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Authors: B. V. Larson

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The Dragon-Child

BOOK: The Dragon-Child
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Books by B. V. Larson

HYBOREAN DRAGONS SERIES

To Dream with the Dragons

The Dragon-Child

Of Shadows and Dragons

The Swords of Corium

The Sorcerer’s Bane

The Dragon Wicked

HAVEN SERIES

Amber Magic

Sky Magic

Shadow Magic

Dragon Magic

Blood Magic

OTHER BOOKS

Swarm

Extinction

Mech

Mech 2

Shifting

Velocity

Visit www.BVLarson.com for more information.

The Dragon-Child

(Hyborean Dragons #2)

by

B. V. Larson

Copyright © 2011 by the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

From the Chronicles of the Black Sun:

Seeking to rekindle the Sun over his lands, the newly-crowned King of Hyborea dared to dream with the Dragons. Therian found an interested—if not sympathetic—ally in Anduin the Black. He beseeched her for aid. The Dragon in turn charged King Therian with tasks to become her champion upon the Earth:

 “And then you must retrieve my children, as we agreed,” she said. She looked down upon King Therian’s companion, the barbarian rogue known as Gruum. “Also, young King, you must retrieve that which this jackal has stolen from you.”

-1-

Upon returning from Anduin’s domain, Gruum found weeks had past, although it seemed to him he had spent but a single night in the Black Dragon’s strange domain. Therian laid plans to take to the sea at the first opportunity to fulfill the Anduin’s demands. The ice, however, had other designs. It was more than a month before the blue-white floes broke enough to allow ships to leave the harbor.

Therian prepared carefully. He took pains to disguise their departure, telling his staff he would be away on a diplomatic journey of a discreet nature. By this time, the various stewards and councilors who had survived the first year of his reign gave him no argument. They murmured their approval and shuffled away, backing and bowing until they were out of his sight. Their velvet slippers made only the softest, whispering sounds on the flagstones. No doubt, Gruum thought, they would all be glad to see their grim King leave for as long as possible.

They opted to depart quietly when the shipping lanes finally reopened for the season, making no fanfare about it. Identifying himself only as a Hyborean noble who sought warmer climes, a common enough theme among passengers leaving Corium, Therian took passage upon a nondescript smuggler’s vessel. They had reasoned that a Hyborean dreadnought, cruising toward southern ports, would surely warn the Queen of their arrival and give her time to flee. Barely forty paces in length, the
Innsmouth
was a ratty, two-masted brig with a mob of lean-muscled, gap-toothed men for a crew. The ship left the harbor ice behind and sailed away southward, unnoticed by the cheerless people of Corium.

After visiting several of the nearest southern ports, they had found nothing. When they put silver into dirty palms and asked to be led to fine ladies, they found themselves presented with cackling crones and whores with missing clumps of hair.

Gruum noted that Therian had spoken no more words to him about the Queen’s escape. He felt relieved, hoping that the issue had been resolved between them, at least for now. He wondered how things might go if they did indeed meet the fair Lady Sloan again.

To curious crewmen, they traveled as a Hyborean lord whose lands had been lost to the glaciers, accompanied by his last faithful man-at-arms. It was a believable enough guise, and none questioned it. After learning more of Therian, the inquiries stopped. Word got around that asking questions of the moody noble was a dangerous pastime.

With each passing week, Therian became more sullen and resolute. He spoke little, and the crew responded by falling quiet in his presence. As they traveled from port to port, Therian became known as a man who was quick to anger. It was said he often dueled with common folk in dimly-lit side streets. These fights would always end in bloodshed and, some whispered, a vile curse. Gruum suspected that Therian picked upon the surliest of the dock scum in the ports they visited that he might draw their strength from them and thus keep up his own. Over time, everyone came to avoid him.

At the least, Gruum reflected, this far south the sun did give a hint of warmth, although it was only a fraction of what it had provided a decade ago. As was his habit of late, Gruum took to the stern deck and sat beside the First Mate, Karn.

“Hail, Gruum,” said Karn, an easy-going man whom Gruum had come to like. He wore a cap of black felt and pantaloons of ragged silk. He offered Gruum a jack of hot mead, which Gruum took and sipped contentedly.

“Well met,” replied Gruum. “This mead will do the trick to take the chill out of a cold evening.”

