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Dragons of Dirt

Dragons of Dirt

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Dragons of Dirt

Length:
668 pages
10 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 11, 2017
ISBN:
9781370797295
Format:
Book

Description

Series Two, Book Two

In the hills above Meressa, on the southern coast of Preland and in the ruined town of Ponack, dragons are now returning and setting up small, optimistic communities.

Mistry must now work to put the rest of her centuries-old plan into action, but nothing can happen until they find the descendant of the Cwendrina.

But while Silvi and Ferret travel across Preland with Be-Elin and Mab-Abin, two old enemies are rising across the Yonder Sea in Bind.

Whether or not they are successful in their search, they will have to confront the warring Keffra-See and the memory of the Haftens.

For Silvi Farthing, it will mean a trial by war that will tear her soul in two.

The saga continues with Dragons of Dirt.

“I have done as you and Be-Elin asked and as I promised myself I would do.” He turned to the small women, his eyes bleak. “Why does it hurt so much?”

Mistry took his hands in hers, reached up and wiped the tears from his face. “Good deeds hurt the most, Edver. And good people feel the pain most of all.”

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 11, 2017
ISBN:
9781370797295
Format:
Book

About the author

CC Hogan is a writer and old muso that loves nothing more than cuddling up with an idea, a glass of wine, a pot of hot coffee and chucking words around happily. Alright, he also just likes cuddling, but that is less interesting.He is a Londoner born and bred but dreams of a tiny cottage by the sea.At the moment he is buried in a world called Dirt, a huge fantasy that spans a thousand years and is a tale of love, war, family and dragons. Unsurprisingly, in the book can be found a cottage by the sea...CC also likes to write poetry and is trying to learn how to draw. He is always happy to answer questions, though the quality of answers may depend on time of day, wine quantity, full stomach, lack of money and so forth...


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Dragons of Dirt - CC Hogan

Dragons of Dirt

By

C.C Hogan

Text Copyright © 2018 C.C. Hogan

All Rights Reserved

Edition 4

To those looking to return home and hoping they are welcomed as friends

The Dirt Books

Series 1

Dirt

Bloody Dirt

The fight for Dirt

Hope & Mistry’s Tale

Yona and the Beast – Short Story

Series 2

Girls of Dirt

Dragons of Dirt

People of Dirt

Series 3

TBA

Check out the website for up to date information about the series, the chronology and free stuff!

www.aworldcalleddirt.com

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1 – Moving In

Chapter 2 – Where to Start

Chapter 3 – Digging Again

Chapter 4 - Axen

Chapter 5 – The Trail

Chapter 6 - Ancestors

Chapter 7 - Alentour

Chapter 8 - Sarn

Chapter 9 - Hendesse

Chapter 10 - Treachery

Chapter 11 – To Save a Queen

Chapter 12 – No More the King

Chapter 13 – The Dragon Leader

Chapter 14 – Into the Sands

Chapter 15 – Talking of War

Chapter 16 – The Road North

Chapter 17 – The Mines of Coldor

Chapter 18 – Never a Queen

Chapter 19 – Taming the Plains

Chapter 20 – A Debt Settled

Epilogue

Find out more about Dirt

Books by C. C. Hogan

About the Author

Prologue

If I watch the sky all day,

And listen to what the birds say,

Would they say my dreams are true?

And I will soon be loved by you?

If I watch the sky all night,

Wrapped in my bed to hide from fright,

Would I know that come the sun,

We’ll be together, our love begun?

What are you writing?

Nothing!

You like writing poems. Is it about your prince again?

Might be, said the girl evasively. She was sitting on a stool at one end of the table in the kitchen of the old castle. It was her favourite place during the long winter months in the mountains. Not only was it warm, but her mother was one of the kitchen maids. Where is my mummy? I came down to see her, but she is not here. At eight years old, the small, dreamy, red-headed girl was popular in the castle. She could invent stories at the drop of a shoe, and had already the unofficial role of chief storyteller to a couple of even younger children of the castle servants.

Your mummy will not be here today, child, said the cook with pain in her eyes. She has had an accident.

What sort of accident?

The cook smiled sadly at the child who had returned to her poem. The mother had arrived just a few years before looking for work. The child’s father had died soon after she had been born, and the mother had struggled to make ends meet, though she had always managed to find something. They hadn’t really needed anyone else in the kitchens, but the young man who brought her in his cart was persuasive, and they had taken her in. Now the cook had to tell the child she had lost her mother too. In this hard world, being an orphan could be all but a death sentence, but those in the castle had already decided that they would bring the child up themselves. It didn’t make this moment any easier, and the cook pulled the child close.

Chapter 1 – Moving In

Hey, Teni! Wake up!

No.

Silvi blinked in confusion. That wasn’t quite the reaction she had expected. She had trotted into Meressa at dawn, arranged a couple of things quickly, bought some breakfast in the square, and had climbed the steep, cobbled hill to The Red Stranger Inn to find her friend.

If you don’t wake up, I will start tickling or worse!

Definitely not waking up then.

Silvi thought about what she had said and realised it was probably not the most effective of threats.

Alright, if I give you a kiss, then will you wake up? It’s important, Teni!

Now you are talking! Teni reached up, grabbed Silvi around the neck and pulled her down for a serious kiss.

Silvi pulled back, a disgusted look on her face. What the hell were you drinking last night, girl? You taste horrible!

