Author: Andrew Dunn

Some would call it a sin, that one man would blindly follow another without question. If it’s a sin like they say, christen it loyalty and all of us that followed Rory Holloman vagabonds sailing far beyond virtue’s bounds.

Rory captained the Scarlett. She was small, but a fantastic ship in her own right. In Scarlett’s early years – they called her the Bedford back then – she ferried loads high up into the hills, going as far as thinning mountain air would let her. Rory saw something in her and saved that hard-working lady from the drudgery of cargo runs on charter. Rory reimagined Bedford as an airship primed for adventure, christened her Scarlett, and made rounds looking for wayward aeronauts like us. Under Rory’s helm, we crisscrossed the skies in search of it all.

We found it too. Rory piloted Scarlett on strange zephyrs that took us to the place of giants. We huddled low on our side of the gunwales while the beasts swatted at us as though we were a gnat. Then we waited inside a fat cumulus, camouflaged in mist until Rory gave the order to strike. Scarlett dove fast and low so that we could pluck a button off one of the blokes’ shirts. That button was cast from pure enchantment and earned us a poor man’s fortune when we tied up
alongside home wharf. Word of our exploit invited every eccentric soul with generous pockets to hire out Scarlett for expeditions each more exotic than the last – every deckhand and coaler on the skyfront envied us as much as they wanted to sail with us.

A scrawny hand called Cooper got the chance. Rory hired the boy off the captain of an airship stripped down to her frame for overhaul. “He’s loyal. Quick in the head and on his feet too.” Cooper’s captain beamed. Rory took those words on faith – Rory had to, the smallest of mistakes suffered at an ill-timed moment aloft could be the end of us all, especially where we were going.

Rory told us over too much mead at an hour too small and distant from first light what our next run would be. Avorna Tor. The Avorna Tor loomed far in the north, its peak pierced the clouds. The mountain’s sides were nearly vertical toward the top; their surface glassy and lacking textures that would afford human hands purchase. Climbers perished trying to reach the top in quests to see if there really was an aperture that led into a dragon’s den. Scarlett would fly to the top of Avorna Tor, where no man had been before.

“It’s weird, Rory hiring Cooper on?” I said to coaler Brice as the two of us staggered back to the Scarlett. “We’ll need to drop a lot of weight to make altitude.” It was true. I’d been thinking through calculations for the Avorna Tor run since Rory told us we were going.

“What do you mean?” Brice chuckled.

“Cooper,” I lowered my voice, “he must weigh 150 pounds.”

“Cooper’s essential,” Brice replied.

“How so?” I wondered, my mind awash in mead and the mathematics of flight.

“Think about it,” Brice explained, “if there’s a dragon up there in Avorna Tor, we’ll need something to coax it out of its den, right?”

“Bait?” I asked.

“Let’s just hope Cooper’s more loyal than he is quick in his head and feet,” Brice replied.