Read The Dragon Book Online

Authors: Jack Dann,Gardner Dozois

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Young Adult, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Anthologies, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Short Stories

The Dragon Book

BOOK: The Dragon Book
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 

The Dragon Book

 

ePub ISBN 9781742754406

 

A Random House book
Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060
www.randomhouse.com.au

 

First published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., in 2009
First published by Random House Australia in 2009
This edition published in 2011

 

Collection copyright © Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois 2009

 

The moral right of the authors has been asserted.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.

 

Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at
www.randomhouse.com.au/offices
.

 

Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the National Library of Australia

 

978 1 74275 360 7

 

Cover illustration by John Jude Palencar
Cover design by Jobi Murphy
Original cover design by Annette Fiore DeFex

 
Preface
 

Dragons are by far the most potent and widespread of all mythological beasts, and dragons or dragonlike creatures appear in just about every mythology in the world. So omnipresent is the image of the dragon, and so powerful the emotions that it evokes, that Carl Sagan, among others, has suggested that dragons are actually a racial memory of dinosaurs, left over from the days when our remote ancestors were tiny, tree-dwelling insectivores who cowered in shivering terror whenever one of the immense flesh eaters like
Tyrannosaurus rex
came crashing through the forest.

Whatever the truth of that, it’s certainly true that dragons are one of the few mythological creatures that it’s almost pointless to bother describing. As Avram Davidson once put it, “Although the wombat is real and the dragon is not, nobody knows what a wombat looks like and everyone knows what a dragon looks like.”

There are variations, of course—sometimes the dragon is wingless and rather like a gigantic worm, sometimes like a huge snake, most often like an immense, winged lizard. Sometimes it breathes fire, sometimes not. But, for the most part, the rule holds. With very few exceptions, almost everyone does know what a dragon looks like, which is why it is one of the master-symbols of fantasy. (Or perhaps it’s the other way around.)

Although the Eastern Dragon (and particularly the Chinese Dragon) is usually depicted as a wise and benevolent creature, a divine being associated with the bringing of the life-giving rains, what we have been describing here primarily fits the Western Dragon … and, not surprisingly, it is the Western Dragon, the terrible fire-breathing dragon of folklore and fairy tales, that has been the dominant image of the dragon in Western literature and art, and which is the kind of dragon we’ll encounter most frequently in the stories that follow (although there are a number of benign dragons included as well, just for spice, some in the role of teacher or protector, some who are morally neutral or ambiguous, some who are just friendly).

In addition to its well-known fondness for snacking on princesses, the Western Dragon is a covetous beast and can often be found guarding the immense treasures of gold and jewels that it has pillaged from human realms. Although sometimes portrayed as merely a huge, mindless beast, the dragon is just as often depicted as having the gift of speech: in this guise, it is frequently a sorcerer, an active magic-user itself as well as being a magical creature. In fact, some say that Dragon Magic is the strongest and most ancient magic of all …

The strength of that magic, and the sheer power to enchant and fascinate that the dragon still possesses, even in our busy modern world, is amply demonstrated in the pages of the stories that follow.

We asked some of the very best modern fantasists—Cecelia Holland, Naomi Novik, Jonathan Stroud, Kage Baker, Jane Yolen, Adam Stemple, Liz Williams, Peter S. Beagle, Diana Gabaldon, Samuel Sykes, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Tad Williams, Harry Turtledove, Diana Wynne Jones, Gregory Maguire, Bruce Coville, Tanith Lee, Tamora Pierce, Mary Rosenblum, and Andy Duncan—to write stories about this potent fantasy archetype, the dragon. The book you hold in your hands is the result. Here you’ll find dragons both ancient and newly hatched; dragons evil and rapacious and wise and benign; dragons hunted to the death by humans and dragons who count humans as their closest friends; ensorcelled dragons and dragons with vast magical powers of their own; dragons who coexist with our own modern world, prowling its busy streets and alleys, and dragons who pace the landscapes of ancient Rome, tsarist Russia, medieval Europe, darkest Africa, and a few fantasy worlds that exist only in the imagination. You’ll even find a few stories told from the
dragon’s
point of view, giving their own unique perspective on things.

We hope you enjoy them.

 
Dragon’s Deep
 

C
ECELIA
H
OLLAND

 

Cecelia Holland is one of the world’s most highly acclaimed and respected historical novelists, ranked by many alongside other giants in that field such as Mary Renault and Larry McMurtry. Over the span of her forty-year career, she’s written almost thirty historical novels, including
The Firedrake, Rakóssy, Two Ravens, Ghost on the Steppe, The Death of Attila, Hammer for Princes, The King’s Road, Pillar of the Sky, The Lords of Vaumartin, Pacific Street, The Sea Beggars, The Earl, The Kings in Winter, The Belt of Gold,
and more than a dozen others. She also wrote the well-known science fiction novel
Floating Worlds,
which was nominated for a Locus Award in 1975, and of late has been working on a series of fantasy novels, including
The Soul Thief, The Witches’ Kitchen,
and
The Serpent Dreamer.
Her most recent novel is
The High City,
and upcoming is
The Kings of the North,
the last of the Soul Thief books
.

