-Quebec City, Quebec
-Quandary, quest, quills, quixotic, quintessential, quibble, quarrel, quail, quiver, quell, quarry, quartz, quarto, quaff, queen
"The Quietest Question"
Quail Point of Quebec had seen its fair share of uproar. The parties and stories during the winter, when Québécois winds swirled and blew against the walls outside, would set the rafters quivering as burly, bearded men swapped tales with fresh-faced youths.
Nobody expected a woman to ever have cause to enter the lodge.
Gloria Quincy was quite used to being unexpected.
She knew, by the quell that swept through the building at the moment she crossed the threshold, that she would need to fight to be heard. She could tell, by the way men nudged their neighbors and quibbled in voices buried deep within their mouths, that she would have to be very clever to find the quarry she sought.
But Gloria Quincy was an exceptional hunter, of a very different sort.
She scanned the room, querying with her eyes until she found a receptive match. Most of the surrounding crowd had returned to quarreling with each other, so not one of the knot of ten men she approached acknowledged her.
"Listen here," a man whose wiry hair bristled like the quills of a porcupine wagged a knobby finger at the self-assured lad across from him. "Yer want ter know where the best bear cross, ye need ter know what signs to look for."
"I've tracked bear before, old man," the younger man quipped. "Scat, tree markings, prints—"
"Don't be giving me any brush, now!" The hunter protested. "I made the mistake of thinking that all these signs in one area came from different animals, so I was safe. I ask ye, lad—" he pulled back his collar, revealing a sizable divot in his lumpy, scarred skin, barely covered enough by a thin layer of skin to be regarded as "healed." The man left it exposed as he asked the question, "Have ye ever seen one bear leave all of them himself?"
A hushed silence settled, then one of the quarrelsome boasters went in on the storyteller.
"Pooh, that ain't anything; why one time, I nearly got quartered by an angry buck that had just lost a mating duel!"
"I was nearly trampled by a moose with feet as big as my head!"
"I got stranded on an ice floe off of Greenland and nearly froze to death!"
"Stranded? How quaint! Aren't you the most careful man of the lot?"
"Aye! Most always I am. But this time, I had to smack off an iceberg and take my chances because I was trying to escape a polar bear!"
"Polar bear, nothing! What about the time I had to escape a whole wolf pack in the dead of winter!"
Gloria edged around the table to a shadowy corner, where a quintessential old man with a salt-and-pepper beard sat, watching the quibblers with about as much regard as she felt, herself.
He glanced up as she took the seat across from her and quaffed her own quart of beer.
“And what about you, Queenie?” The man muttered. “Aren’t you going to try and best these fine gentlemen, and prove yourself among them?”
“Only if you do it first,” Gloria teased. “Name’s Quincy, actually; Gloria Quincy.”
“Pleasure, Miz Quincy; I am Claude. What brings you to Quail Point? We don’t typically attract quality patrons like yourself up here.”
His eyes twinkled queerly, and Gloria wondered if she might have found her quarry.
“What would you say if I told you I could summon a dragon?”
Claude burst out laughing, full and rich, quashing the shouting happening right before them. He watched Gloria with keen interest. “A dragon? You come into a hunting lodge looking for someone to take you up on a dragon quest? How quixotic of you!”
“I’m not lying,” Gloria quipped. “And it’s not like I want someone to hunt it, either. Like I said, I have the ability to call it right to me.”
The grizzled old hunter wagged his head. “Then what do you want, Miz Quincy?”
The woman sighed heavily. “I need a guide. And a boat.”
He snorted. “Can’t you get the dragon to take you?”
I can’t. It’s a long explanation. Look, if I’m going to explain everything to you, then we might as well agree right now that you are going to be the one to take me."
Claude stroked his beard. "That depends on where it is you want to go."
Gloria nodded and pulled out a weathered, ancient quarto. "According to this," she said, carefully handling its delicate pages, "our destination would be Northern Iceland."
Claude's eyebrows raised, and he squinted to get a closer look at the sketched map, but Gloria closed it again.
