DRAGON RIDER’S GIFT
Three souls. Two hearts. One courageous calling.
Compulsion to find his dragon and save his people rules Roark’s life. Yet, nothing has prepared him for the ultimate bond fate will demand.
Born with the power of prophecy, Princess Nira endures visions forecasting an invasion against her people. All she knows for certain: the foretold battle ensures either a victorious future or a crushing defeat.
An ancient dragon of mythical power, Kraz has eluded capture for a thousand years. However, saving his dragon race might just be worth an eternal bond to a warrior rider.
Winner of the 2013 Readers Crown Award for best Sci-Fi, Time Travel, Fantasy Romance Category
Oh, How the Mighty Fall!
(A story that takes place before Dragon Rider’s Gift)
Cold air rasped against Kraz’s wings like blades flaying his skin. There was no help for it. He had no idea what had interrupted his pleasant century-long sleep, but boredom dictated his path over the mountains of Ichorae on his way to the western shores. Now awakened, he craved a view of the brilliant blue Belizian waters and a warm mountaintop on which to sun.
But that would have to wait.
The sleet and gusting winds around the tallest peak of Devil’s Fork were the least of his problems. He swiveled his head and drifted low enough to skim the icy crest for better access.
There. Faint cries, more like mewls, fluttered on the wind and vanished.
Catching the next cross current, he angled for another pass and scanned the sheer cliffs for a landing place. Several fissures would provide a grip for his claws, but he needed passage inside, not to hang like a frozen bat on the surface.
Somewhere deep in this snow crusted mass of rock were infant dragons. Alone and cold, if the mewls he’d heard rang true. Only death or serious injury would tear a female from her brood. Neither option boded well for the young.
In the land of Fyrhall they would be safe. For their kingdom revered and honored his kind. But Ichorae’s inhabitants claimed murder and thievery as their moral compass. There weren’t the worst. The Piceus Alfar, the darkest of eleven clans and more evil than red or white Alfar clans, thrived on magic wrung from beasts with his magical legacy. He wasn’t about to allow fragile younglings to fall into their clutches.
Wings tucked against his body, Kraz bulleted toward the crack along the northern face. At the last second, his wings billowed, halting his descent. Ice covered the rock, but one hearty gust of fire from his belly provided a firm grip for his claws.
Cries echoed again.
Determined, he tore at the fissure and blasted a stream of fire into the opening. Flinging chunks of rock behind him, he widened the opening. Surprisingly, the entrance to the mountain gave way with ease. Seconds later, he’d clear enough debris to stalk toward the gleaming light at the mountain’s core. Built from years of volcanic eruption and seismic changes, Ichorae resembled a porcupine landscape of mountains and wasteland. But blessed lava ran beneath its crust, the heat now a balm to Kraz’s scales and hide. He knew ice dragons existed, but they were few. He, for one, would never leave the molten rivers that had sustained most of his kind for a cold, foreboding climate.
At the tunnel’s end, he swept a glance from his overlook to the lava lake below and the plateau of rock rising from its center. Toward the far edge of the rock island sat a large wooden crate. It wobbled and the soft mewling began again.
He narrowed his eyes and searched the confines of the cave. Inhaling deeply into the first two chambers of his lungs, he paused. Nothing. He couldn’t discount that someone was here, but no foreign scent alerted him. No obvious hindrance lay between him and the younglings.
Not that danger would stop him. Neither did the steep angle to the island or the cave’s tight circumference. Hundreds of years had taught him a thing or three. He could reach the crate, remove the younglings, and be on Fyrhall’s sun-toasted shores before sundown. He’d see the infants well fed and then wait for the king’s dragon riders to arrive to take them to the infant stables.
Dragons were scarce, with eggs were unheard of these days. His prominent pass over the nearest town would alert the king’s dragon guard. Then, his job finished, he would settle back for a well-deserved nap.
His first sweep over the lake revealed nothing. The second allowed him to bask in the lava’s heat. Then his neck spines rose as an uncomfortable twinge shivered through his body. His spines prickled as a clear view of the crate continued to elude him. A shield?
He dove for a direct pass. Rumbles echoed above from the tunnel he’d entered as his claws swept though the top of the crate.
Damn. An illusion.
Pumping his wings, he spun hoping to gain moment and lift from the hot air currents. More rock shifted and groaned, within the cavern this time. Hot sharp pain wrapped around his forearms. More clutched his feet. A final shot of painful injustice circled his neck. He thrashed as the chains previously hidden by elven magic halted his escape and brought him crashing to the rock island.
