Chapter 1: On the mountain
A mysterious man appeases the dragon in the volcano.
The mountain stands tall against the plain, a steep sided volcano, the peak truncated by a jagged vent, a silent lake caldera. Snow streaks down the length of it. The wind licking the frost off the slopes, and tossing it into the air in wispy plumes. The sun is a glaring bright eye, staring down from the peak of its climb into the sky.
It stares down on this strangely empty environment. No trees. No animals. Just the elements.
It stares down on stark rocks, and bare snow, and wild wind.
It beats down on one single man, one single patch of movement and colour in this harsh, bright landscape.
The wind tears at his Arctic silver fox-fur trimmed cloak, the wool of which is dyed a muddy dark blue, the trousers a dark rusty red. All common Viking colours. Like many Vikings, his silhouette is long of limb.
His hair is not common though. It's as dark as the volcanic rocks, and his thin beard streaks the lowest parts of his face with black. His skin is pale, pallid in fact, and his expression blank, shuttered.
The reason for this is easy to understand. His sword is drawn. It glares too bright in the sun, the immaculate silver-white of steel... excepting where bright blood streaks it. It is a common Viking weapon, but not of Viking make.
And beneath that cloak sits a much repaired brown leather armour, carved intricately with phoenix and dragon.
This is the duality of Jokullvegger Drekavordur. He stumbles back along the recently disturbed snow drift, face blank. Then he sits down heavily. For a moment, he just closes his eyes and subsides into stillness, as though he has succumbed to the landscape, as though he too is broken into base elements.
The wind blows, the sun shines. The snow sits heavy on the slopes of the volcano.
Behind him, up over the lip of the volcano's caldera, lies a scene of carnage. Five white horses, from that strong, beautiful, wild-maned breed of Iceland. Five blood-stained horses that lie in a five pointed star, a single brush stroke character painted onto the flank of each, seemingly in their own blood. Between these torn bodies lies a raised platform. In a sturdy wooden housing atop it, a jade statue sits surrounded by smoking incense. A dragon, carved so finely as to look frozen mid-movement.
If you look long enough, you will feel that the dragon you look at, is looking right back at you. This is the nature of the Dreka Eldfyall.
Chapter 2: It begins in the dream of the dragon.
I start this story as I will end it. With a dream that is not a dream.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Dream of the Dragon
I dream of a grove of peach trees standing still in a glowing misty dawn. Unfamiliar birds call to one another, perched among the trees. Songs pleasant and unhurried. Nearby is the sound of a healthy stream, falling contentedly over rocks.
I move up close to one of the trees. They're large, mature trees, laden with gorgeously coloured fruits, golden, orange, and scarlet kissed from the Sun. Fragrant and ripe. Large and heavy with nectar, they bend their branches. Almost touchable. Then a different noise disturbs the tranquility of the dream. I turn.
A man stands in the midst of the grove, quietly picking these golden peaches. His hair is long, free and dark, as though a wind has blown it from it's bindings some time ago, and he has not cared to right it since. Over a nearby branch lies a massive silver-fox fur trimmed cloak. The rest of his clothing is similarly fashioned for an icy environment. Against a trunk leans a well worn scabbard, holding an excellent sword of what I'm fairly sure is Chinese make, a jian type blade. Straight, double sided, and long as my arm. Common make, if uncommon quality. Near by sits a well-used bow of Scandinavian type, along with a full quiver leaning next to it.
He hums a tune I don't know. He's tall, and lanky limbed. And he's not young. Despite his strength and ease of movement, his hair is greying at the temples, his beard is salt and pepper. He's not a God walking the grove of Immortal peaches, he's a mortal trespassing on this timeless otherworldly land. Or perhaps, not really trespassing. He's half Chinese, and half Scandinavian, with deep brown eyes and a long narrow nose. Dark straight hair, and long Viking limbs. His presence is a balance of two lands, two worlds. He continues picking peaches, unaware of my scrutiny. With such a beautiful embodiment of balance, I wonder how it can be that the dragon and the volcano are not already at peace. If this is the Dragonkeeper, and who else could it be?
A sledge-box lies nearby, already half-filled with peaches. The man kneels down, takes care to pack his new batch into it, well padded with cloth, so they won't bruise as they travel. Taking quiet care with his work. After a few minutes he's satisfied, and takes a break. The peaches are warming in the air as the day brightens, their smell wafting on the breeze like honey and roses.
The man walks towards the burbling sounds of water. There are more peaches cooling in the depths of a clear, flat pool that lies in a bend of the stream before it goes on the tumble over rocks. He fishes them out, and sits on a nearby rock, watching a bird sing as he bites into one, grunting with pleasure at the refreshingly sweet and cool taste of it. Finishing it, he licks the juice from his fingers, tosses the pit into the water. Dips his hands into the stream to let it flow over them until they're clean. Stretches like a cat, and turns back towards his task. All the while, peaceful, purposeful.
As I always am in these dreams, I'm fascinated by him. He seems so utterly at peace and relaxed in this golden dream of China. To me, he is always an exotic person in an exotic landscape. I sigh.
As though he heard me, he startles and turns to face me. Intense dark eyes peering across a thousand leagues. Suddenly, instantly, a dragon stares over his shoulder at me. Massive like a tiger looming over a mouse. Heart-stopping and fearsome. Eyes riverbed old, and fierce as a thousand foot waterfall in Spring melt.
I wake as though a lightning bolt delivered me back to my body. A little huff of fear escapes as my lungs seize rigid momentarily.
I start shaking with fright. That wasn't my first dream involving this man. But it is the first time it was so sharp, so real that I could smell it. It was also the first time the man noticed me like that. More importantly, it was the first time the dragon has noticed me. There's few things worse than coming to the attention of a dragon. That was ... freaky. My hair stands on end on my neck and arms.
