The Snake and the Mirror

The Waters Rise

 

“Lord Calroch?”

Jana Tule stepped out onto the sunlit balcony carved into a hidden rock face of the mountain, adjusting the neckline of her long emerald-blue dress.

Calroch, Lord of the Mountain, was standing in his human form looking out over the expansive island, the horizon marked by the dark shores where the evening sky was coloring a dark line along the water’s edge. It had been a cloudy day (the sky was rarely clear over Thule), and Jana had spent much of the day in attendance with the well-known but rarely-seen King of Thule.

He turned to glance at her, and while he had the long dark hair and jutting chin of a medieval monarch, she could see the yellow shine and slitted pupils that marked his draconic eyes.

“Ah, Jana, I hope the accommodations are proving satisfactory.”

“You’re far too generous with me, my lord,” Jana demurred.

He’d chosen her to be his voice on the island of Thule, relaying his messages to her people in the scattered settlements at the base of the volcano, and then bringing back their concerns and questions for him to answer. Considering the size of Thule as well as the almost labyrinthine layout of his, for the lack of a better word, lair, Jana found herself spending most of her evenings in the company of Lord Calroch, simply for convenience sake.

Calroch, for his part, was a generous if somewhat distant host. She’d been provided a room very nearly the size of her father’s entire house, halfway between a carved palatial bedroom and a granite cave. Calroch split his time between his more human and his hill-sized draconic forms, using the former to more easily communicate with Jana.

“The people are…content for now, my lord,” Jana said. “Many are still concerned regarding your nature, but I’ve mollified them for the most part. A few others are being more stubborn.”

“Stubborn?” Calroch asked.

“They either believe you to be an imposter or usurper for the real Mountain Spirit. Others believe you are the spirit but refuse to praise a dragon as king over humans. They have been…less than welcoming to my overtures.”

“I hope you’ve been doing nothing to put yourself in danger, Jana,” Calroch said.

“Oh, no, nothing so dire,” Jana said. “I am still the daughter of the Jarl.”

She left out a few of the other accusations sent at her by the more vitriolic townsfolk. A young unwed girl spending her nights on end in the company of a rapacious dragon could send anyone’s mouth talking. Jana hadn’t bothered even commenting on these accusations, save to reinforce the idea that Calroch was benevolent and far from ‘rapacious’.

As for what she did on the cold Thule nights in Calroch’s cave, that was none of their business.

Calroch was staring intently out to sea, and Jana followed his gaze out to the edge of the horizon. The wind seemed heavy out to sea judging by the large whitecaps visible even from this distance.

“Seems a storm is passing by,” She said. “The people will likely be bringing in the livestock soon.”

“It’s not a storm,” Calroch said. “There’s something moving under the water.”

“Something moving?” Jana asked. “We’ve heard of landslides underwater now and then but…”

“Not quite,” Calroch said. “Jana…I believe it is time I began negotiating in diplomacy.”

“Diplomacy?” Jana asked.

“It is a large world, and Thule is going to be a part of it again. I took you on to represent me among your people and to represent Thule abroad, did I not?”

“I…believe you mentioned that, yes,” Jana nodded. “But what does this have to do with something moving in the water?”

Calroch smiled, flashing a few of his sharp teeth. “I believe, Jana, it is time you received some practice in dealing with foreign powers.”

Calroch stepped forward, placing one foot on the edge of the balcony as he began to shift form. In the space of a blink of an eye, the balcony had become surrounded by the shimmering scales and great flapping wings of Calroch’s draconic form, a hundred meters of iron-colored scaly hide and enormous sky-darkening wings.

“Ah…shall I look after the castle?” Jana asked.

“You will be coming with me,” Calroch’s voice boomed like thunder down the mountain, resounding off the cave walls with enough strength to almost force her hands over her ears.

Calroch moved himself, positioning his great iron back just below the edge of the balcony, a series of spines running down his neck and spine. Carefully, Jana lowered herself down, finding a spot of relatively smooth scale between his great wing muscles, taking a hold of one of the spines for stability as he began to flap his wings, the great leathery limbs pulling him higher into the air before he took off from the mountain and over the fields of Thule.

Jana clung to the spine, able to feel his scales and muscles shifting under her as the wind whipped through her long hair. She could barely suck in a single breath, bent low on her knees as she wrapped her arm around the spine. She tried to keep her eyes on the horizon to fight down motion sickness. Every man and woman of Thule was used to working on a rocking ship in rough seas, but flying by dragonback was an entirely different feeling, the swell of his wings beneath her and the constant shift through the air combined with the howling wind sent her stomach falling well behind her. In less than a minute the land gave way to the sea.

“L-Lord Calroch!” She wasn’t sure he could hear her, voice lost in the wind as he flew onwards away from the island. “Where are we going!?”

“To meet someone,” Calroch’s voice boomed through the evening sky. “One you could call royalty.”