“No.” His roar shock the ground beneath him as his fire slid along the island’s surface, skated over the lava, and crawled up the cave wall. All to no avail.
Now the crouched figure at the edge of the tunnel shimmered into view. A bald green head with large, pointed, hairy ears set atop a rumpled black cloak. The stench, previously camouflaged, earmarked a quarter-blood descendent of the Piceus.
Kraz roared again. Not because it would make a difference, but if he burst the eardrums of the little weasel above he’d at least gain some satisfaction.
The man, if he even ranked as part human, cupped one hand over an ear and shook his finger at Kraz. “No one will doubt my magic now.”
“Come down here you poor excuse for a troll. You will not leave me here.”
“Bellow all you wish. I can’t understand your dragonspeak anyway. You’ll remain for eternity or until I choose to sell you to the highest bidder.” He rubbed his thick, meaty hands together with glee. “The queen will finally grant me a place at her side.”
Kraz turned away at the cackle more grating than claws on flagstone, refusing any response before such a lesser being. At least he knew for certain the Piceus queen wouldn’t allow that little runt within spitting distance of her. Jailer of a dragon or not.
As the smell dissipated, he thrashed against again at his chains, but his strength was useless. The bolts of the chain in the wall, held firm. The lava surrounding his spit-of-hell remained too far away to melt the links. And now the mystical shackles burned him with not only pain, but also a healthy dose of humiliation.
A pop and spray of lava was all that broke the silence.
How, with my cunning, did I fall for this? Ah yes, the younglings.
The crate, an apparition now reduced to a jinn bottle. A vessel for the image and sounds that had lured him. A youngling had suffered, but given the ageless features of the fluted ceramic, it could have been days or centuries since the abuse was recorded.
With a irate sweep of his tail, the bottled flew into the lava. He curled around with a snort and closed his eyes. First, he would chew on his rage followed by—a short nap wouldn’t hurt.
Then he’d find some way out of this prison.
Copyright 2012 KH LeMoyne
Dragon Rider’s Gift is an adult fantasy romance, the first in the dragon rider trilogy and a Portals of Destiny Tale.
Dragon Rider’s Gift – Vignette #2
(A short story that takes place before Dragon Rider’s Gift)
Roark glanced at the pile of ingots, debating how many were lead painted with gold versus the real precious metal. Not that it mattered. His interest lay in the innocuous wool pouch tossed haphazardly onto the winnings by the Piceus peddler seated across from him. His true purpose in enduring five tedious hours of gambits.
Narrowing his eyes, Roark evaluated the multi-level playing board and the few pieces remaining. A quick calculation confirmed he needed one more circuit of his piece from the first level to the fourth to win the game, a path of sixty-four squares required on each level. However, that depended on the remaining cards. He eyed the deck and then the cavalry second-year guard, too inebriated to be much of a challenge, seated beside him.
Odds were in his favor. The second-year needed three circuits, and even with an excellent draw each time that wouldn’t deliver him a win. The peddler was a harder read, hanging behind Roark by only twenty points.
Black elven stink from the man invaded Roark’s nostrils, but he swallowed back disgust and withdrew five cards from the deck. He spread his full house on the table; missing the satisfaction an excellent hand usually produced. The vibration from the pouch was too distracting. Electric charges rippled from his fingers to his toes with a punch over his chest that vibrated like an external heartbeat.
Dark eyes gleamed at him from the peddler’s pudgy round face. Roark held back a snarl. Dark magic swirled around the man, black magic.
The second-year guard roused enough to draw and advance his piece one circuit.
Seven more turns, and Roark breathed relief as he lay down his cards for a two-point win over the peddler.
Prepared to reach for his winnings, Roark froze as the guard jolted out of his stupor and slammed his knife, point first, into the table. His strike landed between the outstretched fingers of the peddler, sneaking ingots in full view. It was enough to get a man, even an elf, killed.
“You didn’t win. Now pack your stinking bag and leave this town before we have you thrown out.”
“You cannot make me leave,” hissed the peddler. But he’d vacated his seat and retreated several feet from the table, shooting a narrow-eyed glare between the guard and Roark.
“I won’t need to bother. Two of the Vernu Alfar elves arrived an hour ago. They don’t much like your kind. Do they?”
Roark didn’t stay to watch the animosity play out, but swept the ingots into his satchel, pocketed the pouch in his leather vest, and headed for the table by the back door. Biting several ingots to test for gold, he dropped ten solid ones on the table before the gambling hall owner. A generous tip guaranteed more than just goodwill. He glanced over his shoulder toward his table.
