I was asked once; "Are there any dragons in the gor books"
Not being sure if the question was 'is the word dragon in the books', the answer is yes. And I listed below, every time the word appears.
If the question was asking if living, breathing dragons exist, the short answer to that question is, no. However, in none of the passages does it explicitly say: "Dragons do not exist." similar to the quote which say horses and dogs do not exist on Gor.
So then, what do all of the following passages reveal?
The first time a dragon is mentioned, aside from a fantasy reference in Renegades of Gor, is in Kur of Gor.
If the reference to dragons had no basis in common knowledge, the reference is useless.
As an example, If "like an apple tree" is used in a description, speaking to someone with no knowledge of fruit or even fruit trees of any kind, the reference to apple tree is useless.
A similar situation applies to the description of boats in Torvaldsland as the "dragons of the Torvaldslanders". With no frame of reference, the description is useless.
And a third example is what are referred to as the dragons of war mentioned in Mariners of Gor. What is a dragon of war if you don't know what a dragon is?
One last example. In Mariners of Gor, pages 25 - 26, it says:
Why use such a detailed description of what is rumored to guard the edge of the world unless such a monster is made up and just coincidentally a combinations of letters for such a beast is dragon?
Alright, finally comes Book 30. After several mentions of an iron dragon, Tarl asks "What is this business about an iron dragon?" and the follow answer is given:
And Tarl, when speaking with Tajima, reasons:
It would be safe to say, Tarl does not believe in dragons.
On the other hand, what if one has evolved, perhaps thinking that what has been written is not enough information. Perhaps ideas in custom, dress and adornment to plants and animals never shown are more fun, interesting and evolved if explored, taken for granted and then taught as fact. The basis for this evolution is that if the books don't explicitly say it cannot happen . . . then it can.
I'm more conservative. Using dragons as a perfect example, I believe that if dragons exist on Gor, they would have been mentioned, at least once. Tarl does not believe in dragons. I firmly believe how the house was original constructed is fine. I like the walls where they are.
These are just my thoughts. Below is every time the word dragon is used in the books. By all means, get out your own book and read the context.
On Earth, as I understand it, there are certain romantic notions about, for example, that heroes may expect to "win" damsels in distress, so to speak, by the performance of certain heroic behaviors, behaviors which, for example, might bode little good to dragons, evil wizards, wicked knights, and such. These damsels in distress, once rescued, are then expected to elatedly bestow their fervent affections on the blushing, bashful heroes, and so on. Needless to say, in real life, to the disappointment, and sometimes chagrin, of the blushing, bashful heroes, this denouement often fails to materialize.
Why, then, has the hand of the Kur not yet reached forth to seize so charming and vulnerable a prize, such a world, so coveted a treasure? Why have the words not yet been spoken, the orders not yet signed? Why have the ports and locks of the steel worlds not opened long ago, freeing the ships, that they might emerge like dragons, as silent as moonlight, from their caves? To what enchantment have they been subject? What incantation could hold such beasts bound? What spells might have forged their chains?
A time was approaching in which the temperamental vagaries of restless Thassa would predictably begin. Goreans seldom brave her churning, often towering, violent green waves between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. That is the season of bitter cold in the northern latitudes, and of high winds and storms. In such a season Gorean mariners refrain from taunting mighty Thassa. Their ships remain in port, and, in Torvaldsland, even the slim, open dragons of the Torvaldslanders, as resilient and supple as they are, remain in the sheds. Let Thassa close her roads then as she will. Let her have then her season of privacy, of isolation and ferocity, of storms and terror. In such moments she wills to be alone. Do not then venture upon her. Leave her to her moods, and her dark, swelling frenzies. Later the sun will ascend, the air will warm, and the waves subside. Then fit and rig your vessels; then roll your dragons to the shore.
The lateen-rigged galley can sail closer to the wind, but, for a given length of yard, it exposes less surface to the wind. The square sails, reefed according to conditions, are all-weather sails, permanent sails. The masts need not be lowered to accommodate changings of sails. Square-rigged vessels are not unknown on Gor. The dragons of Torvaldsland, for example, are square-rigged. Too, they have a single rudder, the "steering board," which is located on the right side of the vessel, as one faces forward.
The dragons of Torvaldsland are clinker-built. In this respect they ship more water, but they are more elastic in rough seas, and thus less likely to break apart.
"I see," I said. It did seem to me that in a vessel of this size a double rudder might be impractical, and difficult to mount. Too, in a vessel of this size one would not, in any case, look for a delicate responsiveness to the helm, or helms. This was not a long ship, or a dragon of Torvaldsland.
It is rumored that there were gigantic dragons of the sea, prodigious monsters, lurking beyond the farther islands, aquatic prodigies guarding the end of the world, set there by Priest-Kings, as one might post guard sleen about the perimeter of a camp, but this thing, in the glimpse we had had, was no water-shedding, surfacing monster, toothed and scaled, nothing alive, as least we commonly thought of life, nothing curious, jealous, and predatory.
The ship was six-masted, square-rigged, seven decked, carvel-built, and single-ruddered, not guided by a steering board, or the double rudders of the typical Gorean ship. The nested galleys, on the other hand, were typical of most Gorean vessels, long or round ships, oar-banked, double ruddered, single-masted, and lateen-rigged. The long ships are commonly open to the weather, like the dragons of Torvaldsland, and the round ships, larger and slower, are commonly decked, this to shelter passengers, if there be passengers, and protect cargo.
Slowly, within me, anger began to seethe, like the boiling mead, honeyed, bubbling, and fermented, sometimes prepared in the north, in the "country of dragons," the camps and villages above Kassau.
"The enemy now knows much," said Lord Okimoto.
"But our greatest secret may not be known," said Lord Nishida.
"At least," said Lord Okimoto, "its size, its appearance, its stamina, its range of flight, its terribleness."
"They will think we have enlisted dragons," said Lord Nishida.
The flood stopped, and, like startled, turned verr, the enemy began to mill, and fearful words were carried to farther ranks, and men who could not even see us received reports so magnified that they must exceed the horror of reality. "Demons!" "Dragons!" we heard.
To me the slopes, the curves, the peaks, of roofs, and such, were profoundly unfamiliar, but, in their way, awesome, and beautiful. It was hard for me to imagine that so different and beautiful, so artistic, a structure, might be, in effect, a fortress, a place of harrowing might, a holding of formidable power, a housing for a hundred companies, a resister of sieges, a coign of vantage, from which might issue dragons of war, and a closed portal behind which they might, in security, withdraw.
