January 2023 Newsletter
THE DRAGON WHO LOVED ME
For five long years the war had raged on. For five long years, Rhona had been dealing with the Lightnings on a daily basis. But not as the enemy she was raised to loathe. Instead they were now the allies of her kind. Strange how everything could change so. Rhona’s mother and her aunts and uncles had made their names and reputations by decimating the Lightnings in battle. Her royal cousins, the Dragon Queen’s three eldest sons, Fearghus, Briec, and Gwenvael, had also faced the Northlanders in war, earning them respect beyond their royal titles. So Rhona had always assumed that one day she’d go talon-to-talon against the Lightnings just as her kin had before her.
Instead, Rhona was forced to endure their presence. Forced to forget how Lightnings used to kidnap Southland She-dragons and force them into being their mates. The more difficult ones losing a wing to keep them trapped in the harsh lands of a foreign country with males they loathed. Yet, as the Northlanders were quick to remind anyone who mentioned their past, that had been a long time ago. Now that the older, more heartless Horde leaders had died off, the new regime didn’t allow this anymore. They were a new, kinder Horde that still couldn’t manage to believe a female could protect themselves during battle.
And, honestly, on days like today, tolerating the Northlanders new and kinder image was near-on impossible. Then again, maybe Rhona’s problems weren’t with tolerating the Northlanders as a whole but tolerating one of them. Vigholf the Abhorrent or, as she liked to call him, Commander Pest.
Yet by the time Rhona had made it deep into their mountain stronghold and she knew she was officially off-duty for the rest of the day, she pushed all thoughts of annoying, closed-minded Northlanders from her mind and decided she desperately needed a bath. She’d found a lovely little lake with a waterfall deep inside the mountain. Only a few of them knew about it and they kept it secret from all the others.
Yet Rhona found that her plans rarely if ever played out exactly as she saw them because something—or someone—always got in her way.
Rhona stopped, her body tensing at the sound of that rough-hewn voice that was caused by a knife to the throat a few centuries back, and faced the commanding officer. “General, Sir!”
“Can’t you just call me Mum?”
Gods. When her mother said, “Can’t you just call me Mum” it was a warning to Rhona. As bright and clear as a battle cry from a mountaintop. The first time Bradana the Mutilator had asked Rhona to call her Mum she’d shoved a freshly hatched Delen the Blue into Rhona’s arms and said, “You’re not too busy to take care of your new sister, are you?” Then Bradana went to war—for nearly four years.
Rhona had primarily raised her siblings ever since.
“Heard you ran into a spot of trouble.”
“Aye, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Had the triplets with me.”
“They’re growing into right little brawlers, my girls, eh?”
Rhona cringed at the description because she didn’t raise brawlers. She raised warriors. Yet her mother saw it as a compliment, so Rhona didn’t argue with her.
“They are. Getting better every day.”
“Your Uncle Bercelak will probably want them to go to Anubail Mountain next year.”
“Great. I can’t wait for them to go.” All right. She was outright lying now. And it wasn’t that she didn’t want her sisters to go and follow the path of the Dragonwarrior like their other siblings had. But of all Bradana’s offspring that Rhona had raised over the years, she’d become closest to her youngest sisters. Of course she’d actually been there when they’d battled their way out of their egg, head-butting and biting and lashing each other with their tails. Her mother usually stayed around for the hatching but just before the triplets came along she’d rushed off to raid some traitor dragon’s fortress, thinking she’d be back in time—she wasn’t.
“And,” her mother continued, scratching the vicious scar across her throat with the tip of her tail, “you can go with them. You all can train together. Won’t that be fun?”
Tricky. Her mother was definitely tricky. Bradana knew how much the triplets meant to Rhona and clearly she wasn’t above using that love to get what she wanted. And what she wanted was for Rhona to take the path of the Dragonwarrior. Like all her other offspring and like most of the Cadwaladr Clan. There was just one problem with that plan—Rhona had no desire to become a Dragonwarrior. Much to her mother’s annoyance, Rhona was extremely satisfied with what she was doing. She was a soldier and a damn good one.