Can’t remember, don’t care. You going to stop at a kiss?

Yes, I am. Now, get up! Silvi stood and dragged the quilt off the girl. And you are still dressed!

I am? Oh yeah. Teni grinned. There was no question about it, Teni was one of Silvi’s favourite people, and probably her favourite person. The girl had almost no inhibitions to the point of being dangerous, mostly to herself, but she loved without condition or question and would do anything for anyone. What is more, she never gave Silvi a hard time about vanishing for weeks on end, and never asked any nuisance questions that would cause Silvi problems.

Teni sat up and yawned with an annoyingly seductive stretch. So, what are you doing here and why are you waking me up? It is my day off.

Your mother said it was. I have some really important things I have to do today, and I want you to be with me.

Are they going to involve your bed?

No! They do involve Tooker though.

Tooker? Ergh! There is no way…

Just get up. Not everything has to include beds or any other of your hiding places. Now, hurry. We have to be down at the livery in half an hour.

Half an hour? I haven’t washed! Trust me, I need to.

I had noticed, girlfriend. Come on, and I will pump. Silvi pulled the girl upright by the hand and dragged her up from the basement and out to the back of The Red Stranger where the water pump was. Ten minutes later after copious amounts of ice-cold water, Teni was awake and a little less good humoured.

This better be worth it, Silvi Goatherd, or next time you waltz into town you can find another girl to snuggle up to!

You are not going to be disappointed, said Silvi with a chuckle, pulling the damp girl into the bar and pouring her a weak beer. Drink that, it will make you more amenable.

You say the sweetest things, blondie, mumbled Teni.

Silvi really wasn’t sure what Teni’s mother thought about her, but she was always friendly and seemed happy to see her. She suspected the woman might just be pleased that for a couple of days occasionally her daughter was with someone who brought her home on time and generally soberer than on other occasions. Teni was seventeen, but when not working fiendishly hard at the tavern, she lived life to the full and never cautiously.

Ready?

For what? Teni finished the last of the mild ale and burped.

For adventure!

Yeah, right. Go on then, I’m behind you.

Silvi marched out of the tavern at full speed pulling the surprised girl after her, and dragged her down the hill into the main square.

Are we going to get Tooker first? asked Teni, stifling a yawn.

I already did, and he’s meeting us at the livery.

Why there?

Because I have a wagon there. Now get a move on, girl!

Alright, bossy! Teni’s mood was not improving in a hurry and the morning sun was making her blink.

Meressa Town seemed to be quieter every time Silvi visited, which was as often as possible. She and Be-Elin were still being cautious here because, for some reason, no news of the dragons at Hertenesse had made it this far south. Be-Elin said it was yet another symptom of the decline in Bind over the centuries; there was less trade, and without trade, news did not travel. Despite that, Silvi liked Meressa, and it was not just because of Teni, but also something about the town itself. It might not understand its past, but unlike other places, it remembered it had one.

It’s not often I get to go on an adventure. The old man was sitting up on the driver’s seat of the big wagon when Silvi trotted out of the town dragging the still complaining girl behind her. And what is all this? He pointed to the back of the wagon packed high with mystery and covered with a canvas.

Part of the adventure, Tooker. You’re going to like this.

Good. I was planning on sitting in the square doing wonderfully nothing this day.

I was going to do even less! grumbled Teni. Morning, Tooker.

Morning, Miss Millen. So, Miss Goatherd, do you know how to drive a wagon and four?

More or less. Silvi’s driving experience was limited to her little horse and cart back on the Isle of Hope, but Ferret had given her a crash course at her villa. Silvi had to admit she had fallen completely in love with Ferret’s home. Of course, it was just about bursting at the seams with dragons, which got her vote, and she had happily followed Fren-Eirol around for a week like a lost lamb. But the sands and the sea views and the olive trees were so tranquil that she was amazed that Ferret could ever bring herself to leave for even a single day.

In many ways, Silvi was a blur of confusion and emotion. For the last year, she had heard stories of these almost mythical heroes from her family’s past, and then in the space of a couple of days, she had met a pile of them. First Mab-Abin, then Mistry, then Fren-Eirol, and then to see the grave of Weasel and the Villa, and even Ferret herself, though she had been a tiny infant back during the war. Now Mistry had loaded them up with what seemed almost impossible tasks, and the fairy tale had shattered. There would be a few special moments, she hoped, and this was going to be one of them.

Get on, Teni. Silvi pushed the girl up next to Tooker. Fellin?

Yes, miss? A tall man came out from the livery.

Someone will get a message down to you when they need the rest of that order fulfilled. You should have enough coins for it all.

I have been through most of the list, and it won’t be no problem, miss. I am short of hooks, but the boy is going down to the smithy later.

Thank you, Fellin. Silvi jumped up onto the driver’s seat. And thanks for putting this together so quickly.

Pleasure, miss. Enjoy your trip.

Silvi cautiously commanded the big Bekon Browns into a walk and then into a trot as they headed off on the road that led around the Bain Hills.

More and more mysteries! said Tooker, looking back at the liveryman. So, where exactly are we going? he asked in his West Preland drawl as the horses settled into an even pace. And since when did you have the coin to burn on wagons?

Only a few leagues, don’t worry, replied Silvi. I don’t want to spoil my surprise, but I do need to ask you a few questions that might seem odd.

