The Snow Dragon: You are in the mountain forest when you come face to face with the snow dragon: an adorable, furry, and surprisingly tiny creature who breathes fire.
I’m up in the forest above my town, one of my usual foraging expeditions. My garden’s herbs and other harvests are good, but wild-grown is better for many potions and I like having the choice available should the need arise.
I was snipping off carefully selected parts of a particularly good patch of thyme when a cacophony of hissing and screeching started and seemed to be coming from the edge of a small clearing I was working my way towards.
I tucked my harvest away and followed the sound. The trouble was obvious the minute I spotted the cause of the disturbance. A crow and a snow dragon fighting over some shiny little something, half-buried in the dirt.
I strode over. “Now that’s quite enough of that.”
I’d no idea if either of them understood me, but odds were, they did. Snow dragons were intelligent as any creature of magic was, and this forest bred magic into its mundane creatures as well.
I stepped between them and brushed the dirt away from the object they were fighting over. Then brushed some more, and then started digging.
I looked up at the two of them, they were both watching me suspiciously. “In future, you might want to check whether whatever it is you’re fighting over is of a size you can actually carry.”
The crow gave a disgruntled caw, and the snow dragon puffed out a cloud of grey smoke, then flopped to the ground, stretching out and spreading its wings to catch a little of the autumn sun.
Not that there’s much of a snow dragon to stretch out, mind, this one was a decent size for the species and was still smaller than the crow.
They both stayed though, watching as I uncovered the buried chest. They’d been fighting over a brass corner guard that had won free of the soil.
“Well now. I wonder if this has been here long or short, who and why and what’s in it.”
I grinned at the two animals. “Well we can find out the answer to the last anyway.”
It was a sturdy chest, well, made and solidly bound, with a hefty padlock hanging off the front. It would take a great deal of effort to get through that. Unfortunately, the owner hadn’t thought about the hinges at the back. This was not a strongbox and it was the work of moments to pop the hinge pins free of their casings.
I opened the back of the chest and laughed. “Come along you two, there’s sparkles enough for both.”
The crow was the first to move, hopping forward, then perching on the edge of the box, peering at the trinkets within. Someone’s jewellery box from the look of it.
“I may need to report this on second thoughts, some of these pieces are rather distinctive. Still, treasure finders should be rewarded, so take something and I’ll make sure there’s food for you in my garden all winter.”
The crow cawed, and bobbed her head, then fished about, coming up with a pretty earring, it was a cascade of flowers in a rainbow of gems. She held it to the light, cawed again, and took off.
The snow dragon’s puff of smoke this time was black. “Yes it was very pretty but you know the secret about earrings? There’s usually two of them. Do you want me to find the other for you?”
It sat up and nodded. I rummaged, carefully not pulling other pieces out into the light, a dragon is a dragon after all. Eventually, I found it and held it out to the dragon.
“There you are. And remember, food in my garden for finding this.”
It took the gems, puffed out white smoke this time, and flew off.
It was going to be too hard to carry the box back, and it hadn’t been long buried by my feel, so instead I emptied the contents into my collecting bag, heaped some good-sized rocks into the chest, then closed the lid, fixed the hinges and covered the whole thing back up again.
I brushed away the signs of disturbance, the forest added a little help – repayment for rewarding her creatures no doubt – and hustled myself away down a little-known path.
It was annoying to cut short my foraging, but this seemed an important matter and so I took myself back to town and straight through the centre to the citadel and the High Commander.
I was enough known that asking for a meeting with himself over an urgent concern got me in to see him with a minimum of fuss.
He frowned as I walked through the door, carefully closing it behind me. “More chicken pox at the school, Mistress?”
“Thankfully no, I was hoping to ask you for advice on a replacement dagger. You offered me one a while ago and my one is finally coming to the end of its useful life.”
He blinked, then recovered. “By all means, do you have time to look through the armoury now?”
“That I do.”
We left his office and strolled to the inner core of the stronghold. His office walls may have had ears, I wasn’t sure, but the armoury was stored with the treasury and security there was unbroken.
We were checked, and admitted by the two guards on duty, and the door swung closed behind us.
The Commander looked at me questioningly, I led the way to a long, scarred wooden table, set against one of the walls.
“I was up in the forest earlier and broke up a disagreement between a crow and a snow dragon.”
“We have snow dragons?”
“One certainly. I don’t know about more. But the thing that they were fighting over proved to be the brassbound corner of a buried chest.”
I had his absolute attention now.
“Not a terribly secure chest mind, the padlock was sturdy enough but I popped the pins on the hinges in an instant.”
I pulled out my collecting bag, and tipped the contents onto the table. “This was inside.”
His jaw dropped. “Forest gods preserve us, that’s the crown jewels of the Scattered Isles.”
“To be completely accurate and honest, it’s the crown jewels of the Scattered Isles minus one pair of earrings. A finder’s fee for two forest creatures who like shinies.”
He chuckled at that. “A reasonable price to pay I’m sure. Now the question is, what to do next.”
“I’m going to be leaving that entirely up to you, Commander, this is far past my abilities and knowledge.”
He nodded. “I appreciate your discretion in acquainting me with the situation, it should make returning these to their rightful owners much easier and less likely to cause an international incident.”