The Telling of Tales

white.dragon 

Who Dreams of Dragons?

By Andre Norton

For Anne McCaffrey

(As far as we know this was the last story Andre ever wrote.)

Continued from telling.of.tales-ch13-who.dreams.of.dragons pt.1

 

“Who is she?” Ashley asked. “Is her name Monck?” Quickly she explained the puzzling visit to Aunt Kat.

“She’s one of the local mysteries,” returned Mrs. Berryman. “Mostly they call her trash-bag Granny. She lives down on Limington Court – or had a house there before the big storm two years ago when lightning struck it. I’ve heard that she sort of camps out now in the Shelly place. That’s owned by some out-of-towner who never visits here. There was once a Monck family down there right enough – provided a lot of scary stories for the youngsters – the later ones the woman were supposed to be witches. They died close together of the flue back in the 40s. Oh, Monica, she looked past Ashley to hail a lady who was inspecting some figurines on the shelves of a small display case, “It didn’t turn up–”

She was halfway across the space between them now to deliver what was apparently a disappointing message. Ashley left also, but not before she had passed the cupboard where the books had been placed and made sure that it was securely closed.

Aunt Kat might even get a new idea for a book from all this she thought as she started on towards the quilt display. She had done a book – A Shadow Dark As Night – a couple years ago about a vampire who was a witch and had a whole town scared.

Ashley hoped to run into Sue but had no sight of her. Somehow the quilt show did not appear as bright and interesting as they usually did and Ashley did not push on to where the various other pieces of needle work were carefully displayed. Instead of old book odor the scent of candles became stronger now and she suddenly stopped, caught by a half glance at the rows of such set out to entice. Those lilies – she had to admit they were perfect. One could well believe that they were indeed living flowers at the height of their glory. But what Ashley had noticed was not a flower!

Not again! No – a candle – a gleaming dragon of wax with a pearl like surface. Aunt Kat must see that.

“Hi Ashley! Back for the summer?” The boy wearing the T-shirt which proclaimed the freedom of a small drove of horses rose up behind the candle display.

“Rufus – your Mom put you in charge this time?”

He shrugged. “She’s got us organized this year – regular hours on and off. But we’re doing okay. Like the lilies?”

“They’re grand –” Ashley ran a forefinger along just below the tiger lily candle. “But I’m really interested in this.” Her finger stopped below the dragon. “I want it for my Aunt –”

Rufus nodded. “Yeah? She got another Weredragon book coming out? She sure can write to give a guy the shivers. This is a try out for Mom – there’s just the one. She sure hunted to get what she thought was the right color. It’s marked fifteen dollars–”

Ashley was already delving into her belt purse. “Can you wrap it up well? Sometimes wax breaks easily.”

She wanted to ask if Mrs. Burns had copied the dragon from one she had seen but that was kind of a pushy question. Better let sleeping dragon lie. Oddly now she suddenly felt impatient, that she wanted to get away. Every new tissue wrapping Rufus put around the purchase added to her discomfort. Luckily the lilies suddenly drew attention and she just had time to pay for the candle and pack it away in her purse before one of the newcomers started asking questions concerning the flowers. With a wave to Rufus she left.

There came a sudden blast from the loud speaker at the judging stand and people turned that way.

Miss Ray was jerking the speaker down closer to her mouth: Has anyone seen a small black kitten without a tail? One is missing from the Harmon Pet Center. If seen or found please return to Dale Harmon at once.” Now she spoke even louder with a pause between each word as if to underline it: Small Manx kitten – black, no tail, return to or report to the Harmon Pet center.”

Tough, Ashley thought. With this crowd the poor little thing is probably scared to death. Wonder if Aunt Kat has come yet. She made a quick trip down the length of the barn, ending again at the book stall and there indeed she found her aunt standing with one hand on a pile of books – the books she herself had selected – as if claiming them against all comers. She did not know why exactly but at the moment Ashley shot a quick glance around half expecting to see also the woman from the dead street. But trash-bag Granny was not in evidence. Aunt Kat looked up, saw her and beckoned.

“Excellent – sheer luck.” Aunt Kat had produced two large canvas tote bags and was slipping the books into them, making equal loads to the best of her ability.

Ashley had turned her head – had she or had she not seen something like a black shadow – or the edge of a long cape – in the now crowded center of the barn?

“You expect Sue? Planning to stay for the square dance?”

