CHAPTER I: FIRE RAIN

A SANTHARIAN NOVEL

 
The Tale of Katya Dragonseeker   
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Introduction. It is a time of conflict and war, where sons kill fathers for kingship, for power. And it is a time when the great dragons of yore still roam the lands. Ordinary Katya Illeri has lived most of her young life within the small village of Yarrow. Like most girls her age, Katya dreams of adventure and excitement but have resigned herself to helping her father tend his tavern instead. Though bitter conflict rages around them, Yarrow remains relatively unscathed by the turmoil sweeping through. - Until now.

For the killing of the adamant-dragon, Seargon, by the human, Wengerim, had set astride an inexorable chain of events that will culminate in a rain of destruction and fire upon the defenseless lands. The Age of Awakening has begun.

 

atya awoke with the memory of thunder aching inside her bones.

Snuggling in deeper within her woolen blankets, she half-remembered waking up sleepily last night, near dawn, to hear the growling crashes of thundering, and seeing through half-opened eyes, the bright, white luminescence of lightning periodically illuminating her small room.

The thick morning mist rolling in from the Silvermarshes sapped the heat from her room, but she resisted the urge to bury her head underneath the covers for warmth. What stopped her from dropping back to sleep was the knowledge that her father would soon be calling through the barrier of her ancient, pitted, oak-hewn door for her to wake up and start her morning chores. It would be any second...she waited.

"Katya! Wake up, child!" Her father's deep, booming voice sounded a heartbeat later than she had suspected.

"Yes, Papa!" Katya shouted back resignedly. "I'm awake!" After rubbing her face on her thin pillow one last time, she reluctantly lifted the covers and winced as the cold pricked her skin, turning it blue. The heat from the fireplace had dissipated a long time ago; the logs were white ashes now. She shivered, teeth chattering, as she lifted her cotton nightshift over her head and hurriedly wrapped herself up in her homespun shirt, dyed her favorite color of red, and skirt with it's many layers of petticoats for warmth.

After splashing her face with icy water, making the surface of her skin tingled, she braided her long, thick chestnut hair into a serviceable plait that hung down her back.

She always started her morning chores by making up her bed and today was no exception. Smoothing the coverlets back and tucking the edges into the corners, she was efficient as only years of practice could allow. A tavern owner's daughter could ill-afford the luxuries of servants.

When she was done, she gave a satisfied nod and spared a glance around her small room. The furniture was austere with only one bed, a small battered cabinet and a tiny fireplace. The only thing of beauty was a hand-held mirror that her father had given to her as a birth-present when she had passed her eleventh year.

The mirror was of Elven make, her father had claimed. The handle of the mirror was made of some sweet-smelling wood and carved into the shape of a tree, the branches enfolding the oval glass. Each leaf and branch, was amazingly detailed and exquisite. At the base of the handle was painstakingly molded, a likeness of an extraordinarily beautiful woman's features, her eyes closed as if in calm repose or some deep dream.

It was Katya's most prized possession and she polished the glass with conscious care every night before she went to sleep.

Sending a brief prayer to Grothar for good weather today, she opened her door and went down the stairs down to the front room of the One-Armed Soldier, the tavern that belonged to her father.

"Good morning, Papa!" she said cheerfully as she put on her work apron, hanging off a hook.

Her father, Medoc, smiled briefly at her before going back to haggling over the price of the meat with Doreg the butcher.

"I'll not pay two Maengolth metals for that piece of maggot-ridden meat." Medoc growled out, picking up and closely inspecting the maggot-ridden meat in question.

Doreg, a short and balding man, puffed up his ample chest in indignant outrage.

"Maggots? MAGGOTS? My meat are all freshly slaughtered, imported from Holm. I sell no spoilt meat I'll have you know, Medoc of Yarrow!"

The other man gave a grunt and arched one bushy eyebrow at the blustering butcher who only came up to his belly. Medoc was a tall man, with iron-gray locks streaking his once thick pelt of chestnut hair, the same color of his thirteen-year-old daughter's own hair. He had wedded Katya's mother late in his life when he was past forty and was already nearing fifty when Katya was born.

