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Authors: S. Andrew Swann

Dragon Thief

BOOK: Dragon Thief
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Praise for
Dragon • Princess
by S. Andrew Swann:

“A dark madcap quest filled with educational (and often bloody) identity crises. The tragicomedy is never deep, but it's plenty of fun.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“Swann piles on some inventive mishaps with a lavish hand. . . . Add a nicely unconventional ‘happy' ending, and it's a fun romp for fans of funny fantasy.”

—
Locus

“An amusing lighthearted quest fantasy . . . uses the concept of movies like
Freaky Friday
to tell a fun tale, through the filter of a mediocre thief.”

—Genre Go Round

“A plot twist that you really don't see coming. . . . You can connect with the characters and ultimately understand the decisions they make.
Dragon Princess
is a good story for those who like an adventurous fantasy to enjoy.”

—Fresh Fiction

“Fun without being fluffy, and entertaining without being inane. It straddles the line between humorous fantasy and some of the darker stuff and does so with style.
Dragon Princess
has wit, action, and hilarity in equal measures and should prove an enjoyable read for those looking for something fast-paced and fun. I hope the author does more in this vein, because I enjoyed the writing style and would love to see Frank and Lucille's further adventures.”

—Owlcat Mountain


Dragon Princess
is full of witty banter, comical situations, irreverent humor, and loads of twisted irony.”

—That's What I'm Talking About

DAW Novels from S. ANDREW SWANN

Fantasy:

DRAGONS & DWARVES

(The Dragons of the Cuyahoga | The Dwarves of Whiskey Island)

*

BROKEN CRESCENT

*

GOD'S DICE

*

DRAGON • PRINCESS

DRAGON • THIEF

Fiction:

ZIMMERMAN'S ALGORITHM

Science Fiction:

THE HOSTILE TAKEOVER TRILOGY

(Profiteer | Partisan | Revolutionary)

THE MOREAU NOVELS

FORESTS OF THE NIGHT

EMPERORS OF THE TWILIGHT

SPECTERS OF THE DAWN

FEARFUL SYMMETRIES

(Available in two new omnibus editions Fall 2015 from DAW!)

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Swiniarski.

All Rights Reserved.

Cover art by Omar Rayyan.

Cover design by G-Force Design.

DAW Book Collectors No. 1687.

DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).

All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

Nearly all the designs and trade names in this book are registered trademarks. All that are still in commercial use are protected by United States and international trademark law.

ISBN 978-0-698-16395-9

DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES —MARCA REGISTRADA HECHO EN U.S.A.

Version_1

CONTENTS

Praise for Dragon S. Andrew Swann

Also by S. Andrew Swann

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER 36

CHAPTER 37

This one is for Joe, who's jealous of the princessgetting all the attention.

CHAPTER 1

My name is Frank Blackthorne, and I'm going to tell you a story.

Bear in mind that I'm making the radical assumption that you, my audience, have been paying attention. For those of you who are late to my story, here is what you need to know:

I began as a semi-accomplished thief. An unscrupulous wizard allegedly working for the Royal Court of Lendowyn conned me into attempting to rescue the king's daughter from a dragon.

Any sane individual could tell from that premise that all was not as it seemed, and they would be correct. The “rescue” was an intricate plot by said wizard to grab hold of a peerage by winning the princess's hand in marriage.

Any sane individual could tell you that such plans are likely to go awry, and, again, they would be correct. It went wrong in a spectacular fashion, resulting in a cascade of mishaps both magical and mundane.

Those mishaps left me in the body of Princess Lucille, said princess in the dragon's body as my prince and husband, the aforesaid dragon in the wizard's body in an elfland jail for outstanding gambling debts, and the aptly named wizard, Elhared the Unwise, in my body and quite dead, leaving us no way to untangle the mess.

 • • • 

The story at hand begins midwinter, five months after I had been princessified, inside a tavern about five miles from the capital of the Duchy of Dermonica, in a small town just on the right side of the border with the Kingdom of Grünwald.

I huddled alone at a table in a shadowed corner of the common room. I warmed myself with a hot tankard of spiced cider, keeping watch on the other patrons and the door, a black cloak draped over my elven leather armor, looking as little like a princess as I could without being obvious about it.

As to why I was in Dermonica: Now that the princess was no longer available for marriage, her main substantive role that did not seem to involve painfully elaborate dresses and painfully tedious royal festivities was diplomacy.

