May 2022 Newsletter
WHAT A DRAGON SHOULD KNOW
Dagmar was well into the middle of an odd dream involving dessert cream and a dragon’s tail when her bedroom door slammed open. She sat up immediately, still caught between being awake and asleep when she yelled out, “I did not lie!”
Three of her brothers stood in her doorway staring at her. Which ones? She had no idea. All she could see were blurry outlines.
“What is it?” she demanded loudly over Canute’s hysterical barking. “Canute!” The dog fell to a low, threatening growl while she reached over to the small table beside her bed, her hands trying to find her spectacles.
“Father needs you downstairs. Now.” She recognized Valdís’ voice, felt his hand press her spectacles into her palm.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Just get dressed. We’ll wait for you in the hall.”
She didn’t have time for a bath, so she had to make due with scrubbing up at the basin and hurriedly getting dressed. As soon as she tied the scarf over her hair, she walked into the hallway and immediately her brothers pushed her toward the stairs. The moment they entered through the door into the Main Hall, Dagmar sent Canute off for a break and a chance to play with the other dogs in the side yard. Once the dog disappeared through the doorway, Valdís grabbed her wrist and dragged her to her father’s private rooms.
He pulled the door open and pushed her in. She immediately saw her father at the big table that took up most of the room. As usual it was covered in maps and missives from troops who were stationed at key points throughout the countryside.
On the opposite side of the table was Gwenvael. As soon as the door opened, he turned around with a huge grin and exclaimed, “Eymund!” Then he saw her and his expression crumbled. “Oh. Hello, Lady Dagmar.”
“Lord Gwenvael. Valdís, would you have a servant bring me—” But her brothers were long gone, the door slamming behind them. Shaking her head, she walked over to the table. “You asked for me, Father?”
“Aye. Uh…Lord Gwenvael here he needs that information you’ve got.”
Her father pointed a finger at her “Look—”
“I said I was sorry,” Gwenvael cut in, expertly rolling his eyes like a small child.
“That’s very big of you. And yet I am in no mood to be forgiving.”
Her father slammed his hands against the table and stood.
Dagmar motioned him to the door. “May I talk to you outside for a moment, Father?”
She walked out into the hallway, her brothers—all twelve of them—no where to be found.
Waiting until her father stepped outside, she closed the door and faced him. “What is going on?”
“He needs to go.”
“Why? He’s been utterly polite and—”
“I don’t want to make a big thing of this, girl, but he needs to go. Today. So just tell him what he wants to know.”
Now it had begun and she had only one chance to make this work with all involved. First—her father.
“And lose out on a perfect opportunity?” she asked, her heart beating fast, although she knew her face showed her father nothing.
“What opportunity? What you think you’ll get from him?”
“Father,” she said, making sure to add a note of impatience, “if you’re simply going to hand the information over to him anyway, give me ten minutes to see what I can get on my own. Where’s the harm?”
“I don’t know—”
“At the very least let Eymund try,” she offered innocently. “Lord Gwenvael seems to like him.”
“No!” Her father took a breath, fought for calm. She made sure to look appropriately bewildered, hours in front of her mirror practicing finally paying off. He motioned her toward the door. “Go. Talk to him. You got until I get myself a pint to get something out of him. After that you tell him everything and get him out of here.”
“Yes, Father.” She pushed open the door, walked in, and quietly shut it.
She sat in her father’s chair on the other side of the table. The dragon, in chainmail and a surcoat, had his boot-shod feet up on the table.
He smiled at her. “Well?”
“We’ve got ten minutes.”
“All right.” He dropped his feet to the floor and placed his hands on top of the wood. They stared at each other across the distance. “So what do you want?”
“Five?” he asked incredulous. “Are you mad?”
“No. You want to save that precious queen of yours, don’t you?”
“Ten army units. That seems fair.”
“Don’t insult me, Lord Gwenvael. Four legions.”
“How do I know your information is worth even one army unit, much less four full legions?”
He sat back in his chair. “If what you have to tell me is solid…perhaps one legion.”
“That’s fifty-two-hundred men, Lady Dagmar.”
Dagmar let out a sigh, tapped her fingers against the table, until grudgingly answering, “Fine.”