Rumors were being spread by Lord Temmu's men, disguised as fishermen, herdsmen, and such, of new allies for Lord Temmu, strange warriors, arrived from far off, and, terrifyingly, of dragon birds, which might fly forth and destroy armies. I had no doubt that our mercenaries were formidable, but they were no more so, or less so, one supposed, than the forces likely to be arrayed against them. If nothing else, the ambush and fighting in the defile and at the beach would make that clear to the generals of Lord Yamada. The tarns were another matter. I gathered that these folk had never seen a tarn, and might not even, at first, understand such things to be a natural, vulnerable form of life. They might take it as a dragon bird, whatever that might be.
Whatever might be the initial psychological impact of the tarn on those unfamiliar with its form of life, it would be only a matter of time before it became clear to the enemy that the tarn, however formidable, was a natural creature, limited, and mortal, nothing dreadfully mysterious, no unnatural and inexplicable dragon bird, sprung from the clouds, gifted with the ability to blight fields, towns, and armies.
"I do not know you," said the stranger.
"I am captain of the River Dragon, ship of the navy of Lord Temmu."
It was now four days following the docking of the Pani ship, the River Dragon, and the stranger and I, invited by Captain Nakamura and the harbor master, Demetrion, who now seemed on splendid terms with the captain, perhaps because commerce fosters affability, were in one of the great warehouses adjacent to the high piers.
The Pani had brought much with them, for selling and trading, taken from the many officially sealed, watertight compartments of the River Dragon, and local Merchants, who swarmed about, within, moving from table to table, and to the floor displays, were interested, as well, in buying and selling.
The voyage of the River Dragon then, I took it, was a pioneer voyage, which might inaugurate routes of trade and perhaps open conduits of diplomacy.
The most beautiful of all female slaves on all Gor are sold in Brundisium," Demetrion assured Nakamura, the captain of the River Dragon.
The stranger and I, it may be recalled, had been invited to the warehouse by Demetrion, the harbor master, and Captain Nakamura, captain of the River Dragon, now wharfed nearby.
The captain, for some reason, had wished for the stranger to stay on board the River Dragon, but, as I would not be allowed to do so, as well, the stranger declined the offer.
"You wished to see me?" said the stranger to Nakamura, captain of the River Dragon.
"The cove was empty," said the stranger. "He had no way to anticipate, nor would he later to forestall, the voyage of the River Dragon."
The sword, the gladius, given to him on the River Dragon, was in his right hand.
"I wish you well," said the stranger, Callias, to the captain, Nakamura, of the ship, the River Dragon.
"Follow me," said Nakamura, captain of the River Dragon, who then began to move amongst the tables, toward the back of the room.
He had been denied passage on the River Dragon, which had been of desperate importance to him.
"I do not think," I said, "that the River Dragon will make the morning tide.
The street was darker than I had anticipated. I could see lights on the River Dragon, moored at the nearby wharf.
"I expect to be leaving in a few days," he said. "I do want to see the River Dragon sail."
This morning we had all ventured to the high piers, bid farewell to Captain Nakamura, and watched that unusual ship, the River Dragon, unusual, at least for Brundisium, take its leave.
"No," he said. "But no one will believe it."
"There was Captain Nakamura," I said, "and the River dragon."
"I fear," said Lord Nishida "we lie beneath the shadow of the iron dragon."
"No," said Lord Okimoto, "no!"
"What is this?" I asked.
"A legend," smiled Lord Nishida. "Dismiss it."
"I fear," said Lord Nishida, "we lie within the shadow of the iron dragon."
All may not be lost," said Lord Nishida. "I do not think the iron dragon has yet spread its wings."
Tyrtaios turned back briefly. "Beware the iron dragon," he said. "It is in its lair. If it is awakened, it will fly."
"I fear doom is upon us," said Lord Nishida. "I fear at last, we lie within the shadow of the iron dragon."
"What is this business about an iron dragon?" I asked.
"A figure of speech," he said. "Do not concern yourself."
"But there is a legend involved?" I said.
"Yes," said Lord Nishida. "The dragon is a creature of legend, a mythological beast. When it awakens and spreads its wings, it signifies loss and defeat, the changing of things, the darkening of the sun, the coming of night, the downfall of dynasties, the end of great houses."
I had heard of this sort of thing before. Too, I recalled that Tyrtaios, oddly, had referred to this presumably mythological beast.
"Surely none subscribe to such a superstition," I said.
"Many do," he said.
"Lord Okimoto?" I said.
"Possibly," said Lord Nishida.
"Such thoughts are absurd," I said.
"What lies within the hearts of men," he said, "is seldom absurd."
It had originally been hoped that a major land battle with the forces of Lord Yamada, a battle decisive for the outcome of the war, might have been brought about, a battle which might turn profitably on the unexpected appearance of the tarn cavalry, a military arm new to the islands. It had been hoped that its entry into the battle aside from what might be its contribution in terms of fire power, might induce consternation into the masses of a largely ignorant and superstitious enemy. Would not the arrival of such monsters most easily be understood in terms of preternatural agencies? Indeed, Lord Temmu, shortly after the great ship of Tersites had been wharfed below the holding, had sowed the seeds of such alarms by means of spies, spreading rumors of terrifying winged beasts, demon birds, dragon birds, alleged to be favorable to the cause of the house of Temmu.
"Lord Yamada," said Tajima "has had read for him the bones and shells, and in these troubled days of strange things and darkness, fears that the iron dragon will awaken, and if awaken, will spread its wings and fly."
"He is afraid?" I asked.
"It seems so," said Tajima.
"And what have the bones and shells to say about iron dragons?" I asked.
"It is said that unless the house of Temmu yields to the house of Yamada the iron dragon will emerge from its den and destroy the house of Temmu."
"That sounds convenient," I said. "Why should this worry Lord Yamada?"
"Who knows what will occur should the iron dragon spread its wings?" asked Tajima. "Its shadow might lie upon the islands. Might not the rice wither and die in that darkness? Who knows the temper and appetite of the iron dragon? How long it has been since it has last flown! What if it is angry? What if it is hungry? What if it is insatiable? Might it not alight upon the palaces of Yamada as well as upon the holding of Temmu? Might its claws not tear the land and cast it into the sea, might not its jaws seize the sun and devour it, plunging the world into darkness?"
"If the bones and shells were read in the holding," I said, "I would expect them to foretell the jeopardy of the house of Yamada, should the iron dragon emerge from its den."
"It is hard sometimes to understand the bones and shells," said Tajima.
"Dear friend," I said, "you are not native to this world, no more than I. The world from which we derive may in many ways be thoughtless, foolish, shallow decadent materialistic, and cruel, but it is, at least, a world in which there are no iron dragons."
"Much may depend on what might be an iron dragon," said Tajima.
"On the world from which we derive," I said, "there are no iron dragons."
"This," said he, "is not the world from which we derive."
"There are no iron dragons," I said. "That is a beast of mythology. It is a creature only of stories, a creature of dark, fearful legends."
"You are right, of course, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman," he said. "I spoke foolishly."
