Dragon Reign 2?
Amid the fervor surrounding Dragon Reign: Book I of the One Prophecy, I've had this question/request come up many times: Is there going to be a Dragon Reign II?
The answer: YES! I've recently dug up the pages of the manuscript I started for the second book in the proposed trilogy to dust off and complete. The good news: I have more than half of the book finished. The bad news: no sign of my original outline. So, the first part of this process will be re-reading what I've written and then mapping out / outlining again and then finishing the book!
As a teaser though, I'll let you in on the prologue and first chapter as it is currently written! Hope you enjoy!
He had been waiting… waiting for ten long years, burning with seething hatred and loathing for the races of men and elves and dwarves who had destroyed his father. The last of the black dragons had brought him here and hidden him from the meddling humans and wretched turncoat band of red dragons. They had rebelled against his father in what should have been his moment of triumph. He had single-handedly brought the dying breed back from the brink of extinction. He had given them order and purpose… a reason for living. And they repaid him by joining with those disgusting humans to kill their own kind.
His father, Reign, had been a fool to trust any but the black dragons. They were ancient and apathetic, but at least they were proud of their race and their heritage. They alone had understood Reign’s vision. After Reign’s fall, only they had the wisdom and foresight to bring his prodigy here… to hide him from the world and wait…
He blinked his eyes open and looked around at the paltry lair. With eyesight developed in the total blackness of these caves, he could easily see the damp walls and cluttered ground around him. The floor was littered with rusted bronze and steel swords and shields and sundry sorted stacks of broken ramshackle pieces of armor. There were a few golden cups and silver trinkets and even the occasional precious stone… but after Reign’s death, brazen and emboldened humans had looted most of the dragons’ bounty. He sneered at the lowly condition of the lair. It was disgusting how far this ancient and noble race of dragons had allowed themselves to fall. Again the hatred began to rush through his veins. He could feel the icy chill of magic flow into his fingertips… he was powerful. What many did not know was that Reign had taken a mistress… a silver dragon slave. With his father’s incredible magic and his mother’s pure silver blood, the black dragon elders had told him that he would be far more powerful than Reign. For ten years he had been holding that power in check… seething and simmering in the darkness.
“Milord seems… restless,” a deep draconian voice hissed from behind him.
The silver skinned son of Reign turned to glare at him. His eyes were pools of dark purple with edges of blood red. With a shimmering intensity, they narrowed to two evil slits.
“Restless,” his breathy deep voice made the black dragon’s scales crawl, “yessss, very restless.”
Another black dragon appeared from the lair entrance and stared at the young wizard. His body was silver and scaled. His muscled form was taut and firm from years of training with the dragons. Not only was he a powerful wizard, but he could defeat even the strongest of warriors hand to hand. As the dragon stared in awe, the wizard’s form began to blur and grow. Within seconds, he had transformed into a true silver dragon.
“Restless and disappointed,” he hissed as he moved closer to the dragons, “and eager to take back what is rightfully ours.”
The dragons exchanged a nervous glance, a glance that did not go unnoticed.
“You need not be worried… you both know my power,” he said as his form began to shift again.
He was now no longer draconian in appearance… his form was now that of an ordinary man slight in frame, perhaps a cleric or a monk.
“Of course, milord,” the first dragon started, “but we are too few in numbers to fight them.”
His narrow eyes turned to glare at the dragon. It seemed the red edges were glowing as his body slipped back to its natural silvery form.
“I do not intend to fight the dragon armies,” he moved closer, his eyes definitely glowing now, “I intend to make them an offer that they cannot refuse.”
With the spell of dragonfear coursing through him, the wizard’s magic paralyzed the first dragon. The dragon was astonished… no dragon had ever succumbed to dragonfear. His power was indeed great. That was his last thought as the wizard touched him with a silvery hand. The quivering palm was sure death…
He turned his gaze to the second dragon and again transformed into his own silver dragon shape.
“Perhaps I was too harsh?” he raised his eyebrows and his eyes widened.
“Of course not, milord,” the dragon bowed with nervous respect.
“Indeed,” he raised his now draconian body from the floor of the lair, “he was right that we have a lot of work to do.”
The black dragon nodded quietly as the wizard paced toward him. He knew he was most likely going to die. But the wizard simply walked past him toward the mouth of the lair.
“Everyone is in place?” he hissed as he passed.
“Yes Master Tyros,” the black dragon winced… the wizard never liked to hear his own name.
It had been the dragons who had named him. Reign had killed his mistress mother before she had given him his proper name and he seemed forever disgraced by the dragons’ choice to call him Tyros – a human name. It was a slap in the face, to say the least, to call one with dragon’s blood in his veins such a name. To say it aloud meant death… painful and slow death.
Tyros turned slowly toward the dragon and hot breath steamed his scaly skin. His eyes smoldered.
“Good,” he hissed, “tell the others that we have waited long enough. Before the return of this season, we will reign again.”
Tyros sneered wickedly at his pun.
“Yes, we will Reign again,” he licked his razor sharp teeth.
The dragon released the breath he had been holding.