The helmsman stood nearby. He was a saturnine man who took his job most seriously, and did not even acknowledge the other two. He worked the creaking wheel, his eyes distant as he watched the stars and the currents with dark, vigilant eyes.

“Good to see you, Gruum. How is your master this evening?” asked Karn.

“Sullen, and in a foul mood.”

Karn nodded, sipping his mead. “Still no hint as to his lady fair?”

Gruum shot the man a glance. Did everyone aboard know of his master’s search for a lost woman? He hesitated, but then decided that secrets weren’t meant to be kept upon a ship at sea. “No, no sign.”

“Ah, lost love has a way of warping a man’s soul.”

Gruum nodded, taking a heavy gulp of mead. It ran hotly down his throat and exploded with warmth in his belly. “Yes, it does indeed.”

None of them spoke for a time. The sea furled at the prow and splashed up the sides of the ship. The sails overhead ruffled and snapped in the chill winds.

“And how is
your
master this evening?” Gruum asked finally.

Karn gave him a glance, and smiled. “Sullen, and in as foul a mood as yours. I imagine he is abusing the cabin boy again.”

Gruum grunted. Karn’s master, the Captain of the
Innsmouth
, was indeed a brute.

The deck creaked behind them. It was their only warning.

Gruum ducked as something swished over his head. Karn was not so lucky. A heavy pinion of stout hardwood caught him in the ear and dashed him to the deck.

Gruum rolled and came up with his saber in his hand.

There, drunken and swaying, stood the hulking shape of the
Innsmouth’s
captain. A very large man, he loomed over them. His huge arms seemed to hang down to his knees. “So, drinking on watch again, Karn?”

Gruum lowered his saber and stepped back uncertainly. This was a matter between the ship’s master and his mate.

The Captain eyed Gruum. “Aye, you’d best be putting that toy away, little man.”

Gruum glowered, but did not raise his saber. He stood beside the helmsman, who quietly watched the scene with inscrutable eyes.

Karn took this moment of distraction to spring up and attack his master. A sliver of steel flashed in his hand. The Captain whirled back to face him, faster than his bulk and his drunken state should have allowed. Karn slashed open the Captain’s arm, but the pinion rose and came down again, dashing Karn to the deck a second time.

Karn sprang back up and circled the bigger man, a dagger plainly in his hand. He favored his left side, which no doubt now carried a set of broken ribs.

“You’ll take your thrashing and like it,” breathed the Captain. “Put away that tiny blade or it will go the worse for you.”

“I’ve taken my last beating on his ship,” Karn snarled. “You are my master no longer.”

Gruum looked around and realized that many of the crewmen had slipped up from below decks and were watching the fight. He was surprised that none moved to stop it. But then, perhaps they would cheer if Karn slit the huge bastard’s throat.

The Captain lashed out with the pinion again, but this time Karn darted to one side and thrust his dagger into a meaty shoulder. The Captain howled and slammed his fist into the smaller man, sending him reeling back. Again, Karn circled.

Therian appeared at Gruum’s side. “An opportunity,” he said quietly.

Gruum turned to him. Therian looked weak and drawn. Seeker was out, but its twin Succor was still sheathed.

“Milord?” asked Gruum.

“I’m tired of fish and seabirds. Their tiny lives do nothing to warm my bones on this freezing ocean.”

So saying, Therian approached the two sparring men.

They paid him no attention, until he stepped close and without ceremony thrust Seeker’s tip into Karn’s side. The man howled and twisted upon the sword.

Everyone staggered back, stunned. Therian eyed them, his teeth tightly clenched. “He took up a weapon against his rightful Captain,” he cried aloud, addressing the surprised crew. “On any ship, the Captain is as a lord over the crewmen. Karn’s life was thus forfeit by the law of the sea.”

Then Therian began to speak the words of the Dragons, and all there cried and clutched at their ears, save the Captain and Gruum, who merely winced. Upon the starlit deck, eldritch lights of yellow and green chased one another along the length of Seeker’s blade, which was still planted firmly in Karn’s ribs.

“I beseech thee, milord,” shouted Gruum. “Damn him not!”

“Aye! Aye!” cried the crewmen.

“Have mercy, sorcerer!”

The helmsman spoke for the first time. “He does not deserve an eternity with the Dragons for defending himself.”

