Tales of the Red Dragon, Part One

Excerpted from the Book of Genevieve, compiled by Monseigneur Vernon Armino of Balfort Abbey.

Passage from the logbook of the merchant ship Rainshadow:

Day 4. At sea—

No sight of land in two days now, though we should be just off the coast. The fog is so thick. There looks to be a storm brewing from the west. Crew is a mite edgy. There’s a strange tone to the wind as it’s beginning to pick up. Doesn’t sound right.

Need to make landfall in Maremara within the week or this medicine will do little good. There won’t be anyone left to save.

Day 5. Maremara Port—

For the rest of my natural life, I won’t forget it. The storm was terrible. In twenty years between the masts I haven’t weathered the like of it. It was bedlam. In the middle of it, I was about ready to make my peace with Creation, but then one of the lads cried out.

Like a thundercrack she appeared out of the dark turbulence of the storm: The Red Dragon. She saved us. Ship would have cracked in half had she shown up even a moment later. She turned us the right way round, grabbed our anchor chain, and towed us out of the storm until we could see Maremara Harbor. It was the damnedest thing, but I’d swear that as she dropped the chains, she looked me in the eye and smiled at me before she flew off again.

We had known her name from the old songs, the crusty old sailors’ tunes that folk don’t sing no more. They call her Geneveive. For as long as I can raise a glass and hold a tune, I’ll be singing them songs too.

Fragment from the papers of the dread necromancer Alexagrio, recovered from the ruins of his fallen tower:

She is in the sky. Fate on red wings. Will be here soon. I didn’t believe them — the stories, rumors, mumblings of village drunkards, superstitions of old women — I should have listened.

“The Dragon comes to them that need her.”

Traditional saying among the communes of the Lowland Grange.

From the life of Rhada, First Minister of the Mountain Republic, as recounted by her daughter:

She woke from the dream and couldn’t remember it. Not much, anyway: wind across a sagebrush steppe, firelight, a song, a face. She dreamt it almost every night, but could never seem to reach it in the daytime.

She filled a ceramic jar with strong, lukewarm tea from the pitcher her father had left by the hearth, and wrapped a bright red-and-yellow homespun shawl around her shoulders before leaving the cabin. The early light seeped warm through fresh pine, and the smell of dust rose from the sandy path winding down the hill. Rhada sipped tea as she walked, searching her memory for the face in the dream.

Arriving at Herschel’s cabin, she knocked on the door, which was painted teal like the rest of his house — Herschel was a bit of a show-off. His daughter Lara answered the door, and she and Rhada hugged good morning before heading to the dining room and sitting down at the long table covered in piles of fabric.

“You look terrible, did you even sleep?” Lara said.

“Yeah, some,” said Rhada.

“You had the dream again. About…”

“Yeah. I mean, I think it’s about her. At least, when I try to remember the face in it, I want it to be hers. I just keep hoping that if I look hard enough, I’d be able to see it, like, that some lost, early memory of my mother’s face is stored deep down in my head, and she’s trying to find me through my dreams.”

“I’m sorry, lady.”


Lara and her aunts did weekend piecework for a clothing merchant from a larger village down the hill. Piles of white fabric would be dropped off on Friday afternoon, the women sewed vibrant geometric patterns into them all weekend, and were paid for each one they finished by Monday morning. Rhada joined them when she could. The work was tedious, but she loved sitting around the table with the women, who were all great storytellers and never ran out of jokes and tall tales about the other villagers.

Now that so many of the young men had left with the governor, the piecework was all the money some of their families would see for a while.

It had happened the week before: the town bell rang, and everyone gathered in the village green to see what the news was. A group of men in armor had ridden in on horseback, the grey banner of the regional governor flying from their spears. One of the riders blew a horn to get the crowd’s attention, and the leader removed his helmet to address the crowd. He gave a speech in his loud, serious voice. The Lowlanders had overtaken the canals, raised their flag, and built palisades around the irrigated acreage on the western side.

He droned on about honor, and how violent the Lowlanders were, how glorious the fighting would be, and how the village owed its safety to the protection of the regional governorship. The boys got all worked up and most of them volunteered, leaving their work behind, and taking their families’ horses with them.

Rhada didn’t get it. Those fields had been irrigated by the Lowlanders’ grandparents — what right did the governor have to them anyway? The foothill villages didn’t get anything from those fields. Half of the boys would come back dead or injured, and the village would go hungry come winter. But she knew that once they were back, they would be written into the songs the choir sang at holidays, and anything negative she had to say would be glared down by folks who had lost loved ones. And all the youngsters would hear the songs, and the next time the governor’s lackeys came to town, they’d find a new crop of willing recruits.

The women around the table took turns telling stories. They were all funny and Rhada loved them, but they were stories about people they all knew or had known. And sometimes Rhada wanted more than that. Something new and strange and unknown.

When it was her turn, she started to tell a story she’d heard from a traveling musician the season before, about a pompous knight who had lost his voice to the wind and had to travel across the land in search of it. He was humbled by a series of comical interactions with characters along the road, who invariably misunderstood his poor attempts at pantomime. She improvised, changing the names of towns and landmarks to match ones that the ladies knew, and exaggerated the details. It was going over great, but then, when she was just coming to the turning point of the story, when the knight meets a mendicant nun who transforms into a majestic red dragon after he gives her his last hunk of bread, Lara’s bookish cousin Barth, who had just walked in, interrupted:

“Oh, come on! A dragon, really? I can’t hear any more stories about dragons.”

Rhada felt her cheeks grown hot with an embarrassment she wished she didn’t feel.

Barth continued to tell the room that dragons were clichés, that there were too many stories about dragons, that they weren’t real, and they weren’t even interesting anymore. She wished that she had told him off — said anything to him and finished the story — but she didn’t. He had always made her feel small, ever since they were kids and he knew the answer to every question in the village school. But he didn’t get the point of the story. She felt mad at herself for letting him talk over her, but in the moment, she shrank into herself, shrugged awkwardly, and went back to work.

That night, she dreamed the dream again: same as a hundred nights before. The same, but different. Because for whatever reason, the next morning — a cool, bright village morning just like any other — she bolted awake, and remembered.

She packed as quickly as she could and scribbled a note on some scrap parchment for her father. He would be worried, but she hoped he’d understand. After all, she never would have been born if he hadn’t run away from the village in the middle of the night when he was young.

As she hiked up the hills she ran through the images from the dream over and over again: the field of high desert, the fire among the sagebrush, and her mother’s face. And the voice. In the dream she heard a voice that seemed to resonate like a choir, as if it were many voices at once. And it told her where she needed to go. It sounded crazy, she had no way of explaining why, but she knew she had to climb up the mountain to the place the voice described in the dream.

It took all day. The sun dipped low in the sky as she drank the last drop of her water. Pausing just before reaching the mountaintop, Rhada took a few deep breaths, and scrambled up the remaining ledges, rolling over the last one onto the flat area at the peak. Rising to her feet, she heard the voice from her dream.

“Greetings,” said the dragon. “My name is Genevieve, and I’ve been waiting for you. I have so much to tell you.”

to be continued…

Mons. Vernon Armino
Mons. Vernon Armino

After a turbulent youth spent aboard merchant vessels in the Eastern Sea, Armino became a monk. He spent the rest of his days in residence at Balfort Abbey, in time becoming a respected archivist and illuminator of manuscripts .