Up until a few years ago you could still find a most curious sight, deep in the Tramontana lowlands. Laying a few miles off to the side from the main road to Patavi, you could find a city on wheels.
Now, the name might sound a tad too bombastic. And perhaps it was, as most of the inhabitants of that circle of carriages, tents, merchants, smiths and hunters gathering the dregs and the diamonds of mankind tended to embellish what they did there.
The place, or rather, as we will see, the even taking place there had many names, but in our language it could be simply named the Caravansary. The Tramontana locals used to call it Barroccio, which in their idiom designs a wide gathering of the most unusual things in one place.
The Caravansary enveloped a patch of discolored terrain that stretched for twenty milia in a rough circle. And yet it was as packed as a busy anthills: all sort of people came there to offer their services, to marvel at the colors, the dances, the musics and the danger.
For you could be reaching the edge of the tents, eating up a caramel apple and enjoying your time when the sky would rumble with a terrible, terrible roar like thunders shaking in the bowels of the mountains. The ground would shake, the clouds would rattle with the echoes of the stirred wind.
One by one, every face in the crowd, ugly or beautiful, young or old, would turn towards the centre of the caravans’ ring, where the greyed grass led to dried brushes and empty patches of sand, so dissimilar from the usual wetlands that surrounded it. Rivers had long-since learned to flow around the blasted patch of cursed land, but of course you would find many adventurers, their backpacks filled with minerals, excretions and by-products, turning their bespectacled helmets towards the source of the roar, until amidst the half-collapsed and half-burned bones of cities you could see a hill that moved.
And everyone there, from the bravest retriever with his sack full to the brim with winterglass shards, to the smallest toddler attached to their mother’s chest, would feel a tiny dart of fear strike their chest.
Because even as the roar subsided, the evening sky would bring weirdly-colored clouds, glistening in the night like the ephemeral manifestations of the souls of the dead. And a foul smell sometimes came with a blazing wind: smelted metal and charred skin, acrid fumes that made everyone in the Caravansary pray to the Twelve and reach for their masks, covering their faces and hoping the foul cloud would not linger.
For everyone in the Caravansary lived and died by the presence of the Dragon.
Did they hate it?
You probably would not get a straight answer: most people in the Caravansary owned their own carriage or at least a horse, and they banked on the idea that if and when the Dragon got moody again, it would likely gobble people on the other side of the ring, surely not them. But you might find a sheen of discomfort in their face if you were to ask how they could be so sure the beast would not aim for their horse, the carriage, their family or their merchandise in particular.
But then again, why worry? The Dragon hadn’t gotten angry in twenty years, why would it go on a rampage today? Or tomorrow?
Or next week?
By the stars, why wonder if thing would ever be different than they were today?
Thus, most people at the Caravansary enjoyed the fruits of the Dragon’s presence.
Nobody would ever dare to fight it, of course. There had been tales of a group of Mages from the Treviri Throne, all of them quite accomplished gentlemen and gentlewomen, blessed by their arcane powers and knowledge. They had been powerful: some of them were born of two or even born of three – the kind of Mages you would keep in reserve for a siege or to turn the tide of an open battle. They had attacked the Dragon under the order of the current Emperor’s ancestor.
That must have been a couple centuries before – at any rate, the Mages were little more than dust and cinder and faint memories.
And the Dragon was still there.
More importantly, were the byproducts of its presence: the beast warped and twisted rock and stone, air and water, plants and animals. There were no survivors in the blasted heath the Dragon had elected as hunting ground, but you could always find a thick vein of polished winterglass from shocked rocks, or droppings from its wings that could be used as an elixir to restore strength, or the rare and precious baubles that were said to add years to the lives of men.
All these, and more, were worth their weight in gold. Among all the products that might reach the Twelve Cities of Tramontana and ever find their way to the Treviri Throne itself, only the elusive Dreaming Jewels were more sought-after than the treasures from the blasted nest of the Dragon.
This was the glint that attracted people from all over the land to try and find their fortune there: if they did not feel brave or foolhardy enough to brave the wasteland itself, they might just play the middle man and help in trade, provide fresh water, fruits and meats. Or entertainment, or maybe sell their crafts and skills and even their bodies to the people of the Caravansary.
The Dragon, even when it made its presence known by turning all the water in poisonous slob, when it made rain thunder or when it sent foul winds that blistered unprotected skin, when the sand turbinated in whirlwinds that could scrape flesh off a man’s back, remained a far-off promise of destruction and wonder alike.
They lived and died by its whim, and so far as things were going well, what was there to worry about?
Wine flowed, gold exchanged hands, dancers shook their legs, and business was booming.
And so, for the longest time, all was good in the world.
Up until a few years ago you could still find a most curious sight, deep in the Tramontana lowlands.
Rain and wind have mostly erased the signs, but you could still find the bones sticking out of the mud. And the overturned, charred remains of thousands upon thousands of carriages, the blasted memories of what had once been a city on wheels.