Therian gritted his teeth while the lights did play upon his blade. The spell was unfinished. He turned his wolfish gaze upon the Captain. “How say you, master of this vessel? Is he at fault or were you?” he hissed out.

The Captain blinked and his mouth sagged as he faced of the horrors of sorcery. “He does not deserve to sleep with the Dragons. I gave him cause for his mutiny.”

“Very well,” Therian snarled. He ripped the sword from Karn’s ribs and allowed the corpse to sag down upon the deck. The lights upon the blade dimmed. In moments the twisting sparks turned to silvery gossamer and floated away toward the stars. The spell had been broken.

The terrified crewmen crawled upon the rigging and tried to cower into the very deck of the ship in their fear, but upon a small vessel at night in a frozen ocean, there was nowhere to hide. With terror and fascination, they watched the sorcerer. Even as they stared, they desperately strove to avoid his attention.

-2-

“I’ve had my fill of your evil stench, Hyborean witch,” said the Captain, his face twisting into a scowl. “You should not have interfered. Time to put you off my ship.”

“Agreed,” responded Therian. “I’ve breathed enough of your stench as well. Put in to the nearest port and that will be the end of my passage.”

The Captain’s scowl twisted slowly into a dark grin. He rumbled with what could only be laughter, and Gruum realized that he had never heard him laugh before until that instant. “No, worm-skinned freak. I’m putting you off right here,” he said, indicating with his bloody pinion the black, icy sea that slid beneath the ship. As Gruum watched, he took it up with a new, purposeful grip.

Therian approached the Captain. He took one step, then two. His eyes narrowed. He stared coldly, and then nodded. “Do you maintain that Karn was an innocent man and should not have died?”

“He was mistreated, yes.”

“Then by your own admission, Shipmaster, I have slain an innocent man and the fault is yours. I demand satisfaction.”

The Captain gaped like a dying fish. “This is no duel, fool!” he roared. He waved to his men. “Cast him over the rail, and that land-loving nomad with him!”

The crew shuffled, uncertain. Gruum tensed, but no one made the first move to follow the order.

Seeker rose up as if it had a life of its own and the tip paused before the Captain’s nose. Succor, in turn, slid quietly out of its sheathe, as a snake might flow from a rat’s burrow. The Captain shook himself awake. His eyes narrowed. He reached out a hand to his crew.

“Very well then, a duel it is. A blade, my men!”

For a moment, no one moved. Gruum looked down upon his own saber, and felt an urge to give it to the man, but with a spike of shame in his heart, he did nothing.

Then the helmsman stepped forward and pressed the hilt of a heavy cutlass with a sharkskin grip into his master’s hand.

The Captain nodded his thanks. He turned back to Therian, cutlass held high.

“I’ve never liked you, nor any of your arrogant people. I’d rather feed your corpse to the leviathans than spend your gold.”

They both slashed at one another. The cutlass and Succor clashed together, sparks flying in the night. More strokes were quickly exchanged, each was parried. It quickly became evident that Therian was much faster, and more skilled, but he lacked the strength to face the Captain.

After several passages of arms, the Captain played a foul trick. He grabbed the cabin boy by the tunic. He was a blond lad with teeth that were very white, but which had been planted at random angles in his mouth. The Captain propelled the boy toward Therian then rushed in behind him.

Therian’s blade clipped the boy’s ear, and the arm that held Succor was entangled by the boy’s flailing limbs. The Captain was too close for a clean stroke, but managed to bring his cutlass’s pommel crashing down on Therian’s shoulder. Gruum sucked in his breath, wondering if his master’s collar bone might have snapped. The cabin boy crawled away on all fours, keening.

One of Therian’s knees touched the deck and it was all he could do to deflect the larger man’s blade. He was yet uncut, but spent. The Captain roared and chopped at the smaller man, and each blow parried by the curves of Succor slid away and caused splinters to fly from the deck.

Gruum reached into his shirt and slid out a throwing knife.

A hand appeared upon his wrist. He looked up into the helmsman’s eyes. The quiet man shook his head. Gruum felt hot shame and secreted the knife back into its sheathe. If these men could watch their shipmaster duel without interfering, then he would have to do the same.

