Frostbringer’s Failure

In the days before the greening of the world, when everything was covered in ice and snow, Harrod Frostbringer rode his white dragon in the skies above Northwol. His sword was true, his spear was feared. Where the white dragon rode, no official oppressed the poor, no thief dared break into a house, no parent neglected their children because Harrod was the king’s man. The king had been away on a journey for many years, but his law and his memory remained, and he was not a king that allowed injustice to remain unpunished.

Harrod was loved, but feared, partly because of the power he wielded, and partly because he was a strange man. His blond hair hung down his back in knotted dreadlocks hung with silver charms to ward off the evil beasts he encountered. His beard was straggly and he kept a chicken bone tied up close to his right ear.

But stranger than these were his mannerisms. Sometimes when he was visiting town, he pierced every person with his unbreaking blue stare and was frequently abrupt and awkward in his conversation. So unnerving was his stare that even the shopkeepers selling him supplies for his journeys felt that he could somehow look straight into their minds, and once, when Harrod only said “I want a wheel of sharp cheese” to a cheesemaker, that man burst into tears and admitted overcharging his patrons by ten percent.

At other times, Harrod seemed so shy he never looked above anybody’s boots and muttered all his words. There was one woman he never looked in the eye at all, and that was Ingrid Nielson, the prettiest girl in Roarn, a village in the far north. No one noticed this but Ingrid herself.

The only time Harrod acted completely naturally was when he was carrying out the king’s business. He was swift to protect the innocent and just in his punishments. When Harrod caught a man beating his wife, he beat up the man himself, then left him bruised and in the uncomfortable guardianship of his dragon while Harrod spent extra time in the village finding people to support the woman as she recovered. Then he returned to the man and took him to the ice-breaking lines on the coast to work to support his wife from afar. In this and other similar matters Harrod carried himself with confidence, interacting with people normally and carrying on easy conversations.

The priest in Roarn, one of the few people who called him friend, asked him why he found it so easy to deal with people when he was helping them. Harrod fiddled with his hunting knife for a long time before he said “I know, when I am helping, that it is the right thing to do. I am useful. Other times…” He trailed off and shrugged.

Unfortunately, a time came when there was much more for Harrod to do. Another king began to attack the far northern villages and cities. He thought that because the king of Northwol was absent, the land was unprotected. He was wrong. The garrison in the north, kept in readiness for the king’s return, immediately acted to repel the invaders, and Harrod himself stayed at the front lines, flying back and forth from village to village on his dragon, warning them of approaching attack, defending them, and sending messages to the capitol asking for more military support.

The invading king attacked ferociously, wiping out entire villages for the plunder and saving only a few for slave labor. He hurled the heaviest portion of his force at Illia, the largest northern village, and Harrod flew there immediately, fighting day and night to protect the citizens of Illia and support the soldiers. It was several weeks before the siege lifted, and he was able to leave and patrol the rest of the territory.

As he crested the ridge of pine trees that surrounded Roarn, he saw smoke billowing into the sky. Soldiers ran through the town, burning houses, hauling people out into the cold. Bodies lay motionless in the snow. And Ingrid’s house, the house with green shutters, that she kept so tidy—it was broken in two, burning, and crushed. Blood covered the ground in front of the house.

Harrod made no sound, but his dragon sensed his master’s rage and roared, bending the trees to the ground with the force of its icy breath.

So Harrod and his dragon descended like a falling shard of glass, blinding in the sunlight as they dropped upon the town. Even the stoutest enemy fled before the wrath of the white dragon and its rider. Harrod dismounted, striking out as he slid off his dragon, and his sword was wet with blood before his feet touched the earth. The villagers took heart at seeing him, and those who had weapons raised them with renewed vigor and swept forward so that the invaders became afraid and ran away, out of Roarn, scattering into the frozen hills where wolves and bears and ice killed them one by one.

Harrod ran for the house with green shutters, but each time he passed a body, he stooped over it. He knew every one. A shopkeeper. A shoemaker. A mother. A son. By the time he reached the empty, burned shell of Ingrid’s house, he was barely walking with the weight of each corpse he’d passed by. He dropped down on her bloody doorstep and put his head in his hands, weeping for the lives he had not saved.

“Why are you crying, Harrod Frostbringer?” A voice behind him said.

“I have failed. I cannot fix this. There is nothing I can do to right this wrong.”

“It is the king’s power to right wrongs and undo injustice, Harrod. You can only follow his orders.”

“Then why didn’t he stop this himself? Why did these people have to die?”

“I do not know.” Ingrid eased herself onto the stoop beside him, wincing as she moved. Blood ran down the side of her face. Her clothes were torn, and she held a bloody hunting knife in one trembling hand. Harrod looked at her with joy—then his face fell, and he said: “Why are we alive and they are not? How is that just?”

Ingrid looked out as a weeping woman knelt by her husband’s body lying in the snow. She stood up. “I can only do what is in front of me and hope for the king’s quick return.”

Harrod stood beside her. She slid her hand into his but he had another question: “What can we do in the face of all this pain?”

“Weep. And hope.”

And they went down the hill, hand in hand, to comfort the grieving.