Posted in Cut Scenes and Fun Extras | Posted on 23-12-2015|
If you’ve finished Soulblade, and you’re looking for an extra Dragon Blood fix, I hope you’ll have fun with this short scene. There are a couple of spoilers for Book 7, so you might want to wait until you’ve read that before hopping into the duck blind.
Still here? Okay, good.
This scene came out of a discussion with beta readers along the lines of… does Ridge have a “man cave” in the new house? If so, what goes on there, since televised sports haven’t been invented in Iskandia yet? Let’s find out.
Dragon Blood Bonus Series #1: Fowl Advice
General Vilhem Ort dismounted in front of General Zirkander’s house, removed a thick envelope from the saddlebag, and turned his horse free to nip at the grass on the undeveloped lot across the road. The placid mare would not go far, and the dead-end street had no other traffic to worry about obstructing. Usually, it had no other traffic. This afternoon, a couple of other horses were tied to trees at the edge of the lawn, and a line of unfamiliar men and women, some holding children’s hands, were queued up on the walkway, as if waiting their turn to get into one of the popular dance halls in the city. Vilhem couldn’t imagine anyone voluntarily dancing in the living room where Ridge and Sardelle kept that dreadful couch that had been a gift from Ridge’s squadron. Maybe the people were here to see Sardelle for healing.
Vilhem headed for the door slowly, not certain if he should barge to the front of the line, or if those waiting might revolt. He hadn’t come on business and wasn’t in uniform. As far as they knew, he was nothing more than another supplicant, though he hoped he was fit enough that he did not look like someone who needed a healer’s services.
A few people in the back did give him disgruntled frowns as he headed for the door. One lifted a finger, an objection clearly on her lips. Before the woman could speak, Sardelle poked her head outside.
“Ready for the next person,” she said, her face pleasant and serene, as was usual for her, but Vilhem thought he caught a faintly frazzled look in her eyes.
“Sardelle?” he asked, almost inquiring if she was all right, but if she wasn’t, she wouldn’t want to speak of it in front of strangers–or supplicants.
“Oh, hello, Vilhem.” She smiled at him. “Are you here to see Ridge, or are you, too, coming to see if you’ve got dragon blood flowing in your veins?”
“I–ah.” What? He frowned at the people in line. Did these people think they had the aptitude to become sorcerers? Maybe that was why the children were here. It boggled his mind to imagine people lining up to be tested, perhaps for entrance into Sardelle’s up-and-coming sorcerer-training school, when less than a year ago, people suspected of having magical talent had been drowned or shot. The last he had heard, that still happened in the rural areas and some smaller cities too. “I’m here to see Ridge,” he said.
“He’s in the duck blind, but he most emphatically told me that this is his day off. It’s the first he’s had in three weeks.” Her smile turned into a slight frown. An accusing one? True, Vilhem was Ridge’s superior officer, but he had little to do with all of the work that overseeing the flight academy and the flier battalion involved. Vilhem had been promoted to brigade commander when Ridge took over his old position and knew all about work and infrequent days off.
“It’s not about work. Well, it is, but I think he’ll want to hear about it.” Vilhem lifted the envelope. “This morning, our flight engineering team brought in the designs for the new fliers. I thought he’d want to see them. Er, did you say he’s in a duck blind?” Vilhem had known Ridge for years and couldn’t remember him ever speaking fondly of hunting, unless it involved hunting pirates, smugglers, or imperial invaders.
“Yes, out that way.” Sardelle waved toward the large pond that lay at the end of the street, aspens and firs ringing it, though a path meandered along the edge. “I believe you’re right that he’ll be excited to see that envelope.” She gave him a more genuine smile, then waved for the person at the head of the line to come into the house.
Since she disappeared inside without offering further instructions, Vilhem headed for the path. As he followed it between the trees and the reed-choked shallows, the front yard and the line of people disappeared from view. He soon spotted the low roof of a squat stone-and-mortar structure with a long rectangular window overlooking the pond. Vilhem did not see a hunter’s shotgun sticking out from it. He stepped off the path and onto rocks and branches that had been laid across mud to provide a dry way to reach a low wooden door. It appeared to be a recent addition to the back of the structure.