If the trash-bag Granny, or who ever she was caught sight of Aunt Kat’s tote bags and their contents – and with Mrs. Ray hanging around – the might indeed be trouble.

The girl hooked the handles of the nearest bag over her arm and was reaching for the other. “No – Listen, I think we’d better get out of here – I’ll tell you why later.”

Aunt Kat did not yield the second tote to her, “The car’s parked down by the fence. I promised to see the new flower candles Myra Burns has this year. No, I’ll keep this.” She drew back at Ashley’s second try to reach the tote, instead set it on her own arm. “Be with you soon.”

She was away again to speak to Mrs. Berryman. At least, thought Ashley with a small feeling of relief, she hasn’t asked questions. But that was always Kat’s way – she listened and she understood no matter who was talking. Within minutes – and some not to gentle pushing – the girl was outside the barn. For just a moment she stood gazing at the tent on her right from which now and then sounded a bark.

Dale Harmon always hoped to find some who were willing to adopt her orphans at these country things – though he was very particular about anyone who appeared interested. She hoped he would get the black kitten back.

She moved from the lane leading up to the barn, a narrow way which was crowded now, and struck out over the weed thick verge. The field set aside for parking was about filled and there were a number of cars along the fence. There was Aunt Kat’s familiar jeep which was kept for country driving and next to it – how could a car which looked so battered still be driven? The one which had aroused Sue’s sharp feeling – it might just be. But to have it beside Aunt Kat’s could well mean the same sort of unpleasant meeting she was trying to avoid.

Her approach was slowed. Should she go back towards the barn and hope to meet Aunt Kat or stay where she was? Mrs. Berryman had certainly not told the stranger who had the books and so trash-bag Granny might not learn that until they were safely gone.

The sun was very hot – better move over there and just sit down. The grass had been beaten flat and the shadow of the battered car reached across the gap between it and the jeep. Ashley settled the tote to lean against one of the latter’s wheels and was about to drop down beside it when her head went back and she gasped. She heard – or was it she felt? But it had reached her, such a wave of fear as set her trembling so that she had to catch at the fender of the jeep and hold on while the world jolted around her.

She stared at the old wreck of a car. Crouching down she tried to see under it. And she was still crouched so when Aunt Kat came around the back of the wreck to confront her.

“What in the world –”

Ashley glance in her direction but made no verbal answer, swinging up her right hand to point at the ancient vehicle. However at the same time – It wasn’t anything to be felt this time – she was certain she heard a thin cry of fear and she was at the side door of the car her hand on the handle in quick answer. A moment later Katlin was beside her.

The window was cracked as well as smeared. Ashley near flattened her nose against the murky pane trying to see more clearly. Resting on the back seat, the covering of which was slit in a number of places, was a box – or rather a small cage. The front was a cover of wire netting and, even as Ashley centered on it, the cage seemed to quiver and once more came that cry.

Ashley twisted and jerked at the door handle. Once more the cage moved a fraction closer to the edge. Something within hit the restraint of the netting and caught there. The cage moved a little more under the tugging. And Ashley pounded on the door latch with her fist.

Kat’s hand settled over hers. “Ashley, what is it?”

“I don’t know – but it’s in that cage and it’s frightened – terribly frightened!”

At last the handle began to turn – at least it wasn’t locked. The relief from that discovery seemed to give her an extra strength of pull and the girl got the door open. A strange, unpleasant odor puffed out and a small cry of sheer terror reached their ears.

Ashley stumbled forward and gasped as she scraped her shin.

She landed with her face not far from the side of the cage. At the same time the paw caught there twisted loose, and she was looking straight into the terror filled eyes of a black kitten. One of the perky ears was dribbling blood from a deep slit.

There was swift movement from the other end of the cage. The kitten squeaked, shrinking back against the box wall. However the predator ‘s pounce was stopped almost before it had begun. Without thinking it through Ashley slapped the end of the prison farthest from the cowering kitten. Heavily toothed jaws open to snap in her direction and the scaled body tried to leap, only to be jerked back.

Ashley caught at the cage and edged back. Somehow she managed to be free of the car into full daylight. When there was room Aunt Kat helped and they set the netted box on the ground. Ashley looked up at her companion.

“Do you see it?” she demanded.

Aunt Kat looked at her blankly. She might have been confronted by something she could not honestly believe existed.

“Dragon –”

“White one,” Ashley persisted, “Mother-of-pearl one – alive –”

The kitten cried pitifully again.