Despite his age, he was still stronger than most of the younger men in the village. Medoc had been a soldier with Lord Maengolth's army in Voldar before retiring to marry Katya's mother and moving to settle in the small village of Yarrow, located at the edges of the Silvermarshes. Katya had been born here and her mother had died giving birth to her, leaving Medoc to raise his infant daughter alone.

Katya was grinning broadly to herself as she swept the steps of their tavern when her father and the butcher at last settled on an agreeable price ( one Maengolth metal ) and she could hear Doreg muttering about Medoc's accusations of him peddling rotten meat as his wagon, drawn by a sad looking nag, shambled away.

When she was finished sweeping, the sun had driven most of the marsh mist away and the air was now crisp and cool. She sucked in a deep breath and peered around her, noting with pleasure how the leaves of the trees surrounding her little village were blazing green with the clinging raindrops from the dawn thundershower. Yarrow was no more than a village of a few dozen people and only existed as a rest-stop for wayfarers travelling from the larger village town of Astran down to the south. But it was the only home Katya knew and all the people she loved were here.

A sturdy woman with deep blue eyes and wearing the earth-brown, rune inscribed robes of a herbswoman, walked passed Katya and stopped to greet her.

"Blessed be to Nethor." Ursha smiled as she invoked the name of the God of Healing.

"Ursha, did you hear the storm last night?"

Ursha nodded. "Indeed, I did. I could not sleep and looked out the window instead. The rain was beating out of the night-sky like glimmering silver threads. And I could hear the winds shrieking as if Grothar Himself was trying to warn us of something." She shivered in the bright morning light of the day and drew her cloak nearer to her as if for protection. "Katya, I fear the storm yester-night may have been a portent of evil descending upon us. A cataclysm like we have never seen before and never wish to see again."

Katya, inheriting Medoc's prosaic nature, merely laughed and shook her head so that her braid went flying behind her back. "Ursha, you fret too much", she teased the herbswoman. "It was a storm, a bad one to be sure, but it was just that and nothing more."

Ursha's blue eyes were distant as if she was turning inwards to herself but they cleared when she heard Katya's practical tones.

"Yes, perhaps you are right, Katya. Perhaps I am worrying too much." She smiled once more, but wanly this time. "How is your father's ailment?" Medoc had been stricken with a lung-burning cough a few days ago and a worried Katya had consulted with Ursha for the proper medication.

"Much better." Katya brightened. "He hardly coughs at night now after   he drank the poultice of herbs I brewed for him."

"That is very good to hear. Let me know if Medoc's cough worsens again." Ursha waved her hand in farewell as she turned to leave.

Watching Ursha's figure turned smaller and smaller as she walked away, Katya's features became troubled as she remembered the herbswoman's vague warning of impending danger.

"Katya!" Medoc called out to her from inside the tavern, a note of impatience coloring her father's voices. "I need you to wash the dishes now!"

Knowing that it was never wise to let her father wait, Katya hurried inside to finish the rest of her morning chores.

But despite her earlier scoffing, the words of Ursha lingered inside her head and would not go away, no matter how hard she tried to shake it off.

CATACLYSM...

Unconsciously, she shivered as Ursha had done.

The sun was nigh upon the sky when Katya breathed a sigh of relief. Her back was aching from scrubbing the tables and cleaning the glasses that yesterday's batch of travelers and customers had drunk from. Getting the stubborn stains of leithe off the bottoms of the tankards had proved to be an arduous and back-breaking task.

Leithe was a special drink brewed by her father that had rapidly gained popularity around the surrounding villages. It consisted of fermented honey and the juice of berries from the Elessan tree that could only be found grown in the Silvermarshes. Her father would make a monthly sojourn to the Silvermarshes just to collect these purplish-green berries.

