The Shires of York
Chapter 4. Female Power
Written by: By Joseph Murphy-James
Read the first four chapters of Joseph Murphy-James’ excellent six-part fantasy book series, The Shires of York.
4 – Female Power
It is little known by humans that the male dragon is much smaller than the female and that only the female has the ability to scorch the earth and its victims.
Padrig was the smaller male whilst his mate Tanwen, the Fire Manon, was the larger female. Padrig was flying high, heading home to the White Scar Cave. It was close to midday and the air was clear. His senses were acute and much better than any other creature of Earth. Below him he spotted two horsemen galloping recklessly across the moorland circling Ingleborough, the highest peak that Padrig could see. Their trajectory was clear: White Scar Cave, there could be no doubt.
Why would a human want to risk this journey? It has to be important, to them.
The revelation cause Padrig to beat his wings just a little faster and he gained ground on the horsemen. He swooped lower for a better view.
There are two of them and not well armed. They must be lost, fools or worse.
Padrig made good progress and was at the entrance of the cave well before the horsemen were in sight. He called out to Tanwen; he had news.
Eoforwine and Wilfriđ were the messengers ordered to the dragons’ cave. They had been riding since early morning and the sun was now at its zenith; it was becoming hot. They had stopped their horses for a break near a stream; both they and the men needed some water and food.
Eoforwine was a taciturn man, not prone to idle chat. He was battle scarred and the lines across his face enhanced his rugged appearance. Wilfriđ was slighter in build than Eoforwine but was a tough man who had seen many skirmishes. Vellocatus had chosen well.
Eoforwine pointed towards the north west, up into the sky and said, “The dragon, he flies. He is smaller than I feared.”
Wilfriđ looked skywards to view the retreat of Padrig towards his home in the cave.
“He will have seen us,” said Wilfriđ, “they see well, for leagues.”
“We must be on our guard,” said Eoforwine.
Though I do not know how we can fight a dragon and win.
“We still have the runes,” said Wilfriđ, “they have not slipped from the saddle?”
He smiled at Eoforwine who said, “I am pleased, for we would have to abscond otherwise.”
They both had reservations about their mission but they kept their counsel.
“Come, we must go. We need to be close by nightfall,” said Eoforwine.
They mounted their steeds and ploughed on towards an uncertain fate.
Dragons were, by nature, solitary creatures and Padrig’s return was to a lukewarm reception. Tanwen tolerated her mate of countless years but the unbridled affection of their earlier years was well behind them.
“Did you say that you had news?” said Tanwen, folding her wings into place as they moved through the narrow passages towards the cavern where they lived with their adolescent daughters most of the time.
“It can wait until we are back,” said Padrig, adding, “how are Buddug and Dona?”
“They have been fine,” said Tanwen, “they are becoming a handful, that’s for sure.”
Their daughters had reached an age where they needed their own independence and Tanwen was keen to encourage them to find their own caves. Padrig was not so sure.
I would be left with Tanwen. What a prospect!
They entered the large opening of the chamber and Buddug and Dona were waiting for their father. They blew large flames into the air in delight at his return.
“Now stop that,” said Tanwen.
The girls flapped their wings at their father who did the same in return. They loved their diminutive parent.
Buddug was the younger by a couple of years but slightly larger than Dona. Both were now formidable dragons and as fierce as their mother when they set their mind to it. Padrig knew that they would have to leave soon but he was going to do no pushing.
They can leave when they wish as far as I am concerned.
“What have you caught today? I’m hungry,” said Padrig.
“You are always hungry,” said Tanwen.
“Leave papa alone, you are always picking on him,” said Buddug, her nostrils flaring and emitting dark smoke, on the edge of fire.
She’s such a miserable Fire Manon.
Tanwen was having none of it and flicked the unruly child with her tail and sent her rolling across the cave floor.
“Now, mama and you kids, papa is home and I would like a bit of civility if you don’t mind. I also have some news that might be of interest to you. Something that might sate those pent up frustrations.”
They tucked into a wild boar, lightly roasted, dragon style and, as they ate, Padrig spoke.
“As I was flying over Ribblesdale I spotted some riders and they are heading our way. I flew a little lower so that I could see them better and they look like Brigantes to me. You know, that Queen who tried to negotiate some kind of agreement with you mama a few years back. What was her name, now?”
“Cartimandua,” said Tanwen, “Queen Cartimandua. She had some courage that one, if misplaced.”
“Well, there was never a chance of a treaty, of course. Now where was I? Ah, yes, these horsemen. Whilst I was away, I learned of a plot by this Queen to join forces with the Dämonen.”
He was interrupted by Tanwen who shrieked and blew a long stream of fire into the air.
“The Dämonen, those devil henchmen of Diabolus, what was she thinking?” said Tanwen.
The girls looked at each other, puzzled. Their father explained whilst mother looked on impatiently.
“It seems,” Padrig continued, “that a Crystal of the Veil, or maybe two, have been found by this Queen.”
“Ah,” said Tanwen, “two of the missing three.”
Buddug and Dona knew about the crystals; it had been their birthright to care for them and they knew of the crystal’s folklore.