"To be sure," I said, "the exploitation of superstition can be a weapon of war, as well as an instrument of prestige power, and profit."
"The second thing of which I am reluctant to speak," he said, "is one I am afraid I understand only too well."
"I trust," I said, "it is no more important than the first thing, the empty prattle about iron dragons."
I Hear of Bones, Shells, and Dragons;
Have Been Renewed
"As I recall," I said, "unless the house of Temmu yields to the house of Yamada, the iron dragon will fly, with possibly disastrous consequences to both houses."
"Yes," said Lord Temmu.
"Lord Yamada," I said, "doubtless fears its flight."
"Rather than surrender," said Daichi, "Lord Temmu would prefer the termination of his line and the destruction of the holding altogether, even should the iron dragon spread its wings."
"I thought he might," I said.
"Even though the sun be devoured and the land cast into the sea."
"I see," I said. I recalled Tajima had said something of this sort in the encampment. Certainly it had never occurred to me that Lord Temmu would abandon the holding, and such. He would be prepared to accept the consequences for not doing so, however unpleasant, or disastrous.
"The iron dragon does not exist," I said. "It is a beast of legend, a creature of myth. It does not exist. It is not to be feared."
"The bones and shells do not lie," said Daichi, in a terrible voice, pointing to the objects in question.
"Perhaps," I said, "those who read them might - be mistaken."
"It is said," said Lord Temmu, "that they are sometimes hard to understand."
"That is true," said Daichi solemnly.
"How do you read them?" I asked Daichi. It seemed this was important, particularly with two large Ashigaru behind me.
"The readings are similar," said Daichi, "in a sense identical, namely, that the house of Temmu must yield to the house of Yamada, or the iron dragon will fly, and destroy the house of Temmu."
"And Lord Yamada fears the flight of the iron dragon might prove disastrous to both houses?" I said.
"We must save the house of Temmu," said Daichi. "Allegedly the iron dragon stirs. If the house of Temmu does not yield to the house of Yamada it will emerge from its lair, will be awing, and will destroy the house of Temmu."
"You have commanded demon birds, dragon birds, brought from across the sea. You have well served the rebellious house of Temmu and have muchly discomfited the rightful, honorable house of Yamada. Yamada, Shogun of the Islands, has not been pleased. Now you are at our mercy. We have waited long to have you as you are."
"What have you heard," I asked, "of an iron dragon?"
"Little," she said. "It is in stories, it is a fiction, a creature of imagination, a thing of legend, a creature of myth. The Pani slaves speak of it only in whispers."
"Why, if it be such," I asked, "should the Pani slaves so fear it, that they will not even speak aloud of it?"
"I do not know," she said.
"Perhaps they know something you do not," I said.
I did not doubt that the iron dragon was a creature of legend.
Lord Nishida viewed it as such. Lord Okimoto seemed less skeptical. He seemed more open on the matter. Perhaps he feared some pebble of truth might lie concealed within the mountain of myth. And Lord Temmu, perhaps under the influence of Daichi, seemed to credit at least the possible existence of such a beast. Lord Yamada, on the other hand, I suspected, despite his alleged fear of its awakening, presumably manufactured for diplomatic reasons, would view such claims as preposterous, spun from no more than the fumes of benighted superstition. What gave me pause in the matter, or at least uneasiness, were the references to such a beast by so unlikely an informant as Tyrtaios, who was not Pani, and would not have been likely to be acquainted with Pani lore. Tyrtaios, as I understood him, a dark realist, as careful and prudential as a knife, was not likely to be the victim of any superstition, let alone that of an alien culture. Yet he had spoken as though this fiction might have had ribs of iron and claws of steel, might be as real as ore and fire.
"I know more of the house of Temmu than its master," said Lord Yamada. "He expected to deliver you to me, and merely appoint a new commander of the demon birds. Thus, he would gratify me, avoid the flight of the iron dragon, and retain his cavalry."
"Most of the readings are stupid ambiguities and obscure nonsense, things which might be interpreted in several ways, one of which is likely, from time to time, to bear some resemblance to something or other which might actually occur, but I take care, naturally, to supply the content now and then, to my advantage."
"The last one was clever," I said, "the business about the iron dragon, the fear of its flight, and such."
"It brought you into my hands," said Lord Yamada.
"It is strange to me," I said, "that Lord Temmu, who is not a stupid man, should take such things seriously."
"Not at all," he said. "If the readings should seem to one uncanny, and fraught with prophetic accuracy, if they should, from time to time, seem to foretell the course of events, even with alarming precision, one might take them seriously."
"But you are arranging and managing the events which are being foretold," I said.
"But Daichi is trusted," he said.
"Of course," I said.
"You said," said Lord Yamada "you were sure of two."
"But why the references to an iron dragon?" I asked. "That is a matter of legend. There are no such things."
"Are there not?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"Let us then not speak of them," said Lord Yamada.
"Very well," I said.
"What do you know of iron dragons?" I asked.
"They do not exist," he said.
Surely this seemed more likely than a new prattling about a mythical iron dragon, or such.
How so?" I said.
"They will perish in the flames of the iron dragon," he said.
"There is no iron dragon," I said.
"Even Lord Yamada fears the iron dragon," he said.
"There is no iron dragon," I said.
"I have seen it," he said.
I was to one side behind a silken screen, sitting cross-legged with Haruki, before another table. Such screens may afford privacy, for example, dividing a larger space into semi-secluded, individual dining areas. The screen, on the house side so to speak, was decorated with a fanciful image that of a large, winged, fearsome beast. "It is a dragon," had said Haruki. Such images were not infrequently encountered in the islands, but, more commonly, one encountered images of a gentler, more tranquil nature, snow-capped mountains, forests, winding streams, placid villages, and such.
Behind the dragon screen, with Haruki, I was annoyed, as the innkeeper seemed clearly interested in selling another vessel of sake.
I could not see the reaction of Nezumi, for the dragon screen.
Behind the dragon screen, Haruki whispered to me, "I am afraid."
"No," said he whom I had taken to be the innkeeper. "They dined secretly, and separately, concealed behind the dragon screen. I think they fear detection. One is a fugitive, and the other, it seems, is an abettor of his flight."
Haruki and I backed against the dragon screen, which fell, and, stumbling, ruining it, fell behind it, and then struggled up, past the low table our backs to the side of the inn.
"It is the iron dragon," said Lord Temmu.
"No," I said. "It is not. It is a device. You may call it an iron dragon, if you wish, but it is not your feared iron dragon of legend, which is a myth. It is a contrivance, somehow controlled, either from within or from some distant point. On a distant world, a far world beyond the moons, a steel world, inhabited by fierce denizens, I saw such things, animated by an ensconced brain, its body the device itself."
"The iron dragon is such a thing?" said Lord Nishida.