“I will be away, tonight,” his voice echoed through the cave, “there is a library that demands some desperate attention.”
“Yes Master Ty-, milord,” he quickly corrected himself.
The dragon had never heard Tyros mention a library before. But then again, there were many things that the silvery dragon mage never mentioned. He watched the shadows crawl through the mouth of the lair and disappear into the darkness.
Nor’in & the Pink Dragon
The wind howled past Nor’in’s slightly pointed ears. He screamed with delight as the dragon plunged toward the ground. A massive streak of pink was all that could be seen in the air. Fields of planting and fallow raced past the elf rider and the dragon. Rivers and valleys swept past his view as they flew. Ranges of mountains started small in the distance, grew to towering heights just below and fell away to nothingness behind them. The elf’s heart raced as the dragon flew faster still and the rushing air threatened to unseat him. Sarken knew the limits of his small rider and would never exceed them. Nor’in even thought that if he should fall, Sarken could catch him with the greatest of ease, however he did not wish to try. The mage tried his best to memorize the endless layout of the ground below as they flew on hoping someday to map it all out, but for now he was immersed in a new quest… the library.
“Almost there,” the pink dragon called back to the mage.
The dragon hadn’t always been pink. Many years ago, probably ten autumns ago, Nor’in boldly walked into the dragon’s lair to steal an artifact, The Hand of Anissa, for his cleric friend, Finegan. His companion, Toscc, had wanted to sneak in, but Nor’in, young and overconfident had felt he could take on anything. Even a red dragon. It hadn’t been a fireball spell or a death spell or a blind spell that had saved them from the clutches of the enraged dragon… it had been a simple color change spell. A first year magician’s trick had so infuriated the dragon that Nor’in and Toscc had been able to escape while his tantrums threatened to destroy his cave.
During this fateful trip, Nor’in had indeed found The Hand of Anissa for Finegan, but he had also stumbled across an underground library. A library filled with tomes of magic that the world had forgotten and prophetic scrolls the clerics had written before the time of the ancients. He knew that if he could learn half of the spells in these books, he would be the most powerful wizard in the world.
“There she is,” the dragon roared back to him as he started to dive toward the hillside.
From the air, the entrance to his lair was completely invisible. Foliage and tricks of light cast shadows that made the opening appear to be a valley or crevice in the side of the mountain. Nor’in had enhanced this with a mirror effect that refracted light away from the lair and reflected nearby brush and trees. Unless a prying meddler walked right up to it, they would never know it was there.
The lair was constructed (Nor’in suspected by Dwarven hands) so that the opening was narrow, but led to a giant antechamber. Sarken knew the exact limits of that opening and could make his approach at terrifying speeds.
The elf blinked wind rush tears from his eyes as the ground now flew straight at them. His grip tightened subconsciously… no matter how many times he had done this, it was still a little unnerving.
The dragon never slowed as they screamed toward the mouth of the cave. The pair sped through the hole and the tremendous cave opened ahead of them. Dust and brush scattered as the wind blasted the ground. With a sudden whoosh of air the dragon beat his mighty wings to slow their descent at the last second.
“By the gods that’s fun!” Nor’in yelled as he leapt from Sarken’s back.
The dragon smirked at the elf-mage. He could actually stop much more suddenly, but any more downward force would be too much for his rider and would send his insides flying out of his belly. Theirs was a friendship that had begun in necessity… (Nor’in’s promise to change the dragon’s color back to its original imperial red) but it had developed into something real. The dragon enjoyed the mage’s company, and he could tell from the elf’s face-splitting grins that the wizard enjoyed the dragon’s companionship as well.
After many attempts, it became clear that something had gone wrong with Nor’in’s original color change spell and for some reason he could not undo it. The wizard suspected that it must have had something to do with the library and the pools of magic that radiated from it. That power had lent his lowly spell some serious permanence. He promised the dragon that he would not give up until the spell was undone. Sarken had learned through the years to believe him.
Nor’in’s staff ignited as he entered the sudden blackness of the lair. He could have found his way without the light, but it was comforting in the damp rock tunnels to see what was ahead. Even with all of his protective spells and the hidden entrance, one could never be sure that bandits and looters weren’t around the next turn.
“I’m going to take care of… something,” Sarken called to the elf.
Nor’in simply nodded. He knew the dragon was most likely going to feed and was sparing him the gruesome details. The mage began whistling to himself in a near giddiness as he made the familiar descent into the depths of the lair.
The library had once been protected by a forget spell, but Nor’in had since learned how to avoid its misleading wiles. It would simply have any seekers turn down a wrong path or not see the entrance as they passed. He had long ago discovered a way to remove the spell, but in prudence decided to leave it in place.
Within moments he entered the library. He paused and inhaled deeply. He had grown to love the smell of the ancient books and scrolls. In the beginning, sour mold and dank mustiness had filled the air, but now he had cleaned up the library and the true scent of cracked paper and melted candle wax permeated throughout. He could understand why Finegan, his human friend, had developed such an affinity for his books.