Calroch began to slow down, and Jana risked standing upwards, still clinging to one of the great bone spines as she looked out past his neck. They were hovering now, Calroch’s wingbeats keeping them in roughly the same spot over the ocean. Looking back past his tail, Jana could see Thule as a scrap of land, all but the mountain invisible at this distance.

“Who are we meeting?” Jana asked.

“Patience, Jana, they’re here.”

Jana heard something like distant rumbling. Carefully, watching the movement of his wings so she didn’t accidentally slip off his back, she moved closer to the edge of his shoulder where she could get a better view of the cold grey sea.

Beneath them, the waters were roiling, a great white spot of splashing water churning beneath them. With their altitude it was hard to tell, but whatever was causing the seas to move must have been enormous. Suddenly the waters burst, a geyser of white foam ripped free from the water as something large and dark broke the surface, rising rapidly to meet them.

In mere moments, Jana realized what it was, and stared in disbelief as the colossal Calroch was dwarfed by the head of a serpent so large it challenged imagining. Calroch was the size of a massive hill with wings nearly two hundred meters across, but this sea serpent made him look like a small cat, and made Jana feel like a flea.

‘Calroch, Iron Scale.”

The voice was like shattering stone and crashing wave. Calroch spoke back, his booming voice smoother and regal, but unable to match the pure volume of the serpent.

“I greet you, Jormungandr, World Serpent. You honor the island with your presence.”

“It is good you are awake, sleepy little dragon. We will need many.”

Jana shivered. The voice of the serpent, the World Serpent, was overwhelming, pounding in her ears like violent thunder. She shuddered at its words. If this thing creature thought of Calroch as a little dragon…

“Many of our kind, for what, World Serpent?”

Jormungandr grumbled a long string of words. Jana couldn’t tell if it was in some ancient foreign tongue, or simply so loud that it overwhelmed her ears and made it impossible to discern. From the mired syllables and drifting tones, she made out one word she recognized.

“…Ragnarok…”

Jana blinked as Jormundangr finished its speech and Calroch spoke back.

“A false twilight? Dire times indeed, World Serpent. Is that why you’ve reached across the sea to find me?”

“I have reached across far grander differences to seek out many,”

“I shall consider, Jormungandr, but I have duties of my own,” Calroch spoke, and Jana shivered as Jormungandr drew closer. With a single snap of its jaws it could have consumed most of Calroch, and her along with it. As it came closer it tilted its head slightly. With a shudder, Jana realized the World Serpent was looking at her.

“Iron Scale, you have something on your back.”

“She is a diplomat of mine,” Calroch said. “Jana Tule.”

Jana tried to stand up straight, one hand on Calroch’s spine as she faced Jormungandr’s eye, trying to remain standing on the uneven footing and the World Serpent’s gaze.

“I-I am Jana Tule, Great Serpent,” Jana bowed deeply. “I…speak for the humans of Thule.”

“Then speak for them, little one.”

Jana was nearly blown over by the force of Jormungandr’s words.

“O-of course…If I understand, you need Calroch to help you with…Ragnarok? The end of the world?”

“A false Ragnarok, human,”

Jormungandr’s voice was still like a whirlwind, but it seemed to have lowered to help her comprehend. From the serpent’s perspective, it likely had to whisper.

“For which I require an army of serpents and wyrms. Calroch is young but strong, and we will need many.”

“We need Lord Calroch as well,” Jana shouted, trying to make sure Jormungandr heard her.

“I have large ears, Jana of Thule. You do not need to humiliate yourself by shouting.”

“Ah…” Jana’s face flushed red as she spoke normally. “Forgive me…Without Lord Calroch our island will be without protection, Great Serpent.”

“Is that so?”

The serpent turned its eye to Calroch.

“You have made these humans your…pets?”

Jana frowned, but Calroch answered before she could.

“I have struck an agreement with the people of Thule, Jormungandr. I protect them and share the riches of the earth.”

“Odd for a dragon to write contracts with humans. More often they fight.”

“I agree, Jormungandr,” Calroch said. “And it is why many of my brothers and sisters are dead, and I am not.”

A low stuttered noise came from the serpent, and I took Jana a moment to realize Jormungandr was chuckling.

“A bargain is a bargain. And one you have struck even with humans is binding…but if you can be spared for a week, or even mere days, that would be sufficient.”

“Thule can survive for days or a week,” Jana said. “So long as Lord Calroch returns. We would not risk the end of the world simply to keep him here.”

“Very well. Calroch, you will hear the word when the day arrives. And you must answer the call. There is more at stake than even you can fully fathom.”

“I understand, Jormungandr,” Calroch said. “When I hear your word, I will come…but not a day sooner. I will keep to my ancient pact.”

“See that you do.”

With that, the great serpent lowered itself once more into the churning waters, soon vanishing beneath the dark waves.

Jana fell to her knees, collapsing under the pressure as she continued to cling to one of Calroch’s spines.

“Are you alright, Jana?”

“Yes, Calroch…” Jana breathed. “I’ll….I’ll manage.”

“We will return to the mountain,” Calroch said. “We have much to discuss.”

 

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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