"Something similar," I said.
"But not the same?"
"I do not think so," I said. "When it was attacked, it seemed unaware of the assault. If it were governed by an ensconced brain, I think the brain, housed in the object itself, would, in its own interest, have had things arranged in such a way that it could sense an attack, perhaps being aware of impinging sounds, or responding to vibrations following strikes on the surface, or fuselage such things. I do not know, but I suspect it was controlled from afar, perhaps from a great distance."
"Perhaps from as far as the palace of Lord Yamada?" asked Lord Nishida.
"Precisely," I said.
"How could anything so far away guide or control it?" asked Lord Okimoto.
"The means exist," I said.
"From far away, how could one see?" asked Lord Okimoto.
"The means exist, Lord," I said.
"I do not understand what is going on," said Lord Nishida.
"As long ago as Tarncamp," I said, "you suspected."
"We are pieces on a board we do not understand," said Lord Nishida "in a game of giants we do not see."
"And a game, I suspect," I said, "not fairly played."
"What are you going to do?" asked Lord Nishida.
"Seek Nodachi," I said. "I think he will lead me to Yamada."
"Beware the iron dragon," said Lord Temmu.
"I think I know its lair," I said, "and the intelligence, or intelligences, which animate it."
"You will go by tarn, of course," said Lord Nishida.
"I and some others," I said, "if they wish it."
"I am with you, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman," said Tajima.
"I, too," said Pertinax.
"What of us here?" asked Lord Temmu.
"There will be negotiations," I said. "Lord Yamada desires the holding. You may threaten to destroy the holding rather than surrender it. If you do this well, dallying and caviling, the business will take days."
"I see," said Lord Temmu.
"Pretend to believe in the iron dragon," I said.
"That will not be difficult to do," said Lord Nishida.
"You once said you had seen the iron dragon," I said to Haruki.
"In the sky, to the west of the palace," said Haruki.
"Only once?" I said.
"Yes," he said.
"It was doubtless a practice flight, a test flight, or such," I said, "one to assess its handling or performance, perhaps to familiarize an operator with the pertinent controls."
"I do not understand such things, noble one," he said.
"Do you know its nest, its lair?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"I think I do," I said, "and I think I know the intelligence, or intelligences, which govern it."
"There is much to fear," said Haruki.
"That is the palace of Yamada in the distance," said Pertinax.
"Consider the fifth level of the palace," I said, "from this side toward the north."
"I see nothing unusual," he said.
"Nor should you," I said.
"You think that is the housing of the device?" asked Pertinax.
"I am sure of it," I said.
"As far as I know," said Tajima, "it has not flown since the attack on the holding of Lord Temmu."
"What is not seen is often more frightening than what is seen," I said.
"And once briefly glimpsed, and then concealed," said Tajima, "imagination may be permitted to enlarge its menaces and terrors."
"I think so," I said. "If it were frequently seen it would be obvious that, however awesome it is, it is not a living, breathing dragon, no egg-sprung beast of flesh and blood, but a contrivance of sorts, terrible though it may be. It would be obvious that it is not the iron dragon of myth and legend, the source of which is lost in history, but a surrogate of that, a counterfeit."
"It is terrible enough," said Haruki.
"The iron dragon exists," I said.
He was silent.
"Much of the dragon was doubtless designed, fabricated, and assembled in the islands," I said, "the framework, the metal plating, and such, but the crucial elements, having to do with propulsion, surveillance, and controls, are almost certainly derived from the continent."
"If the iron dragon utilizes gravitational technology, as you suggest, and that is within the provenance of Priest-Kings," said Pertinax, "then it is clear the Priest-Kings favor Yamada."
"But," I said, "that technology may have been supplied to Kurii, and I have evidence which suggests that that is the case."
"I do not understand," said Pertinax.
"I think one thing is quite clear," I said, "and that is, if we are indeed enmeshed in some game of giants, it is not a game which is being honestly played. For example, though the iron dragon clearly incorporates the technology of Priest-Kings, it just as clearly violates the laws of Priest-Kings, and would thus, in countering the effect of the cavalry, seem to tip a balance in favor of Yamada."
"Interesting," said Pertinax.
"With so much at stake," I said, "in effect a planet, for Kurii would not long be likely to peaceably share a world with Priest-Kings or any others, and surely Priest-Kings would realize the danger of admitting a technologically advanced, aggressive species like the Kurii to their world, it seems probable that neither player is willing to abide defeat, and will therefore take whatever measures are deemed useful to ensure victory, or its semblance."
"So much for fair play and sportsmanship," said Pertinax.
"But all this," I said, "is speculation."
"But the iron dragon is real," said Pertinax. "And steel, and blood, and danger."
"Yes," I said.
"Even with the emergence of the iron dragon," said Tajima "the tarn cavalry is of great value to Lord Temmu."
"You think the iron dragon is housed on the fifth level of the palace?" he said.
"Yes," I said.
"As I see it," I said, "the main difficulty is being able to do something within the palace, if one should attain access to it, and, if one is interested in such things, coming out alive. Let us suppose we could approach the iron dragon, eluded guards and such, perhaps even alarms. What could we do to damage such a monstrous thing, let alone destroy it? It would be like trying to pull a Tur tree up by the roots, like pounding on a mountain with one's fists."
"I suspect so," I said. "I suspect he will be at the center of command, while his generals can manage things at the periphery. Perhaps trouble brews amongst the peasantries, which might erupt in his absence, while on campaign. Too, if I am correct that the iron dragon is housed in the palace, it is likely that he would wish to be in its vicinity, that he might the most conveniently put it to his purposes."
It was estimated, given the hardships of the early spring, the rigors of the first siege, the threat of the second siege, the overwhelming superiority in numbers enjoyed by Lord Yamada and the fearful advent of the iron dragon in the skies over the holding of Temmu, that better than two hundred mercenaries had defected to the banners of Yamada.
"You have heard of the iron dragon?" I said.
"It has flown, Master," said Tajima. "We have seen it."
"You do not seek Lord Yamada?" asked the magician.
"Only to seek another," I said, "a greater beast."
"The iron dragon," said the magician.
"Yes," I said.
The tarn cavalry cannot withstand the fire of the iron dragon, which is even now poised to spread its wings.
"Do you think, swordsman," asked Lord Yamada, "that the fool Temmu, the Wicked, will surrender his holding?"
"No," said Nodachi.
"Nor I," said Lord Yamada.
"Do you think he understands that it can be destroyed by the iron dragon?"
"As it seems the holding is to be destroyed, in either case," said Lord Yamada "either by the breath of the iron dragon or the torches of Temmu, one may as well be done with it, and free the iron dragon."
"But the great lord desires the holding," said Nodachi.