“Got to get that out –” She ran hands around the upper edge of the cage seeking some exit.

“Yes.” Aunt Kat pushed close to her, dragging her belt purse to the fore and shaking out of that a small shower of card case, change purse, several crumpled Kleenex, eyewear and, finally, one of her prized possessions – a well endowed Swiss Army Knife. A moment or two to chose from its bewildering array of encased tools and she was busy prying at the juncture of netting and wood just above where the kitten had taken refuge.

Then – only a short period of quick prying and pulling and the girl was holding the kitten who at first fought for freedom, subsiding at last into her hold, exhausted. The blood from the torn ear had marked Ashley’s T-shirt and she knew she must find help for the small animal as soon as possible.

However now, as she cuddled and gently restrained the kitten, her attention was mainly on the remaining occupant of the cage.

Aunt Kat pushed down the netting she has loosened. It was unbroken. There was a flash of white as the other captive jumped. The woman jerked back hand just in time.

“Can it get out?” Ashley wanted to know.

“Might – might not –”

The girl settled the kitten inside the T-shirt she pulled loose at the waist. Once more the handful of fur fought, needle tips of tiny claws showing through the material. With one hand cupped around the hidden prisoner, Ashley jerked the door of the car open to its widest extent.

She was ready to help as Katlin lifted the cage gingerly and somehow worked it back on the tattered seat. Then her aunt stood for a moment staring art it, for, once her controlling hold was gone, it began to shake again. Luckily she had started to turn when a gnarled length of wood, aimed at perhaps her head, swept on and Ashley was slammed back against the car, a long raking scratch opening down her arm.

The musty odor puffed out of the cape as the strange woman who appeared to haunt this day stumbled half into the back seat. Aunt Kat grabbed at her niece continuing to open space between the weird stranger and them both. She gave Ashley a vigorous push toward the jeep.

“In!”

Trying to keep one hand protectively over the still faintly struggling bulge at her middle Ashley obeyed. She was gasping when she partly fell in the seat. Back at the other car the door was still open, half in, half out the black bundle of the cap was stilled. It’s wearer making no effort to rise. Aunt Kat took a couple of small steps in that direction, she might be going to offer help.

However she stopped, as, from the direction of the crumpled woman, came a spatter of what be words – though to Ashley those had no more meaning than cries of the crows. Aunt Kat was on the move again, covering the distance around the front of the jeep, the ground on the other side of the car. She scrambled into the driver’s seat by the girl.

“Seatbelt!” That was both a warning and an order.

Ashley dared to use both hands to draw that about her. With her sitting down she was sure the kitten could not crawl out.

The jeep snorted after its particular fashion and they were backing away from the fence. As they passed the other car Ashley was sure that the stranger had not moved.

Something did. A blot of white, on the other’s knitted cap, struggling to detach one long clawed foot from the loop of the wool. Then they were by. Luckily there had been a change in the number of visitors and Aunt Kat was able to pull out of the special parking area and bring them back to that road which was a collection of potholes in less time.

“Mr. Havens – the kitten –”

“No time for that now. You can call him when we get home.” Katlin hesitated a moment as they hit something of a bump in the road. When she spoke again her voice sounded hard and cold, “I don’t know just what is going on, however I am sure it is no good – maybe for all of us.”

“What – what’s it all about?” Ashley gave a start as a crow voice sounded out of the brush wall of the neglected road. “That woman, she wanted the books you took. But how did she know you had them – or was it that she knew we freed the kitten – –?”

She pulled up the T-shirt and brought the kitten out of hiding, It no longer fought but lay limp in her hand. “It’s –” Ashley burst out.

Aunt Kat aimed the jeep a little up the verge – she pulled the girls hand closer and leaned over it.

“No – not dead.” Was her answer. “But hold it out in the air. There’s a horse trough not far ahead and water.”

They were on their way again. Ashley nursing the fur scrap against her. Twice they had to reduce speed in order to scrape along the verge and let cars going the other way pass them. But at last they reached the way of ruined and deserted houses and Aunt Kat brought them into a wider space before a house which seemed intact, it lacked even the overgrown bushes and the brick supported vines to be seen elsewhere. And there was a double stretch of concrete which might once have suggested an ornamental stream. Water fed into one end halfway up the side, to disappear through a similar exit at the other end.

It was very quiet – all the confusing sounds of the hobby show were long gone. Even breezes avoided this place.