Vilhem felt silly knocking on the entrance to a duck blind, but he didn’t want to be shot by an overly eager hunter, so he did so.
“Yeah? ” Ridge Zirkander’s familiar voice came from within.
Vilhem pulled open the door and ducked his head to peer inside. What he had expected to be a damp hole with a muddy floor turned out to be a surprisingly cozy little room. A woven reed rug covered the floor and two hideous but comfortable looking lounge chairs had been stuffed inside, along with a side table covered with books and magazines. More books occupied a shelf behind the chair that Ridge sat in, with a phonograph resting beside a stack. Ridge lounged in civilian clothes in the far chair, a book in his hand, and his leg hooked over one armrest, while the heel of his bare foot tapped a rhythm on the side. A sword in a scabbard leaned against the stone wall beside his chair. Was that Tylie’s soulblade? Vilhem had only seen it once, when Ridge had been using it to drive a dragon away from the capital.
“General Ort,” Ridge blurted, scrambling to his feet and almost cracking his head on the low ceiling. “I thought you were Sardelle.” He started to salute, but seemed to realize they were both in civilian clothing. Three months after his promotion, he still had trouble remembering that he could call Vilhem by first name now. “Though I suppose I should have realized you weren’t. She has a sexier knock.”
“How does one knock sexily?”
“Not how you did it. Can I get you something? Beer? Sarsaparilla?”
Vilhem had only intended to stay long enough to drop off the envelope, but he spotted a sarsaparilla bottle on the table by the chair and promptly decided that a drink would be nice. Summer had finally come to Iskandia, and it was warm out there. He wouldn’t be surprised to return to the street to find that his mare had wandered into the pond.
“I’ll take a beer if you have one.” He glanced around, half expecting an icebox somewhere in the room. A cracker tin and a grease-spotted paper bag from Donotono’s Bakery sat on the shelf next to the phonograph, but he didn’t see any other beverage bottles.
Still barefoot, Ridge padded toward Vilhem. “Beer’s on this side.” He pointed toward the window overlooking the pond. The water reached halfway up the front wall, with the surface only a couple of feet below.
A few ducks paddled about nearby, not concerned by the chatting men or the window looking out upon them. Someone had cleared the reeds to make a view, but Vilhem did not see any hunting weapons, unless Ridge zapped ducks with the magical sword.
That would be most unsporting, a voice said into his head. Tylie feeds bread to the ducks, so they swim over whenever a human approaches.
Vilhem jumped, knocking his head on the low roof. He knew that Sardelle was telepathic, though she didn’t make a habit of speaking into his mind, and he’d also heard from the dragon who thought himself a god, but he didn’t recognize this voice.
He looked toward the sword leaning against the wall.
Was that you? he asked, feeling silly for asking questions in his mind, but he would have felt even sillier asking aloud, since Ridge hadn’t given any indication that he had heard.
Naturally. I’m Wreltad. Tylie left me here, since Sardelle has sent her on a herb collecting task out back. It’s a test on gathering ingredients for potion making. I am not supposed to assist, not that I am overly familiar with Iskandian herbs. Nonetheless, Tylie left me here, and I do not mind. Ridge and I are reading a fictional accounting of the first flier squadron. He appreciates my commentary.
I’m… certain of that, Vilhem said tactfully.
Whistling, Ridge grabbed a rope that Vilhem had not noticed, the end anchored inside with something that looked like a cat-shaped bookend. He hauled up a net full of bottles, fished around inside, and extricated one.
“This pond is full of glacier-fed water from the Ice Blades,” Ridge said. He used the edge of the window to snap the crown cork off and handed the dripping stoneware porter bottle to Vilhem. “Better than an icebox, since it never needs to be replenished.” He let the net settle back below the surface of the water, weighted down by several more bottles inside. “Have a seat, General.” He waved to the chair on the other side of the table from his, one upholstered in a striped mustard yellow and dirt brown fabric. A rip on the seat had been stapled together.
“I think I’ll stand.” Vilhem nodded toward the window. “Enjoy the view.”