Silvi, everything about you tends to be a bit odd, said the old tutor with a warm laugh. But you do brighten up my days on the occasions I see you, so ask away.

What is the situation with the King of Verron? Both you and Teni keep pointing out how Meressa is fading away, but he doesn’t appear to do anything about it.

King Dolin has been ill for several years, as you know. He is an elderly man and even when I was tutoring his twin daughters he had problems. Not just sickness in his body, but in his mind too.

Are they his only children?

No, he has an older son, but the boy didn’t get on with his father and left years ago; I never even met him. No one knows where he is or even if he is still alive. There is a twenty-year age gap between the son and the girls.

Why so long?

The king was an older man when they were born to his second wife.

How old are they now?

Let me see. I tutored them till they were twelve and I retired nine years ago, so they are twenty-one. Never hear much about them. I think one married, but I’m not sure.

So, if King Dolin is ill, who runs the Kingdom?

Well, the administrators in Meressa Town do, as much as they do anything. Really they just cover the basics. They collect the taxes, pay the guards, repair the odd wall, take their own salaries, that sort of thing. Each year there are fewer people to collect taxes from so they do less and less with what little money they have. It’s not as if they are paying themselves lots of coin or anything; there just isn’t much around.

Do you know any of them?

You are asking a lot of questions, said the old man, suspiciously.

Sorry, Tooker, put up with me? Teni had fallen asleep on Silvi’s shoulder, and she adjusted the girl to get more comfortable.

Of course, young lady. Yes, I know quite a few of them from my days tutoring. They are all old men like me. Why?

I think I might need you to talk to them on my behalf, or at least on the behalf of some friends of mine.

Friends? People in the town?

Not precisely, no.

Is this who we are going to meet?

Yes it is! Silvi smiled at the old Tutor. But for the rest, you are going to have to wait.

As the morning aged and the late summer sun climbed into the sky, Tooker dozed off, leaning back against the canvas-covered load. Teni woke up in a better mood and chatted about what Silvi’s friends had been up to since she was last in Meressa. This had been Silvi’s little sanctuary and was very precious to her. They still did not know her real name, they did not know about Be-Elin, they had not seen Silvi fight anyone or use a bow, or really know anything about her at all. She had only ever said she travelled a lot and took odd jobs on the road that kept some coin in her pocket. Except for the old tutor, all her friends here were between seventeen, Teni being the youngest, and twenty-two; a lad called Palen who fancied Silvi like mad but knew he had no chance in that direction. Most of them were desperate for work and lived on coin from simple jobs, much like Johnson Farthing had in Wead-Wodder.

But all that was about to be blown apart. It was for many good reasons and the surprise she was about to spring was going to be a lot of fun, but she was going to miss the innocence of her visits here once everything was known. Silvi sat up, dislodging the amorous Teni, who was being more gently loving than usual, and encouraged the horses up the steep hill through the trees.

Wake up, Tooker, we are almost there.

Almost where? The old tutor forced his eyes open. The benefit of age is being able to doze off anywhere, he said with a yawn. Where is this?

Bain Hills.

How long have I been sleeping?

Two hours, Tooker! said Teni with a giggle. And you snore really loudly.

I am an expert at it, young Miss Millen! The tutor sat up stiffly and stretched out some of the old knots from his back. It is all forest now, of course, he said, slipping back to being the tutor. But it’s said that centuries ago there was a dragon village up here. There are the odd bits of wall left, but it’s hard to work out much from what there is. No cottages or anything.

Cottages? asked Teni in surprise. For dragons?

Ah, Miss Millen. I have had this conversation with Miss Goatherd. You see, although I believe dragons were in Meressa, and quite possibly important to the town, I think the reality of the actual beasts is significantly different from those exaggerated paintings we see around the town. For instance, that famous painting… oh my goodness!

Silvi pulled the horses to a halt as they emerged from the woods onto the broad summit of the hill. There, working away, and beginning to clear room for their new village, were forty huge Draig Mynyth Coh; Red Mountain Dragons.

Teni, let go, said Silvi through clenched teeth. That’s beginning to hurt! Teni had grabbed Silvi’s arm in panic and was squeezing it tighter and tighter. Alright, enough! Silvi prised the girl’s fingers free and leapt off the Wagon. Bren-Hevvin?

Over here! An unusually large red mountain dragon wandered over carrying a massive axe and a small tree. Ah, friends?

If they close their mouths, said Silvi. Tooker, come and meet one of your tiny, not very intelligent beasts that you keep talking about. The tutor continued to gape. Tooker!

I am sorry, Silvi. Oh dear. The old man climbed down from the wagon slowly and walked over to where Silvi was standing. I, I, I don’t know what to say!

Hello works for me, said the vast dragon, bending down quite some way. Mr Tooker?

Oh, just Tooker. Sorry, years of being a tutor.

I am Bren-Hevvin, and I am the leader of this little flock of young reds.

Little? Flock? Young? Tooker was having some serious perception issues.

I apologise, sir, said the dragon. But I am having a good day.

You are?

Of course! I’m home!

What?

Bren-Hevvin, interrupted Silvi. Is my girl around?

She left to take the other reds up to Hertenesse about three hours ago. She won’t be back for a while.

Especially if Mab-Corin is around. She has been pining, bless her. I have a wagon load of canvas for you and those metal hooks you wanted. The rest of it is on order. Let me unhitch the horses before you empty the wagon. They look a bit nervous.

