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Day of the Dragon: Insidious Negotiations

by Eloise Robertson 3 months ago in Series

Like crabs in a bucket, the Seats of Nobles drag each other down to succeed as the one on top.

A piece of a five-part non-chronological series centred around the day of the dragon.

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From an outsider’s eye, it seems the city of Gallina is very well managed. Impervious to attacks over the last forty-one years, Gallina has flourished! Nobody doubts safety. People are privileged to focus on the arts; architects raise the city to grander heights, artists boost the city’s culture, and children fill educational amphitheatres.

However, first impressions are never reliable. Anyone attending the Seats of Nobles’ meetings knows the truth: Gallina is in the hands of selfish people. Their squabbles will run the city into the ground.

The Noble of Agriculture, Julian Fuller, is struggling to contain his annoyance this afternoon. The discussions are tedious and unproductive. The Noble of War, William Agassi, lets his stubbornness block progress.

“There is nothing I can do. I want to train the guard in person-to-person combat, upskill the archers, and send them on patrols outside the wall to protect the residents surrounding Gallina, but,” he shrugs, barely able to hide his smile, “I need to have more food secured for guard-only access.”

Julian grits his teeth, feeling frustration building in the tense hunch that grips his shoulders. “William, you know that most of your recruits are coming from the farmlands. You are poaching the farmers and our food production is suffering. There is no extra food to allocate to your precious guard when there are no farmers to harvest it!”

“How dare you accuse me of stealing your farmers! Why would I do such a thing only to have my army suffer for it later without enough food?” William puffs his chest out through his thick silken vest, nostrils flaring, eyes crazed with anger.

Patrik Gostelow, the Noble of Trade, sits quietly in his seat, fingers combing through his beard while he watches the two men argue between themselves. He realises, as everyone does, that Willam Agassi cares nothing for those who live outside the wall. He cares nothing for the food; there is plenty. In fact, Patrik is sure William has indeed been actively recruiting the youth from the farms to join his guard atop the wall. It is a fine strategy to limit the Noble of Agriculture’s power.

Despite his confidence in what is really at hand between the two Noble members, Patrik doesn’t speak up to accuse William of his political scheme. It is a delicate art trying to place the city’s dependency on external trading, his area of expertise. Bending to the demands of the other Nobles is something better avoided.

Unfortunately, William Agassi has placed himself in a powerful position. Hence, tonight is the night that Patrik will plant the seeds of deviancy in his selection of candidates. Convince an elite group of merchants, craft workers and artisans that the Noble of War is going to close the gates and militarise the city, effectively destroying their business, and they will rally to usurp him.

“Healthcare is also quite poor outside the wall. Farmers don’t have time or transport to get into Gallina for help. We need travelling doctors.”

Julian looks pointedly at the Noble of Health, Aliss Pontar. She shifts in her seat uncomfortably, unhappy to have all eyes on her. She consults her notes a moment before squaring her shoulders.

“Bandits killed the last travelling doctors we sent. We need a travelling guard for protection so we can help the rural folk.”

Again, expectations are placed on the Noble of War who narrows his eyes at Aliss, an unspoken threat clear in his malice.

“Shame, that. If only we could secure food for this travelling protection unit. Julian, if you want protection and healthcare outside the wall, you need to give us 20 percent extra foodstuffs.”

“That seems unreasonable,” says the Noble of Education, Gorje Trike. “Lately, the scribes have been working with students to document our oral history, writing old folklore and stories from the elderly. Perhaps I can ask them to change the curriculum to add charity, or an excursion beyond the wall to assist the farmers. We can market it as charity or work experience for their personal development.”

“I appreciate that, I really do,” says Julian softly, eyes trained on the ornate flooring. “But your students will be at risk. I can’t guarantee their safety if they assist the farmers. Only William can decide that. So, will you let the students die when a band of raiders wreak havoc through the countryside again, or will you send a guard to accompany both the students and the doctors, and in return you can get 10 percent extra food come harvest time?”

Julian crosses his arms and leans back in his chair, staring flatly at William, who juts his chin out defiantly. Aliss and Gorje are growing weary of the stalemate, looking bored and agitated that the meeting is running late. The orange light of sunset stretches through the windows, the air is cooling, and the smell of tavern meals carries through the breeze.

Patrik fidgets. He can’t be late for this club meeting! “Alright, I am sick of this. William is a prick who will help none of us, so let’s save ourselves some time and assume he is going to say no. Julian, is there enough food to last us the next six months?”

“Well, yes, but not if the people who work the farms continue to move into the city and join the guard,” he says bitterly.

“Okay. I have a meeting with some merchants tonight. I will arrange some trade routes over the coming months between the western kingdoms, hell, even King Ditruv, so that we can secure food.”

“No! How dare you make my decision for me! I will take your deal, Julian. I will send a guard to protect the students and doctors to help the farmers, in exchange for the extra food at the end of the season,” the Noble of War says.