I take a few calming breaths, and blow the tension away. Feeling my body, the cold where my cheek met the air, the heaviness of my study robes. My favourite study robes, storied with embroidery in a half dozen languages, the tale of my scholarship. I keep my eyes closed, remembering the details of the dream. The smell of the peaches, the trill of the bird. Then I hold my breath, and remember, as best I can, the dragon. Shining bright as a mirror in the Sun. Five claws on each foot. As broad as a house, and as long as the beach at Kiparissiakos.
I open my eyes and grab a handy scrap of paper. I have been sleeping on a wooden study desk, surrounded by walls of books, a thousand thousand stories of the world. The personal library of Aisha Khan.
It's the quiet depths of the night, I had been burning the midnight oil before taking a nap where I sat. Literally burning midnight oil. An oil lamp throws warm highlights across everything, my notes, and the books I've have been translating and referring to. Providing a touch of warmth and cosiness. The window is open. The city of Damascus lies beyond. At this hour, it's as quiet as the cats that prowl its alleys.
As I draw, a cool breeze stirs the room. It blows from the north. Bringing with it the ghost of the ice that lives there. Of the coming winter. The light flickers. I shiver, and look to the northern stars.
The moonlight bathing the city catches on an unusual movement, a flapping of cloth high above the ground. There's someone flying right towards the library. I stare in confusion, and then horror. There is never a good reason for someone to fly straight at me in the dead of night.
Amandla dreams of Kai. A Kai like and unlike the one you know. Please read this as though it is directed by the Wachowskis. Each shot is beautiful, and framed in order to tell a story of the world and the people in it, and it all shimmers with an ineffable energy. The mist glows not really from the Sun, but from the potential it contains. The Dragon is not only a dragon. And you can tell the peaches are Heavenly Peaches just by looking at them. I dream in full technicolour, where each object has a story, each person has a path. I want to share that level of experience with you. But I am but a poor humble fan-fiction writer. Please bear with me.
Why this story? I had a dream. I flew across the world using the power of magics I stole from monsters, and as I landed at my destination Keanu Reeves stood in the snow awaiting me. Shirtless, his hair and coat blown wide and wild in the wind, and in his hand he held an Chinese folded steel sword. He led me and my companion through the snow, and through a veil of reality, into a world of monsters, to find an item of power. Over creeks filled with giant turtles, and past the bones of dinosaurs, we fought and hid and quested onward through such beauty and danger. I wanted to know how this story ended, and most of all, how it begun. Now we're finding out.
Chapter 3: We're going to Iceland
Oh no... We're going to Iceland. Madame Yu.
Chapter 1: You're going to Iceland
The flying person lands confidently on the balcony, sturdy boots tapping on the sandstone, rich silks falling elegantly into place around leather . Aisha Khan strides into the library with the regal bearing of an empress, and the implacable confidence of an immortal. She lifts the well-worn flying goggles and wind shield from her face. Windblown and sharp eyed, she dumps her pack at my feet. “Good, you're awake.” She says, and drops her goggles on my desk.
“You're back already?” I ask, shocked at her reappearance. She was supposed to be gone for months yet. It's barely halfway through the season, what's gone wrong? At least she looks uninjured.
“This season is much stronger than we predicted.” She says. I can see the exhaustion peeking through Mir Khan's eyes. The trip back must have been a swift one.
“So you've come to restock?” I'm still confused as to why my mentor has returned from the North. Surely if the season is bad, she should be up there still, fighting against the Shift and the Huldufolk. What would bring her back this far, so quickly.
“No. I'm changing the plan. We must act now. And act decisively.” Aisha continues unstrapping and loosening her flying outfit. Then I realise what she means by that.
“I... I haven't written it yet. I've barely translated the texts...” I babble. It's not that I want to contradict my mentor's plans. This is the very same Sorceress of Damascus, Tigress of Chen Du, Mir Aisha Khan. But at the same time, the original plan gave me at least another year, perhaps two before I would present the finished incantation to her for final approval. Imagine you've been told that your thesis is due tomorrow, two years early. My brain rebelled against even the idea of it.
“You will continue your research in person.” Aisha says by way of answer.
“You're taking me to Island?” There's a squeak of alarm in my voice. My apprenticeship has been purely an academic one until now. All my spells have been cast in controlled circumstances, I've never applied them practically. Island is a combat zone. This is way outside my area of expertise. This is way outside my capability as a mage, and as a person. Damascus barely has snow, and I'm going to a place literally named ICE land.
“Yes.” Aisha says, definitively.
“We're going now?!” I say with no small amount of fear. There is no way to say no to this. Not only is it my life's work so far, it's far too important to walk away from. No matter how loudly my brain screamed at me to run, there was never any question I would be going with Mir Khan.
“Tomorrow, yes. As soon as I've prepared myself.” Mir Khan says. We stand staring at one another in silence for an exceptionally long moment, Mir Khan waits expectantly for her news to sink in.
“I'll draw your curtains. Would you like a night cap?” I say, I'm thinking on my feet, hoping that a long enough night of sleep for Mir Khan will allow me enough time to prepare at least semi decently.
“Yes, thank you. Bring it to the bathing room.” Mir Khan says, starting to relax and cheer up at last.
“Thank you Sorceress Khan. I'll get right on it.” I bow myself out of the room. Then I take off at a run, mind racing to think of who in the House or Khan I can ask for help.
Chapter 4: Wake the House
Now that the trajectory of my life has suddenly changed, it's time to prepare. Fortunately, I'm not alone.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Chapter 2: Wake the House
My mind races as I hurry off into the house. Before I leave the top floor, I pass the astrolabe and skid to a halt when I see it's occupied.
A young man about my age is looking through the viewfinder of a telescope.
“Michael.” I say, relieved.
