Here’s a little bit from the Viking story I’m working on.
The ship that Dyrfinna is on got lost in a storm and had a hole broken into it, so they’ve landed, and the crew has a little time to wash up and eat while the ship is being repaired.
Ah. Now Dyrfinna was ready to explore the island. She wanted to take a walk to the top of the island, to some prominent crag, and look out over the world and see where they were.
Suddenly a shouting from down below, and a lot of splashing from where the men had been bathing in the creek.
“Run! Run!” somebody was shouting.
She was instantly on the alert, and grabbed the pommel of her sword, ready to draw it.
But just then a dragon flew low overhead.
A wild dragon!
A wild dragon, redder than a ruby, redder than the heart of the reddest wine she’d ever seen, darker red than the tamed dragons that flew for the queens and the nations.
Dyrfinna crouched on the bank of the stream, ready to plunge back into the water if it decided to lay down a line of fire, praying it didn’t see her. These dragons were quick and mean, like hornets, and they were completely wild. No human could approach them. These dragons would just as soon whip around and burn you to a crisp. Just like hornets, these dragons were constantly mad, and they didn’t care what they hurt.
But the dragon didn’t see her. It flew on, clearing the top of the mountain and vanishing from view.
Dyrfinna pulled on her boots, looked around her for landmarks – because she wanted to find her clothes and get back to the ships later – and rushed for the top of the mountain, aiming for a tall group of rocks that stood near where the dragon had flown over.
She left the shelter of the low trees that crowded around the stream, walking through the tall grass that grew from the rocky soil. The mountain wasn’t extraordinarily high, but still, it took a while to walk through the grass, then across the rocks and moss that covered the ground where the grass couldn’t grow. She started puffing as the air thinned. Then the vegetation died away, and only lichen clung to the stones. The mountain wasn’t high enough for snow, but when she finally reached the top, her legs felt like jelly, and she had to stop and rest for a while.
Looking back from where she came from, she could see their longship clear down at the base of the mountain, could barely make out a tiny stirring, which were the people around the ship. Her clothes in the forest were too far away to see, but she could see the glint of the creek where she’d been washing. She thought she could hear somebody shouting down there, but it was so far away that she couldn’t tell if it was her imagination or not.
But on the other side of the mountain ….
The mountain was immense, stretching down, down, down. She’d never been so high in her life, and breathing the thin air gave her a bit of a pins-and-needles feeling in her poor lungs. But the view was stunning. Far away across the ocean, she could see other mountains, other lands. She wished the captain could see this – he probably could have told her what each landform was, and who lived there, and where the ports were.
But on the other side of the island, a little way out into the ocean, was a burned island.
It was charred black as if it had recently been through a wildfire. There was a light scrim of green on the land, as if grass were trying to grow back, but there were no trees – no bushes – no other sign of green.
No sign of life on that island … except for one.
The wild dragon she had seen.
Against the black, burned island, it gleamed red as it circled and circled. A dragon isle. Then it closed its wings like a hawk and dropped to the cliffs that faced the sea on the side facing the mountain. It landed on what seemed to be a ledge – at this distance she couldn’t tell – and ducked its head low, then vanished into a cave. Mostly. For a long moment its bright red tail lay outside the cave, marking its place. Then the tail slid inside the cave. Gone.
It was spring, said the little flowers growing flush against the rocks of the mountain below her feet. And spring was when dragons laid ….
“Dragon eggs,” Dyrfinna said softly.
Her mind was a whirl. How many chances would she have in her life to go to a dragon isle and try and capture a clutch of dragon eggs?
And yes, there was a reason that people didn’t just find dragon eggs in the wild all the time – it was like pulling lion cubs out of the paws of their mothers. Only much worse.
But the Queen had said she’d give her a command.
And it wasn’t even the command that attracted her. She’d read about dragons all her life. Watched them. Studied them. Hung around the dragon stables whenever her father visited the Queen.
To be a dragon warrior was rare, very rare, because dragons were very rare. The queendom had five dragons, two riders for each dragon, one of whom was the the queen herself. Ten riders in the whole queendom. Technically, nine. And it had been so long since the dragons had had a clutch of eggs. They were getting older. They’d gone on mating flights, but nothing had come of it.
It had been ages since anybody had captured a clutch of dragon eggs. Many had gone out to find them. Only a few had returned.
One had returned to Birka after an unsuccessful attempt. Dyrfinna had seen him. Half of his face had been burned off, half of his body burned. He’d died shortly after. They’d said he’d done everything right – he’d slipped in during the dead of night, had disguised his smell, had turned a cow loose elsewhere on the island for the dragon to feast upon, and had slipped into her cave while she was gone to gather the eggs. But she’d come back while he was scaling down the side of the mountain and let loose a blast of fire across his body. He only survived that initial blast because the fire immediately burned the rope through and he’d tumbled down the rocky crags, all afire, into the ocean. It had taken him a long time to die, and he was in much pain the whole time.
The memory sobered Dyrfinna, and she slowed. She didn’t have a cow to lure the dragon away. She didn’t have a rope to scale the mountain. She didn’t have a clay pot or sand to put the eggs in and keep them warm for transport. And she didn’t have a boat to go to the island.
Though her commander had a coracle that he’d stowed on board the ship….
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Dyrfinna is a born commander. She bests her peers in dragon riding, sword fighting, and battle strategy. So when the Queen calls the people of Skala to battle to revenge her murdered daughter, Dyrfinna outfits a ship and brings a crew.
Once in the field, Dyrfinna leads her troops to victory in a series of hard-fought battles against overwhelming odds. Yet a commander is raised over her, and because of his clumsy leadership, a great disaster results in the massacre of a quarter of the Queen’s army. Then the commander unfairly blames a second disaster on Dyrfinna. The wrong stroke of her sword could undo everything she’s ever worked for, earn her the fury of her friends … and exile to certain death.
But you can’t keep a true warrior down. When things are darkest, a flame rises out of the desolation.