In the center of the library, sat a large desk Nor’in had fashioned with an enormous plank that Sarken had found for him. The surface of the table was covered with the melted wax from a myriad of candles that had long since burned down. Several bound scrolls and some unbound were scattered on the cracked wooden plank. A dozen leather-bound books with yellowing pages were stacked here and there, some open, some closed. The tomes of less powerful mages were decaying and threatening to fall apart. Some of the books brass clasps and hinges were even rusted through to the point of collapse. However, the books belonging to more powerful wizards were in almost mint condition, except for the thin layer of dust. Magic protected these tomes.
Everything in the library was covered with dust. Nor’in had originally set out to clean all of the contents of the room, but had given up long ago. Being in a cave of dirt and rock did have its disadvantages. He pulled a small flint stone from his pouch and lit a half-burned candle. With this candle, he lit the remnants of several more along the edge of the table. Eventually, the room was filled with a warm flickering glow. Nor’in let his staff grow dark and leaned it in the crook of the arm of his makeshift chair. He settled back for a long study.
He looked around at the hundreds of books and scrolls. He sighed a heavy, yet pleasant sigh.
“Where to start,” he muttered to himself.
“How about with a nice color change spell,” Sarken startled the elf.
Nor’in jumped and put his hand over his heart.
“Geez, I didn’t hear you come in,” he laughed.
The cave had, amongst many other qualities, extremely thick walls. No sound could be heard from the outside, nor did any sound escape from inside. Nor’in shivered at the thought. There was something only mildly discomforting about that.
Sarken lumbered to the back of the library near stacks of books Nor’in had already examined. These volumes were historical records, detailed and thorough. He had arranged them chronologically and had done his best to group subject matter together as well. Many times he found these histories provided valuable insight when reading ancient prophecies or perhaps casting long forgotten spells. Someday, he intended to build proper shelves to hold them.
“It is always best to begin,” the dragon eased his body down on to the floor, “at the beginning.”
Nor’in rolled his eyes and scratched a pointed ear. The dragon had always liked that saying and liked to overuse it. The mage picked up the nearest scroll and unwound the crusty leather strap holding it together. He leafed through the elven script and quickly reread the verses. He had found this prophecy to be particularly enigmatic.
The scroll told the story of a young elven princess who would lead a disgruntled group of elves out of the forest to split with the elders of her race. She had fought for equality with other races while they had maintained that they were superior. Some had even condescended a theory stating that dwarves and humans might be “separate but equal.” That had been the last straw. She left with a group of elves who had felt the same and had never returned. It was foretold that when these “rebel elves” returned, the race would be destroyed. It was a prophecy from the time of the ancients. He had cross-referenced it with the historical volume from that age and as far as he could tell had not yet been fulfilled. Indeed, it was his own ancestry that descended from her line and both groups of elves still existed. Nor’in shivered slightly as he realized his own connection to the prophecy.
He rolled the parchment up and wound the leather strap around it to hold it closed. He had read that one hundreds of times and still didn’t know what the outcome might be. The elf absent mindedly scratched his ear as he set the scroll aside. It was then that something nagged at his brain. Begin at the beginning…
He sat up straight in his chair and looked over at the now slumbering pink dragon. It had been a first year magic spell. Nor’in had been a wizard for more than twenty autumns and he couldn’t undo the spell of color change. Every time he began the spell to reverse it, the words would twist around back in the direction of pink. It seemed that it was a reversal spell that simply inverted and reversed itself. His head slumped forward and he put his hands on his temples. No matter what he tried, the pink color resisted.
Begin at the beginning he thought to himself. What had happened when he cast the spell. He and Toscc had been trying to escape and he had just cast the first spell that had popped into his mind. He knew it was a foolish thing to try, but it had been the easiest spell he knew… and he turned the dragon pink.
A light went off in Nor’in’s head. He jerked his head up and looked over at the dragon. He nearly laughed out loud.
“It couldn’t be that simple,” he wondered aloud, “could it?”
Sarken, hearing this, slowly opened one eye. He had given up hope of his color changing years ago. For a dragon, this could be devastating. He had been a terrifying imperial red dragon that could throw flame from his snout at a distance of many fathoms. He took pride in piercing many men with dragonfear… a spell that paralyzed any foe with sheer terror (any save the most powerful of wizards and other dragons.) Now, he was bright pink.
Somehow over the years he had learned to live with it. Nor’in was convinced that he could undo the spell, but Sarken wasn’t so sure. Subconsciously, the dragon would keep his girth and his tail behind him so that he didn’t see the pink. During the day, if he flew at all, he would fly at full speed so that an onlooker would only see a long pink blur. He hunted for food that was too stupid to know the difference. He eyed the mage suspiciously.
“Sarken,” Nor’in stood up from his desk, “I’m not sure, but… I think I’ve got it.”
The dragon took a long slow deep breath. He had heard these same words many times, but it was hard to kill the hope that someday the wizard would actually have it.
Nor’in walked over to the dragon smiling and shaking his head.
“Stand up, my friend,” the mage said quietly.
Sarken rose up to his full height. Nor’in took a small silver reflector from a pouch within the folds of his robe and held it out to the dragon. Sarken turned his head away reflexively.