"We shall offer the truce, and the bounty for surrender," said Lord Yamada . "If it is declined, we shall issue an ultimatum. On the third day following, the iron dragon will fly. The holding will be destroyed. It will be mine or cease to exist."
"It is a lofty, mighty, and beautiful holding," said Nodachi.
"Walls will crumble, the mountaintop will be black, ashes will blow out to sea," said Lord Yamada.
"Does the great lord not fear the tarn cavalry?" asked Nodachi.
"No longer," said Lord Yamada. "The iron dragon can burn it out of the sky."
"I now have the iron dragon," he said.
"I saw it," I said, "at the holding of Temmu."
"You understand, of course," he said, "from the demonstration in the vicinity of the holding of Temmu, that the cavalry cannot meet the iron dragon. It would be burned from the sky."
"But," I said, "what if it does not choose to meet the iron dragon?"
"Precisely," said Lord Yamada.
"It may not choose to be incinerated in the sky," I said.
"That, too, is my speculation," said Lord Yamada.
"In which case," I said, "avoiding open combat, eschewing a direct confrontation, which might be suicidal, it might still constitute a force to be reckoned with."
"Perhaps," said Lord Yamada.
"Let us suppose," I said, "that the cavalry maintains several tarns."
"It does," said Lord Yamada.
"In which case," I said, "the cavalry might be in several places at once, whereas the iron dragon can be in but one. Where the iron dragon is not, the cavalry might be."
"The dragon can destroy the holding," said Lord Yamada.
"Then," I said, "tomorrow is the third day following the issuance of the ultimatum, the day on which the iron dragon will fly."
"At dawn," said Lord Yamada, "the iron dragon will spread its wings. The forces of Temmu are trapped in the holding, and the holding will be destroyed."
At dawn the iron dragon was to spread its wings.
"The roof was visible from afar," I said. "The dragon or, more likely, its housing would have been evident, when we scouted the palace from a distance."
"One of its wings would not fit in this place," said Tajima.
"It must be here," said Pertinax. "There must be a secret panel, leading to an adjoining chamber, one cavernous in nature, one where the walls might draw back, that it might fly."
"Search then for such a vast chamber," I said. "But I do not think you will find it."
"It must be here, somehow adjoined with this chamber," said Pertinax.
"I do not think so," I said. "While I was Lord Yamada's guest, I examined the palace with care, not simply to familiarize myself with the premises, but to seek avenues of escape, and note points of possible attack. I recall no such space. I had hoped the corridor which was sealed away and guarded, that to which I had no access, might lead to such a space, the dragon's cave, but it does not."
"The iron dragon is to fly at dawn," said Tajima. "We will be unable to stop it."
"The trussed Ashigaru will shortly be discovered," said Pertinax.
"Doubtless, by now," said Tajima.
"The door," I said, "will hold indefinitely."
"And we are trapped within," said Tajima.
"I had thought the housing for the device would be accessed from the corridor," I said.
"But it is not here," said Pertinax.
"So it is obviously elsewhere," said Tajima.
"Of course, it need not be here!" I said.
"What do you mean?" asked Pertinax.
"Continue to search for your panel," I said. "It exists."
"I do not understand," said Pertinax.
"It is here, in this secret, guarded place, we encountered the beasts," I said.
"Yes?" said Tajima.
"They must be its technicians, its controllers, its operators," I said.
"That is likely, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman," said Tajima.
"Dawn," I said, "is at hand, perhaps moments away."
"And the beasts were here," said Tajima.
"Precisely," I said.
"The dragon need not be here," said Pertinax.
"But it must be controlled from here!" said Tajima.
"Search!" I said. "Let us all search for the panel!"
"Now," said Pertinax, "we use the ax, and destroy these things."
"Not yet," I said. "That would not harm the dragon."
"It would be inoperative," said Pertinax.
"Temporarily," I said.
"Better that than nothing," said Pertinax.
"Compared to the dragon," I said, "I am sure the control devices are relatively simple, and possibly easily replaced."
"You do not know that," said Pertinax.
"No," I said. "And I may be wrong. But I think the dragon itself is the target of interest."
"We do not know where the dragon is," said Tajima.
"No," I said, "but I am certain it is controlled from here."
"Destroy the control apparatus," said Pertinax. "We have the ax. We can do at least that."
"Later," I said.
"At least the dragon will not fly at dawn," said Pertinax.
"I hope it will," I said, sliding onto the bench before the console.
"What are you going to do?" asked Tajima.
"I hope," I said," - release the dragon."
"This equipment," I said, "has been designed to be operated by Kurii, a visually oriented organism presumably unfamiliar with the technology internal to the dragon. I have no doubt that an attempt to examine that technology would be dangerous to the highest degree. Priest-Kings do not care to share secrets on which the fate of worlds may hang. This control apparatus, however, I suspect, is not armed. That precaution would not be necessary, and it might, if accidentally triggered, bring the entire mission of the iron dragon to naught. Further, I suspect we have nothing here which exceeds the technology of the Kurii themselves, and nothing here, by intent, which an average Kur, or human, cannot manage."
"Can you manage it?" asked Pertinax.
"Possibly," I said. "The board is very simple. There are only a few switches. There must be a way of opening the dragon's gate, so to speak, of activating the dragon itself, of opening its eyes, so to speak, and so on."
"How is it to be guided, controlled?" asked Tajima.
"That is the easiest," I said. "By its reins."
"It has no reins, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman," said Tajima.
"They are here," I said, "embedded in the board, this mounted sphere. Long ago, in a distant place," I said, "I utilized something much like this."
I needed not speak to them of the great nest in the Sardar, nor of the Nest War, nor of the fierce aerial battles within those mighty chambers, nor of transportation disks and flame tubes.
"And this lever, given its curved, linear housing," I said, "I suspect will activate the dragon, and regulate its speed."
"In any event," I said, "we will not try them unless we are successful in getting our dragon out of its cave and into the open air. There is no point in turning its hanger or housing into a furnace or a shambles of debris."
"I doubt that he is informed, as yet," I said. "I expect, rather, he is ensconced in some coign of vantage, where he is eagerly awaiting the flight of the iron dragon. Indeed, I think I know the place."
"I am sure something happened," I said. "The first switch in order presumably either activates the screens or opens the dragon gate, so to speak. Since the screens are not activated, namely, the dragon has not yet opened its eyes, I am hoping the dragon is free to fly, that the gate has been opened, or the roof rolled back, or such."
"I am sure the dragon is activated," I said.
"Our dragon has opened its eyes," I said.
I did not think there would be much difficulty beyond this point, at least with controlling the movements of the dragon. One used the sphere for orientation, as one had with a transportation disk, and the other switch, that associated with the sphere, analogous to a throttle to regulate power.
"Now," I said, "we are going to release a dragon."
