It took me far, far away….
“The dragons,” the guide said, “were foolish. As powerful as they were, there were too few of them to rule humanity. The last battle was fought here.” He pointed at the vast skeleton, lying in the shallows of the placid lake. “That’s old Thoronongrom, the king of the dragons. He fell here with a thousand arrows in him, shredded by cannon, but it still took him three days to die. The corpse was a generation decaying.”
“How horrible!” gasped the Marchioness of Tre. She held her scented fan to her face. “I can almost smell the rotting flesh!”
The dandy at her elbow laughed. “Come, dearest, it’s been two centuries.” His fingers fondled the hilt of the jeweled sword at his hip. “These bones are bleached clean.”
“Roderick, must you spoil everything?” the Marchioness pouted.
The group stood on the lake shore, gawping at the skeleton, as the guide went on about the battle and its great slaughter. The lords and ladies, with jewels and fine silks, had thought it diverting to come down to the shore for a while, before the evening’s feast and fireworks to celebrate the anniversary of the victory. They whispered and laughed among themselves as the fellow went on.
“Probably expects tips in direct proportion to how loquacious he can be,” Jason, Baron of Rogen, whispered in Clara’s ear. Clara wished he wouldn’t do that—she was trying to listen.
“In the end,” the guide said, “although not all the dragons fell here, their power was broken. The Battle of Silent Lake ended their rule over humanity, and since we have ruled ourselves, to our own greater glory.”
“Hear, hear,” said Duke Coram, and the crowd applauded.
Clara did not join in. Glory—she found it an ironic word. Of course, this fellow, making a living off showing fancy folk the bones of legends, wasn’t going to suggest to any of them that their ‘glory’ came at a high price.
The crowd went back up to the mansion overlooking the lake, as the sun set. There were aperitifs before the meal, and the high-born enjoyed them as they watched the sunset. Then, by the light of huge lanterns the nobles danced to swiftly-played music, before sitting down to the meal, which was served by silent servants.
Clara, relegated to the outer tables, got up as the fireworks began. Great balls of crimson and green fire burst high in the air, reflecting in the face of the lake, but she ignored them as she went down the steps to the lower terrace. Her path was one she would follow to obey a call of nature. Before she could reach the porticos, however, Jason intercepted her. “Where are you going?” he demanded.
“My dear baron,” Clara said, “even ladies of the first rank have to relieve themselves from time-to-time, not to mention the daughters of country squires.”
Jason smiled and leaned against a balustrade. “You are such a queer little thing. You were really intent on what that fellow had to say this afternoon.”
“Why not?” Clara said. “Have you no interest in history, my lord?”
“I’ve told you before, call me Jason.”
“I don’t wish to imply an intimacy to which I have no right,” Clara said. Not yet—and, with any luck, never.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Jason said. “But, to answer your question, not particularly. It’s all dead and gone. Particularly the dragons. Ancient business that has no meaning now.”
“No?” Clara said. “I think we are the children of history, and everything in the past lives in us.” She hesitated. “My lord, do you believe the tales that not all the dragons died? That some took human form and that their descendants live among us?”
Jason’s insouciant smile faded. “That’s not legend, little Clara,” he said. “That’s dangerous. The sort of loose talk that puts one in the company of the secret police.”
“Forgive me, then, my lord,” Clara said. “I spoke out of turn, and foolishly. Now, please excuse me—I do not wish to have an accident.”
He let her go. She went through the porticos, but instead of going to the privies she went down to the beach again. The fireworks continued, even as the Bone Moon rose above them.
She walked out into the water, careless of her shoes and gown, until she stood right under and within the skeleton of Thoronongrom. She stood there and found it hard to catch her breath, as she tried to imagine what it had been like, on that day, when the old realm had been thrown down, and the new—a regime that needed secret police—was born. She laid a hand on the giant, weathered rib beside her, and tried to imagine what Thoronongrom had been like, alive, and dealing out death and justice.
I have seen you in my dreams.
She waded to the skull. The great jaws were agape, as they were in that final moment of death, two centuries before. Clara tried to picture what sort of agony it was for this great creature to spend three days a-dying, and found she could not. Her eyes filled with tears.
Music echoed from the terrace above, as the fireworks went on. Clara was sure she could hear laughter. The revelries would now move into their terminal, drunken phase, she supposed.
She reached up, to touch one of the great fangs in the upper jaw. Almost without intending to, she broke off its tip. It was easier than she thought—the skeleton was so weathered it was well on its way to becoming chalk.
She stared at the tip in her hand. She closed her fist about it. She gripped it hard, until the point bit into her palm, until blood flowed.
When the blood struck the water, it sizzled.
She looked up at the mansion, and knew that fire danced in the depths of her eyes.
Rest well, Grandfather, she thought. They will pay yet.