“Take it,” Nor’in said.
The dragon groaned and reached out for the mirror. He still held it facing away from his eyes.
“Look into it,” Nor’in could not help from smiling. He knew he had it this time.
Sarken slowly lifted the mirror so that he could see himself in it. It had been a long time since he had actually looked at his own reflection. He groaned at the bright pink scales gleaming back at him. A long forgotten pain brimmed to the surface.
“Now,” Nor’in started weaving a spell in his mind, “say goodbye to it.”
The dragon tilted his head to the side. Nor’in had never sounded this sure. Maybe…
The wizard was now in a trance, but it didn’t seem like a really intricate spell. What could he be thinking? Nor’in chanted the simple phrases over and over letting power trickle into his fingertips. He had to concentrate only to keep from shaking his head and scoffing at himself. How could he have not seen? Begin at the beginning…
The dragon felt a tingling sensation ripple through his body. His scales seemed to blur and shimmer. He could actually feel something this time. The magic was working! Instinctively, he closed his eyes. An eternity of silence passed.
“Sarken,” whispered Nor’in, “open your eyes.”
The dragon shook his head.
“No, no,” he shivered, “let me just believe it worked.”
“Sarken,” Nor’in said more firmly, “open your eyes.”
The dragon didn’t know whether to open them slowly or quickly to get over the blast of painful emotion from seeing a still pink body. He opted for quickly, he was a dragon after all. He jerked his eyes open with a wrenching head snap.
“Ha…” he exhaled.
He couldn’t breathe. His heart pounded and sadness and pain and joy and infinite peace rushed over him. Glittering, shimmering, polished, gleaming scales covered his body… and they were red. Deep, dark, blood red. His own red.
Suddenly, he could breathe again and his breaths came in rushes. He felt light-headed and giddy. He flipped his tail out in front of him just to make sure what he had seen was true. Red.
“By the gods,” he exclaimed, “You did it! Nor’in, you did it!!!”
The dragon was up and pacing around the room with nearly unbounded excitement.
“How?” he nearly howled, “How did you do it?”
The dragon was turning his claws over and back in front of his astounded eyes.
“I took some advice from an old friend,” Nor’in walked quietly over to the dragon, “I began at the beginning.”
Sarken turned a puzzled expression to the elf.
“All this time, all these years,” Nor’in started, “I had been trying to work magic on a spell. Even the most powerful of wizards cannot undo the simplest of spells. Obviously, you know this by now.”
Sarken nodded still unsure of what had just happened.
“I… we spent years banging our heads against the stone wall of that first year apprentice spell,” Nor’in snorted, “a color change spell.”
Sarken was now thoroughly confused.
“But how were you finally able to change my color back?” the dragon asked with a grimace.
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” the wizard brushed his hand across Sarken’s scaly tail.
The dragon’s shoulders (if dragons had shoulders) would’ve slumped in sudden realization.
“A color change spell,” Nor’in said again quietly, “Instead of trying to undo the first spell, I simply performed the spell again… and changed your color again... back to red.”
He dropped his hands to his side. Something between sadness, fear and reminiscence struck the elf. For many years this had been his one goal, his reason for being. He had spent ten years trying to undo the pink color change spell and resurrecting the dead library. He glanced around at the tall stacks of books and scattered scrolls and parchments. Mentally, he resigned himself to the fact that this was probably goodbye. Like a wounded trail dog he looked up at the dragon.
“So now it seems,” Nor’in sighed heavily, “that our friendship has come to an end… I suppose that’s it….”
The wizard turned to leave. It was over. He would have to find some new adventure, some new quest. He sagged and sighed, nothing would ever compare to the treasure he was losing here.
“Nor’in,” the dragon’s voice seemed to grow deeper and more coarse.
This was a new tone of voice Sarken was using. A slight tinge of fear crept onto the back of Nor’in’s neck. His hairs stood on end… almost felt like a dragonfear spell taking effect. He thought to himself, here was a dragon that had been tormented, humiliated and spit-on for ten long years… his pride and dignity had been torn from him and replaced with scorn and rejection. Bold, fierce red scales had been changed to weak, wimpy pink…and it was because of him. The elf nearly bolted for the door.
He turned to face the dragon; he would take what was coming to him. He wondered if the dragon would burn him to death with the searing flame from his snout or if he would simply eat him. It didn’t matter though. He would endure either. He respected Sarken that much.
“Sometimes you elves can be so foolish,” the dragon laughed.
Nor’in jumped, close to terror now, as the dragon rose to his full height.
“I’m going to show off my new scales,” Sarken exclaimed, “don’t wait up... friend.”
The wizard exhaled heavily and wiped the start of a tear from his eye. He waved as his friend flew out of the cave. Perhaps their friendship wasn’t so temporary anymore.
He exhaled heavily as he plopped back down in his chair. It was an exhilarating feeling to have such a weight off his shoulders. He looked back to the scrolls and books on his desk.
“What’s this?” he wrinkled his brow.
