A story in bits and pieces from the founding of House Drachenburg. It is set in the late 1960s, before the events in Promises and Powers.
<< And I do not want to hear anyone complaining about loose shoes,>> Ursula finished, surveying the dozen or so children lined up beside the fish pond.
Kristopher, the oldest glanced down the line. “Yes, Frau Ursula.”
<<Good. This way, then,>> and the True-dragon chronicler set off up the path, children following behind like an extension of her tail. They were not going far, just up around the shoulder of the Drachenburg and out of sight of the Schloss and the farms, to an ungrazed alp with some nice lounging rocks in it.
The summer sun poured down out of an almost cloudless sky. Ursula appreciated the heat. For all her energy, she wasn’t quite as young as she’d once been, and any extra heat on her scales made life easier. Birds sang here and there, and the afternoon breeze brought the dull chime of cow bells up the slope from the farms below. Not everyone used the summer pastures. Whiskers twitching, Ursula sniffed the wind, but no surprises wafted to her nose. That was good. She didn’t want to come around the bend and find another dead animal as had happened a few years ago. I’m not sure some of the parents have forgiven me yet. It wasn’t her fault that Hans Schraeder had died of a heart attack and no one had been looking for him, since he was supposed to be gone over a week, checking the high huts and alps.
But no such surprises waited the teacher and her students. They reached the alp without incident and Ursula marched over to her favorite rock, a long, low grey boulder with a nice flat top. She climbed up, removed her carry harness, and settled onto the sun-warm stone. It rubbed her belly scales a little but that was fine. The children gathered into a loose semi-circle around her, humans, HalfDragons and two True-dragons. She counted noses and muzzles once more. <<Is everyone here?>>
“Yes, Frau Ursula,” the group chorused.
<<Good.>> She shifted a little to get comfortable and draped her tail over her forefeet, admiring the sheen of the sun on her sunrise-pink scales as she did. <<So. Where do we come from?>>
Fritz raised his hand and she nodded. “Today or in the beginning, Frau Ursula?”
<<In the beginning, please.>>
The eight year old took a deep breath. “We came from over the mountains, that way.” He pointed, double checked, and pointed a slightly different direction, north and west of the Drachenberg’s dark height. “We were going south, to the warmer lands,” he pointed toward the sharp wall on the other side of the valley. “But our families met enemies and we came back here and hid.”
“We did not hide! We just liked it better here and it was not as crowded,” one of the girls, Maria Beata, protested.
<<Fraulein Maria Beata,>> Ursula said. <<The local people chose to avoid the valley and hills, the caverns provided shelter, and we did not need to go any farther.>> Ursula looked around the circle and noticed Johann staring into the distance. <<Johann, when did we come here?>>
He startled and dropped the flower stem he’d been chewing on. “Ah, during the time after the Romans left but before the Bavarians and others came. And in winter.”
<<Correct.>> Ursula gathered herself. <<Come closer, please.>> The children pulled the circle inward and held hands while Kristopher rested his free hand on their teacher’s forefoot. <<Watch and learn.>> Ursula drew on House Drachenburg and her own skills, linking minds with the children. She felt Johann adding to her strength, and through him his mother, Lady Magda.
The scene shifted, and instead of a sunny, warm alp, they now stood at the mouth of the valley, up to their knees in snow. They looked downstream, out of the Drachental, toward the river. As they watched, an avalanche shuddered down one of the slopes behind them, filling the valley’s mouth enough to block the trail.
“Damn,” a tall man in dark clothes said. He sounded more resigned than angry.
<<No argument here. That answers the captain’s question then.>> A True-dragon, wearing what looked like a copy of the man’s winter clothing, patted the snow beside him with her tail-tip. <<We’ll be here for a while.>>
Man and True-dragon turned around and retraced their steps, walking through the compacted snow on the natural path beside the stream. Their breath steamed in the low afternoon sun, and blue shadows matched their pace. <<Maybe the trackers will think we were under that.>>
“And maybe we’ll find a climate dome with hot springs and an all-you-can-eat buffet waiting at the end of the valley,” he said. He smiled as he spoke, as if joking with his partner.