Therian managed to climb to his feet again, using the helm to support his weight. He stood over the corpse of Karn, which Gruum thought he saw twitch. He wondered with disgust if somehow, the man might yet be alive.

Therian lifted Seeker and watched his opponent’s final charge. His mouth opened, and alien words tumbled forth.

Gruum knew enough to turn away.

For a brief moment, the blade of Seeker burned with a cold white fire that was brighter than the sun. It dazzled everyone who looked at it.

“Sorcery!” cried the Captain, clawing at his eyes with his free hand. With the other, he lay about him with his blade, still advancing. Dropping to his knees again, Therian ducked low and thrust up into the man’s vitals.

Like a heavy beast of the plains, the Captain sagged down to the deck beside his mate. Therian spoke dark words, consigning the soul to the Dragons, and this time none of the crewmen cried for mercy.

Surging with strength, Therian sprang up upon the forecastle. He addressed the cowering crewmen, whose eyes slid about in desperation.

“Know thee, crew of this vessel, that I acted justly,” said Therian. “The mate served his own death warrant by taking up arms against his shipmaster. And who among you has not dreamt of slaying the Captain in a duel? He insisted upon throwing me to an icy death in the sea, after I paid him good silver for passage. His blood was long overdue upon the deck of this ship.”

For a moment the crew was silent. They shuffled about and their eyes roved the scene in shock.

Therian was annoyed with their lack of enthusiasm. “Who among you loved him so greatly as to imperil your mortal soul for his beloved memory?”

The helmsman stepped forward finally. “None of us do, milord,” he said. He turned to the crewmen. “The sorcerer speaks plainly. Although his deeds were foully done, they were just.”

Therian pointed Seeker at the helmsman. “And now I declare you the new Master of this vessel—if her crew will have you.”

With nods and muttering, the crew assented.

“Tell me your name, man,” said Therian.

“I am Bolo.”

Therian appraised him. “I do not want the
Innsmouth
. She is yours. I ask only for passage aboard her.”

Bolo gave Therian a nod. Then he retrieved his cutlass from the Captain’s dead fingers. He wiped blood from the sharkskin grip. He straightened and faced the crew. “Prepare the bodies for burial. Weight them well,” he said, giving his first order as the new Captain.

With little relish, the men took up the task. It took three of them to lift their former captain’s body. They took Karn as well, and worked in the hold to wrap them in tattered sailcoth.

Bolo took Therian aside. “May I ask a favor, milord?”

“Speak.”

“When next we sail this vessel into port, I beg thee to leave her, and never again stain her decks with blood.”

Therian stiffened. Gruum eyed the two, wondering if the man had forfeited his soul as well. But Therian said nothing. He merely nodded.

Gruum sighed as the muttering crew began to break up. Perhaps he could now get back to his hot mead, though his previous host was dead. He found his drink, and tasted it. He discovered it had grown cold, like the blood of Karn who had given it to him. He cast it over the side in disgust.

Soon after, a scream sounded from below decks. A sailor came running out upon the main deck. A figure lumbered after him. Gruum recognized the shape that chased the man. He recognized the black felt cap that it wore and the silvery blade in its hand. Strips of canvas trailed from his limbs.

“Karn!” cried Gruum, rushing down onto the main deck. “I had thought you dead.”

The figure turned to face him. Gruum’s heart froze. Karn’s dead eyes gazed at him. Slack, dead lips pulled up into a familiar grin of recognition. Even as it grinned at him, the thing approached with ill intent.

“Stand back,” cried Therian, coming forward with his blades upraised. Other crewmen approached with boathooks and bared daggers.

“Don’t you know enough to stay dead, Karn?” Gruum asked his old friend, saddened at what must be done. He drew his saber and muttered an oath from the Steppes.

Dead, slitted eyes moved over the scene. Karn shuffled to the railing and halted to look back at Gruum. The leathery lips worked, but no words were issued.

Therian lunged to thrust Seeker into him yet again, but Karn toppled over the side of his own volition and disappeared into the cold, black sea.

The body did not resurface. Gruum grabbed Therian’s shoulder as they both stared down into the inky depths.

“How is this possible?

“I halted the cantrip. His soul was ripped from its natural path, but given no new destination.”

“So—Karn is a shade?”

“Something much worse than a spirit, I fear,” answered Therian. “It is a dead thing that yet harbors a mind and a shred of soul.”