In the center of the desk, untouched by dust or age, had appeared a brown leather-bound book. Not only was he sure it hadn’t been there before, but he had never seen it in his ten year long examination of the library’s contents. It wasn’t a magician’s tome, he could tell by the markings on the cover. After checking for magic locks or booby-traps for the first unwary reader, he carefully opened the book. He was shocked when he began to read the story within. It was a tale, a ‘dragon tale,’ that he knew all too well… the story of he and his friends… of the prophecy of Reign.
He looked up from the book as the wash of emotions pounded him like ocean surf. Ten autumns ago, he and his friends had defeated the powerful and wicked magician, Reign. The wizard had been intent on one thing alone – killing all men. Nor’in’s close dwarf friend, Beauregard, had given his life in that last traumatic battle.
He read the pages quickly as he reminisced and revisited the all too familiar images of the past and at the final page he shivered as he read the words of the ancient prophecy aloud, “One will Kill, One will Die, One will Heal, One will Fly…”
He sat back with exhaustion, almost as if he had endured the battle once more. And then, almost absent-mindedly, he turned the last page over. To his horror, there were more words written on the back. His heart raced and he became dizzy. He fought off the panic as he read the rest of the prophecy…
“One will Turn, One will Lie, One will Burn, One will Rise.”
His thoughts turned to Beauregard and all that they had lost those many seasons ago. He closed the book and stared blankly into the darkness… the last of the candles fizzled and the cave went to blackness.
“By the gods,” the elf whispered, “It’s not over.”
Meanwhile Back at the Castle
“It’s over!” the young princess screamed as she stormed up the castle’s grand stone staircase. Her white-blond tresses stood out in stark contrast to her deep violet gown and her fiery flushed cheeks.
“You couldn’t possibly understand what I see in him!” she shouted and slammed the enormous oak door to her bedroom.
King Toscc sighed heavily hearing the echoed sounds of his daughter, Kristen, throwing things around and the muffled shouts of very un-princess-like things from behind the door. He shook his head and turned back toward his wife. He paused and took in her beauty. Even after ten years she still took his breath away. His wife, Queen Audra, stared back at him with deep brown eyes full of worry. She took his hands in hers.
“Oh, Toscc,” she said nervously, “She won’t do anything foolish will she?”
The king brushed a dark brown ringlet of auburn hair from her face.
“Of course not, dear,” he said not sure if he believed that himself, “besides, what could she possibly do. She can’t run away, the castle guards won’t let her go and even if she got past them, she’d be too scared to make it to the forest.”
Audra rolled her eyes and dropped his hand.
“You obviously haven’t had much experience with princesses,” she smirked.
“Fine, fine,” he threw up his hands, “I’ll make sure we have someone watch over her for a few days until she cools off.”
The Queen took her king’s hand again and led him out to the courtyard. Bright shimmering sunlight poured into the center atrium of the towering stone fortress. After the dragon war with Reign, the townspeople had come together like never before to rebuild the burned out castle. Stoneworkers, blacksmiths and woodworkers gave generously of their time and money to the grand restoration effort. Two outer rings of stone wall, as high as three men in some places, had been the first project. A deep trench had been scratched out of the ground and fed with water from nearby streams. It had long since fouled and stank appropriately for a castle moat. Within the outer rings, the townspeople began to slowly grow into a community, setting up shops and homes. The shops were mostly in the outer ring, houses closer in to the castle itself. The people had worked tirelessly, sometimes on scorchingly hot days and deep into the cold nights. Toscc suspected that some needed the backbreaking work to keep their minds off of the horrible destruction and death they had witnessed in the dragon war.
The castle itself had a simple design, four enormously high towers with a connecting wall between them. These walls were much higher… ten men high. The center was left open to allow for a garden atrium in times of peace, a soldier training camp in times of war and a last retreat in times of crisis. An unbelievably thick wooden door sealed the inner walls. When the castle itself had been completed, Toscc and Audra were deeply moved when the new townspeople of Grae donated decorative and useful goods to the effort of restocking the King and Queen’s new home. With his first official act as King, Toscc ordered a taxation waiver for any family that provided staple goods for the town and castle. As a result, farms of barley, wheat and livestock flourished. Blacksmiths kept good locks on homes, good shoes on animals and good swords in great supply. Alchemists developed mysterious potions that helped sickness, seeded mixtures that produced doubly tall wheat and the necessary components for the spell-casters that had taken up shelter behind the city walls.
Several small fruit trees had been planted in the atrium for the pleasure of the princess. It had taken nearly the whole ten winters for Audra to call the new Castle Grae home after the destructive war with Reign. She shivered at the thought of the evil wizard. The queen could see the new banners topping each tower blowing in the wind triumphantly. These new castle walls were nearly twice as high as its predecessor’s, but Audra knew that even these towering walls would be no match for an army of dragons. It was a good thing that the remaining dragon soldiers had disbanded. They had given up their warring ways with a promise from the human, elven and dwarven nations that they would no longer hunt the dragons. Some of these behemoths had developed close bonds with their compatriots, but most simply disappeared into the mountains hoarding the leftover spoils of Reign’s war.
The warmth of the sun brightened the queen’s mood. This was definitely home.
