I’d been looking forward to writing this episode for a long time. I’d dropped hints about the dragons in Lufilna before, most significantly in All Cooped Up and No Place to Go, and Rest for the Weary, but I had never come out and said “yes, there are dragons in this world, and here is what they’re like.” This episode was my opportunity to show off my dragons, and introduce them to the people of Merolate. It’s ironic, therefore, that as I was finishing the episode I found myself concerned that it was too boring.
If you are reading this post before you read the episode, you might be thinking “how can an episode about dragons be boring?” Or, if I’m too close to the work to see it clearly, maybe you’ve already read it and found it interesting and not at all boring, and think I’m crazy for worrying about it. Yet when I was around the eight thousand word point, I began to seriously wonder if I had managed to write an episode about dragons that was too boring. The problem, I feared, was that there wasn’t enough tension. I worried that an astute reader would see Kiluron’s final decision from the start, all of his concerns and debates with Doil notwithstanding.
There was also the fact that almost the entire episode was just talking. There are no fights, we don’t get any exciting dragon flights, no farmers shoot at the dragons and start an interspecies incident, and there is no more than a passing reference to the enemy from which the dragons are fleeing. That makes sense in my head from the perspective of the larger story, especially because if the dragons just spilt all they knew it would be a rather anticlimactic resolution to a lot of the underlying mysteries that I’ve woven into the series’ world history, but I fear that in this specific episode, it means there is little larger payoff.
This might be a case of the difference between writing chapters in a novel and writing episodes in a series. If Blood Magic were a trilogy and each season were a book, I would be very happy with this episode as a chapter in the season two book, but I’m not as certain that it works as a stand-alone episode. Maybe that’s okay. While I’ve worked very hard to make sure that the vast majority of the episodes are self-contained and “episodic,” I do want there to be some serialization, and this episode might just lean a little more heavily towards that end of the spectrum.
Whether or not you find this episode a little on the dull side, I really encourage you to read it. The dragons, while not as physically unique as the dragons you will encounter in our upcoming novella, Destiny of Kings, are unique as a species in their relationship to the world and the magic system. They also live a very, very long time, which means that it may well have been Eldar flying around in Rest for the Weary’s flashback scenes (that’s not canon, so don’t hold me to that – it could have just been some random dragon). Consider this episode a stepping stone, a necessary if slow introduction to one part of the third season’s major conflict. And besides, there are still dragons. So how boring can it really be?
There was something jarring, Tract had always thought, about a barn made from fresh timbers. In his mind, a barn was a weather-worn, slightly roughened structure of grayed planks, perhaps a few were warped out of place or patched over with other boards. No doubt his new barn would look that way in a few seasons, for now it was a bright, new, and wrong structure sitting upon the few timbers that had survived the dragons’ fire that had burnt down the old one. That had been a good barn, though not good enough to save his blummoxes. He wondered if his new barn would do as well.
It had been almost a year, he realized with some surprise, since the dragon attack. Summer was beginning to draw to a close, and the harvest was approaching. Soon, the autumn rains would be coming, and with them all the work involved with preparing the farm for the winter. For now, though, it was a beautiful, hot, summer day, with the sun high overhead, and he had a forest to walk. They would need plenty of firewood to see them through the winter, and it was better to cut it on a hot, sunny day than a wet, cold one. Tract ducked into his incongruously new barn to retrieve his axe.
The blummoxes lowed at him as he entered, and he paused to rub their noses. There were four of them, since he had replaced those snatched up by the dragons. Blummox corpses had been found scattered all over the woods when the spring thaw came, as if to rub salt into the wound. The unbalanced dragons hadn’t even been hunting for food, just leaving the dead beasts to rot in the forest, doing good to no one but filthy scavengers. From the looks of those as had been found, few even of the scavengers cared to bother the flesh, as if the dragons had tainted it. None of the farmers cared to find out for themselves. But that was in the past, now, and there was no point in dwelling upon it. Certainly Tract had done well enough recovering from the attack. Aside from the barn’s fresh timbers, few signs remained.
Passing through the barn’s back door, Tract wrenched the axe up from its perch in the old stump under the overhang, just before the main pasture. It made a good, covered place to cut firewood when the weather wasn’t so fine as it was today. Even as he thought it, a shadow passed over the sun, though he had not noted any clouds. Then it was gone, and the day was as it had been. He turned back walked back through the barn, pausing inside to inhale the deep scents of hay and blummox. Some would call them a stench, and an unpleasant one, but not Tract. To him, they smelled as much like home as his wife’s bread.
“Pa!” he heard his son shout from outside. “Pa, I think you’d better get out here!”
His reflections jarred aside by the urgency and fear in his son’s voice, Tract hefted the axe and ran from the barn in the same instant as the blummoxes began to panic, tossing their heads and straining against their stalls, though the confines seemed to be holding for now, new as they were. Panting slightly, Tract found his son standing on a slight rise fifty paces from the barn, pointing up at the sky.
“What is it?” Tract asked, squinting against the sun’s glare. “Are those clouds?”
His son shook his head. “Dragons,” his whispered.
Dread flooded Tract, but he let nothing of it show to his son. “Impossible,” he retorted. “Whatever happened last year, those dragons are gone. The Prime himself sent messengers out telling us that Sub-Prime Kiluron had defeated the dragons.” He only wished that he could convince himself.
“Dragons,” his son insisted.
Even with his hand held up before his eyes, Tract could make out nothing more than dark smudges until the shapes began to move away from the sun. Then he could make out bulky, ridged bodies and wide, flapping wings. He paled beneath his deep tan, but he told himself the same thing he told his son. “They must be way up there. Just passing over, whatever they are. Not bothering us. See?” Indeed, the creatures kept straight on, heading south towards the city. His son seemed to accept his words, as if he were some kind of expert on draconic behavior, the way he knew how to read the signs of deer and wolves and bears in the forest. Tract wished he could have such confidence. “Go find your siblings and get everybody inside, just in case,” he said.
More excited by purpose than inspired by fear, the boy nodded and ran off across the farm to find his brothers. Tract let the axe’s head thump onto the hard soil, and leaned upon the handle. Still squinting against the sun, he followed the flight of the beasts, trying to count them. Two, three, another three…he stopped trying when he no longer had fingers enough to keep track, but he continued to watch them until they disappeared from view. From such a distance, he could almost convince himself they were merely odd birds, or bats that had gotten confused about the difference between the sun and the moon, but he knew better. At least they had, for now, showed no interest in his farm. He did not know why, or how, or from where, but he did know one, terrifying truth. Dragons had returned to Merolate.
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