Day the 2nd of the Plough Moon
Year the 6th of the Reign of the Most Noble and Magnificent
From Erek, Keeper of the Birds, Bingtown to Detozi, Keeper of the Birds, Trehaug
This night have dispatched to you four birds, hearing in two parts our agreement with the Dragon Tintagfia, to he ratified by the Rain Wild Council. Trader Devouchet, feader of the Bingtown Traders’ Council, suggested that duplicates he sent. They sum up the format agreement between the Traders and the Dragon. We are to aid her serpents in traveling up the Rain Wild river in exchange for her assistance with defending the Trader cities and waterways against the Chalcedean invaders.
Please dispatch a bird as soon as possible to confirm receipt of this message.
‘ A brief message of my own, penned in haste in a very small space, All is chaos here. My bird coop scorched in the fires the invaders set, many of my birds dead from smoke. ‘I’m sending Kingsly as one of the messenger birds tonight. ‘You know I raised him from a squab by hand after his parents died. Please keep him safe there and do not return him until we know that all is well. If Bingtown falls, treat him well and keep him. as your own. Pray for us here. I do not know that Bingtown will survive this invasion, dragon or no.
They had come so far, yet now that she was here, the years of journeying were already fading in her mind, giv/ing way to the desperate needs of the present. Sisarqua opened her jaws and bent her neck. It was hard for the sea serpent to focus her thoughts. It had been years since she had been completely out of the water. She had not felt dry land under her body since she had hatched on Other’s Island. She was far from Other’s Island’s hot dry sand and balmy waters now. Winter was closing in on this densely forested land beside the chill river. The mudbank
under her coiled length was hard and abrasive. The air was too cold and her gills were drying out too quickly. There was nothing she could do about that except to work more swiftly. She scooped her jaws into the immense trough and came up with a mouthful of silver-streaked clay and river water. She threw her great head back and gulped it down. It was gritty and cold and strangely delicious. Another mouthful, another swallow. And again.
She had lost count of how many gulps of the grainy soup she had ingested when finally she felt the ancient reflex trigger. Working the muscles in her throat, she felt her poison sacs swell. Her fleshy mane stood out all around her throat in a toxic, quivering ruff. Shuddering down her full length, she opened her jaws wide, strained, gagged, and then met with success. She clamped and locked her jaws to contain the liquid, releasing it only as a thin, powerful stream of clay, bile and saliva tinged with venom. With difficulty, she turned her head and then coiled her tail closer to her body. The extrusion was like a silvery thread, thick and heavy. Her head wove as she layered the wet winding over herself.
She felt a heavy tread nearby and then the shadow of the walking dragon passed over her. Tintaglia paused and spoke to her. ‘Good. Good, that’s right. A nice even layer to begin with, one with no gaps. That’s right.’
Sisarqua could not spare a glance for the blue-and-silver queen who praised her. Creating the case that would shelter her during the remaining months of winter took all her attention. She focused on it with a desperation born of weariness. She needed sleep.