The Dragon on the Border
By Gordon R Dickson
The Dragon on the Border is a fantasy novel by the author Gordon R Dickson.
Jim, the product of a technologically advanced civilization 600 years ahead of the one he now calls home and now minor apprentice in magic has become the target of the Dark Powers in their latest attempt to disrupt the balance between Chance and History. This is due to Jim's advanced knowledge and recently acquired skills that have made him a most dangerous and difficult adversary. During this latest contest, Jim and his friends, Sir Brian and Dafydd, get entangled with the Hollow Men and a foreign plot to invade England. In order to prevent this latest threat, Jim must rely on his wits and physical skills for he is forced to conserve what little magical energy he has since his account only received a slight credit from his last encounter with the Dark Powers. Finally, Jim confronts what any advanced person fears most in a primitive society, injury and threat of infection. Not to himself, but to one of his closest friends.
Mild Spoilers Ahead
Now that winter is behind them, Jim, Brian, and Dafydd are traveling towards the northern most borders between England and Scotland so that they may inform the de Mer clan about the exploits of their friend Sir Giles de Mer during the previous summer and about the manor of his passing. Just as they are nearing their destination, a fearsome sight attacks them. A group of armored knights are riding down on them in attack posture on invisible horses. Jim and Brian prepare to receive the assault but before they can do anything Dyfadd drops one and slays several others in their saddles forcing the attackers to retreat. Our trio moves ahead to inspect the fallen attacker only to find empty armor and clothing.
Upon reaching Castle de Mer, they meet the de Mer clan and to their pleasure discover a secret about Silkie blood. During the evening, our trio tells all about their exploits, but when talk turns to local maters, they learn that they've been attacked by the "Hollow Men". Ghosts of wicked men who wear discarded pieces of armor and attack the countryside in their search for loot, armor, and wine. They can be killed, but only temporarily as they can be brought back to what they call life in 2 days time, so be it that at least a lone surviving Hollow Man still lives. Jim and friends soon learn that the Hollow Men have become more aggressive lately, that a Scottish invasion is in the works with the backing of the French, and that the "Dark Powers" are definitely involved in some way.
During their investigation, Jim and friends encounter the "Little Men" archrivals of the Hollow Men and wary of Borderers. However, they are friends of Liseth de Mer, who is guiding the group. During this meeting, the wolf Snorrl brings news of a Hollow Men raiding force and so the Little Men move out to engage them. Of course, Jim and friends commit themselves to the fight as well. During that affair, Sir Brian receives a nasty wound. Through his closest friend, Jim now confronts his worst fear, that of injury and infection. Jim takes immediate charge of Brian's care to ward off local treatments and begins a strict regiment for his care and recovery that is amazingly crude but effective given the circumstances.
Finally piecing enough of the puzzle together, Jim forges a plan to deal the Hollow Men a fatal blow that will end any chance of a French/Scottish invasion. To do this, Jim must deal with a Scottish envoy sent to negotiate with the Hollow Men and somehow unite the Borderers and the Little Men into a single fighting force. All this he must do while conserving his sparse magical account.
Additional spoilers ahead
"The Dragon on the Border" is Gordon R. Dickson's 3rd book of the "Dragon Knight" series. The novel begins in early spring of the year following what is now referred to as the "Second Battle of Poitiers", a conflict that Jim was successfully able to end in a draw. In this adventure, Jim, Brian, and Dafydd are performing a customary ritual. As soon as it was possible to leave their lands, they've set out to carry news on the passing of their friend Sir Giles de Mer back to his family who's lands are on the northern most border between England and Scotland. This they are doing this since there are no reliable means for getting or sending information of a personal nature during this time.
We witness Jim conserving what little magical energy he has. So don't be surprised that there isn't a whole lot of magic or dragons involved. Normally, one's account gets credited for any magic used to defeat the Dark Powers (and at their expense too) however; the Accounting Office negated most of this credit because Jim violated one of its rules. No more is said on this subject, and this is speculation on my part, but no doubt Jim was fined for operating magic without a license in the Kingdom of the Dead during his last adventure. Of course, there are several other infractions as possibilities, but that one was a serious offense. So Jim is left to rely mostly on his wits and physical strengths for his latest contest with the Dark Powers in order to save his magic for emergencies and for getting in touch with his master in magic Carolinus. We also see Jim beginning to question his (and Angie's) decision not to use the full magical credit he acquired back in "The Dragon and the George" to get them both back to their 20-century home.
During their recognizance of the area, Jim and friends meet the "Little Men" who live in the remote valleys of the borderland and who are natural enemies of the Hollow Men. They also don't look kindly upon the Borderers for their aggressive nature and superstitious beliefs. Jim is amazed to not only see the Little Men but remarks to himself that they seem to be right out of William Allingham's poem "The Fairies". It is here that they meet the wolf Snorrl, a friend of Liseth de Mer, which are two of the novel's central characters. Snorrl brings word of an incursion of the Hollow Men into the lands of the Little Men. This infuriates the Little Men and so they move out to engage the Hollow Men. Of course Jim and his companions opt to join in as well.
This is where Jim confronts his worst nightmare in that his friend Brian has been wounded and has loses a considerable amount of blood and now faces the threat of infection. Every one's belief of the time is to bleed someone who is sick or injured to make them better. So Jim takes immediate charge of Brian's care ordering special preparations (and unheard of for the times) be made and uses the first aid kit that Angie prepared for him to treat and tend his friend's wounds. These are backwards times and for a modern couple, preventing infections poses an severe and interesting challenge, however Jim and Angie have worked out a treatment plan that is remarkable though crude given the circumstances.
During the days of Brian's recovery, Jim manages to piece together the larger picture of what is happening in the Borderlands and crafts a plan to put a final end to the Hollow Men and to any plans that the Dark Powers might have for them. To do this he must intercept an envoy being sent to negotiate with the Hollow Men, take his place and entice the Hollow Men to gather in one place where they can be attacked and all killed. In addition, Jim must broker a truce between the Little Men and Borderers so that they can form a single fighting force for neither force can do the job alone. Finally, a secret from Dafydd's past is revealed that has important consequences for what is about to happen.
All in all this is another quality adventure, one that introduces us to a number of interesting characters that reside up in the borderlands, their lifestyles, customs, as well as some of the issues a modern person might face during those times. Oh yes, then there's the surprise that the Dark Powers have in store for Jim as well as the one Carolinus has at the conclusion of this adventure.
Written on 20th August 2002 by TC .