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by on June 23, 2015

The proprietor of the White Beetle inn on Kirtle Island had a mania for neatness, and hated dingy smoke-filled rooms where all sorts of unsavory people could meet and conduct transactions of questionable legality. So he’d built his inn with an abundance of windows and lanterns, flooding the place with light, and constructed his fireplaces so as to create a minimum of smoke. He even arranged for a constable to sit by the bar and keep an eye on things. The White Beetle was, as a result, perfectly respectable, and so were its customers.

Rowena was definitely respectable. She used her magic to make sure that the winds and waves were favorable, and provide direction for sailors with faulty maps. She belonged, after all, to the Order of the Rabbit, and Rabbit members never gave anyone trouble. Evinrude, being the Prince of House Charming, was also respectable. No one could have found any fault with their meeting. What Evinrude wanted, however, shocked Rowena badly. “I need to find a dragon.”

“You what?” spluttered Rowena.

“Dragon,” Evinrude repeated. “I need to find it.”

Rowena gathered herself up in righteous indignation. “My dear sir, why on Earth would you-”

She hadn’t noticed the glass vial of light gray ash he was carrying. Now he drew it out and set it before her with a clunk of cold finality. “This used to be a friend of mine. She got flamed. I want to find who did it.”

“I see,” said Rowena, feeling instantly sympathetic. “And you’d like me to sense where the dragon is?”

“Yes. And who hired him,” Evinrude said. “I know how things work. Dragons these days work under contract, and they hide pretty well. You’ve got to be a wizard to find one. After I kill the dragon, I’m going after whoever sent him.”

“Oh,” Rowena said. “That might be more complicated. It’s several removes away from the, ah, remains, and-”

“Can you do it?” Evinrude cut in. He didn’t snap, or roar, or thunder at her. He just asked, very calmly. But Rowena felt unnerved nonetheless.

“I can try,” she said at last. She touched the vial, and closed her eyes. One of the basic rules of magic was that if you got killed by something magical, a link was created between you and the thing that killed you. Someone skilled, like Rowena, could trace that link and find out what had done you in. She did that now.

She could sense the dragon; it left an acrid, burning feeling in her mind. Rowena followed the link. A golden beach flashed in her mind, then a long running coastline, then the cold waters of a northern inlet. She sensed a cave overlooking the narrow water, and stars above the cave. She carefully noted the positions of those stars. “Right,” she said, still with her eyes closed. “I know where the dragon is.”

“Wonderful. Who sent him?”

“Hang on,” Rowena said irritably. “This isn’t easy work, you know.”  She concentrated again. The cave itself was linked to the dragon, so if she could find someone else linked to the cave…  then a darker thread lit in her mind, a thread twisting and powerful. She gasped. Rowena knew that magical signature, knew it like her own hand. It was Mortimer, a dark wizard of the Order of the Polecat, a known mercenary, who would summon dragons at the highest bidder and who had no ethics whatever. He was also her father.

She had taken great pains to cover that up. No one in Kirtle knew. Her fellow Rabbits didn’t know. But if she sent Evinrude after the dragon, and he confronted Mortimer, he might find out. She could tell by his intensity that he wouldn’t let it go. Rowena reluctantly decided that he couldn’t find out.

“You’ll have to keep sailing due west, for twenty days,” she said. “On the twenty-first, you will come to an island, an extinct volcano. Inside the volcano’s cone, you will find the dragon, and the wizard who sent him.”

“Thanks,” said Evinrude, and without ceremony he took back the vial, laid some gold before her, and walked away. Rowena sighed. The volcano existed; that was true. It was also a portal to a dimension of otherworldly sea monsters of terrible legend. Once Evinrude crossed through, he would either go mad or be eaten. Rowena knew she would never see him again. All the same, she didn’t sleep particularly well that night.

  1. Jennifer G. Knoblock permalink

    I love how all your characters are made sympathetic by their backstory and motivations…makes everything deliciously messy and complicated. 🙂 Also, magic. And this beautiful line: “Now he drew it out and set it before her with a clunk of cold finality.”

    • I’m glad that Rowena came across as sympathetic even though she sent the guy to certain death or madness by sea monsters; I was aiming at that. Complicated characters are more fun. 🙂

  2. how unbelievably rude! also, now I think I may have to go back and read some of the earlier Rain stories, cos I miss the volcano god 😉

    • I kinda miss Rain and Winifred and Phil too. Good times, good times. 🙂 At any rate, Rain has shown up in some later stories, though I don’t know if she’ll be in this one. Evinrude hasn’t died yet, and whether he does or not all depends on events. 🙂

  3. Mortimer’s terrible, evil, he sends out hit-dragons willy-nilly. Oh and he’s her father. Oh, and she’s going to protect him by sending Evinrude (who also has less than ideal morals) to his death. So she also has poor morals.

    • Rowena’s morals are definitely suspect. I’m not entirely sure about Evinrude’s, though. At least initially, I intended him to come across as naive and somewhat immature, at least until he finds out his friend got flamed by the dragon. Which would upset anyone, understandably.

  4. The contrasts between sympathy and selfishness work well in this story. You pack a lot into a little space without creating a feeling of clutter some short fantasy pieces can have. This was truly a joy to read. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    • I appreciate the comment. 🙂 Of course, the credit really should go to Alexandre Dumas: this whole story arc was inspired by the classic Count of Monte Cristo story, which I reread recently and loved. The sea monsters are my own, though; Dumas didn’t have too many of those. 🙂

  5. I’ve been away awhile. I missed these stories of yours with their understated, subtle humour and idiosyncratic personality ticks.

  6. So good to read your stories again, Michael. I love the different Orders and the ethical dilemma facing Rowena. You’ve set us up for an enticing next chapter.

    • Well, as I couldn’t sort her into Ravenclaw, or whatever Gandalf called his group, I figured animals would work as well. I am glad you and Silverleaf are back. 🙂

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