Ashley became aware of the silence as Aunt Kat, using the med-kit which was always a part of the jeep, washed the torn ear and cleaned the fur clumped with clots of blood. The kitten had its golden eyes wide open, fixed for the most part on Aunt Kat. But it remained limp, showing no fear of what was being done.

“That’s all we can do now,” Katlin observed. “We’ll take you to Bob Wells as soon as we can.” Out of her large bag came a folded bandana wrapped package from which she freed the square of material as soon as possible. Shaking it she drew it around the kitten and Ashley was certain she heard a scrap of a purr much muted.

Her Aunt showed no sign of swift return to the jeep. Out of her treasure bag she drew a folded cup, giving it a shake to open. She dipped it into the trough water then, after sloshing it around she poured that out, only to dip again. Holding the cup to Ashley:

“Drink up.” Only that, no explanation.

The girl obeyed. The water was quite cool. She had not realized that she was really thirsty until she gulped two mouthfuls. Then Aunt Kat took it from her and, having looked intently into the cup for a moment she also drank. Ashley as not only thirsty for water – she wanted to know what was happening, for she was very certain that something of importance was in progress. However before she could ask Aunt Kay spoke.

“The roots of fantasy are old, old beliefs. We who hunt through legends and folklore, even tales of those small communities of the more immediate past which are or have been less aware of the changes in daily life, must handle reports carefully. In fantasy the major point of action is the endless struggle between good and evil.”

“We explore in odd places but we do not accept shadow as truth. Yes, there are things of this world, finds which cannot be explained using the measure we accept –”

“Such as speculative archaeology –” Ashley broke in.

“Just so. Unfortunately when we shoe interest in such subjects we are, by many of our kind, supposed to be believers. From believers we are promoted to practitioners – dabblers in evil – in the eyes of others.”

Again she paused. Now she had picked up the package which had been wrapped in the bandana and was turning it around. The kitten had gone to sleep in Ashley’s lap.

“There are book burnings, accusations – Sometimes positions lost – black listings – before time there were actual deaths – horrors which are only used human against human.”

“I cannot claim that I have been set up as a martyr ready for the stake. But for the past two months, ever since I lectured at Bresley on the place of witchcraft four hundred years ago, I have been very aware that there is an interest, I can do without, being taken in my affairs.”

She had freed from its wrappings what she had taken from the bandana. They were both looking down at the figure of the white dragon.

“The problem now is that there are two forces against me. Those who would burn books – Such as I have faced before. Then – now – there is this.” She held up her hand and the dragon seemed to glow as if indeed, according to legend, was filled yy a blazing fire.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh –”

The kitten came to frantic life, Ashley barely had time to catch it as its struggling within the muffling bandana set it close to skidding off her knees.

Once again the throat piercing cry sounded. They had not heard any opening or closing of the house door. At the foot of the three steps leading up to the swaybacked porch where that door was to be seen, she stood.

Why had she thought the stranger to be small – or old, wondered the girl for a moment. She stood very straight, her left hand sliding from her shoulder to her breast, smoothing the white thing clinging to the folds of that bundle some cape. The tight knitted cap had shifted somewhat releasing straying flocks of dull grey hair, allowing a chance to see her face fully.

The skin, deep creased by the wrinkles which framed the eyes and bracketed what appeared to be a lipless mouth, open to display a straggle of teeth, was also grey or grimed. While the eyes sunken back into skull hollows were – red! Red as if sparks were set there.

Ashley and Aunt Kat were both on their feet facing what had hailed them moments later with that screech.

Aunt Kat took another step forward. When she spoke her voice held a forceful note Ashley had never heard before.

“What would you do?” Even those words, though she could indeed understand them, sounded almost as if they came from some other language. This was an Aunt Kat she did not know.

The tread-like lips smacked together and then parted. Upswept the woman’s left arm, down that support flashed the white creature. Very alike to the figure Aunt Kat had, it was – a white dragon – smoke curls rising from its snout.

“What is ours.” The woman replied. “What was given by promise but never received...” The Dragon raised its head a fraction and spat – Flame? That sprat could not be anything but flame.

Aunt Kat did not answer at once. Again those lips wrinkled.

“As so above.” The other moved her right arm as if she were fighting stiffness. Now she held not only the dragon steady in their sight but also a staff, the gnarled sides of which carried patterns of lines. Ashley looked away quickly – lines which ran and looped –

“Martine Mantha Monck”

The three portions of that name seemed to echo back through the air above them.