I don’t know why, said the dragon, shrugging. I don’t like horse.

I’m not sure they appreciate that! Silvi walked back to the wagon dragging the dazed tutor with her.

Silvi, what’s going on? Teni was still sitting on the wagon and looked scared out of her wits.

Help me with these horses and I will explain to both of you, she said gently, taking the girl’s hand as Teni jumped from the wagon. And I have to apologise that I haven’t been entirely honest about me.

So, you have known all along that I was talking claptrap? Tooker sounded hurt. They were sitting on logs set out by Bren-Hevvin and had been given a lunch of roasted goat by the dragons.

I am sorry, Tooker, said Silvi. I had no choice. To be fair, although you have a lot wrong, you are special.

Why? I am an idiot!

No, you are not. While the rest of Bind has almost forgotten that dragons even exist, you have bothered to try to put some sort of history together, and you are not as wrong as you think.

I am not? Silvi! Look at the size of them! As big as a house? Bren-Hevvin is like a temple! And they are intelligent. That smaller dragon over there has been planning out the village like an architect!

But you have a lot right too. You believed that they existed and mattered. Trust me, they really do.

Are you even who you said you were? Teni had been silent and was sitting away from Silvi.

Yes, I am Teni. My name really is Silvi, though not Goatherd.

What then? snapped the girl.

Farthing, Silvi Farthing.

Good gracious! As in the famous general? asked Tooker, sounding annoyed.

Yes, he’s my ancestor, answered Silvi patiently. But he also used the name Goatherd sometimes, so it wasn’t a total lie.

So, how much do you know that I don’t? asked Tooker. How much can you tell me? Silvi, I am lost here.

Well, the person you really need to talk to you will meet later, and that is my friend Be-Elin.

Who is he?

She. Be- on the front of the name is female, Mab- is male. If they partner up, then they become Fren- for the female and Bren- for the male.

I don’t understand any of this, Silvi, said Teni. Why are they here?

Because they want to come home, Teni, said Silvi in exasperation. The dragons had to leave five hundred years ago because they were dying of a disease that they were catching here. The disease did not spread between them, they only caught it from other animals. So, they left for a land where they were safe. The disease has changed, and it gives them nothing more than a bad cold, so now they want to return.

Why here, though? Teni looked over to the working dragons suspiciously.

Because they lived here before, of course, explained Tooker. Though none of these dragons, obviously.

Oh, not entirely accurate, said Silvi, realising she had forgotten something important.

Sorry?

Bren-Hevvin. He lived here before.

Impossible young lady! He is massive. We would have noticed!

Not recently, I mean. Oh, Mistry, I’m no good at this!

Who is Mistry? asked Teni, her voice cold.

Just a friend, a human one. Doesn’t matter. Look, Bren-Hevvin is seven hundred years old. He was two hundred when the disease struck, and he left. The rest of the dragons are all young, though.

Tooker stared at the girl as if she had gone mad, and Teni stood up and stalked away to where the horses were tied up under the trees. It was all going wrong. Tooker was in shock and embarrassed about all the mistakes he had made, but Silvi had thought Teni would be in her element. Instead, the girl had become angry and withdrawn.

Look, Tooker, I need to sort out Teni, said Silvi. The long and the short of it is the dragons need someone to represent them to the King or the administrators or whoever. Dragons are not territorial and do not fully understand our ideas of ownership and borders and so on, but they want to be part of this community, not just stuck up on the hill. They need help, and I couldn’t think of anyone better than you.

Me?

Yes, Tooker. You know people, you are intelligent and respected and, most importantly, you have bothered with the past. For someone like Bren-Hevvin who has lived many years, that is so significant. Be-Elin, who you will meet, fought in the wars with Pree and Farthing and she has been really upset how much is forgotten, that she has been forgotten. Please, just go and talk to Bren-Hevvin. He has been hovering around waiting for us. Silvi was right. The big dragon had been helping with the clearing but had kept looking over his shoulder to see if they wanted him yet.

Silvi, I admit I am confused, but I suppose I should be honoured and touched that you would think of me. Thank you. I will go talk to him. Is it safe?

Silvi left Tooker to talk to the big red dragon elder and ran off to find one of the dragons she had been playing with back at the Villa. When she approached Teni with the young, much smaller red in tow, the girl looked up with a frown.

Teni, I want you to meet someone.

One of your friends?

Silvi felt like the girl was accusing her of being disloyal. Yes, though I have only just met her. This is Be-Alene, and she is the youngest dragon on Bind. Silvi tried to sound as enthusiastic as possible.

Hello! the youngest dragon said brightly. You are Teni?

Yes. Teni’s face was dark. So how old are you? Four hundred or something?

Me? No! the young dragon giggled, and Teni looked confused. I only learned to fly last year, and they almost didn’t let me come.

Be-Alene! prompted Silvi.

Oh, sorry. Yes, I am twenty-six. How old are you, Teni?

I am seventeen, muttered the girl.

And acts twenty-six half the time. growled Silvi. She was close to thumping her friend. Except now, of course.

You are older than my sister then, said Be-Alene.

Really? asked Teni, looking up from under her brow.

She is only fourteen. Right little flirt, though.

Really?

She is big for her age. I was always little. All the boys thought I was a little kid. Half of them here still treat me like a kid.