“Like Vosh?”

“Do not speak that name.”

Gruum nodded. “Well, at least the crewmen are too scared to abandon the ship now.”

Therian nodded in turn. “I shall frighten them further, lest they think to slaughter us in our bunks.”

So saying, Therian set out upon the deck six indigo candles. He drew a pattern upon the oaken planks and worked a spell within the pattern. Sailors backed away and scattered. Therian continued his work.

Soon, Bolo appeared at his side. “May I suggest that my crew has seen enough sorcery for one night, milord?”

“Suggest as you will, Captain. You have told me you will land me in but one more port. Rest assured, the wind spirits I summon now will make sure it is the correct one.”

The crewmen watched in fascination and terror as Therian summoned more sorcery right before their eyes. One man fell upon his sword when the glimmering spirits came to hover over the ship. Another jumped from the stern, only to cry out moments later and beg to be hauled back aboard. None moved to save him, fearing what they might pull up with him. He wept, claiming that something grasped at his legs, but still none moved to save him. In time, his cries were lost in the dark seas of the ship’s wake.

Gruum knelt beside Therian in concern. “What of the boon the wind spirits will claim? Will it not be too great?”

“The Captain’s soul was strong. I can now pay the price for their help.”

Gruum lingered beside his master, frowning.

“Speak, if you must,” Therian said to him at last. “You are distracting me.”

“Milord, I’m wondering about our… our mission.”

Therian sprinkled dark wax and added tiny motes that sparkled, reflecting the fluttering candlelight in silvery flashes. Gruum imagined that the motes might be fish scales.

“I’m moving us closer to our goals even as you interrupt,” said Therian. He moved with speed and precision, clearly the soul he had consumed had given him rare strength and purpose.

“No, I don’t mean our mission to find your Queen, I mean our original mission.”

Therian glanced at him briefly, a flick of the eyes. “You wonder what all this has to do with rekindling the sun?”

“Yes, milord,” sighed Gruum. “That’s it exactly. Not that finding the Queen isn’t a noble goal. I just wanted to know that the other isn’t….”

“Forgotten?” finished Therian for him.

Gruum nodded.

Therian shook his head, as if amused. “The goals are one and the same. They are as intertwined as lovers on Midsummer’s Eve. Everything I do, I assure you, is focused upon nothing else. You might not see the connection yet, but I assure you there is one, and finding my Queen and my heir is absolutely necessary for my plans to succeed. If it were not so, I would not have spent a single hour in pursuit of her.”

“Your heir, milord?”

Again, that wintry smile played over Therian’s lips. “Did you not know? When you released her, she was already with child.”

Gruum’s mouth opened, but then snapped shut. He nodded and stood up. He had many questions, but thought the better of asking them. He sensed that he might not like the answers.

But then Therian spoke again, and Gruum was forced to hear more in any case. “Gruum,” said Therian, his voice deep now—bass. The spell had begun to take hold. “You should understand. We are upon a path, a very long path. The path leads to great power. One man does not turn a forest into a farm in a single afternoon. Many steps and seasons are involved. In a like fashion, we are in the early stages of our quest. We are only at the point of clearing the land of trees and rocks. We have not yet planted seeds, nor even plowed furrows.”

“You speak of a path. What path?” asked Gruum.

“The path to power. Great power. Sorcerous power great enough to change the heavens, to alter the course of the sun as it crosses the sky. That kind of power cannot be won in a day. It may well take a lifetime.”

Therian sat upon the deck, weaving his spell, which now consisted of circling the main mast with splatterings of mixed wax. Therian had added a new substance as well, which Gruum suspected might be blood.

Gruum hoped he would not spend the rest of his life on this mission, although right now such a thing seemed very possible. He continued to watch his master work the spell. Briefly, he mused that some magic was rather like baiting and trapping beasts. The sorcerer worked like a poacher, luring distant creatures with sounds and scents that appealed distinctly to those you wished to capture. In this case, fish scales and blood attracted wind spirits.

He shook his head to rid himself of such thoughts. He did not want to taint his mind with even the faintest knowledge of the dark arts. He found himself wishing he had not tossed his mead over the side after all. He went in search of a fresh mug to dull his senses.

BOOK: The Dragon-Child
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