Ridge grinned. He had heard Vilhem’s disparaging remarks about this couch–all of the couches he’d had. Who knew where he had picked up these chairs? Some house abandoned in the last century, perhaps. Or from a sale at the city junkyard. Perhaps the overseer had paid him to take them away.
“Help yourself if you want another drink,” Ridge said, waving toward the rope. “Sardelle keeps the duck blind stocked.”
“Does she? That’s thoughtful of her.”
“She likes it when I hide from her students and dragons out here instead of on base. Then when she’s done, she can pop out, find me, and we can…” Ridge glanced at the chair he’d offered Vilhem. “Enjoy the view together.”
Vilhem found himself even more glad that he hadn’t sat in the chair. “She’s a good woman. You better marry her soon. Some of the elder gods object to men and women living together when they’re not wed.”
“Yeah, but I don’t follow any of them. I always prayed to Cloud Rider as a boy–imagine that–but I think I may be worshipping Bhrava Saruth, these days. He blessed me, you know.”
Vilhem took a slow swig of the beer while he digested that. “You think?”
“Well, I’m not sure how legitimate it all is. Just because he says he’s a god doesn’t make him one, right? I’m not sure on the rules of how one gets deified. He is four thousand years old, I understand. Though he slept through most of those years in that cavern.”
There is nothing unwholesome about a long nap, the soulblade observed.
Ridge glanced over, the words having apparently been shared with him this time. “I like napping as much as the next fellow.” He flopped back into his chair. “Was there something that brought you by, General? Vilhem,” he corrected, glancing at the envelope. “Aside from the need to suggest I propose to Sardelle?”
“I want to, you know,” Ridge added before Vilhem could open the envelope. “I’m just not sure how. It should be a surprise, right? But she’s telepathic, so she usually knows whatever I’m thinking before I do. Oh, she doesn’t always monitor me, but Jaxi seems to like fishing around in my head a lot. I’m not sure how I could keep a marriage proposal a secret.”
“I… don’t believe it has to be a secret,” Vilhem said, thinking back to his own proposal forty years earlier. He was fairly certain Anatosia had seen it coming. She had said yes before he even got the promise necklace out. Since he had never remarried again after her passing, he had only the one proposal to draw upon. Perhaps it was too far in the past to be useful to someone today. Times had changed. Still, Ridge was looking at him, his eyebrows raised, as if he actually wanted some wisdom. Vilhem almost laughed, since that wasn’t an expression he ever received from the younger man in the workplace. “You just want to be sure the proposal is welcomed by the other party,” he added. “I’ve heard it’s rather painful if you’re rejected. Especially if you choose a public place for the necklace offering.”
The position of Ridge’s eyebrows shifted from one of curiosity to one of alarm.
“I’m certain Sardelle would welcome it,” Vilhem hurried to say. “This porter is excellent.”
Ridge blinked and looked at the beer. “And that’s indicative of a marriage proposal acceptance?”
“I’m sure she would buy you something cheaper and less palatable if she was less enthused with you.”
“She doesn’t drink beer, so I’m not sure she knows anything about it. She may have just liked the look of the bottle.”
“Nonetheless, I believe your odds are good for a yes.”
“I hope so. She brought up the subject of children before my little bout with amnesia–” Ridge grimaced, “–so I assume she wants to stick around, but… I really don’t know anything about Referatu customs. What if marriage wasn’t common? What if they just lived together and made magical babies in a commune? Or what if they did get married, but they didn’t use promise necklaces? What if she’s expecting some glowing blue bauble?”
Vilhem hadn’t seen a daunted expression on Ridge’s face often. This was the man who flew upside down, shooting down enemy fliers with one hand tied behind his back–or in his pocket, rubbing his lucky dragon charm. He was always confident, whether it was warranted or not.
“There aren’t many books around on the Referatu, ” Ridge went on, “since burning them was trendy for a couple hundred years. My only source would be Jaxi, but if I started asking her about these things, then she’d tell Sardelle, if she hasn’t already. Maybe I’m a fool to think I can surprise either of them.”