“Good. Now tell me what you know.”
“Someone wants your queen dead.”
Dagmar jumped when Gwenvael’s head hit the table, his arms flying out at his sides. “Is that the best you have to tell me?” Reason help her, he did have a love of the dramatic.
His head lifted from the table, and he speared her with his glare. “I know this already. Everybody wants her dead. They’ve been wanting her dead for years! Tell me I haven’t wasted my time here!”
“Are you done? Because I’m not.”
“Thank the gods for that.” He impatiently gestured for her to continue.
“It’s my understanding that a party from the Ice Lands is making its way south, toward Dark Plains.”
“The Ice Lands? I didn’t know anyone even lived there.”
“They do. You think this terrain is harsh? It’s nothing compared to there. The people there are strong, hearty, and very unfriendly. And the bigger problem for you is that most travel underground.”
“There are sudden, deadly ice storms that hit at any moment of any day in the Ice Lands—hence the name.” He snorted and she continued. “So the dwarves began digging tunnels. First just leading from mine to mine, clan to clan. But they quickly realized they could make money offering ways in and out of the territory for those other than dwarves.”
“You’re telling me someone’s sent assassins underground? That’s worth about twenty army units, my lady.”
“They’re not assassins. There are hundreds of cults in the Ice Lands. They live to serve the gods who, in my opinion, deserted them long ago. The ones coming for your queen worshipped Arzhela. In honor of her they want your queen’s babes. They want their blood. As you well know, my lord, those hired to fight are vastly different from those who believe in a cause. They’ll stop at nothing. Absolutely nothing to kill your queen and her unborn offspring.”
All drama and humor left the dragon’s face as he stared at her, knowing the truth of her words. He slumped back in his chair. “Are you sure this information is accurate?”
“My source is impeccable.”
“Understood.” He pushed his chair back from the table. “One legion.”
He stood and Dagmar knew she had to take her chance now.
“There’s something else.”
Gwenvael looked down at her. “What?”
“The tunnels from the Ice Lands lead through the Northlands, into the South, until they reach the desert lands of Alsandair.”
His face went blank, his jaw slack. “I don’t…what?”
“If they took the right tunnel, they could come up in the middle of your Main Hall and you wouldn’t know it until they speared you clean, tore her apart, and took her babes.” She sat back in her chair. “None of you know about the tunnels, do you?”
“I don’t understand. If those tunnels exist, how come none of your kinsmen—”
“To bring a full army through there would be impossible. The dwarves made sure of that. Plus its use wasn’t for Northlanders but those from the Ice Lands who rarely call for war against anyone but each other. Most Northlanders don’t even know the tunnels exist. And the few who do are not keen on the idea of battling anything underground. Tunnels are always risky.”
“But you know this information.”
“I have learned friends.”
“You said if they take the right tunnels. I need to know which tunnels those are—I need to know all the tunnels.”
Dagmar’s toes curled in her boots. “I could get you that information.” She took a breath. “For a price.”
He rolled his yes. “Fine. Two legions. Total.”
“We’re not back to five, are we?”
“No. One legion, for my father. As you promised.”
“Then I don’t understand—”
“I know who can help you, who can give you the information.”
“All you need to do…is take me with you.”
Gwenvael stared at her a long moment, her back straight, her eyes looking intently at him through those bits of glass. “You want to run away with me?”
It hadn’t been the first time a woman had asked him, begged him even, to take her away from her life. But Dagmar only laughed. “By all reason! Of course I’m not asking to run away with you!”
“Then what are you asking me for?”
“The one who can give us the information is no more than a day’s ride from here. Even less if we’re flying. I go with you and help you get this information, and before you say it, you will need me to help you get this information. Then you bring me back.” She snapped her fingers. “Even better you can take me to Gestur’s.”
“Who the hell is Gestur?”
“He’s my uncle. Loyal to my father.”
“And why would you want to go there?”
“I have my reasons. Besides, he’s planning to come out here anyway in another month or so. I could return with him. It would be my own little holiday away.”
“Before you start enjoying your holiday, your father will never let you go. All that Northman Code to contend with.”
“My father barely remembers my name. He refers to me as girl or little miss.”
“I thought those were terms of endearment.”