<<Hot springs would be nice. Hot springs around 45 degrees with just a touch of iron in them would be nicer.>>
The man shook his head and concentrated on the path. The mess of snow showed where someone had found a loose area before, and he poked the uphill side carefully with a snow-probe before working around the hole. His partner jumped the hole, landing neatly on all four feet before continuing on.
The scene shifted as the children watched. Now the man and True-dragon stood at the mouth of a cave. They removed their hoods and eye protectors, revealing dark hair and black scales, and almost identical purple eyes. Brother and sister walked down the tunnel and into a larger cavern, crowded with people. Men and women, True-dragons, and a few children clustered around portable heat generators. An Asian-looking woman, slender and almond-eyed, gave orders to one of the leaner True-Dragons. “Go to the first bend and no farther. I can’t risk you.”
The reptile’s round ears drooped but he acquiesced. <<Yes, Ma’am.>> He eased off, accelerating as he went, no doubt eager to be off and exploring before the captain changed her mind. The man and the True-dragon both smiled a little.
“Avalanche closed the valley as we watched, ma’am,” he said.
She pinched the bridge of her nose. “I will take that as good news. Even if they manage to bring flyers or a spy-eye, they’ll assume we’re under the slide.”
<<Will they, Ma’am? Not to be a pessimist, but if they come this far after us, why should they stop at the snow slide?>>
“Because Orlam’s lazy. And cheap. They’re chasing us because they have orders, and if he can say that we’re dead, and pocket whatever is left in the budget . . .” She turned her hand palm up.
Bitterness, like venom, colored the True-dragon’s next words. <<Good point, Ma’am. And his least-royal lowness is only pushing because he wants to impress the Council.>>
“You of all people would know,” the captain smiled a little. The man crouched and rested one hand on the True-dragon’s back. She patted the hand with her tail-tip. “So, the scouts who went up-valley found evidence of the humans’ presence, but nothing now. Lots of edible quadrupeds and other animals, and it appears we should be able to survive here, if we have to.”
The siblings both relaxed and the man stood. “Perhaps we should plan on that, Ma’am. After all, the valley is defensible, has what we need for now, and no humans seem to claim it.”
<<I think we should plan to stay. As I recall, the scans and old scout reports all showed the native humans living on the plains and in the flat, tropical and semi-tropical areas. We’re less likely to double-up on an earlier claim here in the mountains.>>
The captain drummed her fingers on her pants leg, in the direction of the cave mouth for several minutes before speaking. “My gut says you are right, Sholara. And we have the technology to stay where the humans can’t, at least not yet. We’ll discuss it later, all of us of age, that is.” She waved one hand a little, dismissing the siblings.
The image shifted and faded, returning the children and their teacher to the present. Kristopher raised his hand.
“Frau Ursula, were all the Houses chased to their lands by someone?”
The True-dragon shook her head and lifted one forefoot, palm up. <<No. A few fled trouble, some came because they had outgrown their home territories, some followed younger siblings of large Houses, and well>> she rumpled her tail in a shrug. <<Some of us have itchy forefeet and do not want to stay in one place forever. Like Lord Joschka’s service-sister Lady Rachel, who always has to see what is over the next hill, and the next.>> She gave them a picture of a dark-haired woman standing on a ridge, looking into the distance, a heavy walking-cane by her side.
She let the children think about what she’d said. Then she began, <<However, the House made the Drachental our home. But we were few, too few to thrive. That changed in less than a year. Link to me.>> The world changed again, to a campfire in a clearing near the mouth of the valley, on a warm summer night. Two True-dragons and a HalfDragon sat by the fire, warming their hands or cooking things on sticks.
