Linnea and the lindorm are expected to eliminate one another, but these two have never been good at doing what’s expected of them.
Lindorm – Northern Dragon
I returned to the site of the murder, not knowing what to do any more than when I drove away the grey-skinned assassin. An assassin that somehow commanded whole winds that had concealed his scent from me until it was too late for even a dragon to interfere.
The princess Viveca crouched beside her husband. Her hand clenched his tunic, knuckles white. Maceo, once Lord Protector, leaned against a tree. A a green-fletched arrow lay beside him, tipped with gore. It smelled of his cooled blood. Viveca had drawn out the killing stroke, but he was already dead.
Viveca lay still enough to frighten me. Her blood scented the clearing, also – sharp, like the cold of drinking water through broken ice. Hearing the yells of their newborn son, I knew I’d never felt more helpless. Her shock had brought on the birth early, and I wondered how many lives her father’s greed would destroy today.
The princess finally released her grip on Maceo’s tunic. Her knuckles remained white.
“Don’t you think you should go home soon?” I asked.
The woman was exhausted, pale from grief or loss of blood, and the autumn night would be a cold one.
I spoke to the mother, but couldn’t take my eyes off the infant, squalling with less and less vigor as it lay untended on the fallen leaves. There in blood, in the autumn breeze. His skinny legs pulled up and kicked out, over and over, as if he was a little brown frog.
“How do you propose I make that happen?” Her voice was thin from exertion, but hard. Like a switch pulled from an iron tree.
“Isn’t someone coming back for you?” My eyes have power, and with them I begged her, Help me help you.
She seemed immune to my magic. Her lip twisted in a tiny sneer. “My own father left me to cry over Maceo’s carcass. Do you think he’ll care enough to return when he thinks I’m done?”
I squirmed, and the movement folded over a sapling more than a dozen strides behind me. I had no way to guess what the old warrior-king cared enough to do. I wished the young lord wasn’t dead. I wished the woman not so destroyed by her loss. The urge to act was so strong it hurt. “Is there anywhere else for you to go?”
“I don’t care. The grave?”
Finally I relaxed. Hopelessness and isolation are my known variables. For a human it would mainly be a matter of keeping her alive till she was strong enough to care.
My lungs burned when I failed to chase down Maceo’s murderer. It is my body’s ache of loss, something I’d endured at other times, when I wondered why I was alone. The burning today made it hard to breathe. Its intensity was so fierce that I was surprised when the sight of the newborn eased my pain. He looked at me with eyes fresh to the world. Fresh to all things. I was just one of many new things that the violence of birth had forced him to see.
He was not afraid of me.
Neither was his mother, clearly. She was not intimidated by a creature that is not supposed to exist.
When I thought up a corner of a plan I was relieved, and a little proud. “Can I access your abode without drawing attention to myself? I’m willing to take you back.”
The woman pressed up from the dead man and slowly surveyed me from head to tail. She sighed as if she was being asked to answer yet another impossible question before bedtime.
“Can you go anywhere without drawing attention to yourself?”
I infused my voice and eyes with all the confidence of my experience. “Yes.”
She wilted. “Then it is possible. If you can keep my balance for me, we might get close enough to meet one of the slave girls collecting the last of the woodland harvest. Then you could disappear.”
I took a deep breath. Here was how I would repay Maceo. “I’ll be your couch, princess, gladly. And you’ll carry the infant?”
She looked at the small thing, only breathing now. His deep brown eyes were wide and calm. The blood on his skin had dried to the red-brown of a fallen maple leaf. At the right angle in the setting sun it had a faint sheen, and at those same times his dark eyes flickered with a depth that promised patience and a far sight any parent might wish for a child.
“No.” The woman’s voice slapped the burned place inside me. “We will leave him here.”
I swung my head around to challenge her. “You would abandon your own son? The child of your dead husband?”
She hid her face in the chest of the still man beside her. “My father would only use it as he’s used the rest of us.” Her muffled voice grew louder, but she didn’t lift her head. “He killed my husband to take away my daughter. We would not consent to her match with Kleos. Without a father to fight the match, the wedding will take place and their beast of a prince will eat her alive.”
Viveca pulled a shuddering breath and looked me in the face, unashamed. “I will not bring home one more piece of my heart for King Vidar to shape into his image. Better the child be left to the mercy of the forest than the kindness of Chaben’s King Vidar. My son will not be raised by a monster.”
“Get on,” I said. My voice shook. I shifted a loop of my body in her direction and it landed with a flop on the mat of decaying leaves. After a pause she moved toward me, her knees dragging against the ground until she draped over my back.
“Do you want to see him again?” I asked, nearly choking. “Do you want to say good-bye to your son?”
“I already have.” The sound told me she’d turned away her face.
“This is wrong.” My voice had to fight past the burning in my lungs. “I do not approve.”
“You can choose to help me or not. I am past helping anyone.”
My new plan was born fully formed. “I will not speak to you before we arrive outside the palace. Necessity may compel communication before we part, but otherwise we are done. What you are doing is wrong, and I pray you’ll live long enough to regret it.”
“Or you could let me die,”
I bent over the child without answering. He stopped shivering when I breathed on him.
Rasmus. I named him. My eyes spoke to his. You are loved, Rasmus. Never forget that.
I didn’t really know what I said. I gave him the words I’d heard in a dream and missed ever since.
Lacking any other option, I wrapped my tongue around his chest, and drew him into my mouth.
Closing him in behind teeth longer than he was, I washed him without knowing what I did. After that moment, my breath always stilled him. For years I was torn between hope and fear. I hoped that his peace with me proved our unlikely bond, but the fear remained – fear that my lindorm breath was poisoning him, however slowly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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