“The first is not missing and now, it appears, nor is the second,” said Padrig, “I know that the first and third are with Alaric, Lord of the Dämonen.”
The female dragons flamed together at this news and Padrig flinched.
I wish I could do that.
“He needs only the second, and he has a Veil,” said Tanwen, her nostrils still smoking.
“We must stop them,” said Dona.
“Indeed we must and having the third without the second is a weakness for them,” said Tanwen, adding, “is there more papa? You mentioned the second crystal.”
“The Queen is saying that she has the second too,” said Padrig, expecting further fire but none came.
No more theatricals please.
His three females said nothing, so Padrig continued, “I had heard that she is sending messengers to us and the horsemen may be them.”
“You are well informed, as always, Padrig,” said Tanwen.
“It is what I do,” Padrig said and he felt warm inside for praise came rarely from his mate, “so, girls, if you could, perhaps, desist from incinerating these humans, at least until we have their news?”
The horsemen, Eoforwine and Wilfriđ, reached White Scar Cave at nightfall and made their rough camp. They were not going to risk confronting the dragon until the morning. They lit a fire, ate their meagre rations, fed the messenger bird, for it would be flying back in the morrow, and turned in early. The night was cool but dry and both slept fitfully.
Who knows what fate awaits us?
The rune stone had been placed between them for it gave warmth and light and kept away others that may have wished harm to them. This would be the last night of its protection. The camp fire burned slowly and they took turns to tend it during the night.
Unknown to them, from the top of the scar, a dragon watched them sleep and observed the rune stone as it glowed its soft light. He could not decipher its meaning from his position on the cliff but he knew that tomorrow he would. He must be patient, he had the time that these humans did not.
“Padrig, you know that you cannot”, said Tanwen, “and you know why too.”
Padrig was irritated. He wanted to meet with the humans and listen to the rune’s message.
It’s always the same. I provide the information and they take the glory.
“They have a rune stone, did you say papa,” said Dona, her nostrils smouldering.
Padrig looked up at her.
My, how she’s grown and how fierce she is now.
“Yes, my sweet,” said Padrig, “and it is full to brimming.”
“When was the last time we heard a rune play?” said Buddug, “We must have been very small.”
Tanwen mused and a fine trail of white smoke from her mouth betrayed her deliberations.
“The message must be of some importance,” she said, “it is not easy to create a rune. Not easy at all and they must have had help.”
She looked at her children and her nose wrinkled. Padrig knew that look.
“No fireworks, you understand? I want to hear the message and the humans are the key for the runes this time. No humans, no message. I would like them whole and I want them to return home, terrified but alive to tell their kind of what they saw.”
“Yes mama,” said Buddug.
I hope they understand. They are such reckless children.
Eoforwine took the folded slip of parchment and tied it to the bird’s leg. He stoked its head gently and then placed the bird between his hands. With a brief thrust, the bird was gone. It circled once and then turned south east towards York and their Queen.
It is time.
“Eoforwine, there is no need for us both to die here,” said Wilfriđ, “I will do this. You return.”
“No friend. Soldiers do not desert their mates and you know that. We are in this together. Besides, you are lousy with a sword.”
Wilfriđ grinned at Eoforwine and they clasped hands together as a sign of camaraderie.
“Swords against dragons,” said Eoforwine, “we can’t lose.”
Wilfriđ retrieved the rune stone and they walked towards the entrance to the cave.
What do we do now? Knock? The runes will do the calling, their commander had said. They placed the rune stone between them on the floor and it flipped into the vertical.
It looks like our tombstone.
They both heard the noise. Sweat was trickling down each of their foreheads. Wilfriđ placed his hand on his sword, ready for action.
A useless gesture but I feel better for it.
The rune stone started humming. It was a beautiful, rhythmic tone.
Elf music. The music of ecstasy but the last sound you hear, they say.
Eoforwine felt a dribble of perspiration run down his side. He was trembling but trying not to show his fear.
My senses, they are so intense.
A column of smoke preceded the three dragons: Tanwen, the Fire Manon and her daughters Buddug and Dona. Padrig watched from above them at the top of the cliff, unnoticed by the men.
Pure theatre. She’s good, I’ll give her that. This should scare them rigid!
Tanwen exited the cave first and was flanked by her offspring. She released a tiny flame from her mouth; a small show of her power. Buddug and Dona behaved and kept their furnace cold.
So far so good.
Wilfriđ’s heart was beating quickly, as was Eoforwine’s. The rune stone took control. Tanwen looked down at the pint-sized humans below her.
How puny they look.
Runes danced from the stone and arranged themselves in front of the dragons. Padrig watched as characters formed their communiqué for the creatures of fire. Then, the runes sang an anthem that was beautiful and mesmerising; most of all, it was calming and tensions diminished as the runes sang their Elven melody.
The runes delivered their message and each of the dragons heard it, including Padrig high above. Its importance was unquestionable. The tune faded and the stone’s power died with it. No longer adorned with runes, nor glowing, the stone now looked no different to the thousands of others littering the ground.
Tanwen turned to the humans and she gave a single order to them.
They did not need to be told twice.