Here she tells the poignant story of a woman ripped from her proper place who must learn to survive under difficult conditions, yearning all the while for home—only to rediscover the old wisdom that says that you can’t go home again. Or that maybe you’re better off if you
don’t.

 

ONCE, in the fishing village of Saint Mary Under The Hill, in the duchy of Asturias, there lived a girl named Perla. One summer day, she sat outside with her sister, packing dried fish into casks, to feed them through the winter, and her sister began giving her advice.

“You’re a fool not to marry Ercule, Perla. Heed me. We’re not rich, you aren’t that pretty, and you’re too clever. Take Ercule. Who else wants you?”

Perla set her teeth together, her face rough with embarrassment, and watched her hands shoving dried fish into the salt. Her sister had married the biggest lout in the village and already had two babies; Perla thought she wanted company, and some hot words to that effect sizzled in her throat. She glanced up, ready to snap back, and saw her sister looking past her toward the road, her mouth falling open in astonishment.

“Sweet Heaven!” Her sister sprang up and ran through the little circle of huts toward the beach, waving her arms to the men along the shore. Left behind, Perla straightened slowly to her feet, her eyes on the glittering parade of horsemen prancing down the road toward her.

One galloped forward, waving a stick. “Down! Down, you little fool, for the Duke!”

She went to her knees, gaping up at them. There were half a hundred mounted men, but the first few were the ones she stared at. They wore mail, with long coats over them figured in gold and silver thread, spurs on their steel-covered feet, their horses sleek and fine. The one in the middle wore a gold circlet over his helmet. The one with the stick hit her across the shoulders.

“Down!”

“I
am
down,” she cried, and doubled up, her arms over her head.


All
of you, down,” the crier shouted, and she heard voices behind her and knew that the rest of the village had gathered, and she was glad not to be alone. Another of the knights began to shout, talking the way the priest did when he recited something he had by memory.

“You people of the fish and the sea! People of the village you call for the Holy Mother of God! This is to inform you that His Highness the Duke has discovered that you are the best fishermen in his country. This village has taken in more fish in the past years than any other.”

There went up an uncertain cheer. The bull-throated voice went on. “Therefore, the Duke has decided that henceforth you will give him double the amount of taxes. And we are here now to take what you owe.”

The cheer fell into a stunned silence. Perla, still curled up on the ground, looked backward past her feet toward the rest of her people behind her. Most of them had gone to their knees. Now the rest did also, their faces tilted up, pleading.

All except her brother, Marco. He stepped forward, past Perla, going out there all alone before the Duke, and said, “Sir, we cannot. Already we give most of our catch to you. We have to live.”

Cautiously, Perla lifted her head out of her arms and saw the Duke there before her, his horse’s feet pattering at the ground. His stirrups were covered with chased silver. Fringe hung from his saddlecloth, his reins. Behind him were too many horsemen for her to count. She began to plan how she would run when they charged.

“Then catch more fish,” said the Duke, between his teeth, and waved his arm. His knights jogged forward. For a moment, Perla’s brother stood, his feet widespread, his hat in one hand, and the other hand still out, beseeching, and then he hurried backward and went to his knees. The knights scattered through the village, and the pillaging began. Perla sprinted toward the nearby woods, staying low to the ground.

When they had gone, when they had taken everything, and the girls and women who had been able to escape had crept back to their trampled huts, the villagers gathered as they were accustomed to in the evening, building a fire in the shelter of the cliff and cooking what little remained to eat.

Perla sat with her arms wrapped tight around her sister, who had not gotten away. The Duke’s men had caught her with her babies, and in exchange for their lives, she had let them rape her. She had saved her children, she kept on saying this, while the two little ones sobbed into her skirts, and her husband would not look at her.

Ercule, whom her sister wanted her to marry, sat there with the other men, behind Perla’s brother, Marco. Ercule had done nothing, not even a useless plea like Marco’s. She lowered her eyes, clutching her sister against her.

The night came, and the light of the fire shone on them all. Usually when they gathered, they drank, they talked and joked, sang the old songs, and retold the old stories; but this time they huddled somberly together and considered what had happened to them.

“We can’t stay here,” said one, and a few here and there grunted, agreeing.

“Where else should we go? There’s always somebody like the Duke.”

Perla hugged her sister, angry. It was unseemly for a woman to speak up, at least until all the men had spoken, but now they were all calling out stupid ideas, like hiding, or running, or changing who they were. Someone—old Juneo—even said, “We can be pirates.”

Now Marco stood. He was short, square-shouldered, strong as an ox from casting nets and rowing; Perla’s heart leapt for him, brave and sensible. He would have an answer. Everybody quieted, seeing him. Everybody respected Marco.