The taste of leithe was curiously potent and heady, a little like drinking pure sunlight. A single tankard of leithe would leave one feeling refreshed. Two tankards meant a slight giddiness and a tingling sense of well-being.

Three full tankards of leithe, however, would incapacitated most humans for at least a day and night. Many a times, had Medoc been forced to lift the body of some senseless, leithe-drunk customer off the floor of his tavern and laid the unfortunate outside the door to sleep the drink off. And, alas for Katya, leithe stains were also notoriously hard to wash off. They stuck to the sides of the tankards with the tenacity of an Aerellan leech.

"Papa, is there anything else you need me to do?" Katya called to her father who was preparing tonight's meat-roast from the purchase he made from Doreg.

Pausing in his ministrations of the meat, Medoc pursed his lips and gave a nod of satisfaction as he inspected the spotlessly clean interior of the taproom. The tavern furniture was simple - a few oak tables and chairs with a huge fireplace in the middle where the roast was simmering on a spit - Medoc prided himself on running a clean and efficient establishment. Much like how he ran his unit when he had been Captain Medoc of Lord Maengolth's army in Voldar.

Walking over to one wall, Medoc took down a sword that hung there and passed it to his daughter who had to carry the heavy weapon with both hands.

"Clean the blade for me, daughter. It's getting a touch rusty."

Wide-eyed, Katya nodded. Her father had never let her touch his sword before, until today. It was her father's blade from his days as a soldier. The sword was much like Medoc, utilitarian and practical. The crossguard of the weapon was cast in the shape of an eagle with wide-spread wings, the banner symbol of Voldar.

Knowing the trust her father was bestowing upon her, Katya grinned proudly. "Yes, Papa." Grabbing a clean rag and a jar of polish, the girl asked her father if she could take her new chore outside as the rays of the sun would help her decipher which part of the battered sword would need more cleaning than the rest.

Medoc gave his permission and as his young daughter was maneuvering her way through the door with sword, rag and polish in her hands, he told her, his eyes twinkling within the deep-set sockets, that if she did a good job and if the tavern wasn't too busy in the evening, he might retell the tale of how Wengerim had won the hand of fair Jenefra, the daughter of Lord Maengolth, by slaying the dragon, Seargon.

Katya, who adored this tale of breath-taking heroism and adventure, nodded with happy anticipation - Medoc was a skillful story-teller, his voice possessing the deep and natural cadences of a bard. She had just passed her eighth year when Wengerim slew Seargon. She remembered Yarrow celebrating this feat of courage undreamed of with music and dancing in the town square, and everyone from the village came dressed in their finest. She also recalled Medoc smiling broadly with pride as the news that Wengerim would wed his former Liege Lord's daughter, Jenefra, reached them and he had offered free tankards of leithe to all who came to his tavern.

Going outside, she sat herself down the last step and balancing the unwieldy sword on her knees, she wetted the rag with a bit of spit and dabbed one edge into the jar of polish.

As she started rubbing the cloth along the length of cold steel, she hummed a little tune to herself, enjoying the work even though it was monotonous to say the least. But the chore left her mind free to think of other things.

"Ho, little maid. Has Medoc finally decided to teach you swordplay?"

For the second time that day, Katya found herself interrupted in her chores, only the new person was Dalwer, the smith who had his smithy at the corner of the main road that ran through Yarrow.

Dalwer was the only man who matched her father in height but where Medoc was lean to the point of gauntness, the smith was heavily muscled from working on the forge. His grizzled beard was spotted with dots of sweat as was his brow and he was still wearing his leather apron, so black with soot and ash that the original color was long lost.

"Good day, Master Dalwer." Katya said politely, titling her head to stare up at the man. She liked the hearty smith but there were times when he quite over-awed her with his loud voice and even louder gestures.

"That's Medoc's sword, isn't it?" He squinted at the blade she held in lap.

"Yes, I'm polishing it for Papa."

"Good sword. The hilt's new enough but the blade was hammered from the finest metal mined from the deepest caves on Brok's island, you know. Even the Lord himself would not scorned a weapon like that."

