Authors: Klay Testamark
Also by Klay Testamark
Wyvern Hunters (novella)
Book 3 of the First Realm Saga
© 2015 Klay Testamark
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, are used fictitiously.
This book is for Lisa, Ally, and Glen II. My loving family, who supported me in more ways than I can count.
I’d like to thank editor Joe Galindez and illustrator Carlos Herrera for their assistance with this book.
Maps and Illustrations
Heronimo dashed forward, sword aiming to cut my head off. I raised my broadsword and barely deflected it.
“Raagh!” He hacked at my guard with his own broadsword, forcing me to retreat. I met every blow with the strong of my blade. Heronimo made a fist with his free hand and swung. I ducked and punched him with the basket hilt. Back and forth we went, trading cuts and swipes. Forward and back we went, parrying high and low. I lunged, unleashing a flurry of sword strikes. My silver right arm did not tire. Heronimo retreated, then came at me with a running attack.
“Yah!” He angled my blade out of the way then got me in the nose with a pommel strike. His other hand snaked around my guard and wrenched my sword from me. Then he stiff-armed me to the ground.
I came up rolling. He came in swinging. I dashed to the right and put a table between us. He threw it aside with a roar but it gave me time to grab an arming sword from the wall. He cut high but I met his blade with the my own and countered. He leaped back but I cut a red line into his belly. “Ha!” I said.
I led with a thrust. The old-fashioned blade was good at that. He blocked and I cut him in the return stroke—the blade was good at that too. I ducked a mighty blow and we locked blades, basket hilt to crossguard, until I remembered I was wrestling with a Northlander and kicked him in the shin. He retreated, then swiped at my leg. “Ow!” I said.
So I took some flesh out of his cheek. He roared and drove me back. I parried, parried, we locked blades and he pushed me into a weapons stand. I lost my sword. A kick sent me windmilling out the room.
“Yaaaaaugh!” He charged out. I threw a chair in his way and drew a two-handed sabre from the wall. I brandished it in his face and he decided to change weapons to another two-handed sabre.
It was too much like his favourite weapon. I needed to disarm him fast. I rammed him with my shoulder but he muscled me aside. He slashed and my head almost went rolling. I tumbled backward and batted his sword away. We fenced with our two-handed weapons, the blades clanging and rebounding. He cut me in the left shoulder but I twisted his sword out of his hands and into a painting. “Ha!” I said. He put a chair between us but I leaped onto it, slashing as it fell.
Aunt Marilla rounded a corner with some towels.
she said. We sidestepped away from her. I went for a diagonal cut but Heronimo pushed off the wall and I only tore another painting. He tackled me around the waist and I rained pommel strikes on his head and shoulders. I slammed into a wall and he grabbed me by both wrists. He shook the sword from my hand and threw me through a doorway.
I knocked over a suit of armour and we clattered to the ground. I seized a throwing axe from the wall and hurled it through the doorway. It nearly split Heronimo’s shoulder. I took up rapier and buckler and chased him out of the library. He found another rapier in the gallery and back and forth we went. The long thrusting swords struck like serpents, quickly and decisively and from odd angles. He manoeuvred me to the edge of the stairs and almost knocked me over.
Down the steps we fought, with him thrusting low and me parrying high. We reached the ground floor without injury but then I leaped over the bannister and tried to pierce his kidneys. Up the steps we fought. I threw a chair down the stairs and ran to the battlements. He charged through the door, as I expected. I grabbed his sword by the unsharpened ricasso and gave him an elbow to the jaw. Too late I saw he’d picked up a dagger—I leaped back as he cut a red line in my belly.
We fenced under the open sky, batting away each other’s attacks with buckler and dagger. I tried to back him up against the parapet but he feinted and kicked me off the walls. Down I went! But he’d kicked me over the southwest courtyard and a tree was there to break my fall. I landed in a shower of leaves.
“Yaaaaah!” Heronimo said, leaping after me. I scrambled to my feet and ran for a weapon. Fortunately, this was Veneanar Castle—you were never far from a weapon. I found a battle-axe and scooped it up just as Heronimo grabbed another axe.
I got an overhead block up just in time. I got him in the jaw with the butt end but he rallied. I ducked and he chopped into a tree. I lunged but he kicked me and worked the blade free. No woodsman’s tools, these axes. The blades were light and cleaver-sharp, the oaken hafts five feet long. We sidestepped out of the grove and squared off in the courtyard.
With a grating roar he swung his axe. He made to cleave my head. I raised my guard but it was a feint, he went low and hooked my front leg. “Aah!” I said. I hit the ground and rolled.
he buried the blade in the grass behind me. I cut at his legs and he leaped. I got to my feet and ran. He chased me to the fountain. I turned. I’d held my axe behind me. Now I slung it around in a wide arc. He danced away but not before I sliced his upper arm.