“So tell me,” Audra smiled a knowing smile, “what it is about this new boy that you hate so much.”
Toscc ran a hand through his too soon peppered hair. He shook his head, scratched a two day scruffy chin and inhaled as if ready to give a long deposition of the boy’s faults.
“He’s a stable hand, he’s not that bright, he’s studying swordplay,” he stuttered, “it’s… it’s… it’s just that I’ve got a bad feeling about him and I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best not to ignore those feelings.”
“Toscc,” she scolded, “they’re only ten. What’s the worst that could happen?”
The king stopped abruptly.
“He could talk her into running away and get her killed on some damned foolish …” he searched for the right words.
“Adventure?” she finished for him, “Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it, my king? He’s just a boy and she’s just a girl. A princess and a peasant, just like we were.”
“But you and I were different,” he pointed out; “we were much older than ten and besides you were in danger and the whole world was at stake.”
“If you remember, I was only sixteen,” she tapped his chest, “and you weren’t much older than seventeen. You didn’t even have hair on your chest!”
He laughed and took hold of her hand and pulled her close to him.
“I was nearly eighteen and aside from that I don’t even have hair on my chest now, your highness,” he kissed her, “if hairy chests are your thing, then perhaps Beauregard could—.”
They gasped almost simultaneously. Toscc blinked a few times and shook his head.
“Oh no,” he whispered, “I’m… I’m sorry, I…”
She brushed his cheek. Even though ten years had passed, the king was still grief stricken over the loss of his friend. Beauregard had given his life in the great dragon war to save Audra. Toscc somehow felt he couldn’t let go of this debt he owed the dwarf. He felt he had to find a way to honor Beauregard. He smiled as he remembered the friendship the dwarf had developed with Toscc’s pet dragon, Tarka. In many ways, Beauregard wasn’t quite as smart as a man, and Tarka was certainly smarter than an animal… it seemed that they had met in the middle.
Tarka, the now nearly full grown white dragon, was living north of the Glade with her parents, Thyran and Rhea. Toscc still saw her from time to time, but as she grew older, it became painfully obvious that she was a dragon and that he was a human. They would be acquaintances, but not much more. The king wondered if she and Beauregard would’ve grown apart in such a way.
Audra brushed a tear away that had slipped onto the king’s cheek.
“Promise me you’ll at least give the boy a chance,” she kissed him lightly, “he’s really very sweet.”
Toscc raised an eyebrow.
“Hmmph,” he harrumphed, “sounds to me like he’s been buttering up the queen.”
Audra winked at him.
“Well, maybe a little,” she laughed.
As they walked back toward the castle, Toscc pulled a ripe berryfruit from the closest tree. As he brought the fruit up to his mouth, an arrow sliced through the air, grabbed the fruit and stabbed its way into the far castle wall. Audra shrieked and Toscc jerked his head back. He was instantly red with fury. He gritted his teeth and turned in the direction of the arrow’s shooter. The trained monk began to concentrate his anger into the arcane magic that would bring deadly power to his fingertips… the killing touch of the quivering palm. It was a mythic talent passed down from ancient generations from the time of wars long past. A monk was defenseless without skilled training in weapons. This morose power was his only chance for survival.
A tall lumbering warrior was rushing over to them. His face was ashen with fear. Toscc was surprised to see it was Lothgar, the Barbarian. Instantly, the power drained from the king’s outstretched fingertips. Lothgar had served Audra’s father, the former King Montgomery, before he had been killed by a dark enchantress. He now served as faithful commander of the armies of the Kingdom of Grae and as personal guardian to Toscc and Audra’s family.
“Ancients preserve me, milord, I’m sorry to frighten you so,” he huffed as he reached the king and queen, “but there was no other way to reach you in time.”
“It’s alright, Lothgar,” Toscc put his hand on his shoulder, “but, by the gods, what were you doing?”
Audra was shaken, but relieved when she realized her husband was not the target of an assassination attempt. Lothgar’s face was visibly guilty for scaring them. His rock of a chin was creased with concern and his eyes flitted around the courtyard vigilantly.
“Milord,” the warrior reached over and picked another berryfruit from the tree, “the fruit is too dark.”
Audra spoke first, with a puzzled tone, “what do you mean, Lothgar?” she asked.
The giant man suddenly seemed to remember his courtly duties and bowed to the queen. They had always shared an intense bond. Lothgar had been a trusted confidant for her father, King Montgomery. More than that, he’d been like a brother to him.
“Milady, it has been saturated with a liquid,” the warrior stated showing off the dark berryfruit, “probably poison.”
Toscc rolled his eyes and laughed.
“Lothgar,” he started, “they’ve probably been watered by the caretakers. No one could tamper with these fruits without being seen by the guards.”
Lothgar took the fruit in his gauntleted hand and squeezed. Juice and fluid squirted on the ground at their feet. The grass immediately shriveled and withered into black ash.
“Sire,” Lothgar shook his head, “I would’ve known the difference.”
Toscc gaped at the burnt spot on the ground. Audra’s eyes were wide with fear. It was poison for sure… and not just any poison. Something this potent had to be magical, which meant that there was a wizard behind it. Audra clutched Toscc’s arm to her side. Suddenly, the tower walls did not seem like protection, but more like a prison.