"Brok's island?" Katya's brow creased in puzzlement.

"Medoc never told you the story behind his sword?" Katya shook her head as Dalwer grinned. "Tis' a marvelous tale, little maid and if there be time tonight, I'll tell it at the tavern."

"Yes, please!" Katya was astonished to realize that her father might actually have had adventures before he had wed her mother and became Medoc of Yarrow, the proprietor of 'The One-Armed Soldier', the only tavern in the village. Real adventures, like the kind Wengerim the hero had!

Wanting to ask further about this surprising revelation about her father (Papa had adventures!), Katya opened her mouth... but nothing came out when, abruptly, everything went dark and shadowy, like the sun had hid behind a monstrously large cloud.

She strained her head to the sky, expecting to see exactly what she had guessed, a cloud drifting by, perhaps a storm-cloud, obscuring the sun's rays.

And what she saw caused her to stand up suddenly, sword still clutched tightly within her left hand and her right fingers tightening on the oily ragcloth.

Master Dalwar's eyes, who had similarly glanced upwards when the huge shadow fell across them, widened as he saw what Katya had seen and a look of fearful wonder crossed the swarthy face.

"Foiros, bring us light and heat." The smith uttered an age-old prayer to the God of Fire.

The sky above them was suddenly alive.

"Papa...," Katya mouthed softly in an awed whisper and then, "Papa! Papa! Come see!" she cried out with the excitement only a child could muster.

Medoc's tall form squeezed through the door of his tavern, caught by his daughter's shout. "Katya? What is it?"

"Look, Papa. LOOK!" Katya could only point with one trembling finger up above her head.

Medoc looked and his hands clenched into fists.

"Dragons." The former soldier whispered.

The Dragonstorm

Picture description. The Dragonstorm decending over Yarrow. Picture drawn by Faugar.

The entire sky was blotted with the sinuous, serpentine bodies of dragons as they flew across Katya's village. So many dragons that they formed a living shroud which hid the sun from the earth. Tail to tail, wingtip to wingtip, spanning the sky's horizons, they swirled and soared in a powerful aerial dance, muscles rolling beneath scaly skin.

Some were flying so low that Katya could see the colors of their underbellies - blazing reds, gleaming greens, Cimmerian blacks and deep, glowing purples. Colors in every shade possible. So many dragons, too many to count, rivaling the stars in their quantities and each and every one of those beasts were terrible in their magnificent beauty.

Katya had never seen a dragon before and she knew she would never forget this for as long as she lived.

"Beautiful." she was whispering as she drank in the sight of flying dragons. "Oh Papa, they're beautiful."

Everyone from the village was coming out of their cottages, mouths agape as they stared at the incredible sight above their heads. Some villagers had outright dread etched upon their faces but the younger folks were amazed and delighted at this unexpected phenomena. Many of them were like Lerana, a pretty girl with golden hair, who was to be married to Tithor, the second son of Yarrow's only woodmaker. Lerana who was laughing with soft rapture as she gawked up at the dragons.

"Run!" Ursha's panicked voice sounded loudly in Katya's ears, breaking her daze. "This is an ill augury! No good can come from this dragonstorm!"

The young girl turned her head reluctantly from the darkened sky and she saw Ursha running across from Dalwer's smithy, towards them, arms waving wildly and robes streaming behind her in her speed.

"Run!" Ursha cried out, her face white and strained. "Do all of you not see it? The dragons are heading for Voldar! They are here to avenge the death of Seargon!"

Medoc closed his mouth with an audible click at Ursha's warning. "Katya, get you inside now", he told his daughter tersely.

Katya tightened her lips together mutinously and she was about to argue with her father when Lerana shouted in her high, sweet voice.

"Look! Up there!" she shouted.

Katya looked and she saw that one of the low-flying dragons had broken loose from the formation and was flying a straight line for Yarrow, it's huge leathery wings flapping with a mighty grace, it's long elongated neck twistin sinuously as it peered down on the inhabitants of the small village.