“Amandla," He says, perking up from his weary study "You should sleep. You'll hurt your eyes studying this late.”
“Not studying. Mir Khan is back. And she just told me that The Story will be told this year.” I say, bracing myself to force the words out loud. It's anxiety inducing to make it any realer than it already is.
Michael's eyes widen. “Holy crap. I have the data on Sirius you asked for.” He says, leaping up to search on his desk for it.
“Thank you Michael. If you have the time between observations, can you find me the Artic star chart?”
“Of course Amandla. Let me know if you need anything else.” He says, handing over a scroll.
“Everything you have on Auroras. Bring it to the library?” I hand back the scroll.
“Thank you Michael.” I say and hug him in gratitude. Then I exit the room at a clip.
Further down the hall the Alchemy lab is silent... and in disarray. I have no idea how Felice does anything in here. I just hope she's in the house by now. She has a boyfriend in the City, and I know she had a date tonight.
I pause to grab the inventory ledger from the desk nearest the door. With a slap of my hand against the wall I have a bright harsh light to read by. The shelves of reactants and glass-work look eerie, almost monstrous in the un-naturally lit room, like strange animals pinned to the wall by their shadows. I search for a spare piece of paper. Excellent. I place it behind the page I'm reading from and scrounge my seal out of a pocket. Pressing my seal over the lines of interest, the paper behind it glows. After no more than a minute, I have a half-page of items I need Felice to find for me. I hope I'm not forgetting anything.
I slap the wall again, blinking in the sudden dark, and click my fingers for a dim glowing globe to follow me as I dash down the stairs, not caring about the noise I'm making. I'm about to wake half the House anyway.
“Felice.” I hiss. “Are you here?”
“Yes. I just got in. Mahmood is dreamy.” I can see her bronzed face grinning up at me from the shadows, her curly hair falling around her face like an artist's frame.
“Good for you. Mir Khan is back. I.. I think I'm going to be telling the Story, this year, in Iceland.”
“Stars and bloodlines, really? That's some grade A bullshit right there.” Felice always has my back, though she doesn't always think through what she says. Thank goodness Mir Khan is out of ear shot.
“I don't think she made this choice easily.” I say.
“No... she wouldn't, would she.” Felice looks thoughtful finally. “How do I help?”
“Find all this lot.” I say, handing her the list.
“Want it bagged up to travel?”
Felice grabs me and hugs me. “I believe in you, Amandla.”
“I'm glad one of us does.” I say, returning the hug. “Bring everything to the library?”
“As soon as it's travel safe.” She confirms, and finally lets me go.
I practically run from the room. No more stops between now and the kitchen. Mir Khan will be expecting tea shortly.
Down in the kitchen it's quiet, the staff there will wake with the dawn to prepare and serve breakfast, but the horizon remains steadfastly dark for now.
I smell the cold scent of last night's dinner. A teapot and cup are easy to find. Scholars drink a lot of stimulating drinks, and the House is full of them.
Once I've found some curd cheese, crackers and fruit to serve as a snack, I force the heat from the oven into the water with my sheer will, and then drop in the leaves as it steams. The kitchens are right near the bathing room, so they can share heating. I hope the short walk will be enough time for it to steep properly.
Mir Khan is lying in one of the smaller tubs, eyes a thousand miles away.
I pour half a cup for her, so it won't slosh. She thanks me as I hand it to her. I continue setting out her refreshments.
“I'm sorry I never trained you for combat. I fear it was short sighted of me. You have been so excellent as a scholar I wanted to focus you on that, I never thought... I never thought it would come to this.”
“I know. Me neither.” I say.
“You know I can not rest until this is done.” Mir Khan confesses to me.
“I know.” I say. I understand. If I didn't when I started my study, I do now, five years later.
“But I will never sacrifice you for the sake of The Story.” She says with feeling.
“Thank you, Mir Khan.”
I've always trusted Mir Khan with my life. But it's nice to hear the words out loud. Especially since I'm going to be in the middle of a frozen battle field by next week. Speaking of which.
“I'd best continue with preparations.” I rise to go.
“I saw your sketch.” She says.
I turn to face her again.
“Your vision is true. Your story must be powerful already. That's a relief.”
I smile. Both from the praise, and from the knowledge that I did touch the Dream. Gaining a new power is always a jubilant occasion for me, even in stressful circumstances.
She gestures for me to go, and continues sipping her tea.
I spring from the room, with at least a little more confidence keeping my back straight. Argh! There's so much to do.
Yes, I did just make reference to Sirius the Dog Star. Look. Everything I mention in this fic has a significance more than window dressing. Some are just jokes/references, but yeah. I might not be JK Rowling, but there are easter eggs.
Chapter 5: Land of Ice and snow.
The beautiful empty land. A horse, and a woman.
A horse puffs steam into the sunlight. Shaggy maned, and lovely, it trudges up through the snow. It's getting tired. The foothills of the volcano are petering out. Soon the climb of the slope will be too much to carry a rider. But it is a good horse. Young and strong.
It's ridden by a young and strong woman. Tall and slender, as is common among her people. She looks upwards calculatingly. How heavy will her pack feel once she has climbed the rest of the way.
The horse snorts. The woman feels the tension it suddenly picks up. She knocks an arrow, and looks around, listening hard. The horse dances a few steps, nervous. Nothing else stirs the landscape but the wind. It blows down the mountain.
"Thank you." She says simply to the horse, and dismounts. She takes her pack, ties her hand kerchief tight over the pommel, and removes the reins. Once the horse is made comfortable, she says:
"Go. Home. Auntie Helga will feed you carrots."
The horse obeys.
The young woman squints her brown eyes and starts the trek upwards the rest of the way.
Chapter 6: Beirut Salaam.
Beirut, where we must seek aide in our quest.