“Aaarrgh!” He came in chopping, throwing his weapon over his head and bearing down with heavy arms. I blocked, blocked, parried. His axe flicked out and glanced off my silver arm.
We locked blades. I tried twisting mine free but he jerked it out of my grip. I followed my axe in and elbowed him in the head. He tried to bring his axe up but I jammed it against his chest and rained punches on his face. “Hah!” I said. He threw me off but I got his axe. I threw it aside and we continued with our fists.
I was completely outmatched. Heronimo was stronger, bigger, and like all Northlanders he’d been brawling since he was a toddler. He punched me twice and threw me into the fountain. He waded in to drown me when Cruix dropped out of the sky.
The dragon was opening his mouth when I realized what was happening. I reached up. Light danced in the grooves of my silver arm. Every drop of water in the fountain leaped into the air.
The first drop hit an invisible surface and flattened. Another drop struck the first one and spread, hardening as it did so. More droplets came and the ice thickened, forming edges and corners. It became a three-sided slab and it hung there as the air filled with ice.
The pieces snapped together just in time. The dragon’s breath struck the ice dome and washed it in sheets of flame. The dome began to melt and steam. I had accounted for this, however. The steam carried off the heat and kept us cool long enough. When the ice shattered Heronimo and I were protected by full-powered stoneskin spells. We barely felt the fire when it hit.
I opened my eyes and saw Cruix standing over me. He grinned. Dragons don’t have facial expressions but I knew this one well enough to know when he was mocking me.
“What did I tell you about joining our practice?” I asked. “I said no dragons!”
“It’s common sense! You’re a huge flying murderbeast. You have armoured scales. You have claws, teeth, and drop-dead breath. Exactly how are we supposed to spar on an equal basis?”
“I could give myself a handicap. If I bite your head off it only counts as half a point.”
“That’s the sort of thing that makes me nervous. Why can’t you change into an elf and pick up a sword? It doesn’t count against our
He flared his wings. “I can’t fight in that puny body! And why spar with Heronimo when he’s got a magical healing factor?”
“Because he can’t weaponize it.”
“Ow!” Heronimo had stepped too soon and caught his leg on the edge of the fountain. It was still hot.
“See what I mean?”
I’ve been asked why I’m friends with Cruix. Why do I keep him around, when he has nothing but contempt for anyone who isn’t a dragon? He’s the only dragon in the world, so that’s a lot of contempt. On a good day it translates to insults, dirty looks, and the occasional murder attempt. On a bad day, well, I’ve paid more than one farmer for the loss of his livestock.
To answer the question, Cruix isn’t all that bad. He tried to kill me when we were sharing a body, but I can’t hold that against him. It was a life-or-death situation. We hadn’t asked to share headspace with one another. Neither of us wanted the survival of one to mean the death of the other.
A desperate magical working had allowed us both to survive. It had been difficult, dangerous, and painful. I can’t stress how painful—I still had nightmares where I had to eat my right arm all over again. Only this time I was an elf, with only an elf’s puny teeth.
The point is that it hadn’t been personal. We’d been like enemy soldiers. After the conflict, we had no reason to hate each other. In fact, we had things in common. We were both orphans. We were both one-of-a-kind misfits. He was the last of his species and I was the first elven prince in centuries.
I’ve often been asked how I feel about living with a dragon, when dragons and elves have been enemies for much of history. I point out that the Dragon Wars were over long before Cruix was born, to say nothing of when I was born. Our races had tried to exterminate each other, but neither of us had been there.
To be honest, it’s fun to see how people react when I show up with a dragon in my entourage. The society matrons disapprove, of course, but that only enhances my image with the younger women.
Cruix isn’t without honour. In Corinthe Citadel, before I’d started chewing on my arm, I’d extracted promises from him. One was that there was to be peace between him and the humanoid races, at least until my coronation. I was going to say
but elves are long-lived too, and we know promises like that are impossible to keep. I didn’t have much time to think about it, but I though that by the time I was king Cruix would have bonded with enough people to no longer be a danger. And if he still was, well, I’d have an army.
In the thirty-one years we’ve known each other, Cruix has never hurt anyone. Not seriously, anyway. Current behaviour has to count for something.
I’m friends with the dragon because I don’t hold our meeting against him, because we aren’t that different, because the association has its upsides, and because there are a lot of things worth admiring about him. Nobody’s as lonely as Cruix, but you don’t see him crying.
There’s also the fact that we need each other politically. Many people believe in the silly old prophecy, especially the part where the last dragon and I were supposed to be like brothers. Mina believes that if Cruix and I were to stop being friends, we would lose the public approval that has shielded us from so much unpleasantness. Many nobles have grown used to the lack of central authority. They’d think nothing of removing me from board. As for Cruix, there’s the Elendil Order, the families of the mages we killed, and the pressure group BADD.