Wild As Fire
Lyall strode ahead of Gina. The late king’s advisor had attached himself to her ever since the raid on the palace two weeks ago. The name ‘Dragonkeeper’ followed her everywhere now.
Every day, Gina would sit before the lords and ladies of the kingdom, attempting to pacify them while they bickered. Then, Lyall would take her to another chamber, where the heads of the villages would appeal to her for food or protection. Suddenly everyone had a problem which only the Dragonkeeper could fix.
Many of the villagers had been concerned when Lyall presented her, but when she started sending food by the carriageload into the towns they warmed up to her. Martha showed Gina how much of the palace’s food was wasted each day. Instead of throwing it out, Gina hired a number of men from the villages to package up the extra and distribute it amongst the towns.
“Lady Gina,” a middle aged man hurried over to her. He was Varric of Brackenridge. Usually he came to her with a smile stretching into ruddy cheeks, a knitted woollen cap covering his balding head. Today he held his cap in his hands, wringing it out like a dishcloth.
“Varric, what’s wrong?” Gina paused.
“A creature stalks the woods near Brackenridge. A bear, My Lady.”
“Oh, well, you’ve dealt with bears before, right?”
“Not like this one, My Lady. It takes our livestock. We fear for the children.”
“Well, I guess I could send some men to--”
“You must send the dragon,” Varric interrupted. The background chatter died and all attention focused on them.
“Uh, I can’t send the dragon to kill a bear. I mean, then there’d be a dragon roaming the country, which is worse, right?”
“But you’re its master. Surely you can imprison it again once Brackenridge is safe.”
“Furrowbrook has wolves,” a man called out. “If you’re releasing the dragon, get rid of the wolves.”
“And the blight,” one of the women shouted from the back. “Spare our crops this winter. Burn the disease with your fire.”
“Brackenridge first,” Varric bellowed over the clamouring. “The dragon comes to Brackenridge first.”
“Quiet!” Gina called. “No one is releasing the dragon. Trust me, it isn’t going to help.”
“So the dragon is only called on when it’s in service to the royal family, is it?” the woman asked.
“No, of course not.”
“Then where is it?” Varric turned to her.
“I’ve never seen it.”
“It’s, uh..it’s right--” Gina searched for her phone, before remembering it was still on her night stand. She found the lighter, tucked into a fold in her dress and quickly held it up. “Here, right here, see, I’ve still got its breath.”
“Yes, but what are you going to do with it?”
“We thought you were here to help us.”
“I am. I mean, I’m trying--.”
“Then use your magic.”
“This session is over!” Lyall stamped his cane. Instantly, guards moved out from the walls, ushering the villagers back towards the exit.
Gina hurried out of the room and made it to her chamber, closing the door in Lyall’s face.
The voice caused her to jump, then her lips pulled into a smile. Rolf rose from the armchair in the corner and joined her in the centre of the room.
“They want me to release the dragon. Who wants a dragon loose on the countryside? Are these people mad?”
“They’ve been shown magic. They want more.”
“But it’s not magic,” Gina exasperated, sinking into an armchair and resting her head in her hands. “I’m not a sorceress.”
“Aren’t you?” Rolf asked, taking the seat beside her. “You summon fire from your hands, and carry pictures that move and make sound.”
“I told you how the lighter works. Same goes for the phone. It’s an illusion.”
“And what of the music you summon from the air, as though a dozen invisible minstrels are in the room with you? Or how you can see things happening miles away. Or your metal carriage that growls and moves without horses.”
“Cameras and a portable sound system.”
“It makes them no less wonderous. You tell me that in your world, these things are common. Perhaps you don’t know you’re a sorceress, because in your land, everyone is.”
Gina smiled, despite herself, and soon Rolf was joining in. He had developed a knack for cheering her up when her doubts got the better of her. Her smile faded and she turned away from him.
“Tomorrow, when I go out there, they’re going to want proof. Lyall’s word was good enough for a while, but he doesn’t have enough sway to keep them back forever.”
“Lyall knows what he’s doing.”
Gina snorted. “He’s toting me around the palace like a doll, telling everyone how powerful I am, because he knows that without Snow, the lords will go to war to decide who’s the next king. But he’s wrong; I can’t stop them.”
Rolf leaned forward. “Yes you can, Gina. If anyone can, it’s you. These people need you.”
“They need Snow.” She pushed off from the chair, moving to the window. “How is she?”
“Not ready. I thought you would be watching.”
Gina ran her fingers over her tablet, where it rested on the windowsill. She shook her head. “The camera keeps failing. I need you take another panel out and connect it like the others.”
She picked up a Solargen-i panel from the small collection she’d had in her car. The hand sized solar panels were Solargen-i’s pride and joy; the thing Rob hoped would make him rich. The panels now provided power to her security cameras, placed around the palace, and a few in the woods near the Cutters’ home.
Gina handed the panel to Rolf. He held it silently, for a moment.
“You could come with me. We could put it up together.”
Gina shook her head. “I can’t. I have to stay.” She turned on the tablet and brought up a live feed of three of the lords discussing her in bitter tones.
Rolf nodded and backed away. “I’ll go then, My Lady Dragonkeeper.”
Gina turned, wanting to call him back and say she had changed her mind, but he was already gone.
Rolf rode into the clearing, swinging down from the saddle as Snow wandered out from the trees. She was dressed in a simple frock, with a knitted shawl over her shoulders and her hair pulled back. Jebb Cutter walked a few paces behind her, laden down with sacks and baskets filled with produce from the markets.
“Huntsman,” Snow announced, pausing and turning to face him. “What news do you bring me?”
Jebb came to a stop also, his load wobbling. Rolf hurried forward and grabbed a sack and basket from him.
“You’ve been to the markets, then, Princess?”
“Yes,” she sniffed, folding her arms across her chest. “It was very dirty.”
“Come, now, Snow,” Jebb encouraged. “You enjoyed those sweets the baker gave you. And the doll the children made for you.”
Snow pulled a small wooden doll out of her shawl, with black wool for hair, and bright red painted lips. “I suppose,” she said with a shrug, refusing to look at either of them. Jebb gave Rolf a wink.
“You didn’t feel like helping to carry anything home?” Rolf asked.
“Don’t be silly.” Snow strode into the house.
Rolf followed Jebb in, laying his goods down on the table. John and Jeff were already at work in the kitchen. Without being told, Snow picked up a handful of potatoes and carried them to the sink in her apron.
“You still haven’t given me my news, Huntsman,” she called back. “What of the false queen? Do the people still follow her?”
“I heard talk at the markets that she gives the people leftover food. There’s no sense in gifting scraps.” Snow waved the potato she held. “A better gift would be seeds and fertiliser.”
Rolf and John exchanged looks across the room.
“Well, perhaps, Princess, that’s what you should offer them?” Rolf said.
“I’m hardly in a position to offer anything from here.”
“For now, Princess.”
Rolf nodded to the brothers and retreated to the clearing. Climbing the tree next to the house, he located the long-sight device and attached Gina’s panel, feeling sure she would want to see this.