The Red Woman

In her ninety-fifth summer, Mayrat af-Qash met the dragon.

She’d been expecting something to happen; ninety-five was an auspicious number, after all, and to make it to one’s ninety-fifth year was an auspicious thing. Of course, most people lacked the heavy preservation of magic saturating their bones, making them look no more than four decades old, but Mayrat hardly considered that cheating. She’d given much of her life to her magic, and thus she thought it only fair it gave back.

She was working in her garden, tending to the grapevines that hung heavy with black summer fruit, when the evening air stirred and she looked over just in time to see a red dragon roughly the size of a large horse land on her roof. Most humans were struck dumb with awe and terror upon seeing a dragon; Mayrat was just irritated. “Get off!” she shouted, sweeping her arms in a great shooing motion. “You fat awful lizard, get off! You’ll cave the thatch in!”

For a moment, the dragon just looked at her, and Mayrat had cause to wonder whether or not all dragons were capable of understanding human speech, or whether they only sent forth as their envoys the ones who did. This one wasn’t very bright, obviously, or it would have settled on the clay path to Mayrat’s front door or the fallow field by the well or literally any other surface that did not include her somewhat fragile and quite flammable roof. “Get off!” she shouted again, and this time she cracked a shower of sparks from her knuckles; sure, she’d burn down her own house in the process, but she’d always been the kind of person who could accept the consequences of her own folly better than she could deal with the fallout from other people’s stupidity, and that went for dragons too.

But the dragon at last huffed and flapped its wings, relocating to the ground near the patio where Mayrat took her evening tea. It was a good thing this dragon was small, she realized; she’d seen paintings of ambassadors as big as cathedrals, whose long necks and terrifying claws gave even her great heart pause. Size notwithstanding, the dragon still wasn’t welcome. “Go away!” she shouted, marching over. She’d been weeding, and thus she found herself brandishing a trowel as though it were a sword without particularly meaning to. “I’ve no goats for you to eat and nothing of particular interest for you to knock down. Also, I’m a very powerful magician, and if you make me cross, I will … be very cross.” Damn it all, she was only wearing a light dress; without her robes or other trappings of office, she looked as imposing as a mother of eight on market day.