library, chisel, undertaker (repurposed as the DeadMen), dolphin (skipped), and envelope. It probably wasn't really an envelope, either--more likely an oilcloth packet, but never mind.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015
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