Darneel poked at the closest log and watched the sparks flutter up. “What about bottlenecking? There’s only a hundred of us all told, from five family lines. That’s too few to last more than three generations before problems start to arise.” She sounded sad.
Keesho rocked his head back and forth, whiskers flowing in counterpoint. <<Yes and no. Yes, eventually there will be problems. But there’s nothing to keep those who can from marrying out. In fact, if we are strong enough, in another few generations, people may want to marry into the valley for protection. And I suspect some will leave as well.>>
Smaller than Keesho and paler, Keylara examined her piece of meat and grumped. <<Yeah. Which is how we ended up in this hell-hole to begin with.>>
“Really.” Haker appeared out of the shadows, making the others jump. “Keylara, you have no idea what a hell-hole is like. Many of us do. And this valley is not it.” He took off his glove and held the reconstructed remains of his left hand in the firelight. “Believe me, this is no hell hole.” Darneel and Keesho shifted to give him room. “And it seems the people downstream need salt.”
Keesho’s whiskers perked and his ears and tail twitched. <<Sodium chloride, the stuff from that cave?>>
“Yes. They are quite willing to trade food and other things for it.” Haker smiled a little. “I suspect they pass it farther downstream at a higher price, what they don’t use.”
<<That’s universal, then. >> Keylara said.
Darneel smiled as well. Haker smiled back. Through the sending Ursula heard one of the children giggle and made a mental note that it was time for someone to have that talk with the older younglings. Within the sending, Keesho rubbed one talon under his slightly crooked muzzle. <<There’s two kinds of sodium chloride bearing materials in the caves here, one that is harder and purer, and one that’s very plastic and easy to work. We could probably market both kinds, at different prices, depending on what the humans are using it for.>>
Keylara nibbled more meat. <<You do know that they sell females here? Human females? There must be a surplus because they come with trade goods as part of the contract. We, the House, could buy a few and—>>
“They what?” Darneel’s eyes, wide as dinner plates, bulged. “What do you mean they sell females?”
Keylara shifted in her place. <<I overheard some of them talking a few weeks ago, part of that group that passed by the valley mouth on the trail to the pass to the south. Some humans catch and sell other humans, and one male was bargaining with another older male about the price he demanded for one of the young females. Um>> one ear went back, the other tipped forward in confusion. <<It sounded backwards to me, because the man wanted more goods in order to buy the girl. I mean, her owner had to pay for someone to take her and both acted as if that was normal here.>>
Before Darneel could explode, Haker raised his right hand. “That’s called a dowry, and you are right it is a bit like paying someone to marry your daughter. House Trobak still has a form of it, but more as a token gift of good-will than a legal requirement.” Beside him, Darneel sat back and closed her eyes, letting her shoulders droop. Haker patted the arm closest to him. “It might work better to trade the other way, to offer bride gifts if a human family wants to ally with the House.”
“Are we forming a House?” Darneel pushed a bit of stray hair back behind her ear. “A formal House, not the loose group we have now.”
Keesho wagged one forefoot and his tail-tip. <<It’s being discussed. I see no reason not too, since it will make governance and trade easier. And a House is probably not too different from how the humans organize themselves in this area, if what the scouts say they’ve seen is correct.>>
<<What do Arnaulf and Sholara think?>> Kelara asked.
<<Why does that matter, Keylara?>>
Her whiskers twitched. <<Because if Sholara is comfortable with it, then there should be no problem. She’s had the worst experience of any of us, no offense Haker.>>
“None taken. I signed up knowing I might meet trouble. Sholara . . .” The four all shook their heads.
Ursula stopped the sending to say, <<And that is how House Drachenberg came to be. The adults voted, and all but two elected to form a new House. Of those two we will speak later.>> Although she doubted any other than Johann really needed to hear the story. <<A few humans became trade partners, then mated into the House with the passing of time. The House survived but did not prosper, not for the first few years. And then . . .>>
The scene reformed, inside one of the natural passageways within the Drachenburg proper. The HalfDragon and True-dragon siblings, both wearing headlamps, made their way through the passage, putting little dots on the wall every few meters to mark how they’d come. <<Arnaulf, is anyone else supposed to be here?>>
“Not that I know of. Why?”