The Dragon has Spread Its Wings
"I can see the palace," I said, "on the screen. It is less than a pasang to my east."
"'Your east'?" said Pertinax. "You are in the palace."
"To the east of the dragon," I said.
"I shall bring it about," I said. "I am going to circle the palace, three times, slowly, in a stately fashion, at a low altitude. I want the dragon to be visible, unforgettably visible to as many as possible."
"This is the first time most of them will have looked upon the dragon," I said.
"Many are awed," said Pertinax. "Many cover their eyes."
"Others wave, and cry out, eagerly, and smile, and run beneath it, even in its shadow," said Tajima.
"Would you not rejoice," I asked, "in the presence of so mighty an ally?"
"The iron dragon flies for Yamada," said Tajima.
"The dragon," said Tajima "has spread its wings."
"Yes," I said.
The wings, of course, given the technology involved, were not necessary for flight, though I supposed they might provide some lift. They did move in flight, giving the illusion of propelling the great, mysterious, aerial beast. Do not all dragons have vast, fearful batlike wings? In a sense then, the wings were quite essential, to convey the illusion. Indeed, lacking wings, or seeming wings, this remarkable machine might not have been instantly identified, in the minds of thousands, with the fabled iron dragon of legend. In the psychology of war such a thing might rout armies.
"He thinks the dragon will destroy the holding of Temmu," said Pertinax.
"Let us suppose he is mistaken," I said.
I then slowly oriented the dragon toward the north. I would fly relatively low, and relatively slowly for a time, even, now and then, deviating from a direct route, that the nearby towns and villages might note our flight. Then, after a time, I found the northern road, and opened the throttle so to speak, and, marked on the appropriate screen, the ground below rapidly slipped away.
The Dragon has Flown
For example, little was known at that time other than the fact that the door to the chamber of the Kurii was secured and that the iron dragon had flown north, presumably on its mission to deal out destruction to the holding of Temmu.
As the iron dragon was in flight, it seemed all was well from his point of view, that of the self-proclaimed Shogun of the Islands. And who but Kurii might manage the enormous mechanical beast? Who else might risk bringing such a dreadful thing forth from its lair?
"It is amazing," had said Pertinax, turning back from the observation port "you can fly the monstrosity."
"A dragon, in its way," I said, "can be beautiful, like a storm or fire."
"I do not see how you can control the dragon," he said.
"The central sphere is the major control device," I said. "I am familiar with sphere-guidance from a different venue, a different place, a different time. We shall experiment with the recessed switches when we are in the open, and less likely to be observed."
"Still," he said, "I am impressed."
"Remember," I said, "these controls have been designed for a visually oriented organism, and one presumably unfamiliar with the technology involved. Accordingly, they are designed to be easily understood and conveniently manipulated."
"What is this business about a visually oriented organism?" he said.
"Nothing," I said.
"I see," he said.
I pointed to one of the six screens. "That is the northern road," I said.
"Yes," he said.
"What is your plan, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman?" asked Tajima.
"We shall fly north," I said, "and greet the garrison of the holding of Temmu, and then we shall be about our business."
"And what is our business?" asked Tajima.
"The imperilment of the house of Yamada," I said.
"How long will it take to reach the holding of Temmu?" asked Pertinax.
"On foot, days, on tarnback, several Ahn," I said. "I expect that the dragon, if urgency were involved, could manage the matter in less than two Ahn, perhaps in a single Ahn."
"If urgency were involved?" said Pertinax.
"It is not," I said. "It is enough if we simply move with some swiftness, bringing to those on the ground some sense of the speed and power of the dragon."
"I will orient the dragon," I said, "toward the sea to the east."
"Ai!" cried Tajima.
"And now the other," I said.
"This thing is hideous," said Tajima. "It must be destroyed!"
Although we were placidly ensconced in a small room in the palace of Lord Yamada, we could sense from the screens, the shuddering of the dragon, as, first, a torrent of fire appeared on the forward screen, and, a moment later, it seemed a stream of light sped away, diminishing in the distance.
"What is that?" asked Pertinax.
"I do not know," I said. "I think it may be the trail of a projectile."
"When the dragon attacked the holding of Temmu, a wall was shattered," said Tajima.
"That suggests a projectile of some sort," I said.
"This is a terrible thing," said Tajima. "We must destroy it."
"First," I said, "the cause of Yamada must find itself beneath the shadow of its wings."
"Then!" said Tajima.
"Then," I said, "one must be very careful. One cannot simply crash it, or the secret of the dragon will be publicly revealed, that it is a mere contrivance."
"Doubtless the surveillance of those responsible for this technology is neither universal nor perfect," I said, "but I would think they, or, more likely, some small group involved in this matter, would have the means, electronic or otherwise, of tracking the dragon."
"Perhaps," said Pertinax.
"Would you give a loaded gun to a blood enemy?" I asked.
"No," said Pertinax.
"Why not?" I asked.
"I would be afraid he would turn it on me," said Pertinax.
"And therein," I said, "I think, lies the solution of our problem."
"I am not sure I understand," said Pertinax.
"Behold the front screen," said Tajima.
"There, in the distance," said Pertinax, "it is the holding of Temmu!"
"Below," I said, "is the south siege camp, that to the south of the holding."
"It is large," said Tajima.
"So, too, was the road camp to which we were taken by Kazumitsu," I said. "Other camps will be strategically located, to enable the encirclement of the mountain of the holding. The wharves, too, will be guarded, to prevent an escape by sea, even, in small boats."
"Eventually," said Pertinax, "the holding is doomed."
"The dragon has not yet spoken," I said.
"See the trenches, the earthen walls, the redoubts, the guard posts," said Tajima.
"Yamada's generals," I said, "prior to the arrival of the dragon, might well fear a sortie from the holding."
"The dragon has now arrived," said Pertinax.
As earlier, the cavalry had forced the lifting of the siege so now it seemed, the iron dragon might render it unnecessary, demolishing the holding.
"They must remember the dragon's attack on the holding," said Pertinax.
"Even so," I said, "many will fear the dragon. Who can look into the heart of a dragon?"
"As you do not attack, and continue to circle," said Tajima, "surely many will lose their fear, and see the dragon as their ally, a monstrous beast who spreads its wings on behalf of the house of Yamada."