I get treated like that by some of our customers, said Teni, with a touch less anger. Right pisses me off.

Good word! said Be-Alene brightly. What does it mean?

By the time Be-Elin arrived in the late afternoon, Teni and Be-Alene were becoming friends. For Silvi, this was vital. If the dragons had any chance of being part of a community of humans, then they had to build friendships. The best way Silvi could think of to achieve this in Verron was to introduce them to her best friend, Teni. That it had almost backfired had put her into a state of near panic, made worse because she was growing increasingly fond of Teni and so desperately wanted to be honest with her.

That did not go so well, said Silvi, hugging the desert dragon.

Why? asked Be-Elin chirpily with wide happy eyes.

Oh, so Mab-Corin was at the Tor, then?

How did you know?

Stupid dragon! Silvi huffed. So, anyway. Tooker nearly had a heart attack and Teni was petrified followed by being angry at me for having lied to them.

Oh. And now?

Thank goodness they let Be-Alene come over; the two are pretty much the same age.

Well, that’s alright then. Need me for anything?

I hate it when you have been playing with that bloody dragon, grumbled Silvi. You get into stupid moods.

I’m not in a mood.

Exactly! Silvi leant against her friend. Sorry, I was expecting them to act like children getting a birthday present and instead…

They acted like you did?

Oh, yes. I forgot about that. Oh, Elin, I’m no good at this! I’m not a dragon ambassador.

No, and neither am I, Silvi.

You should meet Tooker. He has been ringing Bren-Hevvin’s memories dry, and I’m not convinced all his memories are actually that reliable.

He does get a bit woolly sometimes. Does this man wants a history lesson then?

Just give him a potted history of the end of the war and about the desert dragons, and then we can get out of here and check on the population surge up in Ponack. Turns out Tooker can drive a team so he can take the wagon back to Fellin.

Alright. Let’s go chat with them and introduce me to your little lover. I never get to meet them!

Don’t you go upsetting her!

I won’t. Anyway, she’s with Be-Alene, and she is the biggest flirt around.

I thought she said that was her sister?

Naughty girl! Be-Alene knows exactly how to wrap a dragon around her tail, believe me.

Tooker?

Yes, Silvi? The old tutor stood up from their little log seating area where he had been talking to not just Bren-Hevvin but some of the other red dragons about how they were building their village.

I want you to meet my pairing, Be-Elin, said Silvi.

Please to meet you, Mr Tooker, said Be-Elin, bowing slightly.

Oh, you are different! said Tooker, forgetting to correct her about his name. Sorry, pleased to meet you too.

I’m a Draig yr Anialr, a desert dragon.

Teni had walked over with Be-Alene and smiled shyly. Alene has been telling me about you, she said. She says you and Silvi fly together?

Yes, she is my rider. That is why we are a pairing.

So, it is true! declared Tooker like he had discovered the existence of a third moon. Humans did ride dragons!

Do ride them, Tooker, said Silvi, realising there was something else she had forgotten to mention. There have been ten desert dragons in Hertenesse for the last eight months.

You kept that secret too! he said.

No, we didn’t. Be-Elin pointed out quickly on Silvi’s behalf. We have even been talking to people in the villages. What is incredible is the news has never reached here.

The old tutor sighed. It’s a big world this, Be-Elin. I might have travelled much when I was young, but I was seen as odd. And we do not trade north very much, to be honest.

All the traders we ever see come from the south or west, said Teni. But most are from just a few leagues away. The girl leant up and whispered something to Be-Alene.

Oh, no! Not a chance, said the young red dragon with a worried look. I have only been flying a year, and I nearly died on the way over! I would drop you.

Oh, damn, I hadn’t thought of that, said Silvi, groaning. It was obvious, of course. Now that she was over her fear, Teni would want this. Be-Elin?

What?

Oh, keep up!

What?

Teni wants to fly with Be-Alene.

Oh, yes, well. That might be interesting! Be-Elin screwed her face up. And a bad idea.

Sorry! said Be-Alene to Teni. The other dragons have been taught; I haven’t because I was a bit last minute.

I didn’t know that, said Silvi.

I can teach her, interrupted Bren-Hevvin, feeling ignored. I was in Het Seborg.

Of course, I forgot! Be-Elin chuckled. You worked with Bren-Hemon.

Certainly did. Biggest dragon of them all, more or less!

A bigger one? Tooker blinked.

He was a bit unusual, said Be-Elin. And a gentle dragon with a wicked sense of humour. But yes, he was huge! The dragon laughed out loud. Half the size again of this old goat!

Behave, young dragon! said Bren-Hevvin warmly.

Oh, it is so nice not to be the oldest any longer! purred Be-Elin, rubbing up affectionately against the big Bren-Hevvin, who was three times her size. The old dragon coughed, and Silvi was positive he went redder.

Be-Elin? said Silvi, gently interrupting the cosy moment.

Yes, dear?

In the meantime, can we give a couple of humans a taste of what being a dragon is all about?

Well, why not!

Tooker sat on the ground taking long breaths, recovering from his ordeal while Silvi made up a jug of coffee.

I can quite honestly say that I have never done anything like that before, but forgive me if I am not sure I want to repeat the trip!

I will take you next time, Tooker, said Bren-Hevvin, smiling. Us old reds are much less adventurous.

What, like the story of Bren-Hemon throwing himself off a cliff? asked Silvi.

