Authors: Lawrence Watt-Evans
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Dedicated to Charles Worsley, an honorable man, and the man who has made my sister happy
The sky to the west was dark with heavy black clouds; Arlian didn't like it at all. He was eleven years old, almost a man by the standards of his village, but right now he felt much younger, and very unsure of himselfâhis father was away, and the weather seemed threatening and unnatural. He stayed close to his mother as she stood staring down the slope of the mountain, watching the men of the village haul the heavy water wagons back up the winding, stone-paved road.
Oxen would have made the hauling much easier, but the village had no place to graze oxen on the rocky mountainside; what little arable soil they had was all reserved for human needs. That meant that the men of Obsidian had to use their own muscles to fetch water up from the river.
In another year or two Arlian would be big enough to join them, but for now he stood beside his mother and watched.
Arlian's mother fanned herself with one hand, while the other clutched at her black-and-gold brooch, holding her collar open; the air was thick, hot, and stagnant, and her gray dress was soaked in sweat. “I can't stand weather like this,” she said. “I'll almost be glad to see winter come this year!”
Arlian looked up at herâthough not far up, as he was almost as tall as she, now. He always liked winter, and had never entirely understood why the adults didn't. In winter the mountain was covered in snowâwell, except right up by the craterâand he and the other children of the village could go sliding down it; there was plenty of cold, clean water available for the melting, without having to haul it up from the valley when the streams ran dry. He could play outside for hours, then come in and warm up by the fire, and no one would order him out of the way or ask him to help with the chores. Even the adults had less work to do in the winterâso why did they all hate it? Yes, there was less food and it wasn't fresh, and the cold seeped through everywhere, and the fire had to be kept up, but still, Arlian thought that winter was wonderful.
was better than this stifling hot, humid summer, when the sun didn't seem to want to show its face and hid behind a thick haze or clouds. This wasn't how summer was supposed to beâthere should be bright days and rainy ones, not these endless smothering gloomy days when the clouds hung overhead but the rain never fell. This was ugly and exhausting.
It hadn't rained in weeks, and the crops were sufferingâthe water the men were hauling up from the river would help, but a good cistern-filling rain, splashing down the mountainside and pooling in the rocks, would have been better.
Those clouds in the west looked even uglier than most of this year's skies. Maybe they would bring storms, and put an end to this nasty heatâbut their appearance was not promising, and Arlian didn't trust them.
His grandfatherâhis mother's father; his father's father was long deadâstepped out on the rocky ledge beside them and looked, not down the slope at the water-haulers he was too old to assist, but out at the clouds.
“Dragon weather,” he said with a frown.
“Oh, nonsense,” Arlian's mother said. “You've been saying that for weeks. It's just a hot spell.”
“Isn't that what dragon weather is, Mother?” Arlian asked. “A hot spell?”
His mother glanced at her father.
“Not just the heat,” the old man said. “Look at that skyâhot as a furnace and days dark as night,
dragon weather. You need the heat
the dark. If those clouds move in and settle here, that's
what we'll have.”
Arlian looked straight up at the sky overhead. It wasn't dark as night, but it wasn't very bright, either; the summer haze was thick and foul with the gasses from the smoking peak of the mountain. The fumes had been thicker than usual lately, but whether that had any connection with the weather no one seemed to know. Arlian had heard the adults arguing about it, but the arguments were never settled.
“Why is it called dragon weather, Grandsir?” he asked.
“Because it's the sort of weather that brings the dragons out of their caves,” his grandfather replied. “They can't abide cold or light, Ari. In the days when the dragons ruled over our ancestors the world was warmer than it is now, and the great beasts darkened the skies with their smoke so that they could come out by day, as well as night. When the weather's dark and hot now, old and tired as they are, they still stir in their sleep, and sometimes they awaken and come out to feed.”
Arlian stared nervously at his grandfather. The old man spoke in a deeper voice than usualâhis storytelling voice. It made his words seem more important, and more ominous.
“Don't mind him, Ari,” Arlian's mother said, patting Arlian's shoulder reassuringly. “That's just stories. No one's seen any dragons in hundreds of years.”
Her father shook his head.
“No, Sharbeth, you're wrong,” he said. “When I was a boy I saw a village where a dragon had been not long before. I may be old, but it wasn't hundreds of years ago.”
“Tell me about it!” Arlian said.
His grandfather smiled down at him. “Are you sure? They say it's bad luck to talk about the dragons, just as it's unlucky to speak too much about magic.”
Arlian nodded. “Tell me about it, Grandsir!”
Grandsir looked up at the sky and frowned, then back down at Arlian, his smile reappearing. “I was a year or two older than you are, and my uncle Stirian had taken me on a trading journey down to Benth-in-Tara, to meet a caravan that was passing through,” he said. “We saw the ruins on the way. We'd had a hot summer the year before, weather something like this, and for a few days the smoke from the mountain had been much thicker than usual and had collected in that valley over in the Sandalwood Hills.” He pointed over the shoulder of the mountain; Arlian had never been to the Sandalwood Hills, but he had seen them from the crater rim and knew where his grandfather meant.
“The dragon must have come out late that summer,” the old man continued, “and no one discovered it over the winter. When we got there in the spring, there was nothing left but charred ruins and bare bones.”
“And how do you know it wasn't human raiders who destroyed it?” Arlian's mother asked. “Those bandits in the south are surely bad enough without worrying about dragons!”
“The Borderlands bandits never get anywhere near this far north,” her father said, “and human raiders don't leave six-foot claw marks.”
“And neither do dragons,” Sharbeth said, her hands on her hips, “because the dragons, if there are really any left alive at all, stay asleep in their caves, deep beneath the earth. You must have just
those claw marks, Father, or misinterpreted sword cuts or wagon ruts.”
“They were real, and they were claw marks,” her father insisted, but without much vehemence; Arlian realized that the two of them had undoubtedly had this argument many times before, as they had so many others, and had worn the passion out of it. His mother and grandfather argued often, and had done so ever since Grandsir had first come to live with them while Arlian was still a small child. He could barely remember a time when Grandsir had not been thereâor when his mother did not argue with him.
“I'm not going to listen to your nonsense,” Arlian's mother said, with no great anger. “I'm going to go see that those men have something fit to eat when they get those wagons up here, something to keep their strength up!” She turned and started back toward the house.
Arlian hesitated. He wanted to stay close to his mother, and help out when the water wagons arrived, but he also wanted to hear his grandfather's story about the ruined villageâit wasn't one he remembered hearing before. He wanted to know more about the dragons and what had become of them.
“Are you coming, Arlian?” his mother called. She paused and looked over her shoulder.
“No, Mother,” he replied. “I'll stay here for a while, with Grandsir.”
“Hmpf.” She marched on across the rocky yard, toward their thatch-roofed home.
Grandsir looked down at Arlian. “Eager to see your father and brother back?” he asked.
Arlian nodded. “Tell me more about the dragons,” he said.
His grandfather laughed. “That's my boy!” he said. “What do you want to know?”
“Have you ever
a dragon, Grandsir?”
The old man shook his head. “Of course not,” he said. “I'm still alive, am I not? There aren't many who see dragons and live to tell of it!”
“There must be
people who see them, or how would we know
about dragons?” Arlian asked.