It takes a certain arrogance to be an author, an arrogance to believe that you have stories worth telling, stories that other people should want to read and enjoy, and, perhaps more importantly, an arrogance to keep believing that through what is inevitably a lengthy process of submission and rejection before publication. So yes, I am calling myself arrogant in this same post in which I admit that Dragon’s Hoard, the second story I submitted to Elegant Literature‘s monthly contests, didn’t make the cut for the “Forgotten Lands” issue.
As I did with Executioner, I am therefore publishing the story here on the site, instead. Unlike Executioner, I’d like to think that Dragon’s Hoard had a better shot at mainline publication; unlike the former short story, this one does not require a familiarity with ancient legends in order to appreciate its writing style and narrative structure. Like many of my stories do, especially the shorter ones, I took a common fantasy trope – the dragon and the thief – and twisted it around in what I’d like to think is a new and interesting way.
The whole story started because I wanted to write a dragon who hoards knowledge instead of traditional riches. I’ve been fascinated recently by the characterization of immortality, which I think is done very poorly in many cases. Well, not poorly, exactly. I think many storytellers do not characterize their immortal and long-lived characters to take account and advantage of the way that extreme age will affect a character. Now, there are circumstances where this may not be the case, like a science fiction race of aliens that, though it lives longer that us, lives at a slower metabolic rate, or cases where the technical age is different from the experiential age, but for most characters that reach ages above one or two hundred years, I think it’s important to consider what it would mean for them to experience so much time. It might be one thing if they live in a community of fellow immortals, but imagine looking around as civilizations rise and fall around you. All of an Instant (review coming soon) does a decent job at this, albeit in a different way, but I actually think The Wandering Inn might dig into this question the best of any story I’ve read recently.
I started writing the story in a longer form before the September contest prompt was available, so this two-thousand-word version which I revised and submitted is essentially the climax of my original vision for the story. I never finished the longer version, although perhaps I will eventually do so and post it as an extended edition (my wife liked the beginning, which is always a good impetus). That is probably the story’s greatest weakness: it has to be very dense in order to provide enough context for the characters and events to make sense, and I don’t think that the events are quite as meaningful as they would be if we got the full build-up to Rivi’s theft. Plus, the limited length led me to rely more upon a reader’s preconceived understandings of certain concepts, like what a geas is (it’s not a loud and annoying migratory bird) and how it differs from a spell or other forms of magic. While I was able to fit everything in so that the story makes sense, I do think it would have been stronger at something closer to six or ten thousand words.
It’s one of those simple-complex stories that has a lot more going on than the basic plot would indicate. Yes, the entire plot consists of Rivi attempting to steal something from a dragon’s hoard and what results from that attempt, but there as an immense amount of drama involved that I attempt to show (rather than tell). Loss features hugely here, which is why I don’t think the shorter version works as well; it doesn’t expose the reader to what is lost for long enough for the loss to have the appropriate impact. Maybe I need to recommend that you read it a couple of times so that you can really live with the characters and capture all of the nuances.
Or, you could just read it to enjoy a story about a draconic librarian that manages to incorporate a brief glimpse of alpine archipelagos (I’ve been looking for an excuse to world-build those in ever since I read the phrase in The Inca (review coming soon)). Whether you read it once, or many times, I hope that you enjoy Dragon’s Hoard as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Dust rose in a burgeoning plume from Mount Bibliotheca as the solitary mountain’s foundations trembled, but those caravans which approached or receded from wisdom’s pilgrimage’s conclusion could know not that the detritus they witnessed wafting into the sky was comprised of a thousand civilizations’ last remnants. At the heart of the greatest library in the world, in the remains of a dragon’s hoard of knowledge, Rivi could not feel the mountain’s trembling, nor her own spasms of fear, for she was held suspended by a dragon’s fury.
“DESTROYER!” Cognōscere thundered. Her humanoid avatar was dispelled, so she stalked inside her mountain in her true form, with wings rustling and tail lashing. “Can your pathetic, mortal mind begin to comprehend the enormity of what is lost by your reckless selfishness? Apt is your name, She-Who-Tears-Down.”
Bound by magic, Rivi could neither squirm nor struggle, but she could speak. “I didn’t know!” she protested. “It was just to be one scroll, I swear! To prove it was real! I never meant for this to happen!”
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