“How can this be, Lothgar?” the king asked.
“I do not know, milord,” the warrior again looked pained, “but I vow to you that I will find out.”
The warrior’s expression revealed that, in his mind, he had failed – a failure with nearly dire consequences. He would not rest until this mystery was solved and the evil cause rooted out from the castle.
Lothgar turned to a stubby little dwarven soldier and shouted to him, “Bertram!”
Toscc couldn’t help but be reminded of his old friend as the even-shorter-than-Beauregard dwarf stumbled over toward them. His armor was a patchwork of mismatched pieces of tossed aside gear from the king’s soldiers. His grunty face was covered with perspiration from the short jog across the courtyard. It was also covered with what Toscc could only guess had to be dingleberry sauce. The king smiled to himself.
“Yessir?” Bertram wheezed as he approached.
Lothgar rolled his eyes and harrumphed. Would’ve never hired this one, he thought to himself… but he is Beauregard’s last family heir. The dwarf snapped to attention finally catching his breath.
“Bertram,” Lothgar regained his composure, “there is an intruder and we must...”
He wasn’t able to finish before Bertram had suddenly thrown himself to the ground and started to slink around noisily. Toscc threw a questioning look at Lothgar. The warrior simply shrugged.
“Bertram, what are you doing?” Lothgar crouched to ask him.
The dwarf clanked over near him and put his finger to his lips.
“Shhhhhh,” he wheezed, “the intruder might hear you. But not to worry sir, I’m on it.”
Lothgar stood up. Queen Audra caught a giggle in her throat just before it erupted into laughter.
“Bertram, stand up,” Lothgar said.
“But sirrrr,” the dwarf implored, “the intruder!”
Toscc was now having trouble not bursting into giggles at the sight. Lothgar stood towering over the clanking dwarf who was now using his hands to imitate a longseer glass.
Lothgar reached down and picked up the dwarf by the collar. Bertram instantly slouched. He sighed heavily and threw his hands to his hips and dangled limply.
“Sir, I know you have your reasons,” the dwarf stared, “but now my cover is blown.”
Lothgar knew there was only one way to get this situation under control. He put on his most conspiratorial face and looked sternly at Bertram.
“It’s alright,” he whispered, “because I need you to do something even more important.”
The dwarf’s eyes went wide. He pointed his finger at his own chest questioningly.
“Yes, you,” Lothgar nodded, “I need you to find out who the intruder is… and where they have gone.”
The warrior set the dwarf back on the ground. As soon as his feet hit, he snapped to attention in a starched salute. Lothgar saluted back and the dwarf clanked back toward the castle as quickly and loudly as possible.
Suddenly, his feet caught on themselves crashing the stubby dwarf to the ground. Pieces of armor broke loose and rolled and clanged around the courtyard. He turned a brightly flushed face back toward Lothgar, saluted quickly again and began scurrying around to retrieve his scattered armament.
Lothgar sighed heavily and slapped his hand to his forehead. He knew the dwarf wouldn’t find out who the intruder was, but he did know that if Betram raised enough alarm amongst the soldiers… the intruder might make a mistake and reveal himself.
“Kriiisteenn,” a small voice wheezed from outside Princess Kristen’s room. Toscc had her room built in the very top of the southernmost tower… away from the front gate. Audra had softened the cold stone room with tall hanging tapestries depicting myths and legends from the time of the ancients. One of the elder ladies of the town had even gone so far as to weave a new tapestry depicting the heroics of Toscc and his friends in the dragon war. Lavender and gold bedclothes and linens draped softly on a tremendous bed at the center of the room. High wooden posts reached for the distant domed ceiling. Two narrow windows allowed light to haze its way into the room and candles were scattered around the room on posts and sconces for the night.
Kristen rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders as she tugged open the massive oak door.
“Some knight in shining armor you are, Syd” she harrumphed as the young boy scurried into her chamber. He was slightly shorter than she was and had the unkempt look typical of a stable hand. She wasn’t really sure if his hair and clothing were truly brown or if they were just blanched with boyish dust and dirt. But she did think his brown eyes and sun burnt nose were cute… in a way.
“I’m not even a squire yet,” he whined, “and besides, there’s a soldier guard out there now. I had to tell him I was your tutor in weaving to get up here.”
Kristen’s face flushed red with anger. Syd thought he even saw some orange creep into her cheeks as well. She clenched her fists until her knuckles turned white and threw the door open wide. A startled soldier jerked his head toward her. She opened her mouth to let him have a piece of her mind.
“Who in the blaz—“ she started, but Syd quickly clapped his hand over her mouth.
“Weaving can be a frustrating thing,” he shrugged grinning sheepishly at the guard.
The armor clad chaperone rolled his eyes as Syd struggled to pull Kristen back into her room. He unceremoniously dumped her on the white frilly bed and quickly closed the door.
He turned back toward the princess and wouldn’t have believed a face could become purple with rage if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. He held up both hands to try and ward off the coming fury. Kristen’s mouth opened but only stuttering bursts of wrath tumbled out.