“You name me rightly. You play with words, use snips and shreds –”

“As above – so below –” Aunt Kat interrupted.

Perhaps it was meant for laughter that sound. The woman’s shoulders shook a little. On her left hand the dragon looped a foreleg about her fingers as its footing swayed. In her right fist the staff bowed.

“So be it!” that had the authority of an oath. “If you dare – only you have not the heart for true power, scribbler! You write of it as one dabbling toes in a flood, but going no further.”

She backed away a little. Aunt Kat looked to Ashley, “This must be done. But none of it yours. Stay –”

She still held the pearl shell dragon in the other hand she had her key chain – Keys – and , Ashley remembered, that odd stone brought back from Ireland – green marble fashioned into a cross inset with silver lines, mainly circles – ancient Celtic, Aunt Kat had explained.

Aunt Kat surely must have help in whatever she planned to do but the girl did not what that was to be. The kitten had leaned down and was sniffing at her belt bag sticking out in a bulky fashion. On sudden impulse Ashley loosed the catch and brought out the well wrapped candle. A black paw darted and the tissue tore, again and more ragged strips fell. A quick upward glance let Ashley know that they were both watching her. The paw seemed almost to be flashing like small lightning tearing away the remnants of the wrapping.

Pinched between forefinger and thumb Ashley held the candle in full sight. She had been right – it was a copy of the figure Aunt Kat held – also of the restless beast on the woman’s hand and wrist. Candles should be lighted – Her Aunt suddenly twisted the keys and ring and from somewhere a stronger beam of sun ws triggered to strike upon the wick. At he same time first, loose fire blistered across Ashley’s hand. She cried out and tried to open her hand, drop the candle, but for the second time a flame licked. The candle was indeed swept away but it did not fall to the ground.

Instead it blazed into a wild lump of flame clinging to the staff the woman had aimed at her. Ashley threw herself back, landing with a jarring bump on the ground. The flames caught at the folds of the cape, climbed, ate as if the thick cloth had been soaked in oil. So bright were they that she closed smarting eyes.

As if closing off sight was an encouragement to hearing, swinging words which had no meaning for her grew louder, deadening any other sound. She felt now as if she were the shuddering center of a heaving mass from which there could be no escape. Time no longer had any meaning, her body moved back and forth in time with the sound.

Ashley became aware that a support behind her stopped that swing of body and she opened her eyes. Some distance away was upraised a black pillar wreathed around by ash-grey smoke. Part of a charred rod lay on the ground before it. Aunt Kat knelt there singing still but her voice was strained. She trilled a last word, hummed a last note and got to her feet.

“To your own place go,”

The pillar was gone with blink of an eye. The charred staff with it. Aunt Kat turned to the stone water trough. On its edge she carefully placed the pearl dragon. As she stood watching there was movement in the tangle of grass were the pillar had been, an upheaval of charred earth. Flight through the air – the coming of another fist sized dragon to perch next to the white one. This was black, the glossy black of Hematite. Into the position as its fellow the black one stiffened.

Ashley had staggered closer. “What – what happened?” she demanded not waiting for an answer, her heart still pounding.

“There is much in the world we cannot understand. We cannot even explain.”

“Speculative – all speculative?” Ashley made a question of that.

Aunt Kay nodded. She put her hand together as if she had something balanced within the cup they formed. “I have this scrap and that, but always have I worked with care. Never have I ever used in any. I have read strange accounts and closed all but the outer mind to them, writing the true description of ritual. Nor shall I –, one may carry keys and never use them. One must be above temptation,”

She suddenly took up the white dragon and holding it by its base, smashed it down upon the stone side of the trough. The black dragon followed and she thrust her hand into the water, hunting out all chips of both figures. A visit to the jeep provided her with a scarf – one of the beauties from Paris. She rolled and tied, and with a tire lever dug a hole to bury all and tamped flat the filled in earth.

Now she stood before Ashley. Bur before she could speak the girl shifted the once more sleeping kitten to its other side and was hugging her aunt.

“Everyone has dreams, dear Kat. One does not have to share them, Dragon dreams least of all. This is – was –a dream.”

Her aunt gave her a searching look and then slowly nodded.

“Yes – if you will have it so – a dream.” She said slowly. “One from which we have awakened in good time – you and I.”


 “The Telling of Tales

Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Victor Horadam and Sue Stewart

Edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lots-a-watts ~ May, 2015

Duplication of this collection (in whole or in part) for profit of any kind NOT permitted.