Yes, well, he was unique. So, Tooker, we have spoken a lot today. Will you help us?

Bren-Hevvin, it would be an honour. Not just for my young friend here, but because though I have been so wrong, the reality is wonderful.

Will the people accept us?

The people will, said Tooker thoughtfully. All the artists and the singers will, and I think with Teni, the young are going to love you. Since most of the dragons here are only in their thirties and forties, that will help too. Some are going to find the age thing difficult. I do.

Why?

Because, my friend, I am an old man. I creek, I ache, I sleep a lot, and I will not live that many more years, and yet I am the same age as your wife who you keep telling me is so young!

But what does that matter? said the big dragon. What matters is what you do, not who you are or how many years you have lived.

That is very generous of you.

Generous? No, Tooker. Any dragon will tell you the same thing. That is how we all think and believe. When you can live up to a thousand years old, how else can you think? You can do a lot of good in that time, but the chances are you will get a lot wrong too.

Silvi smiled. At last, she could relax. The day had started fun with her little game and had then disintegrated as she had scared her friends rather than surprised them. Now it was all back on track. The old tutor, despite being turned on his head flying on a mischievous Be-Elin, was looking more alive and purposeful than she had ever seen him before. And her beautiful young friend was now having the time of her life, going by the screams drifting down from five hundred feet above their heads. And that meant more to Silvi than anything.

I have never appreciated how abandoned it was down here, commented Ferret as she and Mab-Abin walked along the pebbly beach in South Ham.

I thought that is why you loved it?

Well yes, of course, but I always used to buy a horse and cart, come straight down along the coast from Westernesse and only see the couple of small villages up the road. I never realised there was so little else. Remember, I was trying to stay away from people.

You were a right little hermit, weren’t you, girl?

I know. Not always, though. Sometimes I would go on my trips all over the west. I would buy a wagon with a bonnet, like my father and mother did, and go from village to village, helping with any healing, and chatting to everyone.

But still on your own in the wagon, said the dragon.

Mostly.

Mostly?

I’m not a maiden, old bird! Ferret punched the big dragon in the leg, with no noticeable effect at all.

You never talk about lovers, said Mab-Abin. I haven’t wanted to ask.

I talked to Fren-Eirol about this, said Ferret. I am so pleased she is here. She loved my father so much, and she just carries him with her; it’s wonderful.

She is quite a lady. Be-Elin and I have been living near Mistry, but Fren-Eirol is in a village down near the coast not far from us, so we have seen a lot of her over the years. She is much loved, she really is.

I can see that. You two treat her like she is your mother.

She has never had children of her own. She pretends it doesn’t matter, but she adopts people everywhere. Mistry especially.

Mistry?

Oh, yes. If ever there was a mother and a daughter it is those two. So, what did Fren-Eirol say?

She spoke about Eafa. She said he had married once centuries ago and had a few long-term relationships, but the age issue was a problem. He didn’t get older, and they did. She thinks that what he felt for my mother must have been very special. He didn’t know about me so wouldn’t know that my mother would live a long life, and yet he allowed himself to fall in love with her anyway. Fren-Eirol says that it was the first time he had done that in five hundred years.

So, dear one, what about you?

I have never married, but I have had lovers. I watched one die and with another we drifted apart. But that was over a hundred years ago.

No one since?

No. The woman walked along quietly. Yes, Mab-Abin, I do get lonely, but not so much that it hurts.

The dragon stroked her hair gently. I love you, dragon girl.

I know you do, and believe me, that makes all the difference. Do you think these sea dragons will be alright here? They are not going to be mixing with humans very much, if at all.

I know, but that doesn’t always matter, I suppose. What is important is that they can choose to live somewhere because they want to, not because they feel forced out of somewhere else. And dragons are long lived. This was once a busier country, and it might become so again; the dragons will be here when people come back.

Ferret nodded, thoughtfully. You know, according to Fren-Eirol, this was one of the more rebellious governments when Pree was trying to hold things together in the early days, and now it has no government at all. The old capital town doesn’t even exist. Letton to the east looks like it might be similar though they have a couple of small towns.

It will start to change, you know, said Mab-Abin confidently. I think once people realise there are dragons here again, and understand they want to be friends, to trade and meet, then people will come out of their shells, and out of their small communities.

You sound very optimistic.

I am, but it scares me as well.

What, a big dragon like you? Ferret teased the draig.

They had reached the end of their cove where the cliff met the sea, and she sat down on a rock. The dragons were building a village up on the cliff tops above them. She wasn’t sure whether Mab-Abin had said something to them, but they had chosen a spot just far enough away so the cove would remain private and hers. She was grateful. However much she loved her villa, and though it would always be her first home, this place was hers and had no history with anyone else. It had even been a little bit of an effort to share it with this large dragon friend, but she had in the end, and she was glad. Would she share it with anyone else? With the rest of her life becoming so much busier and crowded, she was beginning to think she would not. And one day she would find the time to get on a horse and come down here on her own, without even Mab-Abin. Talking to Fren-Eirol had taught her something about her father that even the wise old sea dragon had missed; Weasel had needed to spend time on his own. Years on his own. It was almost the curse of being an Ancient; the dragons treated you as an odd dragon and the humans, those who knew, treated you like an odd human. Weasel had thought it was the curse of being both. Ferret was beginning to wonder whether it was the curse of being neither.