Mir Khan follows the road East from Damascus, hopping from hamlet to town. Just high enough that we don’t startle too many goats. Flying during the day is nice, once you get past the fear of having virtually nothing between you and the ground. The breeze is bracing, the speed is exhilarating.
We approach Beirut.
The haze of smoke, the clutter of buildings. The smell of the inlet awash with effluent from many animals and industries, horse dung and fish guts, smoke and humanity. And, in tantalisingly wafts between them: coffee. Oh how I love thee.
We land on the outskirts. A carefully calculated swoop ending with us upright a short way off the ground, slowing gliding downwards onto our feet.
“Beirut looks well today.”
“It does. I shall have to meet the seven families while I’m here.”
The trade city of Beirut. It’s one of the many places where the road meets the ocean. It’s not the greatest of influential cities or ports along the Mediterranean, at least not at this point in time, but it’s big enough to truly bustle. Inns and warehouses, industry and administration. It’s not so far removed from Damascus in the way it looks and sounds and smells.
One of the lovely things about Beirut is that it is currently ruled by the Druze. Which means cleanliness is common, and the holy practice of hospitality means that strangers, especially travellers like us, are welcomed and provided for well. Finding food, water and shelter will be as simple as asking who provides them.
It’s also why Mir Khan is meeting people here. Representatives of the seven families. Our pilgrimage to Island needs to gather many in its wake. If we are to tell The Story, we need others of power. I may be the central researcher on this matter, but it is well beyond the power of one person to solve this. I am very keenly aware of this.
Aisha has been in contact with many over the last five years, but there was supposed to be much more time to rally support.
The other nice part of Beirut is that coffee is popular on this side of the Mediterranean. And it’s going to be a long time before I can get any more of my favourite drink. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get a small bag of beans while here, enough to give me a taste of home while in Island.
Coffee and loukoum is sold in many places along the market way. Little stalls and stores. Tables and stools set out underneath the sky, in the shade of buildings.
We walk to the nearest well, and wash our faces and hands in the prescribed manner. It’s good to know what marks one as an upstanding citizen. Here, it is clean hands.
The coffee here is roasted fresh over a fire and pounded into grinds before being boiled to a froth and served strong, hot and unadulterated. With a sweet loukoum to follow, cleansing the bitterness and giving its own shot of energy to my aching exhausted bones.
I organise myself a cup at one of the stands. In this place the sweet is a choice between rose flavoured raha or candied orange peels. I choose the raha. It’s dense, almost chewy texture always makes me smile. And I love roses.
I hold the cup in both hands. It’s sturdy and clean and so warm. Just below the rim it has a slapdash suggestion of the fine decorations seen on coffee cups in wealthy households. It’s so beautiful to me that I could cry. I’m going to miss coffee. It’s my favourite drink. If I’m going to tell The Story on Spring solstice, then my little bag is going to be long gone.
Arabic flows through the conversations around me. But my ear picks out the accents of the Mediterranean within that context. This is good. We need to hear news of Alexandria. The trouble with port towns is that they are valuable. And that attracts both conquerors and pirates.
Here is Beirut, the town is protected by the seven families. Aisha Khan’s challenge is to convince them that the threat in the North is a threat to the town. This is very difficult. The dragon under the volcano is far away, composed of magics that few understand, and may just be a figment of imagination, or mistaken for being a much larger threat than it actually is.
I have walked the dream. The dragon is real. The volcano is real. The danger is hard to understate.
Chapter 7: Meetings on the Mountain
The mountain is high, a steep sided volcano. Snow capped. The wind licking the frost off the slopes, and tossing it into the air in wispy plumes. The sun is a glaring bright eye, staring down from the height of its climb into the sky.
It beats down on a strangely empty countryside.
It beats down on stark rocks, bare snow, and one single man, a single patch of movement and colour in a pale blue and white and black landscape.
Jokullvegger still kneels in the snow. He just had to sacrifice five white horses. Beautiful strong creatures who deserved a better fate. The toll the Dragon takes grows higher every year. But he just has to last this one last year. Just one more year. His ears sing with the sound of his own blood.
It takes him a while to hear the approaching foot-steps, as they crunch through the snow. His eyes snap open.
The strong young woman stands there. The resemblance is clear, now that they stare one another in the face. Strong eyebrows, high forehead, dark hair. Lanky body. Straight back.
“Hey Pabbi.” She says, greeting her father casually, as though it was nothing strange to meet on the side of a volcano.
“What are you doing here?” He says, sounding stern.
She holds out an arm to help him up out of the snow. “I’ve come to help.”
“You’ve come to help?” He sounds disbelieving. Eventually he takes the proffered hand.
“Fraenka Helga knows that Mir Khan left you. So I came to find you.”
“I left peaches behind me.” He says, and points back the way he came. They set off.
“You just set out into the wilderness to find one man alone in the wilderness?” He asks. Trying to convey how mad it sounds.
“I’ve done more difficult things.” She shrugs.
“With the Aurora overhead and the alfar abroad? This is dangerous. You could be home watching sheep and courting young men.” He speaks as though he’s used to this stubborn child of his.
“That is not what I want from my life. I want to be your partner in this” She says, equally used to disagreeing with her father.
“It’s what I want from your life. Safety. Security. Peace.” He says.
“I have the heart of a Valkyrie. Peace is not my calling.” She slides down a piece of icey terrain on her butt. Jokull follows.
Jokull points back up at the volcano. “This is not your calling either. The dragon will be laid to rest this year, and then no-one will need to do this any more. Not me, and not you. You don’t ever have to shoulder this burden. And if that’s my life’s highest achievement I am grateful.”
“And what if the Story isn’t told this year? What if we need another year. What if the Huldufolk take you tomorrow?” She says, not giving up.