"Do we have a deal?" She asked.
Claude hunched his burly shoulders. "Iceland's a fair distance, across waters of questionable risk. What's in it for me?"
Gloria's lips quirked into a half-smile. "That will depend on whether or not we succeed. If all goes well, I may be in a position to give you whatever you want." She gave him a nod. "You and I both know better than to quantify a true tracker's skill."
The old man chuckled, but the keen gleam remained. "We shall see, then! Meet me on the banks of the St. Lawrence River at a quarter-past dawn, three days from now. Perhaps, with an earlier start, we will catch the quieter current."
Gloria allowed herself a small sigh of relief. "Thank you, Claude. I will do whatever I can to make this quest worth your while."
Three days later, Claude welcomed her onto his small trawler, and introduced his quartermaster.
“Miz Quincy, this is Pierre,” he gestured to the rotund man, who stood only about four feet high, and bowed to her with a deep, rumbling, “Bonjour, madame.”
“Pleasure,” she muttered. Unease at finally being so close to her destination made her queasy. Would she be able to fulfill her family’s destiny? What would happen if she didn’t?
Claude rambled off some instructions to Pierre in French, and the dwarf immediately picked up Gloria’s suitcase and hauled it up the gangplank. A few quick adjustments and last-minute preparations, and they were off, sailing northeast to Iceland.
Shortly after embarking, Claude approached Gloria on the deck.
“Now then,” he said, “would you mind telling me what all this is about? I’d like to know just what I’m getting myself into, even if it is too late to quit the journey now!”
Gloria sighed, but cast a questioning glance toward the strange dwarf fussing around the deck. Claude waved his hand.
“Don’t worry about Pierre; he only speaks French. Your secret is safe with me.”
Gloria reached into her pocket and pulled out a small bag, from which she withdrew a ruby quartz ring, set in silver sculpted into the likeness of a dragon.
“What is that?” Claude gasped.
“It’s a ring that I think was part of my family’s legacy. I found it while hiking in the Moors of Brodgar, in Scotland.”
The Canadian tracker wagged his head. “That’s a ring fit for a queen, it is! But if you found it, how do you know it is connected to your family?”
Gloria opened the quarto she had pulled out earlier, finally showing him the ancient Gaelic script inscribed on the pages. “This book has been handed down through several generations of my family, beginning with my ancestor, Cailleach Thorne. Her grandparents were the first ones to become the Arglwyddi’r Ddraig, the Lords of the Dragon—she refers to him as Hanner Nos Ddraig, or Midnight Dragon—after they discovered the wounded dragon on the edge of their property and nursed it back to health. Here,” she flipped a few pages, “she writes about ‘The Ring of Brodgar’, and how it is necessary for the Midnight Dragon to be able to return from whence he came.”
Claude nodded, taking her words for granted, as he was unable to read the text. “I see; so that ring you found in Brodgar—“
“I think it must be the ring she’s talking about,” Gloria confirmed.
Claude raised his eyes to where the channel ended, and the open sea began. “And Iceland?”
“That was my own conclusion,” Gloria said, flipping ahead to a series of newspaper clippings attached to the quarto’s pages. “I found the ring, and immediately afterward, a random sinkhole appears, with no end, and no apparent cause in Reykjavik—“
“One thing I’ve learned from all of this,” Gloria shook the quarto in Claude’s face, “is that there is very little coincidence, only circumstances that connect in ways we don’t understand.”
Claude shrugged and might have replied, but Pierre interrupted with a string of frantic French. Even in her limited understanding, Gloria caught a few phrases she knew were curses. The ship began jerking and bucking in the choppy waves of the open sea. The tracker turned his back on her and went to steer the boat as they launched out into the North Atlantic Ocean.
Gloria stood at the edge of the sinkhole. The inky blackness of its depths seemed to fashion a bottom of itself, as her eyes refused to see deeper than a few dozen yards of unbroken shadow.