It scares me too, Abin, said Ferret, leaning back against his warm chest as he settled by the rock. You know some of the sea dragons at the villa found you funny.

How?

They saw you measuring out your new vineyard and checking on the olives.

Well, we don’t have anyone working there.

I used to employ locals from time to time and rented it out when I went away for my long trips. And of course, I hire people to harvest. But my last employee died a few years back and with you turning up, I haven’t employed anyone else since the last harvest. How many times have you flown back to the villa without telling me?

Once or twice.

Honestly?

Maybe a couple more times.

Mistry has done a masterful job on you, Mab-Abin darling, but you cannot fool me. The villa and the farm are in a fantastic condition!

Nearly every week, a couple of times a week, except very recently.

You love it there, don’t you, dear friend.

I can’t explain it, Eiferra, said the dragon, curling up around the Ancient. I just feel like I belong there and I want to be there more than anything sometimes. I have never farmed before. Back on Angyn I spent most of my time mentoring young dragons learning to fly, so I was all over the place. Be-Elin was more settled than me.

Will we ever be able to settle? I mean together? I can imagine that you will one day live at the villa when you grow old and stiff! Ferret giggled and stroked his skin, apologising for teasing. But I am an Ancient. I might live three or four thousand years. Mind you, that prospect does not fill me with joy. If Mistry gets her way, I will be running around chasing Cwendrina after Cwendrina for my entire life.

No, you won’t, little dragon. One day you will seduce one of your men, and produce a little ancient of your own. Then they can run off and be the Cwendrina’s friend and we can sneak off back to the villa for good.

I had forgotten that! said Ferret, laughing. Oh, dear. Me, pregnant! It was true, of course. She must one day have a child. If Mistry was correct she could have more than one child, more than one ancient, but one was essential. For the moment, she was the only Ancient and the only hope for more Ancients. Promise me.

Promise you what? asked Mab-Abin.

That one day we will go back there, and we will never leave again as long as we are together.

Really?

Really.

I promise. I have no idea whether I can really make it possible, Eiferra, but I do promise that I want it to happen.

Thank you. Now, old bird, we have twenty Draig Morglas busy village building here, and, I notice, several are rapidly pairing up. Fren-Eirol has the sea dragons building her a house right next to the olive grove, while the rest build their village on the land my mother bought for them all those years ago. And what a beautiful thing that is at last. I wish she could have seen it. The sky dragons are scouting in the Alps for a mountain home, Silvi has taken most of the Reds to Bind and is then doing her Dragon Leader role up at Ponack, and there is a small invasion going on in Kend. So, that just leaves you and me to wing our way over to the Black Hills and find this Abbey. That is going to be interesting.

Mab-Abin sighed quietly. About the Abbey.

What about it? Ferret turned and looked at him.

You remember you said there might be some places that had memories of your father, and you didn’t know where they were?

Ferret frowned. The Abbey is one of those, isn’t it?

Go and wake the king up!

Sir Terran?

Now, please, this is urgent!

Sir!

What is going on, Terran? Sir Sovan came up from the kitchen, Anna following cuddling a coffee."

We have visitors.

Oh, please, not another windbag from Siinland.

No, I haven’t heard from the windbag yet. Not since the previous windbag lost his job.

Lost more than that, I hear.

We should discourage such final and bloody removals of people.

Oh, so dropping rocks on them is alright? said Sovan, laughing.

You are unhelpful, old man, you know that? Sir Terran was definitely in an off mood.

What is happening, Terran? asked Hornan Liander, trotting down the stairs and pulling on a jacket.

Visitors.

What visitors? asked the king, but Terran had already left and run down the stairs. Sir Sovan shrugged and the two men and Anna followed the knight out of the Burh and around the back to Pree’s Camp.

Morning, sire! said Lena cheerfully, climbing down from Be-Sula. We come bearing gifts!

Ten big sandy ones to join our little flight, added Be-Sula happily. And twenty even bigger red ones. Where would you like me to put them?

Morning! said a coarsely-accented Draig Mynyth Coh, more than twice the size of the big Be-Sula. My name is Mab-Corn. Have you got a lovely large hill we can use to plant a village on? Oh, and someone that can sell us wheat. We brew beer.

King Edver stared at the massive, cheerful beast in front of him, and pointed over his shoulder up at the hill above the castle. That one? Only used by one desert dragon and one very irritating Ancient. The rest is yours. You are welcome to annoy her as much as you like!

Empty lands swallow whole

My dreams of love

Take not my hope of better times

Or damn it from above.

"That sounds sad."

"It’s not meant to be. It’s supposed to be a warning, said the young girl, drawing a picture of a bird in the corner of the paper.

"What has a bird to do with it?"

"I am not sure. It might not be a bird. It is just something above looking down."

"What would look down? A god?"

"Oh, I hope not! The girl shivered then grinned. I think I want to be able to see anything looking down on me. She closed her small book. I’m hungry!"

Chapter 2 – Where to Start?

I can’t believe I never knew about this place. It’s incredible! Ferret slid down from Mab-Abin’s back slowly and walked across the broad paved terrace surrounded by indistinct statues, eroded by time. This is an Abbey?

Not now, said the dragon. Hasn’t been for, well, I don’t know how long, to be honest. Mistry’s the historian; I’m just the hired help.

Oaf! Ferret poked him in the leg.