In theory it should have been the one part of the job that exercised my own aptitudes to any degree—specifically aptitudes in duplicity and concocting elaborate straight-faced lies. Generally I would have preferred sneaking around and lifting people's purses, but I like to think of myself as adaptable.

The diplomatic mission from Lendowyn was officially here in Dermonica to open talks of trade with the duke. No small task, since for half a century all that had crossed the border between Dermonica and Lendowyn had been the occasional insult.

When I had agreed to join the mission with the prince—the Dragon Lucille—I think I had a more optimistic view of my role. I wasn't here to negotiate anything. That's what the ministers and the prince were for. I was here to give an additional royal imprimatur to the proceedings, nod my head, and approve of the negotiations conducted around me.

Basically I was a prop, and it was even more boring than holding court at Lendowyn.

The bright side was that, after months sealed within the royal cocoon in Lendowyn, I could at least see new people—and once I used my professional skills to slip away unseen from the diplomatic mission—those people weren't the so-called aristocracy or their minions.

That was the reason I sat in this tavern five miles away from where I was supposed to be, and a mile from somewhere I should never go again unless I wanted to start a war. I needed a break from my new life.

The Dragon Lucille, from all appearances, had taken the transition from princess to scary fire-breathing lizard rather well. Despite some tears at the start, she now seemed to revel enthusiastically in her draconic glory. At times I felt maybe a little
too
enthusiastically—which might have been the one point of agreement on anything between me and her father, King Alfred the Strident.

By contrast, becoming Princess Frank, despite undergoing what would objectively seem a much less radical transformation, left me feeling as if I was having a much tougher go of it. After the initial chaos of our transformation—facing down Queen Fiona of Grünwald and the Dark Lord Nâtlac himself—the lack of dire threats to me or the people around me left me too much time to ponder my own discomfort.

Discomfort that, five times now, had a habit of becoming distressingly physical.

My first experience with cyclic feminine distress had been a few days after the wedding. I had initially panicked and thought I had been suffering from delayed internal injuries caused during the battle with the late Queen Fiona's minions. Or perhaps I had fallen prey to some evil disease brought on by contact with the Dark Lord Nâtlac, and the illness was finally rotting away my insides.

Political marriage of convenience or not, I didn't think my husband's laughter was an appropriate reaction to my screams of horror. It certainly didn't make me feel any better.

That incident, and the four repetitions since, had given me an appreciation for every woman I had ever run across who had appeared happy, calm, or relatively sane. It was also a literal gut-level reminder of what I had lost.

One thing I had lost, in particular.

Whatever my outward appearance or internal symptoms; I was still me, and there are some itches I needed to scratch, at least occasionally, or I started to get cranky. I couldn't turn to Lucille, my husband and one friend in the royal court, because— even had my transformation brought with it a preference for male companionship—her being a dragon made anything of the sort physically impossible. And creepy.

And, while I could probably find any number of retainers and hangers-on in the Lendowyn court who would willingly help the princess out with such an issue,
that
itself was part of the problem. Everyone involved in the aristocracy at any level spent every waking moment engaged in endless game-playing and constant jockeying for power. The constant conspiratorial atmosphere made the environment around Lendowyn Castle stifling. For me, at least, it killed the mood.

But things had gotten to the point that it forced me to engage in the same kind of elaborate plotting that I found so unappealing in noble circles. In defense of that particular hypocrisy, my goals were a bit more modest than was typical for such royal shenanigans.

So here I was, on my own personal covert mission.

I stared into my half-empty tankard and sighed. I glanced around the tavern at the few retainers who stood silent guard at opposite corners of the common room. They were part of a cadre that was fiercely loyal to the princess—at least to the role she had taken after I had defeated the late Queen Fiona of Grünwald. I found it depressing that I wasn't even able to conduct my own skulduggery on my own.

But I wasn't crazy. Even if I didn't look the role of the princess at the moment, I still
was
the princess, with all the baggage that entailed. In this world it was risky enough just being female and attractive without an escort. Add in the possibility of royal intrigue and . . .

I felt nostalgic for the days when all I had to worry about was the local Thieves' Guild threatening to break my fingers.

At least I could afford better booze now.

Out the windows the evening had gone full black, and I couldn't see a thing beyond the lamplight in the common room. Conversation swirled around me; the room was packed with travelers, mostly tradesmen and merchants. Out of habit I found myself sizing up the patrons, judging the weight of their pouches and the state of their inebriation.