Following the benign display of the dragon over the vast, southern camp, which we took, from its location, its proximity to the northern road, facilitating communications with, and the movement of supplies from, Yamada's heartland, to be the headquarters of the besieging forces, we moved, in a similarly serene and stately manner toward the holding of Temmu. It was easy for us to suppose the trepidation with which the garrison of the holding might view the dragon's approach particularly given its earlier attack on the holding. That earlier attack, of course, had been more in the nature of a demonstration than an assault in earnest. Its purpose had been little more than to convince the house of Temmu that the dragon was dangerous, powerful, irresistible and flew for Yamada. Now, however, the negotiations, the terms for surrender, the supposed guarantees of safety for the garrison, and such, had been concluded. The shogun, Temmu, and his daimyos, Lords Nishida and Okimoto, predictably, had refused to evacuate the holding. Lord Yamada's ultimatum had been issued, and rejected, and this now was the third day, toward noon, following the rejection of the ultimatum, the day on which the iron dragon was to take to the sky. The holding would be his, or it would cease to exist, had said Lord Yamada. Walls will crumble the mountaintop will be black, ashes will blow out to sea, he had said. I could see the rationale of this decision. Lord Temmu would destroy the holding before allowing it to fall into the hands of Lord Yamada. That being the case why might not the iron dragon strike? Surely Lord Yamada would not care for the inconvenience, the delay, and the economic hardships of maintaining a second siege perhaps lasting years, to obtain a prize which would be destroyed before it could be grasped.
Dalliance was unacceptable.
"Terror courses the walls of the holding," said Tajima.
"We will circle, three times," I said, "as we did at the southern camp."
"Some flee," said Pertinax, "seeking shelter. In the courtyard some fists are raised, and shaken. Others threaten us with futile weapons."
"I see arrows looping upward," said Tajima.
"Some may strike the dragon," I said, "but we will be unaware of the sound of such contacts."
"Had they Yamada's great bow that in the valley, its missiles might reach us," said Pertinax.
But without effectiveness," I said. "The hide of the dragon is plated with scales of steel. It would be as unavailing as an angry, absurd straw flung against a cliff of stone."
"And who," asked Tajima "would sue a dragon for mercy?"
"Perhaps Lord Temmu will engage the cavalry," said Pertinax.
"The cavalry is no longer a minion of the house of Temmu," I said. "It is an independent arm, a sovereign force."
"It may be committed," said Tajima "even if the engagement be suicidal."
"At best," said Pertinax, "the cavalry could do little more than attack the cameras, little more than blind the dragon."
"The success of such an attack would be unlikely," I said, "if the dragon chose to defend itself. Too, I would suspect that the cameras are either shielded or inconspicuous."
"Still," said Tajima "the cavalry might fling itself upon the dragon, however madly, however futilely."
"It will not do so," I said. "Before leaving the holding, on our venture south, I transmitted orders to Torgus and Lysander."
"You explicitly forbade such an engagement?" asked Pertinax.
"Certainly," I said.
"We have now completed the second circle," I said. "By now the forces of Temmu should be alarmed or resigned, and those of Yamada reassured and inspirited."
"You are counting on the awe and superstition of the common soldier?" said Tajima.
"And many who are less common," I said, "for example, high officers, even generals, even the shogun, Lord Temmu, and his daimyo, Lord Okimoto."
"Many believe in the iron dragon," said Pertinax.
"Or do not disbelieve," I said. "Remember, few have inspected the dragon closely. In the minds of almost all it is not a device, not a machine, however complex and formidable; it is a gigantic, living beast, a startling, monstrous, fabulous, terrifying creature, hinted at in a thousand legends, employed even to frighten children. And those who did not believe now need only lift their eyes to the sky and behold the spread of these mighty wings, the thing come alive, as from nowhere."
"It is a machine," said Pertinax.
"Few will understand that," I said. "Priest-Kings and Kurii guard their secrets well."
"So most," said Tajima "will see it as a living being."
"And no ordinary living being," I said, "simply large and dangerous, but rather a mysterious being, come from unknown worlds, come with obscure intent, a being both purposeful and portentous. The beat of its wings drives the currents of destiny; its approbation dignifies and ennobles houses; its frown foretells stricken futures. It is a thousand times more potent than the patterns of bones and shells."
"And now?" said Tajima.
"Now," I said, "the third circle is complete, and it is the house of Temmu which the dragon has examined and not harmed. It is that house which it has saluted, that house which it has taken beneath its wing."
"The holding stands," said Tajima.
"And now the dragon turns south," said Pertinax.
My hand hesitated for a moment, and then reached toward the recessed switches.
"It is seventeen days," said Tajima, "since the iron dragon visited the forces of Yamada in the north."
"That is enough time," I said, "for whatever was to happen to have happened."
"What happened is one thing," I said, "whatever it may be. Why it happened is another thing."
"Would Lord Yamada know?" asked Pertinax.
"What he knows," I said, "is likely to be little different from what is known by thousands of others, namely, that the iron dragon favored the house of Temmu, and then disappeared, perhaps to return to its mysterious realm of origin."
After the attack on the south camp and the siege works associated with it, I had circled about the mountain of the holding, burning hundreds of tents, blasting earthen ramparts, and pouring fire into better than a hundred trenches. Following this, I had turned the dragon east, and, over Thassa set a course as directly as I could for the Sardar Mountains, the supposed domicile of the gods of Gor, the Priest-Kings. It had been my supposition, first, that the path of the dragon would be monitored by whatever group was responsible for its existence, and, second, that there would be a provision implicit in the thing itself for its destruction. As I had indicated earlier, no one would be likely to put a lethal weapon into the hands of a blood enemy, for it might be turned on one. Presumably then a provision would be in place to protect the donor or supplier against this most unpleasant possibility. What I did not know were the parties or arrangements involved in the construction of, and management of the dragon. Given the disunity of the steel worlds I doubted that it would be more than one administration of one such world, if that, which would be involved on the part of the Kurii. I was much less certain about the involvement of the hierarchy of the Nest, largely determined by order of birth, in the matter. I suspected, but did not know, that the possible wager, or game, having to do with the surface of Gor, assuming it existed, was not a congenial, approved stratagem of the hierarchy as a whole, but that it would more likely be the stratagem of an aggressive faction within the hierarchy, acting on its own, and possibly secretly. If the latter conjecture was warranted, it would be important to that faction not to be discovered, at least prior to the success of its efforts. If that was the case, I suspected the dragon would be destroyed almost as soon as it was determined it was no longer behaving as expected. Indeed, the matter would seem far more urgent and dire once it was clearly turned toward the Sardar. In such a case there could be no triumphant result of a successful experiment with which to regale a world or a hierarchy, or portions thereof supposedly having resolved a controversy of generations, but a clear threat to the Sardar itself, perhaps mounted by Kurii. If the hierarchy as a whole was a party to the wager, or game, so to speak, I would expect a delayed reaction to the dragon's inexplicable behavior and change of course, one perhaps involving inquiries, consultation, and such; on the other hand, I expected the reaction would be precipitate if a clandestine faction were involved, which, first, would be tracking the dragon closely, and thus would be almost instantly alerted to these surprising changes in its behavior, and, two, might fear a premature exposure as plotters, and failed plotters, rather than receiving an eventual acclamation as visionary public servants.
"What are you doing?" had asked Pertinax.