“Don’t speak of maybes. Mir Khan and I have a solid plan.” Jokull says sternly.
“So you’re infallible?” She rolls her eyes.
“I’m your Elder and deserve respect.”
“You are my Elder.”
She reaches to grab his amulet. He reacts quickly, quicker than her grab, and steps out of her reach. But he has forgotten the lake beside them. He loses footing and falls into the water.
Gudrun looks at him struggling to stand for a second, then turns away to start breaking up Jokull’s camp as he finds his feet.
“And you deserve to be questioned. Just like everything else in the world.” She says over her shoulder.
Jokull doesn’t reply, he just hauls himself out of the water and steams generously into the cold air. One of the many advantages to being the Keeper of the Dragon is having a heart of fire.
“You’re just angry with me because you had to sacrifice horses again.” She says. Packing the last few items away. He says nothing.
“Do you understand me, now that you’ve laid your head in water?” She asks.
He takes a deep breath, and blows it out. “I understand you.” He says.
“While I don’t entirely agree, I don’t entirely disagree... You can stay with me. I will teach you what I can. But your first priority is to be careful, to keep yourself safe. At all times. I can look after myself.”
“Of course Pabbi. I’m not a child anymore. How is it that you ask me to get married one minute, and then treat me as a child the next. What sort of man marries a child.”
“It’s just words.” He says, annoyed that her wit and tongue are so fast.
“You’re the one who told me words have power, then taught me Chinese until my ears were filled with it because how else could the Dragon be tamed than in its own tongue?”
“Protecting you from the dragon and shouldering you with the burden of sacrificing horses to the dragon are two different things.”
“I know Pabbi. And I respect how hard it is. But I’m strong.”
“I know.” He says, and now decently dry, wraps her in a hug. She hugs him back.
After some time, they leave the lake together.
*Icelandic saying meaning to find clarity. This is a word play. Gudrun just made Jokull literally go cool his head in water.
Chapter 8: Leave the House
Leaving the House of Khan
Slept and refreshed, Madame Yu comes to the library to find me pulling my hair out in distress. I have 40 books in front of me, in addition to my pile of notes and star charts.
I can't copy everything I want out of the books, and I can't carry that many books. I'm not stupid. But the Story needs to be told.
“Which books are you been researching currently?”
I pick out five.
Aisha puts her hand on the books. “Take these. The others will come later.”
“How? You need to concentrate of China, don't you?”
“Michael will take the other books as far as Italy.” “I am hoping for a representative from the Vatican. We will need them in order to tell this story. So if the books don't come, we're not telling the Story this year anyway. More is the pity.”
Angela runs in to meet me. She hands me a single folded paper. “Here. It's my story. I hope it helps.”
I hug her tightly. “I'm sure it will. Thank you.”
“See you in the new year?” She says.
“See you then.” I say. Although we both know that this whole endeavour is dangerous, we both hope I'll come home unscathed. Her hope cloaks her like royalty.
Chapter 9: Returning to town
After a fight and a trek through the Dream of the Dragon, Jokull bring them out near the safety of the township, and Jokull goes home.
Jokull, Gudrun, Aisha and Amandla appear from nowhere. Standing on a somewhat bare hill, just outside of where the town's church-bells can be heard.
They walk up on the town. It's small, and close together. Intimate. Huddled for warmth in the cold landscape.
“Jokull!” A man calls. He's of an age with Jokull, carrying a pole and a satchel.
“Fafnir. Your sheep are looking fat.” Jokull replies.
“Thank you. I'll see you at dinner tonight eh? I hope to meet this lovely lady then. Tell Helga I love her.”
“Of course.” Jokull replies.
Amandla mutters under her breath. “I'm not a lady.”
Fafnir calls out “Lady Khan, greetings.”
“What do you mean?” Gudrun asks Amandla quietly.
Aisha greets Fafnir with a restrained, elegant gesture.
“I'm neither man nor woman.” Whispers Amandla.
“Is that a religious thing?”
“Oh... perhaps you're like Joergi.”
“Who is that?” Amandla asks with curiousity.
“He confessed to me that since I acted like a man, and he acted like a woman, perhaps we would be happy as husband and wife.”
“That's... the start of the idea, I guess. I'll explain more later.” Amandla looks at Gudrun curiously.
The trudge through the streets. Volcanic rock paving them against mud.
Jokull looks at Amandla and breathes deeply. He obviously doesn't want her in his house.
“I'll take Amandla to the Storytellers.” Gudrun says. “Tell Auntie I love her.”
“You're not coming in?” Jokull asks. Gudrun shakes her head, looking mischievous.
“So she didn't want you to join me out there either.”
“She wanted me there.” Gudrun explains. “I didn't take her amulet.”
Jokull looks like he has words he'd like to say about this himself.
“Because I wore my own. I'm good at making them. I've used my own for years while hunting.”
Jokull still looks grumpy as he shakes his head, sighs and turns to open the door.
Two small children sit playing on the floor inside the front room. They both stop playing and jump into his arms.
“Afidi!” They both yell, grinning.
“Inge, Helgi. Look at you, you're growing like weeds. Let me take off my cloak. It's window weather.” He takes it off, setting it awkwardly on a hook by the door as the kids continue to climb him and tell him stories.
A woman Jokull's age pokes her head in the doorway. It's Helga, his twin sister. “Jokull.” She says warmly once he looks up from his pile of children.
Jokull tries to balance the two kids, one on each hip. “Your niece sends her love. She is up at the Great House with Aisha and Amandla. She'll be back later.”
“C'mon my little loves, let Afidi be for a moment. Go in the kitchen. There are honey buns.”
The children run off yelling happily about the honey buns.
“Did you encounter anything?” Helga asks, seriously.