If I wanted, I could probably paste on a smile, lower the hood of my cloak, and slip up to the table with the trio of Delmarkian tradesmen who were busy committing drunken crimes against the folk songs of their homeland. You couldn't ask for better targets for a pickpocket's skill, and given my current status as a member of the fair sex, I suspected I could slip my hands inside a belt or two without any objection.

I stared at the fat drunken northerners and came up with a few objections of my own and quickly returned to my cider, shuddering a little internally.

It wasn't that I hadn't been trying to adapt to my current gender, but the fact was my entire life up to a few months ago trumped any arguments nature and this body could come up with. It didn't help that, so far, every male whom I'd run into who happened to be on the same side of that argument as nature and my body hadn't been that concerned about my consent. The last person who had tried to consummate that sort of impulse had ended up with a lethal rearrangement of his neck bones.

It had been unintentional on my part, but over time I'd found my guilt fading over the incident.

I looked at the singing tradesmen again.

It was getting harder and harder to imagine picking up the pieces of my old life, and dealing with my new one hadn't become any easier. If I was honest with myself—and there's a first time for everything—my little covert activity away from the diplomatic mission stank of desperation. This was the fifth day in a row I had slipped away. I only had a couple of days more.

In the end, royal conspiracies may just have been more than I was cut out for. It was sort of a shame. Given my position in the royal household—even one as impoverished as that of Lendowyn—a proper thieving mindset should be able to leverage
that
into ill-gotten riches beyond the wildest imaginings of pre-princess Frank Blackthorne. In my darkest moments, I had begun suspecting that I had lost more than the obvious in the transition.

I drained the cold dregs of cider, dropped the tankard on the table, and got up to leave.

“I guess it's not going to happen,” I whispered, resigned to another night alone.

I was about to vacate the table and the suddenly depressing venue, when the door opened letting in a swirl of snow and a fur-draped mountain carved into the vague likeness of a barbarian warrior decked out in the unmistakable spiked black armor of Grünwald.

Actually, referring to him as a warrior was being too generous. I hadn't known Brock to show competence at any martial skill aside from enthusiasm. Fortunately for him, his skill was rarely tested since, being an intimidating mass with a girth almost equal to his considerable height, potential foes mostly found reason to advance directly away from him. Despite all that, he'd taken a dagger in his substantial gut for Lucille, so his heart was in the right place.

I had already convinced myself that my covert mission had been a failure, and for a moment, seeing Brock returned, standing alone in the doorway, confirmed my fears. Then a smaller figure stepped out from behind him. The new person wore a fur-lined cloak and lowered the hood as she stepped into the tavern. As she shook the snow off herself, I couldn't stop myself from grinning.

She had come.

The woman underneath the cloak had the same blonde hair and blue eyes as the Princess Lucille had bequeathed to me. Beyond that, she had slightly more generous height and more than slightly more generous curves than I had at the moment. Her face was a bit more angelic than I remembered, though that was discounting the rather worldly half-smile that crossed her lips as she caught my eye.

Her name was Evelyn, and she was a tavern wench from an inn named The Three-Legged Boar located in the city of Brightwood, the capital of Grünwald. The last time I had seen her I had been in need of a tavern wench's outfit—long story—so Brock and I had stripped her, tied her up, and had shoved her in an empty beer barrel. It was consensual, and an exchange of money was involved, but I had still been worried that the experience might have soured her on further contact with me.

On the off chance it hadn't, I had sent Brock to invite her for a second meeting. Brock, specifically because he was known to Evelyn, could credibly say he was running an errand for me, and could cross the border into Grünwald without risking a war.

Evelyn walked over to my empty table and sat down across from me. “It is you,” she said. “I thought you had forgotten about me.”

Brock watched her come over, shook his head, and walked off to another table.

“I haven't forgotten,” I told her, “though I do have an admission.”

“Yes?”

“I didn't send Brock across the border so I could return your clothes.”

She had an honest laugh. She touched the back of my hand and said, “I know.”

If I had needed any confirmation that inhabiting the body of a virginal princess hadn't changed my preference for intimate company, her touch confirmed it. Different places got warm now, but they meant the same thing.

She leaned forward and whispered, “So you're a princess?”

I sighed and nodded.

“Why me?” she asked.

“Pardon?”

“Why bring me here? I'm sure that there are plenty of people, men and women, would be happy to... do your bidding?” She didn't look into my eyes as she talked, and she traced lazy circles across the back of my hand with her finger.

I thought of politics, court intrigue, and the fact that at Lendowyn Castle my every move was watched. “Because you were honestly interested in me.”

BOOK: Dragon Thief
3.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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