He said, “We need to make one more great catch, before the winter. The Duke won’t come back this year. He thinks he has it all. If we can pull in one great catch, we can all live through this.”

“The fish are going,” said an old man. “This is the bad time of the year for fish along this coast.”

“Here,” her brother said, his voice steady. “And south of here, where everybody fishes. But in the north, where the coast turns eastward, there are always great schools.”

A general grumble. A sharp voice called out, “That’s too risky.”

“It’s not for nothing called Dragon’s Deep,” someone else said—a woman’s voice; Perla looked around, started, and saw one of the fishwives standing up, her hands in her skirt.

Now Ercule stood. “Most of the other fleets avoid those waters. But I’ve always heard they’re prime fishing waters, just that there are a lot of reefs.”

He gave a look at Perla, to see that she saw him doing this; he puffed out his chest a little.

Perla’s sister’s husband called out in a hoarse voice. “Bad storms hit that cape. I’ve heard there’s an eddy under the cliff. Bad currents. Nobody goes there.”

“There’s a reason there isn’t a village for miles off that headland.”

Marco stood, his hands at his sides, waiting for the clamor to die down. In the first lull, he said, “Or we could get all our scaling knives and gaffs together and attack the Duke and his men, and take our fish back from him.” He was smiling; he gave a little shrug.

Nobody said anything. In the firelight, Perla saw them look from side to side and down, one man after another, and the wives also, one to the next, and there was a long silence.

Marco said, “Then we fish Dragon’s Deep.”

Perla’s sister’s husband flung his hands out and stepped back, away from the rest. “Not me. I have a wife and children. I’ll take them into the forest first.”

Marco wheeled, casting his gaze like a net over the other men. “Who else is a coward? Who else is afraid of rumors and gossip?”

No one spoke for a moment; the men were looking at one another, and a few shook their heads, then Perla jumped to her feet.

“I will go, Marco! I will go with you, if nobody else dares!”

Marco gave her a broad smile and held out his hand. His voice swelled. “Who else is as brave as a girl? All you men. Will you let a girl go first?”

Ercule cried, “I am going.”

Then, in a rush, others called out. “Yes, me, I will go, I will go,” in a jumble of voices, until all but a few had agreed. But then they stood nervously, looking around, their faces fretted.

Marco stood smiling around him, his hands on his hips. “Good. We’ll start tomorrow. It will take us a couple of days to get up there.”

 

“BEAUTIFUL,” she murmured, and shivered.

The bay stretched out before them, dark blue to the north, paler as the water shallowed toward the beach, and the beach itself an arc of pale brown sand. The wind was driving from the west, but the headland behind them blocked most of it, and the little combers that ran into the sand were tame and mild. In the shallower, green-blue water, she could see the dark reefs. There was a reef directly below their boat now, the lumpy stone waving green with seaweed and alive with fish.

Yet the broad bay was empty, desolate. No village showed, no smoke, not even a single hut. From the edge of the beach, the sheer headland stood up like a tower, flanked by steep green slopes, and, beyond them, the snow-caps of the mountains.

All along the clean, pale beach, in the high line of driftwood, were the ribs and planks of boats, old wrecks, sun-bleached. Some looked burnt. And down on the bottom in the clear blue depths, she saw a boxy stern and part of a thwart poking out of the sand. Nowhere was there a sign of a living man, except those newly come.

A gull wheeled above them, screeching. She thought, for an instant, that she caught a note of warning in its voice.

Marco was giving crisp orders. “Perla, you go ashore and make us a camp. We should have brought some other women with us to help you, but we’ll pitch in when we get ashore this afternoon. Ercule, Juneo, shake out the nets.” He put his hands around his mouth, to shout to the other two boats, and Perla grabbed his arm.

“I’m not going ashore! I didn’t come this far to
watch
you, Marco.”

Around them on the boat, the other men laughed and nudged each other. Juneo said, “Marco, I hope you’re handling the lines better than you handle her!”

A general hooting followed that. Perla lowered her eyes, ashamed, thinking she had made a fool of herself, and of Marco. But her brother took her by the chin and turned her face up.

He was smiling. He said, “Yes, you should fish with us.” He glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the crew. The other two boats had drawn closer. He said, “I remember when you were the only brave one in the village.”

That sobered the other men. Ercule and Juneo turned to the barrels that held the fishing nets, and Lucco and the skinny boy, Grep, sat on the two front rowing benches and ran the oars out. Perla lingered there, in the middle, wondering what to do, and Marco put his hand in hers and drew her back beside him at the tiller.

The other boats rowed in a widespread line across the bay from west to east, the headland behind them looming up above the unbroken stretch of beach. Marco called out for the oarsmen to raise their oars. The warm sun glistened on the bay; looking over the side, Perla watched fish as long as her arm, in schools that seemed endless, weaving slowly through the open water. The men had trailed the net out behind them, and Marco let the boat drift slowly along, down the sun from the fish.

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