"The iron dragon," I had said, "has done its work. It is also a dangerous device. I think it best if it now disappears."
"That is Thassa beneath it," said Tajima.
"I see fishing boats," said Pertinax.
"Where are you taking it?" asked Pertinax.
"Have you heard of the Sardar?" I asked.
"I know little about it," he said. "I have heard of it. It is the home of the mythical Priest-Kings, is it not?"
"Perhaps they are not mythical," I said.
"You are laying in a course for the Sardar?" asked Pertinax.
"What happened?" cried Tajima.
The six screens had suddenly gone black.
"I was," I said.
"How can you guide the dragon now?" had asked Pertinax.
"It is no longer there to guide," I had said.
"I do not understand," had said Pertinax.
"The dragon," I had said, "is dead."
"Lord Yamada doubtless feels betrayed by the dragon," said Tajima.
After the attack of the iron dragon on the camps and the siegeworks of Lord Yamada in the north there was, as we would have supposed, a great deal of consternation and confusion. A thousand rumors must have sped about the islands. It seems that Tyrtaios and his colleague, the two tarnsmen at the disposal of Lord Yamada had been held at the palace, and the first information pertaining to the new, startling developments in the north were a result of the communications borne by several message vulos. These reports, certainly at first, given the confusion at the front, the haste with which they were drafted, and the limitations on content imposed by the nature of the small, swift carriers, as well as the contradictory nature of some of these accounts, seemed to have created little more than alarm and perplexity in the south. Despite Lord Yamada's announcements of a great victory in the north, it soon became clear that his armies had been thrown into disarray. This was less because of any damage however severe, wrought by the dragon, than the fact that the attack had taken place. The iron dragon, it seemed, had withdrawn from the cause of Yamada and espoused that of the house of Temmu.
The thousands of Lord Yamada were disorganized and routed, in chaotic retreat, unnerved by panic and superstition, having no stomach for standing against an enemy on whose behalf had flown the iron dragon.
"I have spoken, as I have heard," she said. "I have seen little of this with my own eyes. Is it true that the iron dragon flew?"
"Yes," I said.
"Where is it now?" she asked, trembling.
"It disappeared," I said.
"Vanished?" she said.
"Yes," I said.
"Will it return?" she asked, frightened.
"That is a subject for speculation," I said.
"Let the men of Yamada in terror, fear the sky," said Tajima.
"If it came once," said Lady Kameko, "surely it may come again."
"Let the shogun sit uneasy upon his dais," said Pertinax.
"It might come again, with fire and destruction," said the Lady Kameko.
"It seems so," I said.
"Why would it fly for the house of Temmu?" asked Lady Kameko.
"Or why for the house of Yamada?" I asked.
"Who," said Tajima "can look into the heart of a dragon?"
"Yes, Master," said Pertinax. "Forgive me. Surely Lord Yamada will have withdrawn south, perhaps to rally his men."
"I do not think so," said Nodachi. "The iron dragon has flown."
Surely both Kurii, or some Kurii, and Priest-Kings, or some Priest-Kings, had collaborated in the readying of, and the flight of, the iron dragon.
"I fear not," said Nodachi. "The iron dragon has flown. Many, officers and warriors, have fled to lesser, farther islands. Roads are filled with roving bands. Daimyos have withdrawn to their holdings. Dismayed warriors seek new daimyos. Ashigaru have returned to villages."
Do not resist," said Lord Akio. "The iron dragon has flown."
"It flies no more," I said.
"Though the iron dragon has flown?" asked Lord Yamada.
"The iron dragon flew!" said Arashi.
"Have you not done with looting?" asked Tajima.
"Much may be done in the shadow of the iron dragon's wings," said Arashi.
At the wharf, restless at its moorings, was the River Dragon, with its large battened sails and high poop brought across Thassa from Brundisium, on the continent, by Captain Nakamura.
The ship of Tersites had demonstrated the possibility of reaching the World's End, and, then, the River Dragon, in turn, inspirited by the success of the ship of Tersites, had dared Thassa as well, but then eastward, and had managed to make the great harbor at Brundisium. It had then returned to its native port in the lands of Temmu. Here it had been refitted, and was now prepared to essay the bold and dangerous, but now-proven-practical, trip again. I would be aboard her.
"There is peace now in the local waters," said Captain Nakamura, "save for occasional pirates."
"I am pleased," I said.
"Many arrangements were made in Brundisium, for my return," he said. "We shall bring kaiila and bosk, back to the islands, and the eggs of large tharlarion."
"But no dragons," I said.
"I do not understand," said the captain.
"It is a joke," I said.
In the past months the skies had been clear. The shadow of the iron dragon had fallen on neither the lands of Yamada nor those of Temmu. Rumors abounded, normally spoken in whispers or hushed tones, for who knew the hearing of dragons. A thousand stories were about, in village markets, in the dojos and barracks, in courtyards and fields, in fortresses and sheds, about campfires, even in the corridors of palaces.
It had returned to its secret lair to guard its treasures, perhaps to sleep for another thousand years; it had returned to the country of mystery from which it had emerged, some fearful land, a far land of rock and flame; a vast, noxious crevice in the bowels of the earth, a dark, freezing country beyond the moons.
In any event it seemed that the iron dragon had departed from the islands, and might never return.
"But," said Lord Okimoto, "the iron dragon has flown."
"You intend to sail with the River Dragon," said Lord Nishida.
"The River Dragon sails tomorrow," said he.
As you may suppose, Lord Temmu, with victory almost in his grasp was furious with the withdrawal, and return, of the small invasion force sent south. Were not defenseless lands spread out before him? Was not the very palace of his mortal enemy empty and desolate? Had not the iron dragon itself flown on his behalf?
"Yes, Master," she said, happily, and rose up and, a moment later, I saw her ascend the gangplank to the high deck of the River Dragon.
"I am Tarl Cabot," I said, "and a tarnsman. I no longer command the cavalry. The commander of the cavalry is now a Pani tarnsman, the warrior, Tajima." Both Torgus and Lysander had elected to return to the continent, with many other mercenaries, on the River Dragon.
The River Dragon loomed above me. Waters were now high on the wharf's palings, only a few horts below the planks.
Licinius Lysias was at the rail, looking down. He lifted the small box of bones and shells and shook it, and then pointed to the slave, being half dragged up the gangplank. "I see you, too, have a souvenir of the World's End," he said.
I waved to him, and hurried to the gangplank.
I had no sooner crossed it than the mariners drew it inboard.
The ropes were cast off from the mooring cleats by docksmen, and were being drawn aboard the River Dragon by mariners.
The northern long ship, or "dragon ship," on the other hand, seldom seen this far south, has a fixed mast and a fixed, square sail, and is single-ruddered, the steering board, or starboard, on the right side.