“What do you… I mean are you…,” she blurted furiously, “how could you?!?”
She hoisted herself up off the enormous downy bed and headed for him fully intent on planting a princessly slap directly on his face. Luckily his hands were up so he caught her attack easily and pinned her hands to her side.
“Just hold on a second,” he tried desperately to calm her, “think about this. If you raise a fuss now, we’ll never even get to see each other.”
She struggled against his hands, but he was just too strong, he was a boy after all. Inwardly, she promised to get stronger before this happened again!
“Ok, ok,” she shrugged, “you can let me go, I won’t do anything.”
Slowly, Syd released her arms. What he got in return was the hardest slap on his cheek that he had ever felt.
“You deserved that,” she pointed directly into his eyes, “no one tells a princess what to do.”
The boy rubbed his cheek gingerly and smiled. He bowed deeply in a mocking manner.
“Forgive me, your highness,” he droned in a haughty sneer, “the peasant begs your pardon.”
“Oh shut up,” she shook her head and walked over to the northern tower window.
At the center of the town’s walls, she could see the moat and drawbridge. The gate was wide open during this time of day, but at night it would be raised and she would again be a prisoner in her own home. Beyond the moat she could see the ocean of golden fields of wheat and barley swimming in the breeze and just on the other side, the forest, emerald green and mysterious. Her father hunted in those woods in the autumn season, the kitchen maids sorted through the trees for herbs and spices in the spring, even her mother took an occasional summer horseback ride along streams and ponds. Places Kristen had never seen. She sighed heavily and turned back toward Syd.
“I just wish I didn’t have to stay inside the castle all the time,” she walked over and plopped down on her bed, “They think I’m still a little girl and can’t take care of myself.”
Syd sat down beside her.
“You are just a little girl,” he started, “anyways, it’s not that great, I mean, it’s just trees and rocks and ponds and stuff.”
Her eyes went wide.
“What?!?” she gaped, “you’ve been in the forest?”
Oh, great, he thought to himself, now you’ve done it.
“Yeah, I’ve been there a few times, but never more than an hours walk from the edge,” he began, “my mother used to take us when she needed some roots or berries. But that was a long time ago.”
“What was it like?” the princess was now clearly entranced in his tale.
“I dunno,” he shrugged, “there’s trees and rocks and ponds with little orange fish.”
“Orange fish!” she gasped, “they must be magic!”
She stood up suddenly and grabbed his hand. She pulled him up and over to the window.
“Where?” she pushed him to look out the window, “show me where you went in.”
He shook his head.
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” he raised his hands with the palms up.
The red tinge started to boil in her cheeks again and she raised a hand as if to warn him that a slap was in the making.
“Alright, alright,” he backed up a step, “I’ll show you.”
Kristen put her hand down and her normal color returned as she nodded.
“See how easy that was?” she pointed to the window, “now show me.”
Syd took a deep breath and turned to the view. He pointed to a small trail to the north of the castle.
“See that pathway there?” he asked.
She nodded her head. A small break in the trees revealed a slightly worn entrance. She could hardly see beyond the forest’s edge though, night was quickly falling.
“Just into the woods there is the pond with the orange fish,” he paused, “or at least they used to be there.”
She snapped her head around to face him. He inhaled at the resolve he saw forming in her bright glittering blue eyes. He would’ve thought she was very pretty if he liked girls yet…
“Take me there,” she said.
He put his palms up again.
“Oh no,” he backed away from her trying to escape a sure slap, “I don’t think that’s a good idea at all.”
She put her hands on her hips and gritted her teeth, but then softened into a pleading smile.
“It’s ok, I’ll tell mother we’re going,” she lied, “anyway, I just want to go far enough to see the pond… and then come right back.”
“No,” Syd crossed his arms, “I won’t do it. The last time you asked me to do something like this I got into so much trouble that I wasn’t even aloud to go out to do my chores!”
“But that was different,” she grinned, “that silly washwoman shouldn’t be afraid of toads anyway.”
Syd tried desperately to hide a smile remembering how he had hidden a tree toad in the clean linens at Kristen’s suggestion. The washwoman had been so scared she had run frantically screaming and wailing back toward the castle… unfortunately she was in such a frenzy she ran right into the moat. It took three gate guards to successfully lift her and her linens from the muck.
Syd looked toward the window. The darkness was thick now and torches were beginning to glow here and there around the castle.
“Well, I won’t go tonight,” he stated flatly.
“In the morning,” Kristen beamed, “we’ll go first thing in the morning and be back before anyone knows we’re gone.”
Syd sighed heavily as he opened her door to leave. He knew this could only end in a long punishment, but if it made her happy, it was worth it. He turned and walked down the long stairway from her room. The guard was snoring loudly.
As he closed the door at the bottom of the tower, the strangest feeling came over him that he was being watched. He looked around, but night had shrouded the entire courtyard in darkness. Bad omen, he thought to himself. But he shrugged it off and headed home never seeing the figure slinking in the shadows.
And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak and I promise to get this thing done and released to you ever faithful reader!
David F. Berens