Eiferra? A smiling woman somewhere in her thirties walked from the large double doors of the abbey. I am Seliva. Mistry said you would be here soon. Silvi arrived two days ago.

Hello, Seliva. So, is this your home?

Well, I do live here, so yes, I suppose it is. But Sen-Liana owned it.

Who owns it now? Ferret took the woman’s hand. It was a little rough from cleaning, but it was warm and strong and Ferret could feel the woman’s good health.

You do as much as anyone.

Me?

You are Sen-Liana’s only living relative. Please, come in. Mab-Abin, Be-Elin is in the garden waiting for you with a friend.

Thank you, Seliva, said the dragon with a chuckle, and leapt into the air.

The garden? asked Ferret.

There are gardens at the back of the Abbey outside the kitchen, plus stables. We also have a couple of dragon houses on the mountain, though they have not been used since the Draig yr Anialr left.

I’m sorry Seliva, but I know nothing about this place or even who you are. Mistry didn’t tell me anything and nor did Mab-Abin.

Mab-Abin was not a regular visitor, I believe, so I am not sure how much he knows. The two had walked through the large entrance hall and down a short flight of stairs to the big kitchen where a younger woman was scrubbing the table. This is my sister, Fona.

Hello, I’m Ferret. Is it all one family here, Seliva?

Four of us live up here, and as it happens we are all family, but that hasn’t always been the case. There are two large farms in the foothills to the west run by another two families, not related to us, and the Abbey also owns most of their local village. There are other people as well who are connected to Sen-Liana throughout Bind, but most do not know about the Abbey. I am sorry, it’s rather complicated.

And this is mine? Ferret was trying to let it all sink in but was feeling rather dazed.

Your grandmother was a very wealthy woman, Eiferra. She has left enough coin that the Abbey can be kept running for hundreds and probably thousands of years. The farms and other businesses still earn so that coin is unlikely to run out. She has instructed that it should be kept for you and any other ancients. For the moment, that just means you.

Oh. Ferret scratched her head. I don’t know what I am meant to do with it.

Nothing, you idiot! Misty came waltzing in and hugged the Ancient and Seliva. Sorry, Seliva, I am not staying long, so don’t make up my room.

It’s always made up. We never know when you are coming. My mother left me a long letter about you, as did her mother and her grandmother…

Yeah, you’ve said before, Seliva. Where is Silvi? Bell-Sendinar has just pounced on Be-Elin.

A black dragon can pounce? Ferret was amazed. When she and Silvi had first met Bell-Sendinar at Taken, they had been awestruck by his tremendous size, and Ferret had been humbled when she realised she could understand him.

More or less. But it has a similar result to Mab-Abin pouncing on you, I suppose. I’m sure Be-Elin will recover eventually.

Silvi is here and hungry! Silvi appeared through the back door. I’ve been working like a slave for two days. Teach me to turn up early.

What on?

There are just the two of us here currently, explained Seliva. The others are down at your farmhouse, Mistry, so, I asked Silvi to clean out the stables.

What are they doing at the farmhouse?

Shutting it up for winter, since you only use it in the summer.

What is the farmhouse? Ferret asked Mistry.

It’s not really mine, explained Mistry. When we first rescued the girls from Tekkinmod and headed back across Bind in a wagon, we set out from there. I like it and use it in the summer when I have a lot of reading to do instead of bothering the caretakers up here. Come up to the library and I’ll explain more.

The winter chill had come early to the Black Hills, and though snow had only fallen on the highest peaks, the wind was cold, and the fire was lit in the large comfortable library. Ferret and Silvi sat on the floor surrounded by books while Mistry perched on the edge of the large, polished table sipping a hot mug of tea.

How many of these did you write? asked Ferret in amazement.

Four of those and another which I’ll show you later. The one in the red binder is really just for interest. It’s as accurate a recollection of the war as I could put together from mine and your father’s memories. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely reliable, and it’s not a history. Neither of us saw all the war so there are parts missing or written from what others told us back then. For instance, none of us, including Be-Elin and Mab-Abin, were at the final battles when Tekkinmod was defeated. Farthing told me a lot of what happened, but he had forgotten bits of it and he wouldn’t talk about some of what happened.

I have a friend in Meressa who would love to see this, said Silvi with a grin as she leafed through the handwritten volume."

It really is just for us, Silvi, said Mistry. Sort of a family journal. I wrote it after I left the Isle of Hope before I worked out what Weasel had accidentally done to me. When I finished it, I hid it on a shelf here, not meaning anyone to find it. I suppose I wanted to close the door for good on the life I had left behind. I was only in my fifties with the body of a twenty-year-old, I was beginning to realise, and hadn’t decided what I would do next. But then my life changed in ways I could not have imagined. It doesn’t have everything. It stops at the end of the war and doesn’t tell of our lives on Hope. I have my own memories of Farthing, me, and my daughter there, and I want to keep them for myself. They are very precious to me.

Ferret and Silvi looked up at the woman sitting on the table, and both saw the echoes of those distant times in her eyes as they often did with Mab-Abin and Be-Elin. These were strong, talented people, yet they all carried with them much that still caused them pain. Farthing had died before his time, and Mistry had once again taken herself away, leaving her daughter to live her own life, and had started a journey that would take her centuries. It was a journey that they must now all travel together.

Silvi furrowed her brow. "I’m

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