Why did her mother have such an issue with that?
So Rhona said, “I’m sure they’ll be fine. Without me.”
“Your Uncle Bercelak is offering you an opportunity.”
“And I appreciate that. But I don’t need it.”
Rhona turned to go, needing that bath more and more.
“I didn’t dismiss you,” her mother snapped and Rhona rounded on her.
“Which is it, Mum? Are you my mother at this moment or my commanding officer? Because I can walk away from me Mum!”
“Can’t be! One or the other! Pick!”
“Don’t snarl at me, you viperous little—”
Rhona raised a talon, cutting her mother off, and looked behind her. “You lot,” she snapped at the three soldiers, one of which was nursing his right forearm. “What happened?”
“His arm. It got crushed in the tunnels.”
Turning away from her mother, Rhona went to the young soldier. “That’s broken. You.” She pointed at the gold dragon. “Take him to the healer. And you,” she pointed at the Lightning, “back to the tunnels. The commanders need all available troops working there. Now go.”
Rhona faced her mother and asked, “So where were we? Oh. Yes. I’m a viperous little…what was the rest of it?”
Slamming down her tail, her mother marched off. Rhona knew this argument wasn’t over, though. Not when it had been going on since the first time Rhona turned down her Uncle Bercelak’s offer to train at Anubail Mountain. As consort of Her Majesty, the Dragon Queen, and commander of the Queen’s armies, Bercelak the Great did not offer the chance to be one of the legendary Dragonwarriors lightly. In fact, Rhona’s mother had actually left mid-battle to seek out her daughter and tell her what an idiot she was being by turning Bercelak down. But Rhona would not let her mother bully her, cajole her, or finesse her into changing her mind. Rhona prided herself on knowing her strengths and weaknesses. Her strength was being as stubborn as her mother. And her weakness was her not wanting to be a Dragonwarrior. All right. Perhaps not a true weakness, but her mother seemed to think it was.
“You all right?”
Rhona looked at her younger sister Delen.
“Aye. Just the same damn argument. How can she never get bored with it?”
“The beauty of Mum is that she never gets bored. She can kill and kill for days at a time without ever feeling boredom. I think that’s a foreign word to her. Like rational. Or caring.”
Rhona laughed with her sister, putting her arm around her shoulders. “Excellent point. And how are you doing?”
“Fine. I’ll be working in the tunnels the next couple of days with my troops. I’m hoping to push them along to get the tunnel done. Sooner we can get under those mountains, the sooner we can wipe out the Irons and go home. Unlike our mother…I do get bored. Now,” her sister patted Rhona’s shoulder with her tail, “why don’t you go on and take your break. You’ve been working non-stop for days. You’re no use to any of us if you’re asleep once we hit the other side.”
Rhona chuckled. “Good point.”
“You going for a bath?” her sister whispered.
“Take that exit.” She pointed at a narrow tunnel cut through the cave rock. “You’ll have to go outside for a bit, but you’ll avoid Mum.”
Rhona slipped away without being noticed and eased through the narrow tunnel until she found herself on the mountain’s summit. She stopped, gazing out over Euphrasia Valley. A stretch of land caught between the Northland territories, the Western Mountains, and the Southlands. A rough and dangerous valley with thick, almost jungle-like forests during the summer and brutally cold winds and ice storms during the winter. It was surrounded by a ring of mountains in varying sizes. They’d made the Hesiod Mountains their stronghold while the Irons were directly opposite from them using the Polycarp Mountains as their protection. Could be worse, though. At least they had access to fresh water and supplies.
Rhona’s shoulders slumped, her eyes closing. “I can’t get a break,” she sighed.
“Now what did I do?”
She didn’t bother facing the Lightning. What was the point?
“Nothing.” She started to walk across the ridge of the summit but the Lightning cut in front of her.
“What if I bought you a long sword?”
“What?” What was he babbling about? Gods! She only wanted a bath!