<<Because I feel as if we are being watched, the same way I felt in the flowstone cave the other day.>>
The man heaved a deep sigh. “Oh good. Because I felt it too. If you feel it, then I’m not getting the space-wobblies.”
Sholara laughed. <<Space-wobblies in a cave? That would take more talent than any of us have.>> She put a mark on the wall and they continued on, wiggling past a few rock falls and ducking a low spot. <<Is that light?>>
“I think so. Maybe we’ve found another crack-cavern.” Arnaulf scooted ahead and rounded a curve. “Oh. Stars and blasters!”
<<What’s—>> Sholara hurried to his side. <<Wow.>>
A crystal-lined room, so small only two or three people could possibly fit inside, branched from the passage. It glowed with reflected light, although where the light came from neither sibling could tell. Sholara switched off her headlamp and the light brightened, if anything, dancing off the blue, pink, cream, and yellow stone. “That’s amazing.” Arnaulf took one step into the room, then another, his sister close behind.
Something moved in the air and in the crystals. Arnaulf froze, Sholara stopped with one hind foot still in the air. The sense of something watching grew stronger, and stronger, and the twins linked minds, ready to fight. Instead the presence knocked them off their feet with a rush of air and power. “What is that?” Arnaulf gasped.
The presence pushed into both their minds, showing them something. Their eyes unfocused and they stopped fighting. At last Sholara managed, <<Us? You want to work with us? To help you? >>
After a long pause, Arnaulf made a strange hand gesture and Sholara copied it with one forefoot. The presence retreated, leaving the twins blinking and staring at each other. <<You want to explain to the captain? >>
“No. And I don’t think I will.”
Ursula stopped the sending. Johann almost bounced in his place on the grass. “That was the Power, wasn’t it, Frau Ursula?”
<<Yes. Arnaulf was the first War Lord and Guardian, and Sholara was Drachenburg’s first Head. >>
Antonia frowned. “But Sholara was a girl, and the Head must be a man.”
<<That is true now. At the time of the founding, and for some years later, women could be Head, just as women have been war lord. >>
“Like Lady Mechtild was, during the Napoleonic wars,” Kristofer said.
Maria Beata raised her hand. “Frau Ursula, did all the Houses come here to get away from someone?”
Ursula’s whiskers swept forward until they almost touched in front of her muzzle end, then back. Apparently Maria Beata had not been listening the first time. <<Some did. The people who founded House Drachenburg thought they were the only ones to flee the Council War. They were not, but that is a story for later.>> Much later, if ever, Ursula thought, glancing at the shadows. Because the House records said only that others had come, but not from where or when. Johann would need to know, eventually, but the others? Probably not, especially not after what Lord Joschka had told Ursula.
<<And it is time to go back to the village. >> She put on her carry harness as the children gathered their rucksacks and sticks. <<Klaus, no poking your brother. >>
“Yes, Frau Ursula.”
Two-thirds of the way down to the valley and village, Johann pointed. “Look, that’s my father’s car.” A low, very shiny black sports car climbed the road from the other side of the valley. “Father’s home!”
“Lord Joschka’s back?”
“Oh, will he tell stories?”
“Was there a fight? Mama says he goes away in case he has to fight.”
A babble of questions erupted. Ursula let the children go on for a minute or two. <<That’s enough. I’m sure Lord Joschka will hold a House meeting if he has something we all need to know about, or if there is House business. Johann, if you wish to go ahead you may.>>
He bolted off down the trail almost before she could finish. Well, she sighed, Lord Joschka had been away for almost six months this time. Ursula reached out and felt the House agreeing, and a sense of connection and rightness. The Head and his Lady had touched minds, completing the link to the House. All would be well.
(C) 2015 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.