Claude shuffled behind her. “Are you sure about this, Quincy?” he asked.
Gloria glanced back, but instead of Claude, his dwarf companion caught her eye. Pierre stared at her with a gleam in his eye she couldn’t quite dismiss.
“I’m sure,” she replied to Claude. “There’s a small footpath along the rim, I’ll take it as deep as it goes.”
“And what am I supposed to do?” Claude grumbled in reply. “Just sit here and bide my time?”
Gloria took a deep breath. “If I am successful,” she said, “I will return.” She marched forward, attempting to put some distance between herself and the tracker who brought her here.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to completely shut out his quiet question, which then lingered in her ears long after she descended: “But what if she doesn’t come back, Pierre?”
“I will come back!” Gloria promised herself. “I must!” What a quandary this was! She trudged deeper and deeper, till the darkness gathered so close it threatened to choke her, then—
Gloria stumbled forward as her steps leveled out in pitch-darkness. She pulled out an electric torch, fumbling with the switch to activate the feeble beam. It barely cut three inches into the shadows before her, but it was enough to inch her way to a small, round pedestal set up in the middle of this room of sorts. Gloria noticed a small divot in the center of the pedestal—just the right size for the Ring, perhaps? She tried it.
The fit wasn’t exact, but it was enough room for the whole thing. Gloria stepped back, the beam of light trained on the ring, all her attention focused on that one small area.
A gust of wind swept around her, sending a quiver down her spine. Only then did she notice small points of light gathering behind the stone.
“Why have you summoned me?” a deep, booming voice seemed to fill the cavern.
Gloria tried to speak, but she had to stop quaking in her boots, first.
“I am Gloria Quincy, descendant of Cailleach Thorne, and I come bearing the Ring of Brodgar, which I am prepared to use to release you to your own world.”
The Midnight Dragon dipped its head low, so that its massive eyes glinted in the weak beam of light from the torch. “You are foolish, Gloria Quincy,” it uttered softly. “The Ring of Brodgar that opens the pathway between our worlds is not something that can be borne. You have used this ring without the Ring—therefore, the heritage your family has prized for so long is no longer yours. Return to your home, compile all the knowledge you possess about me, all the records your family has kept—and await the coming of the Ecrivaine, who will be the one to release me as you have tried to do.”
The Dragon beat its wings, stirring up a wind so strong that Gloria felt the torch slip from her grasp as she covered her head with her arms.
“Quincy!” a familiar voice cried, and Gloria slowly lifted her head.
She stood on the edge of the sinkhole once more, daylight overhead, and Claude running toward her, while Pierre trotted behind. The ring she had placed so much faith in lay glistening in her palm.
“What happened?” Claude asked, throwing a wool blanket about her shoulders. “Did you succeed?”
Gloria felt the sting of tears in her eyes. “No! I failed!” She held up the Brodgar ring. “This ring—It’s not what I thought it was!” She turned to throw it away, but a small hand slipped around her wrist.
Pierre stopped her, his eyes asking what his mouth could not. “Madame?” he queried.
Gloria scowled and let the ring fall into his grubby palm. Like the quintessential dwarf he was, Pierre didn’t bother continuing on with them, instead choosing to scurry off in another direction while Claude and Gloria returned to Quebec.
Across the ridge, Pierre chuckled as he took out an old, bent spade and began carving a tunnel into the hillside. Once it was large enough for him, he crawled inside, digging away the dirt in front of him until he reached a wide-open space. He placed the ring on a velvet pillow, and picked up an antique hand mirror. Puffing on it, he polished the reflective surface and checked to see that it was still in working order. The small, baby-faced imp that stared back at him winked cheekily.
“Mais oui,” he muttered to himself as he climbed out the door at the top of his hideaway, the one that led to the forest of Rien-a-Voir-Ici in France, “c’est un bon cadeau por l’Ecrivaine…”
Did you like this story? Start >HERE< to read the tale of the Midnight Dragon and the Ecrivaine from the beginning!
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continu-ations of Suggestion Box installments)