“A long sword. To replace your spear.”
“I don’t need you to buy me anything. Especially weapons.” She took a step but he stepped with her.
“I can teach you to use it if that’s your concern.”
Rhona’s front claws curled into fists. “I don’t need you to teach me how to use a sword.”
“You shouldn’t use one unless you know how.”
“I know how.”
“Then why were you still using a spear?”
“Because I like them. Because my father made it for me. And why am I discussing this with you?”
She took another step and he stepped with her.
“What about an axe?” he asked. “A small one. With a weight you can handle.”
And that’s when Rhona became a little cranky.
Gods, she was such a pretty little She-dragon. A bit scarred for his usual tastes but still…very pretty. He’d thought so from the beginning, from the first time he’d seen her all those years ago. A brown-scaled She-dragon with long brown hair that she kept in simple warrior braids, and dark brown eyes that were bright and lively—when they weren’t glaring at him. Something that had become rare these days. She seemed to always be glaring at him. He could only imagine it was the strain of the war on her. As a Southlander and a female, he was sure that an ongoing war for the last five years must have taken its toll. Northlanders knew nothing but war, so it was no real strain for them.
Although she wasn’t just some Southland She-dragon was she? She was a Cadwaladr. They bred nothing but unstable females from that bloodline. But Rhona wasn’t much like them. She’d kill but it didn’t seem like she enjoyed it too much. Not like Rhona’s mother who only smiled when she was sawing someone’s head off. No. Rhona the Fearless was different, so Vigholf had taken it upon himself to keep an eye on her. A sweet thing like her could easily fall prey to the more forceful of his brethren, which was why he’d warned them off. Strongly. And it’s not like he followed her around or anything. Just…watched out for her.
Although it seemed sometimes that the biggest problem in Rhona’s life was that mother of hers.
Vigholf nearly shuddered at the thought of that particular female—if you could call her that. And yet she had mostly pleasant offspring. Rhona, the triplets, and a few of her other daughters and sons. Then again, Vigholf had heard that Rhona had raised the lot of them, which explained much in his estimation.
“I don’t need an axe,” Rhona snarled between clenched teeth.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re easy enough weapons to handle.”
“I know how to handle an axe, foreigner. I don’t need lessons from you. Why don’t you just accept the fact that you destroyed a beloved weapon because you have so little control of that warhammer of yours.”
“I have absolute control of my hammer, thank you very much. But once it’s moving, it’s not always easy to stop, my lady.” He grinned, feeling cheeky. “I can say that about all my hammers, in fact.”
“First off, ew. And second, I ain’t a lady. I’m a Cadwaladr and a Sergeant of Her Majesty’s Army. You want to deal with a royal, go see Keita. She couldn’t be more royal.”
She stepped around him and he turned to follow after her but her tail suddenly lashed out, aiming for his eye. Vigholf stumbled back and Rhona, glaring over her shoulder at him, snapped, “And stop following me around.”
“I wasn’t. Just…keeping an eye on you. These caves can be dangerous.”
“The day a She-dragon can’t move around a cave as she likes is the day she should climb onto the funeral pyre.”
“Or you could just have an escort.”
Her brown eyes nearly rolled to the back of her head but before she could say another word, they both heard her name.
“What?” she yelled over him.
One of her sisters, he didn’t know which, appeared in the cave exit. “They’re at it again.”
Rhona’s snarl was so vicious that Vigholf briefly thought about moving out of her way. He didn’t, but it crossed his mind.
“By the unholy gods of piss and fire, I’ll kill them both!” she nearly yelled. “And if not them…I’ll kill her. Then maybe this centaur shit can end!”
Shoving past him, Rhona marched off in the direction her sister had motioned to, leaving Vigholf simply standing there. Instead of following her, he kept on the way she’d been going. After a few minutes, he came to the underground waterfall. This had been where she’d been coming. The female did like her bath times. But, as always, the needs of others had gotten in her way. Unfortunate, really.