Closer and closer, it flew down until Katya could feel the heat radiating off the enormous body, searing her skin as she stood with her father on the steps of their tavern.

Closer and closer, until she could see how big it was. Could see the iridescence blue-green scales glinting off it's under-belly as it swooped down.

Close enough for her to see the beast part it's jaws wide, revealing a long red coiling tongue and impossibly sharp teeth - each tooth was the size of the sword she still held in her hand.

And finally close enough for her to see the baneful glare of it's golden eyes with it's black slit-pupils as it opened it's mouth to rain fire upon her village.

Katya screamed shrilly as the first wave of unbelievable heat scorched her unprotected, vulnerable skin and she could feel her blood boiling within her veins.

PAPA!! IT BURNS!! PAPAAAAA!!!

The last thing Katya saw, through the orange-blue inferno of dragonfire, was the flaming form of her father hurling towards her, causing them both to crash full-length against the earth.

Then she knew no more as she slithered down to oblivion with the memory of golden eyes and blue-green scales.

Katya awoke to the sensations of agony and pain.

She tried to open her eyes but found the lids stuck fast. With an effort, she lifted one hand blindly and pried each lid free.

Blinking a few times, she half-lifted her head to see and what filled her sight was death, desolation and chaos.

Cottages and dwellings that were totally annihilated, with only a few blackened timbers still standing, greeted her. Trees that had once surrounded Yarrow, to give the town shelter and beauty, were mere charred stumps. A thin haze of gray smoke hung heavily in the air and when she looked up to the sky, the sun shone a dull orange and the dragons were gone. The air was stifling and heated with a strange, almost ripe odor, mixed in with the smoke.

Katya tried to sit up but found something heavy lying almost half across her body. She twisted and turned, wincing as each movement bought fresh waves of pain upon her already exhausted body.

She finally managed to bring herself to a sitting position and slowly bought her hand up to her head next and discovered that her hair had been completely singed away. The scalp felt raw and it stung when she gingerly touched the skin. And her hand was covered with sticky blood when she felt the left side of her face. Her arms and legs were covered in welts and blisters and with a start of dull shock, she saw that she was still clutching her father's sword in her right hand. When she tried to let go, she found that she could not release the weapon. It was stuck fast to her hand.

The heat of dragon's flames had been so great that the metal of the hilt had softened and melded with her skin when it cooled and hardened once more.

Resisting an insane desire to giggle at the sheer absurdness of having a sword sticking out of one's arm, Katya started to cry quietly instead and her salty tears stung the open wounds on her cheeks.

Then, as she was crying, she noticed the heavy thing lying across her own body and when she realized what it was, she stopped weeping and started screaming.

"Papa!!" she shrieked madly, recognizing the blackened, barely human, thing to be the charred body of Medoc. "Wake up! Wake up! It's morning!"

She struggled up to cradle what had been her father's head into her arms, the sword sticking clumsily to her fingers and, still screaming, she violently shook the burnt body that was giving off the odor of well-cooked meat.

When a measure of sanity had returned to Katya, her throat was already hoarse and hurting from her unceasing screaming, shrieking and keening.

Around her laid the similar blistered bodies of the villagers. Ursha, Dalwer, Lerana, Tithor, Coltek, Khita... everyone she knew was
dead and only she was still alive. She who was now the sole evidence that a tiny village named Yarrow had ever existed.

Dragonstorm... golden eyes and blue-green scales like the color of shells one might find on the shores of a sea.

A burning light, fueled by vengeance, entered Katya's green eyes as she clutched Medoc's corpse to her.

"Papa, I promise you on my soul that I will find it." Katya swore, her voice a balance of cold determination and precarious madness.

"I will find the dragon!" she shouted her rage and loss to the barren devastation all around her. "I will find you and I will kill you!!" she howled to the beast that had  destroyed everything she had held dear.

For a long time the only thing that could be heard, in the village of Yarrow that was no more, was the fierce sobs of a grievously hurt child. 

 


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