“Don’t worry, soldier. We’ll delay the Piceus long enough to give you a head start.”
With a nod, he offered thanks and slipped out the door. It had been a year since he’d resigned from the border guard, much less worn his uniform, but many people along his posts still recognized him. A fact that worked in his favor, most times.
Roark pulled his coat’s collar tighter against the late night chill and headed along the winding cobblestones toward the gatehouse.
Three miles and forty minutes later, he paused in the isolated mountain pass and listened.
No sounds registered, but his gut twisted. A sign he never ignored. The next few yards would bring him to an overlook of the desert of Ouahe and a shear thousand-foot drop. Not somewhere he wanted to be trapped.
He glanced up. A rigorous climb would take him out of the pass, but he wouldn’t risk it at night. Backtracking to the last trail held risk as well, but he resisted going forward as if there were physical restraints around his body.
He’d turned and walked several yards when he heard the roar. Flinging himself to the ground, he glanced up in time to see the fireball whip past him and explode against the rock ahead. He rolled to the side of the pass. A check behind revealed the peddler crouched along the higher rocks, the claws of his fingers and toes gouged into the pass’s wall for purchase. His eyes flickered red before the next two fire balls spit from his mouth.
Roark dodged the first wad of flame, but rocks showered on him from its collision.
The second engulfed his coat. Busy wrenching his arms from the sleeves, he failed to see the next deluge of rocks. Pain splintered along the back of his head and down his spine. He flung the coat as he dizzily dropped to his knees.
Sensing the black elf’s approach, he collapsed to the ground.
He feigned unconsciousness during the kick to his ribs, and the following shove that rolled him onto his back. He even resisted reacting as the grimy claws frisked through his pockets for the pouch. Then the elf pulled aside Roark’s vest to the reveal his medallion.
“A dragon rider. My mistress will be most pleased, but it is your head she desires.”
At the blood-curdling scream, Roark froze in his grab for the peddler’s throat.
Above Roark one minute, and several feet away on his back the next, the peddler held his hand to his chest, spitting obscenities. He tried to roll up to sit, but only his shoulders left the ground before he flopped back like a fish. Each struggle to rise, forced the elf into a backward scramble.
Roark walked to him and planted his boot on the elf’s chest, while he gingerly dug in the man’s pants pockets for the pouch.
“You’ll never make it from this mountain alive, Rider.” The peddler muttered a garbled incantation with a smug expression then screeched in delight as a flash of flame struck the ground and dissolved to reveal a tall, broad shouldered woman with hair the color of pitch and flashing red eyes.
“What mess have you wrought now, Dirkus?” she asked.
Roark stepped aside and poured the contents of the pouch into his hand. The dragon lace sparkled in the dying moonbeams. With minor interest, he listened to the peddler ramble nonsense to his liege lady of the Black Alfar court and watched the man point toward him.
“A rider, my mistress. As you wished.”
She glanced Roark’s way. Her eyes widened as they took in the medallion now hanging outside his vest. Then they narrowed as her gaze swept over the dragon lace. With an open hand, she turned and struck the elf across the head.
“You idiot. He has them both. We can’t touch him once the medallion and lace are in his possession. We can’t even touch the lace after it has chosen a dragon rider. You’ve wasted a precious and expensive opportunity.”
Dirkus cringed, jumping to his feet and backing away. “I did as you wished. We have him, my mistress.”
“We have nothing.” She grabbed him by his ear and with a high-pitched whistle began to spin. Mistress of the Black Alfar and her captive servant both rose in the air as the winds increased and the dust billowed around them.
Roark covered his face and turned to the rock wall, safeguarding himself against the violent dust storm that followed in the wake of her spell.
Minutes later, the black elves gone, he coughed to free his lungs and dug his way out of the dune that had engulfed him. He risked one more examination of the dragon lace before sliding it into the pouch and buttoning it back in his vest.
Picking up his coat, he shook it as he took stock. The sigil inside the coat had saved the fabric from disintegrating, though it wouldn’t have protected his flesh. An error he should remedy. Fortunately, the magical tattoo on his arm had repelled Dirkus’s attack. And the dragon lace, once matched with a dragon rider’s medallion, had taken on the weight of mountains. Only he could now wield them both.
With a satisfied smile, he skirted the piles of sand and resumed his journey.
He still had a dragon to find and a kingdom to save.
Copyright 2012 KH LeMoyne
Dragon Rider’s Gift is an adult fantasy romance, the first in the dragon rider trilogy and a Portals of Destiny Tale.