“Does he look endearing to you? But if you insist, it can be part of the deal that includes the legion and supplies—”
“The supplies you promised.”
“I never promised you any supplies.”
“You meant to.”
“I did not.” She was enjoying this entirely too much! He could see it by the little smirk on her face. She knew he needed the information on those bloody tunnels and she had no problem extorting him over it.
The world should be glad she hadn’t been born a man. She’d be emperor by now.
“I’m not doing this.”
“Because you’re up to something.”
“A few hours of freedom are all I ask, Lord Gwenvael. Is that really too much?”
“You swear you’ll really help me.”
“On my life as a Reinholdt, anything I can do to help your queen, I will.”
“Fine.” He lowered his head, took several breaths, and when he looked at her again, he saw her through tears.
She reared back a bit. “What are you doing?”
Gwenvael didn’t have time to warn her before her father came storming in, the simple fact the warlord hadn’t bathed in at least two days leading the way to Gwenvael’s poor nostrils. “What the hell’s going on?” Sigmar demanded, a pint in his hand.
Sniffing dramatically, Gwenvael gazed across the desk at Dagmar. Without even a twitch, she immediately stood and walked to her father’s side. “Give us a moment, won’t you, Lord Gwenvael?”
“Of course,” he choked out, impressing even himself by the little added sob at the end.
Dagmar took her father out into the hallway again. She wanted to jump up and down and clap her hands but that would definitely work against her. Instead she said, “Sorry about that. He’s very upset.”
“By all the war gods—what did you say to him?”
“It’s not what I said, Father, but what I couldn’t. I know there’s more information from Brother Petur. You remember him, yes?” Good gods, why did she pull that man’s name out of her ass?
Perhaps because her father didn’t find Petur remotely threatening. He belonged to an order that preached tolerance over war. Unlike Brother Ragnar’s Order of the Warhammer or her other favorite, Order of the Burning Sword.
“Can’t you show him on a map how to get to that idiot’s convent?”
“It’s not a convent, Father, that’s for women.” And how many times had she wished he’d sent her to one? “It’s a monastery. And I gave him the directions there, but he wants me to go with him.”
“Not in my life, girl. I’m not letting you out of here with that…that…weeper.”
“Come now, why not? Surely you’re not worried about my chastity.” She laughed, even as delicious visions of dessert cream and a liberty-taking dragon tail swam into her head.”
“What do you mean why not? He can’t protect you. He’ll be too busy sobbing like a bloody girl while you’re captured by some other warlord!”
“Keep your voice down! And his size alone will protect me.” Her father grunted, which gave her hope she could convince him. “How about we do this? I go with him today, which will take a few hours and then he can take me to Gestur’s. He’s barely two hours on foot from that monastery. I can bring the messages that you have for him and be back on safe Reinholdt ground before nightfall.”
Her father’s eyes narrowed. “You seem to have it all worked out.”
She shrugged. “It’s been ages since the cousins have been here. And Gestur can bring me back next month when he travels here.”
“Next month?” Her father looked at her strangely and she had no idea what his expression meant. “I don’t like it. And you still ain’t given me much of a reason to send you.”
“As I told you, he wants to protect Annwyl the Bloody. He’s promised us a legion of her troops.”
“And you believe him?”
“I do. That’s fifty-two-hundred men, Father.”
“Southlanders,” he sneered.
“Human targets, I say. Keep Jökull busy until you can tear the skin from his bones.”
A rare smile crossed her father’s face. “Like your mother sometimes, you are. You’ve got a vengeful streak.” Her father’s compliments were rare and strange, but she took them eagerly nonetheless.
“I do. And if helping the weeper gets us what we need…it’s a small price to pay. For once, Father, please. Trust me.”
“I always trust you’re up to something, little miss.” But he was no longer fighting her and they both knew it. “But you’re sure, though? About being alone with him? You sure you’ll be safe with him—he’s still a male and I seen how your sisters-in-law have been watching him.”
She eased the door open a bit and her father looked in to see Gwenvael blowing his nose into a cloth and continuing to make choking noises. Dagmar raised her brow. “Unless I suddenly turn into Eymund…I’m relatively certain I’ll be just fine.”