“The shift was so strong I sacrificed the five white horses as soon as I could. There were things on the plain that I had only seen in the Dream, a whole new stream had appeared amongst the moss. There are strange things in the snowfall too. Hungry. They eat Shift-fall. And as soon as Aisha brought her protege back, we encountered Alfar. A large number, including stone trolls. Gudrun accounted for herself well.”
“Did her amulet work as well as she claimed it would?” Helga asks.
“I have reason to think so.” Jokull says honestly.
“Then I forgive her recklessness. Just.” Helga says, a note of pride in her voice.
They hug one another. Foreheads and noses pressing together. Then Helga pulls her head back a little to get a good look at him.
“Good thing I drew a bath.” She says, looking at his greasy hair and dirty boots. “Let me take your armour off.”
“Did you heat it?” He asks, as she loosens straps and buckles.
“Do I need to?” She asks.
Jokull pulls a face, and pulls off a boot.
“I stand by sending Gudrun out there after you.” Helga continues. “Even with her own amulet.”
Jokull takes a breathe. “I know. I understand.”
“Good. I'm not asking you to like it.” Helga says.
Jokull nods, and moves toward the bathroom. “Thank you for the bath.”
“I have new beer for you when you're finished.” Helga says warmly.
Jokull lets out a peaceful breath. “I love coming home.”
Once alone in the bathroom, Jokull takes off the rest of his clothes.
So many scars criss cross his body. Earned over a long life spent in dangerous lands, facing dangerous foes. His feet and hands are calloused from hard walking and hard work. His muscles strong and lean.
He puts one foot into the cold water, and it warms. A second foot in, and soon it begins to steam. He gets into the bath fully.
His eyes close as soon as he settles in. The back of his eyelids suddenly see Alfar. Desperate and human looking faces contorted in fear. Always fear. Even as their minion stole his son.
His eyes snap open again. He watches the tendrils of steam for a quiet moment. Then suddenly he begins the process of scrubbing himself clean.
Some time later Jokul dries himself off.
The door opens a crack. A little face peeks through.
“Afidi. Can I brush your hair?” It's Inge. Her pet name for him is a mash-up of Uncle and Grandpa. All of his sister's children and grandchildren called him that.
“Of course Inge, I've missed your brushing. Just let me drain the bath, sweetie, the water is fit for no-one.”
“Let Helgi do it. He's in trouble for throwing rocks at the sheep.”
“Is he now?” Jokull says warmly. “So I should come straight out?”
She nods enthusiastically, and puts her arms out to be picked up. He does, smiling at her contentedly.
“How about you? Have you been good?” Jokull says, carrying her to the kitchen.
“Yes Afidi.” She says, playing with his necklace.
“No stealing cakes before dinner?”
She shakes her head.
Coming into the warm kitchen, Jokull sets Inge down, and hugs Helga. His twin is shorter than him by almost a head. But she also has warm brown eyes, and dark but greying hair. They are obviously close.
He sits on the floor, on his own folded coat. Inge sits on a kitchen chair behind him and starts running her brush through his hair. Helga hands him a mug of beer. Helgi sits on his lap and starts winding pieces of string around his fingers to make a game.
“So, what's she like?” Helga asks.
“Mir Khan chose her for her scholarship.”
“You aren't impressed?”
“She's very young.”
“So were you when you started this.”
“It's different. I was...”
“Only son of the dragon.” She finishes for him. “Did you test her blood to check it wasn't as special as yours? No?” She teases.
“She froze.. when things...” He looks at the little ears that are listening. “got hot.”
“The fae?” Helga asks, circumspectly.
Jokull nods, and Inge chides him for moving his head.
“Do you think it was her they were after?” Helga asks.
Jokull blinks like he hadn't considered that possibility. “Not sure.”
“I dream walked as far back here as I could. To make sure we wouldn't see them again.”
“That has its own dangers.” Helga chides.
“I know. But Mir Khan left us to go get more support. And this mage...” With both a hand and his head literally tied up, it's hard for him to gesture sufficiently to show his dislike of the situation.
“Then Aisha really does plan to tell the Story this year. If she's leaving Amandla here.”
“Yes, she does.” Jokull does not sound in the least happy with this.
Helga thinks for a while. “How much more beer do you need?”
“With this young thing to tell it? A lot.” Jokull says.
“You don't even know her yet. You don't like anyone you've just met.” Helga says teasingly.
It's hard to look dignified and indignant, when two small children have decorated you with dry grass toy horses and somewhat lopsided braids.
“Your daughter seems to like her.” Helga says.
“Yes, she does.” Says Jokull grumpily.
“Gudrun is who she is, Jokull.” Helga says.
Jokull takes a deep breath, and then his face smooths in acceptance, and love.
“I'm proud of her.”
They move on to talk with the children about their day, and their recent adventures.
As peaceful and joyful as any family who loves one another.
Chapter 10: Synopsis
Ok, so I might never finish this. It's a bad habit of mine. But the story is whole and beautiful and vibrant in my mind. So here's a good chunk of it summed up.
If you like the sound of it, please tell me which scene you want to see. I'll write it. I want to share something you want to read. I want you to know of the Story.
But until then, I'll probably be off writing other things. Because who wants to tell a story to the empty air?
We travel over land, to Beirut, then skirting the Mediterranean southwards, until we come to Alexandria. The famous Alexandria of Egypt, as opposed to the other cities in other lands that Alexander the great conquered. The land where the library and the Mousion once stood. There lie the ruins of a great scholarship, which Aisha Khan wishes to stir into action once more. That night, and ever night of the journey afterwards, I dream of Jokull, and of his daughter Gudrun. First a sacrifice of white horses, then a fight for Gudrun to join him in the Dream, where he falls into a stream and steams himself dry, then a dream of him luring a starving Polar Bear through the veil of reality so that the Dragon eats it. Finally I dream of a very powerful Aurora, where the crossing from the Dream of the Dragon into Island spreads within its light, leaving traces of alien landscapes mixed into the snows of Island. Traces that will need to be banished once again by Jokull Aisha and myself. And from within the ragged edges of the holes in reality, come the Huldufolk to attack Jokull and Gudrun, trying to tear them from this reality into their own. I am already falling in love with Gudrun at this point, and I call out in fright for her. That is when the Huldufolk see me. That is the most affecting. As through fear itself looked into my soul.