I wish I could be of some assistance, the sword–Wreltad–said, but I am only familiar with Cofah marriage customs from two thousand years ago.
“I know.” Ridge patted the air toward the sword, then pushed his hand through his hair.
“Ridge,” Vilhem said, “have a custom necklace made, with some sapphires to match her eyes, and then take her out to dinner someplace nice, and ask her. I’m positive you won’t disappoint her.”
“That sounds so bland and trite. Doesn’t everybody do that?” Ridge dropped his hand. “Er, is that what you did, sir?” He had the grace to look sheepish.
“Yes, only with an agate I found on a beach and had hung from a leather thong. I was a second-year cadet at the time and didn’t have any money. Our nice dinner was at the fish-on-a-stick hut in the harbor.”
“Fish-on-a-stick? And she said yes? She must have really loved you.”
“It wasn’t that bad. They have outdoor dining and a nice view of the water.”
“They have picnic tables.”
“That are outdoor with a view of the water,” Vilhem said sturdily.
“I got a splinter in my butt the last time I ate there.”
“The picnic tables were in better shape forty years ago. I’m trying to help you, Zirkander. Is this how you treat all of your confidants?”
“No, you’re right, sir. Vilhem. Thank you. I appreciate the help.” Ridge offered a sad smile. “You must still miss your wife. You were married over thirty years, weren’t you?”
“Yes. You could have that with Sardelle if it doesn’t take you a decade to work up the courage to ask her. You’re not that young, you know.”
Ridge made a face. “It concerns me when people with gray hair say that.”
“She might be less likely to say yes if you wait until your hair turns gray.”
Ridge touched his temples, as if worried that a proliferation of grays might already be sprouting. “You don’t think she likes a distinguished gentleman?”
“I heard that dragon of hers is quite sexy and young when he wanders around in human form.”
Ridge scowled. “You’re right. I should ask her soon.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Vilhem said mildly, taking another sip from his bottle. “Here. Before you start planning your engagement, take a look at these new flier specs.”
He laid the envelope on the table.
“Oh, excellent.” Ridge stopped prodding his hair and slid the blueprints out.
Quacks came from outside of the window, and Vilhem nearly cracked his head when he saw no fewer than twenty ducks floating in the water. Not only was it clear that they knew the quasi-camouflaged duck blind was here, but they appeared quite expectant. Vilhem couldn’t believe how close they were. Maybe they had come for the beer.
While perusing the blueprints, Ridge absently grabbed the tin of crackers off the shelf, crumbled some, and tossed them out the window to the ducks. Much squawking and bandying for position resulted.
“There are hunters all across Iskandia who would be chagrined to find out that you’ve turned your duck blind into a buffet service,” Vilhem said, eyeing a duck with beady eyes that was waddling up a branch that leaned against the structure. He ended up hopping onto the window ledge and looking in upon them.
“Tylie started it. She feeds everything.” Ridge tossed the fearless one a full cracker, which it caught with its beak before flapping back down into the water. “But I’m the one who comes out here, so they expect me to provide too.”
“You’re a softie, Ridge.”
“Yeah. Don’t tell the Cofah.”
You may wish to leave and retrieve your mare soon, General, Wreltad said.
One of the people who wishes to prove to Sardelle that he does indeed have dragon blood is trying to turn it into a frog.
Uh, that can’t happen, right?
No, nobody in line has dragon blood. They’re delusional. Sardelle is trying to find polite ways to shoo them away. Your horse seems concerned by the man waving his hands.
Thanks for the warning.
“I need to go, Ridge. Bring those prints with you to work in the morning. Let me know what you think. And don’t forget what I said.”
“That a woman who truly loves you will accept your marriage proposal even if you do it at a splinter-filled picnic table in front of a smelly fish hut?”
“You know, there’s a reason so many people want to be on the team opposite of you when you play brisk-ball. Throwing things at you is quite satisfying.”
“Good to know, sir. Thanks for the advice.”
Vilhem snorted and walked out to save his horse. The ducks quacked at him. Ridge threw them more crackers.
The series of bonus scenes continues on with #2: Fowl Friends.