The acrid scent of urine told me that we were approaching the dragon settlement. I breathed through my mouth as we passed over dark dunghills. The forty or so longhouses were scattered across the land in front of us. The grey of stone and slate was brightened by symbols painted across the roofs.
Raven’s matriarch lived in one of the grander longhouses. I searched the building for signs of damage. Dark scorch marks showed where Raven had tried to destroy the place of his birth. I wondered why his mother would want to see him alive. If he were dead, no doubt she would enjoy eating his body.
Raven dropped into a steep landing, and I braced myself as his feet thudded into gravel. I took a moment to allow my spine to settle into a dull ache. Then I slid to the ground.
‘I should’ve taken you on a hunt,’ Raven said suddenly. ‘Have you ever killed a creature?’
‘Only accidentally. Many years ago, when I was on holiday in Iceland, I hit a goose flying across the road.’ I shuddered. ‘I parked the car and went back to make sure she was dead. Fortunately, she was.’
‘Did you tear flesh from her?’ he asked hopefully. ‘With your bare teeth?’
‘Of course not. I went back to my car and drove away.’
Raven sighed. ‘Too late to do anything about that now. Walk without hesitation into the house. Let my matriarch smell the death on your face.’
‘And that,’ I told him, ‘is a mixed metaphor.’
‘Dragons smell many things, more than you could ever understand. You have the knife I gave you?’
‘Good. Remember that you are a knifebearer, and whatever she says, don’t let her rattle you.’ Raven turned and led the way to the longhouse entrance. ‘Hrafn Eydisson, son of this house! I claim entry from my blood kin!’
The ease with which the massive door drew back always amazed me. The dark blue dragon standing inside was slightly larger than Raven. ‘Hello, Sylvi, we met you last time,’ I said to her. ‘You’ve grown quite a bit.’
‘My dam allowed me to eat part of the cull from her last clutch,’ Sylvi replied. ‘There’s nothing like dragon flesh to put on strength.’
‘Another clutch,’ Raven grunted. ‘My dam’s fertility shows no sign of diminishing.’
‘Found me another young drake,’ a deep voice responded from inside the longhouse. ‘The mating flight made me feel decades younger. Come in, Hrafn, knifebearer.’
I slid a hand into my trouser pocket, reassured by the weight of my knife. Why a dragon the height of a two-story building feared a blade less than three inches long was a mystery to me, but I wasn’t planning to let go of anything which gave me at least some protection.
A fire was blazing in the large hearth, providing light for the long interior. Gravel crunched under my boots as we marched over to the matriarch. The pleasant smell of wood smoke filled the air, blending with the leathery smell of dragon hide.
Firelight washed over the dark blue dragon. Two of her massive foreclaws were chipped, and I saw a line of grey running along her massive jaws. She might feel younger, but it looked like the years were catching up with her. How long did dragons live? I found myself wondering. I’d met very old dragons, but what was the norm?
‘Hrafn,’ Eydis said, her voice dripping with disappointment. ‘I had hoped to eat you long ago. It would have gone some way to repaying me for the cost of repairing this longhouse.’
‘When I die, my body will go to my fellow search dragons,’ Raven replied calmly. ‘And I caused very little damage. Much to my regret.’
‘And isn’t it nice for the family to be back together again,’ I said with as much false cheer as I could muster. ‘You sent me into the Arctic wilderness, matriarch, and I convinced Raven to return with me. Maybe even search dragons have their uses?’
‘Sometimes.’ Eydis lowered her head to mine. ‘There will be no need to pull out your blade, knifebearer. I haven’t summoned you here to watch me attack my son. I have decided to allow him to live.’
I gave her a smile. ‘That’s very big of you.’
Eydis snorted. ‘Other than the mere fact of his existence, he has done nothing to disgrace this family.’
My mind tried to unscramble her statement, and decided this would have to wait until I had a good portion of whisky both in my stomach and in my hand. ‘I think he’s done a lot to bring credit to your line and to your longhouse.’
‘In the eyes of a skrælingi, perhaps.’ She straightened. ‘Leave us, Hrafn. I would speak with the offeiriad on her own.’
A Bite Of… Chrys Cymri
What sort of music do you most enjoy listening to?
One of the best purchases I’ve made was an Alexa, along with an Amazon music subscription. I used to be able to waste a lot of time scrolling through an iPod looking for what to play next. Now I can simply name an artist and Alexa will play said artist all day. No more time wasting!
I need to music I know well so it doesn’t distract me. I go for mid-range rock/folk/pop groups like Runrig, Jars of Clay, and Alan Parsons Project. My other tastes run to the music of my teenage years, like Journey and REO Speedwagon.
You’re a great traveller, what is the next place you want to visit and why?
Although I’m pretty healthy, I am now firmly middle-aged, so I’m trying to knock remote places off my bucket list. In July I’m spending six days in Finland photographing brown bears, in October I’m off to Bolivia on a bird watching tour, and in June next year I’ll be on a small sailboat, as part of the crew, taking two weeks to sail around the Lofoten Islands. Then in September next year I’m off to Mongolia on a photography trip, visiting camel herders in the Gobi desert and eagle hunters in the northern part of the country. Oh, and I will be staying in a cottage in Wales this summer for a week. Whew! My travel blog is http://www.travellinghopefully.co.uk
What fast food is your favourite and where is the best place to get it?
I’m not into fast food, on the whole. I eat very little meat, and buy organic fruit and veg to cook my own meals at home. But I do love good fish and chips, the original British fast food. There’s nothing like using your fingers to eat a portion on a sunny day at the seaside, sitting on a seawall, fending off the seagulls prowling around for scraps.
Amazon link: mybook.to/PWWerewolves
Chrys Cymri in her own words…
Priest by day, writer at odd times of the day and night, I live with a small green parrot called Tilly because the upkeep for a dragon is beyond my current budget. Plus I’m responsible for making good any flame damage to church property. I love ‘Doctor Who’, landscape photography, single malt whisky, and my job, in no particular order. When I’m not looking after a small parish church in the Midlands (England) I like to go on far flung adventures to places like Peru, New Zealand, and North Korea.