Then across the waters to Crete.
In the mountains of Crete, we find the minotaur. Walking, still confined, in the dust where once the Labyrinth stood. For that is how the magic that bound it works. For it is a spirit. Which can be slain from the world only as spirits are slain. It's body is as long gone as its walls. But it is bound here still.
From there we fly to many centres of learning and of myth, across Europe. Further and further East and North. Until we come to Denmark-Norway. There we consult with one final person, and one final government, before tackling the great deep cold ocean crossing, without landmark, guided only by Mir Khan's powers.
It is cold, and long, frightening and beset by malevolent sea spirits. Perhaps they collude with the Huldufolk.
But we land. Not only near the mountain, but near Jokull himself. Guided by a signature only Aisha knows how to follow.
We land, and I see Jokull for the first time in the flesh. I'm struck dumb by how accurate my Dream is. How I already know this man, though he does not know me. It's really very awkward. Especially since I'm quite sapped by the journey. I am cold, but Jokull is hot. He warms me up and revives both Mir Khan and myself. Then I get to meet Gudrun. She seems to like me. Jokull does not like that, nor does he like me.
We settle for the night, protected by magics. Before we can truly set out in the morning, we are attacked by Huldufolk.
We defeat their first wave of assault, and run. Jokull tears a hole in reality so that we can walk through it into the Dream of the Dragon.
I'm traumatised by the attack, but Jokull saves me, carrying me bodily into the Dream, where he can keep us safe.
From there we travel. Through a marshy stream filled with giants turtles, across land thick with lush vegetation. We pop out into Island on the slopes of a hill, just outside the sound of a town's church bells. Half ancient earthern/peat and stone houses. With an old Norse style great hall for a Church.
The Town is Jokull and Gudrun's home. Herders and farmers making use of the rich volcanic soil. A frontier town.
Aisha and I go to meet the Storykeeper. Gudrun takes us there. Jokull goes to his sister's home. Gudrun's mothers house. There he has a bath. His scars are many and deep. He has a very equal relationship with his sister. He doesn't take command of her, like he did of us out on the plains and in the Dream.
She can see right through him, and won't take a single ounce of bullshit. They talk of me, of Gudrun and of Aisha. They talk of the Story. Gudrun's young grandchildren run at her feet, not interrupting her train of thought, but making an utter fool of Jokull as they braid his hair and play with him and hug him. It's hard to be a big gruff bear of a man when being crawled over by puppies, after all.
We eat together. Jokull's sister likes me. We talk about what to do from here... that's the trouble. Aisha needs to go collect more people for the story. Unless the statue in China is brought, and the correct magics done upon it, then this will all be for nothing. Aisha must find the correct wizards to help, and the blessings of the Emperor.
Which means it would be Jokull, Gudrun and I sealing the scattered pieces of dream back into their own reality without her. Technically, Jokull's sister could do it together with him, but she needs to go to the althing with the storykeeper, to present our case. Also, Jokull does NOT want to risk her life. He's lost too many people before now. It's not just his Son. He lost his wife in childbirth with a third child.
So.. Jokull does not like any of that. He feels like he's being sidelined in order to be my babysitter.
But that's what happens.
We go, and we heal some Dream, and we guard against some Aurora slippage. Both of which are incredibly beautiful and difficult to accomplish. All the while the Huldufolk harry us.
Also... weird things start happening.. I mean, things that Jokull hasn't seen before. We encounter Megaloceros. And lions. And this isn't in the Dream. This is in Island.
Eventually I figure something out. The Huldufolk just want to talk with me. I let them carry me back into the Hidden Realm.
Jokull does not like this. He blames the Huldufolk for his son's death. He hates them. But I go anyway. Turns out the hidden Realm lies within the Dream of The Volcano. Just like
Turns out the Huldufolk are just trying to heal the Dream and the Volcano, just like we are. It's just that their strategy is to get the Dragon to piss off back to China, by killing Jokull and destroying the statue.
Apparently killing his son wasn't their fault. It was the fault of a Windigo, it smelt the power of the dragon. The Huldufolk were there because they wanted to kill him before he could share his power with his son, thereby meaning they'd have to kill both before they could get rid of the dragon. It didn't work out. :/ I mean, they don't like killing people, but the Dragon is messing EVERYTHING UP. Also, if a Windigo got control of the dragon.... woah nelly.
Fortunately. I have a better plan. One that won't kill thousands of people in China... and who knows how many between here and there. At least.. if it works out.
If it works out, my story will be a wedding. Between myself and Gudrun. Why? I'll get there.
You see, the plan to keep the dragon in the volcano was only supposed to happen for a few years, just until they could move the villages. But it was so effective, they just kept sending more and more energy through it, straight to Island.
There hasn't been a flood on the Yangtze in almost sixty years. But the dragon is stronger than ever, and the walls between realities are failing, in ways no-one predicted. We are breaking the Hidden Realm where the Huldufolk live, just as much as we're breaking Iceland.
That's why they've begun attacking. Every time Jokull heals Iceland, it's by breaking the Hidden Realm even more.
Why are there humans in the hidden realm? It's about power and magic and outsiders. At one point through the history of Island, almost everyone was converted from the Norse pantheon to Christianity. When that happened, the people's connection to the land weakened.. except for those who were rejected by Christianity.
