-Inverness, Iceland, island
"The Incident on The Island"
Iona could feel her heart thudding and her chest growing tighter, as if the corset she wore had shrunk two sizes in only an instant.
Callum still paid more heed to the moor around them than the pretty lass on his horse.
“Cummon, ye infernal beastie,” he muttered under his breath. “Show yerself.”
Iona felt the faintness dancing around her ears. As slowly as it had poured over the mountain range, the roll of fog now eased itself back, disclosing more and more of the deep-black peat, and the island at the center of the moor. There was something large there, something that moved—something dangerous. Iona had never felt so naked and vulnerable. Every instinct within her screamed at her to run, to escape, to never lay eyes on whatever horror inhabited the moor.
Callum McGowan had no such inhibitions.
“WELL?” He thundered, sloshing forward a few paces into the swamp. “I’VE COME FOR MY SON, YE BOGGART! WHY DAEN’T YE FACE ME NOO!”
Iona couldn’t stand it any longer. She flopped indecorously off the horse’s back, the sound of her dismount muffled by the mound of moss she landed on. Just when she turned her back on her captor, she felt Callum’s rough hand on her wrist.
“And just where d’ye think yer goin’, lassie?” He snarled, yanking her back toward him.
He turned back to the last remaining mass of fog still shrouding The Thing.
“Aye, lookit what I brought ye! One o’ yer fine Brides, wot with her pretty—“ he stopped when he saw her empty fingers. The muscles in his jaw tightened, and his mad eyes rolled toward her. “What’s all this noo?” He pulled her against his body so he could reach her other hand.
Iona’s fear came out in ragged, gasping sobs.
“Where is it, ye witch?” Callum threw her down upon the soft, squelching ground. “Where’s that bloody ring ye swore would never leave yer hand till yer hand left yer body?”
Iona saw The Thing rise out of the clouds and screamed in terror.
Callum whirled around as the mighty Midnight Dragon spread its wings and landed in the bog just inches away from them. The moor was deep enough there to drown a man, yet it hardly covered the dragon’s legs.
“What is your intention, small man?” the Dragon rumbled. “Why do you invade my solitude?”
Iona cowered at the grand, rolling sounds of its voice, but Callum was too incensed heed the warning.
“Why? Bloody beast asks me why? Oy, you! That’s my son you have in there!” He pointed to the tall crater rising out of the middle of the moor. “I want my son given back to me, unharmed!” He turned back to Iona and hauled her upright again. “See? I’ve brought one o’ the wenches of Brodgar, the Lady Iona herself! Take her instead, and let my son go free!”
“The lad is your son?” The Dragon bent its head closer to the irate man. “I found the foolish boy wandering the hillside, too intoxicated to stand, so ignorant that he would infringe upon forbidden lands—he is rightfully my prisoner.” The Dragon tilted its head to inspect Iona a little closer. “This woman is not the Ecrivaine. She is not the one I seek.”
“What the blazes do you mean?” Callum raged. “’Tis Iona Brodgar, the latest Bride of the Moor!”
“She is not the Ecrivaine. She does not bear the Ring!”
“SHE BLOODY BORE IT WHEN I TOSSED HER OVER MY SADDLE NOT TEN MINUTES AGO!” Callum’s face was a dark, angry purple when he drew his dirk and hauled Iona against its blade. “If ye won’t gi’ me my son,” he rasped, “Then I’ll slit ‘er throat right here and noo. That will be the end of Clan Brodgar, and the end of you!”
The Dragon hissed, and two thin jets of smoke issued from its nostrils. “You would not dare slay an innocent woman in my presence,” it warned.
“By this hand, I will!” Callum yelled in return, shaking his fist in the Dragon’s face. “I’ll kill her, and then I’ll gather my whole clan from Inverness and when I return, I’ll kill you!”
Iona whimpered at the edge of his knife. She tried to ease her neck out of harm’s way, but he held her too close. The dragon did not respond to the threat. The last remaining heir of Brodgar took advantage of the silence to plead.
“Callum, don’t do this!” she begged softly. “Please, I’ll do anything! Please, just don’t kill me—“
“Silence, ye daft woman!” He returned his attention to her with a vengeance. The blade of the knife sliding across her throat caught against her skin, drawing a small bead of blood. “’Tis yer aine fault we’re in this mess, and hanged if I let ye go free for it!” He dropped her in a heap, and she clutched the hem of her skirt against the wound to staunch it.
“Well?” Callum challenged the dragon yet again. “Is he in there or not? By heaven, if you’ve done injury to my poor son—“
The dragon jerked its head back, causing Callum to flinch and stop in the midst of his words—but the action wasn’t intended for Callum. Instead, the Midnight Dragon reached into the crater behind it, and pulled out a small, dirty bundle. The dragon released the bundle with the same amount of gentleness as Callum used with Iona. She saw it land, saw the pale hand on the edge of it, and when she took that hand, the head tilted up: Callum’s son, alive and well—and positively scared sober.
“Courtland!” the burly man gasped, but he’d taken only one step when the dragon commanded, “Come no closer!”
The massive claw stamped down between Callum and the two younger folk.
“To shed innocent blood has dire consequences, be it human, or otherwise,” The Midnight Dragon said to Callum. “You have shown yourself to be a cruel, greedy man—so now here is the consequence of your foolish actions.”
Reaching out a single claw, the Midnight Dragon gently brushed the outstretched arms of both Iona and Courtland, leaving behind a raw, red mark that burned deep into their skin. The pair cried out, while Callum could only pace like an angry lion. Finally, the Dragon lifted its claw, and Callum immediately dropped to his son’s side, looking at the angry scar that now marred his skin.
“What did ye do to them?” Callum asked.
“I have Marked them both,” the Midnight Dragon stated. “To preserve their lives. Both of these children now possess immortality. The Ring of Brodgar is their salvation, and their protection. If I am killed by any hand save the one that bears the Ring of Brodgar, so too will these ones die. If the Ring is found and used improperly by anyone who is not descended from the last person to bear the Ring of Brodgar, then her immortality will end. If the Ring is again used improperly, your son will die.” The Midnight Dragon flourished his wings and leaned upright. “My time upon this island is at an end. Heed my warning, Callum McGowan. Your best chance to save your son from the Dragon’s Mark is to find the Ring yourself—there are ones who know what is to be done. I must travel to the future now, to the Land of Ice, where someone will use the Ring—and if it is someone of your lineage, all will be restored. If not, know that you have doomed two souls by your ignorance. Heed my warning!”
With a mighty flap of its wings, the Midnight Dragon vanished from the moors of Brodgar, and was never seen there again.
This story was based on an event referenced in the course of The Suggestion Box, Volume 2: The Legend of The Ecrivaine. If you'd like to read the rest of the story, just follow the link!
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series (* Continuations of Suggestion Box Installments):
-Letter I* ] [-Letter S*