William’s expression is livid as he glares at Patrik and stares down Julian, who only nods in acceptance. Patrik smothers his smile and angles his head away from William. Of course, any potential of the Noble of Trade establishing trade routes Gallina would depend on is a threat to power the Noble of War holds. William had no choice but to agree to help Julian in the end.

As they conclude their meeting, they hear the first screams of the night. The noise pierces the otherwise tranquil city. The Noble of War races to the ornate doors, throwing them open and running through the high pillars into the street. With a horrified expression, he gapes at the smoke rising into the sky, which is blown away by the pump of wind beneath the great red dragon’s wings. The beast’s shriek is deafening as it swoops toward the major thoroughfare of Gallina and incinerates everything in its path.

“D-dragon!” William shouts, waving at the Nobles within the Chamber. “We are under attack!”

Aliss jumps to her feet and races outside, straight past William toward home. Her kids are home, but as she turns into another street, she can see the orange tinge ahead and the smoke billowing into the sky.

The Noble of Education remains seated with a confused expression. “A dragon? There are old tales, but… surely myths!”

The screams of the people grow louder and the Nobles within the Chamber see the mobs running through the street toward the main exit of Gallina. Julian, Gorje and Patrik can’t deny that something horrific is happening. The sight that scares them the most is the hint of fear in the Noble of War’s eyes as looks at them, almost silently begging them for help.

“If it is real, then this is terrible. Dragonfire is forever. It is something that can never be extinguished. If the city is alight, then… it is too late,” says Gorje in horror.

While sunset would usually dim through their windows, the orange glow is brighter than before, and pulsing angrily. The air is thicker and hotter already. Julian, Gorje and Patrik launch to their feet and race outside, joining a shocked William.

Gallina is on fire. The citizens are running for the exit and the guards are already opening the portcullis, desperate to flee.

“Everybody, run! Don’t gather your things, there is no time! The guards are opening the portcullis!” Gorje’s booming voice cuts through the panic and the crowd moves toward the exit hurriedly. “This way! Quickly!”

Gorje spins, looking at his three colleagues with a grim expression. “I have to go find my wife. She might be home or… I have to go. Gallina has fallen-”

“No, we can still fight,” protests William. “My guardsmen -”

“Are no match against a dragon. Gallina can’t be saved; the fire is lit and it will never die. Get everyone out!”

“Good luck,” Julian says. He wants to leave, too, find his family, grab his prized possessions, but he has a responsibility. “Everyone, this way! Please remain calm, don’t push!”

As Julian merges into the crowd, directing the crying and rushing masses to the open gates, it left William staring at the chaos, open-mouthed. Everything his family has worked for, everything he did to keep the city safe… it is all for nothing.

The Noble of Trade cranes his neck northward with a grimace. Black smoke signals a good chance his meeting place is destroyed.

“Your precious wall is useless. Your archers? Useless. You had better get a travelling guard organised, because this city is evacuating right now. Get your shit together, get your archers swords and carry food.”

William closes his mouth into an unimpressed line. “You think they are going to listen to me, now? Half of them have already left their post. A travelling guard would never work and do you want to know why? Because the people here that join the guard are useless fools who wanted an undemanding job. They are selfish. They don’t want to protect the city! The fools have already fled, trust me.”

Patrik sets his hard eyes on the Noble of War. “Make them listen to you. This is your job. Protect the people.”

The Noble of Trade dives into the sea of people, instantly getting caught in the current. He works diagonally through the mob, eventually making it across to a quieter side street. He jogs forward, but the heat is so oppressive it quickly drenches him with sweat, mouth dry, skin searing hot. Families carrying bags emerge from their homes in a panic and follow Patrik’s calls to evacuate as he points to the South portcullis. Exhausted, Patrick strips off his vest and unbuttons his collared shirt, but it doesn’t help. His brain is foggy. The heat strips his muscles of strength and energy. He is ready to collapse.

“Help! Help!”

The sound is distant, muffled, but Patrik feels the speaker is close by.

“Hello? Keep talking! Where are you?”

There is nobody on the street, nobody to be seen in the windows of the buildings still standing. Patrik looks to the rubble of the burning collapsed buildings with a building dread.

“Help! I am trapped in my cellar, in the winery! Can you hear me?”

The winery. Patrik knows exactly who is trapped. In fact, it was a member he invited to the merchant and artisan club tonight. He carefully steps through the ruined entrance to the winery, feeling the flames burn his skin as he searches through the mess.

Patrick kicks a wooden beam to the side to spot a thick metal pair of doors by his feet, blocked by various debris. Relief washes over him, but as he grabs the handle, a scream of pain rips through his throat as the flesh of his hands sears, bubbling instantly into boils and melting his skin, which slides across his hand.

The agony is overwhelming, and his lungs burn as he screams. He loses all focus, stumbling backwards into the street to be swept up by an evacuee, pushed toward the main street to flee.

He doesn’t know whose hands are on his elbows pulling him forward. Speech fails him. They left behind the man in the cellar.

Series

Eloise Robertson

I pull my ideas randomly out of thin air and they materialise on a page. Some may call me a magician.

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Eloise Robertson
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