What no-one had realised was that everyone used to faze in and out of the Dream of the Land during the Auroras... but it wasn't obvious until Christianity divided the people.
One day, there was just such a strong belief that when a strong aurora came along, it swept everyone from our reality, straight into the Dream of the Land.
Divided one against the other, some were shoved out out reality. Which meant all of the witches, all the left handers, and all of the homosexuals. All those who were 'unclean in the sight of God'. Roughly ten percent of the population just faded away one night, never to return.
For a long time, the Huldufolk were trapped there, but after a generation, their children were able to break back through. By then, they'd figured out what happened. No-one wanted to live back here, even if they could. It's still difficult for them to stay on this side.
But they'll help us. On occasion.
The thing is. It's borders that are the problem. Limits that corral power to and away from certain individuals. That's how magic works. Its what forms the Dream, and the Dream of the Land. It's... everything. Male/female. Christian/Pagan. One country and another. Kings and peasants.
I am a child of an outside land. Gudrun is the child of both China and Island. If I embody the Eastern land plate, and she embodies the West. She embodies both male and female, and I embody neither. She embodies the dragon, and I embody the volcano. But with effort, we can both embody the opposite.
Ok.. It's actually a lot more complicated than that. I have to dismantle at least three structures of power and remake them in ways that will allow the Volcano and the Dragon to become one entity. I do this by telling a story. The Story. And then I get married.
If I do it really well, the volcano gets a bunch of new hotsprings, the Hidden Realm become more accessible, but remains stable, and China simply has to deal with floods as usual again. If I do it less well, there's a volcanic eruption, and a washback of the dragon's power, probably causing instant flooding in China. If I do it really poorly, then the water of the dragon enters the fire of the volcano. Have you heard of Tambora, Pinatubo, Krakatoa? Combine them... So.. goodbye half of Island? And then release an angry dragon into the world, with sixty years of unfallen flood waters in tow.
But .. if I don't tell the story and do it SOON, that level of mayhem is going to start leaking out into random parts of our reality anyway. Because this was a quick fix with unintended consequences.
No pressure huh?
So I have to understand all the power structures I'm trying remake, so I can remake them in a way that lets the Dragon and the Volcano be the same thing, and not divided, and not separate but equal. One. United.
Because if I do it wrong, it'll just start leaking again.
But the Storykeeper has news. I don't have to fix it all at once. I just have to fix enough. And then, I have to listen. And people have to listen to me, so that together we remake things. Make them better. It means that I am dedicating my entire life to this. And the life of my children. But that's no different than what Jokull's family has done.
All we really have to do now, is give the power of the Huldufolk to me, and the power of the Dragon to Gudrun, and then marry us. That's enough of a commitment. And then it just takes dedication, from me, from a lot of people.
We ask for the support of people. Many give it. Some do not. Gudrun feels betrayed by those who do not. But I'm a sorceror. I know what it looks like when someone tells you that the power you have is going to weaken, or at least change. It's fear. Just fear. Powerful fear. But we get enough support.
So we get married under an Aurora, in Island, surrounded by hundred of those who hold the keys to power. We get married next to the lake in the caldera of the Volcano, it's surface reflecting the light of the Aurora. It is beautiful. And it is powerful.
And it works... ok. The volcano erupts, and we all have to flee into the Dream of the Land, and when we get back, everything's a bit of a mess... but the Volcano has new hotsprings. And as long I Gudrun and I stay commited to this, we're going to be ok.
Best news. I'm pregnant. It's Gudrun's and mine. What, you think two female bodied people can't have a child? Look, a Volcano just married a Dragon, don't get weird about things, that's kind of the whole point. Anyway, that child will be our hope for the future.
And Jokull's a grandad! He's so happy :)
Chapter 11: Once upon a time, in a land far far away.
Volcano and Dragon
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a dragon. He was born from the stone of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and lived a long life, traveling the length of the river many, many times. The tale of his adventures is as long as the river, and as varied as the river too. The river has many names, for rivers do not care for borders in the same way that rivers do not care for river beds, and wander where they will, but in this story it will be named the Yangtze.
Many years ago, the dragon fell in love with a peach tree that lived in the crook of a bend in the river. Every year he returned to this bend in the river to listen to its song and enjoy her blossoms. One year when he returned, the people who lived there had dammed the river and chopped down the peach tree. The dragon went mad with grief and rage, and sent a flood that broke the dam, burst the rivers banks and drowned all the people who lived downstream. Then the dragon traveled the river in search solace, but wherever he went, the local people had chopped down the trees on the banks of the river, put in dams and weirs, stealing the beauty and balance. Nowhere could the dragon find peace. And so the flooding traveled with the dragon, higher and higher, and further across the land until it threatened the lives of everyone who lived along its banks. The Emperor of China commanded the four finest sorcerers in the land to slay the dragon and stop the flooding. But of course, there is no way to slay the dragon without slaying the river. So instead they fashioned two statues that would imprison the dragon. One they set in the river, at the place of the dragon's birth. The other they took far away. The Dragon is a creature of water and wind, that flowed to the South and West. So they traveled East and North, far along the great Silk Road, across mountains and deserts until they found a mountain of Ice and Fire. But although this is what they sought, it did not had a power strong enough to hold the dragon. And so they traveled further still, to the legendary island of Ice and Fire, formed by the rifting of two great land plates. Into the Bay of Smoke. In that land they found a volcano that had a female spirit, one that would be a match to the male dragon. And so it was that both volcano and dragon met, and settled into a deep sleep together. Their task accomplished, three of the great sorcerers returned to China, to great reward, and one stayed behind to look after the statue, and ensure no harm would come to it.
This seems like the perfect solution to the troubles of the people in Iceland, and in China. But, you must remember that there are always dangers when humans meddle with the elemental forces of nature.