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People of Dirt

People of Dirt

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People of Dirt

Length:
879 pages
13 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 19, 2017
ISBN:
9781370512980
Format:
Book

Description

Don, the capital of the beautiful country of Sarn is besieged by the armies of Lefton and Tol Nalan and the icy winds that are blowing down from the north.

Preland is in the grip of the worst winter anyone can remember in hundreds of years, and from beyond the Red Mountains, a wagon train arrives, sent by the king of Wone. The people of the north are freezing to death and running of out of food. They need help, help that only the dragons can provide. But it will take hundreds of them; Mistry must send to Angyn for help.

And beyond the storms, the vile True Path are allying with Categan. When the winter is over, they will head south intent on wiping out the dragons and building their new empire.

Not for the first time, Silvi finds herself at the front, being compared to her great father, General Johnson Farthing. But can this young woman lead an army? Can she defeat this terrible foe?

People of Dirt is the dramatic finale of Dirt, series two.

“I know, Silvi,” the vast creature said with a sigh, his rich voice sounding forlorn. “But it is getting dangerous, girl, and we must do something. All these dragons here helped with the food; none of us want to see that go to pot because some little bloke with a sword wants to take it all away again. Besides, we have interests up here now.”
“Interests? Since when do dragons have interests?” Be-Elin snapped. She narrowed her eyes. “You mean your bloody brewery, don’t you?”
“Might do.”

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 19, 2017
ISBN:
9781370512980
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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People of Dirt - CC Hogan

People of Dirt

By

C.C Hogan

Text Copyright © 2018 C.C. Hogan

All Rights Reserved

Edition 4

If there is one thing I have learned it is we have far more to learn from dragons than they have to learn from us. This is for them.

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 – Sarn

Chapter 2 – The Siege of Don

Chapter 3 – Stormy Weather

Chapter 4 – The Traders

Chapter 5 – Fighting Back

Chapter 6 – Stealing a King

Chapter 7 – Persuasion

Chapter 8 – Dragons

Chapter 9 – A Southern Harvest

Chapter 10 – Raw Recruits

Chapter 11 – Horses

Chapter 12 – Racing to War

Chapter 13 – Lords of the Wastes

Chapter 14 – Silvi’s Army

Chapter 15 – Baker’s Game

Chapter 16 – Fleeing Arnendor

Chapter 17 – Sweet Stalemate

Chapter 18 – Fort Derrafain

Chapter 19 – The Turning of the North

Chapter 20 – Stuck

Chapter 21 – The Chase

Chapter 22 – The Road to North Han

Chapter 23 – The City of True Destiny

Chapter 24 – Silvi Farthing

Epilogue

Find out more about Dirt

Books by C. C. Hogan

About the Author

Prologue

I can’t see who it is, whispered Hecken, moving around behind his friend to get a better view.

Careful! They will spot us. I think it’s that priest again.

What, Sin-Cemper? It can’t be!

It looks like him, said Yovvan with a shrug. But I don’t know where his other four Fin-Bregen-Ged are.

What is he doing all the way over in Categan? It’s two hundred leagues from his base in North Han.

We better get down there, Hecken; we might be able to hear what they are talking about. Head back up into that corridor.

The two scouts, dressed in black, quietly moved from the stone rail of the balcony in the great Haften keep and made their way down to the inner ward where the three tall men were arguing. They had spent the last four months in North Han in the west of Preland, finding out everything they could about The True Path, the fast-growing and extreme religion inspired by a corrupted telling of the war and of Pree that Ferret had witnessed on the Beacon of Hope. Now, on a change of instructions from Mistry, they were trying to discover who was behind the build-up of forces in Categan and its neighbours in the north-east of Preland. The last person they had expected to see was Sin-Cemper, one of the five leaders of The True Path.

It was one of those typically frustrating evenings. They had spent the last three hours smuggling themselves into the keep only to discover the most interesting meeting was happening in the outer ward. Hecken and Yovvan pushed open a side door into the stables and crept forward between two horses. Stroking one of the horse’s necks to calm him, they peeked over the stable door. Now they could hear as well as see.

Baron Velpor, I cannot condone slavery for pleasure!

It is not for my pleasure, Sin-Cemper. But what you are asking costs a lot of coin. Supplying young slaves to those who will pay is buying me steel while we finish opening up those new mines in Kaeggarson’s backyard.

Young girls should become mothers, Mordorbern and Mordormae, preferably giving birth to Bern-Ged warriors.

These girls are too young to be any sort of mother, Sin-Cemper, and we need arms now, not in twenty years. The dragons are returning, and I don’t think they will sit around biting their talons waiting for us to be ready.

Do we know how many have risen?

Oh, gods! You and your True Path beliefs! Well, we have no idea, to be honest. Most of the reports we have had are from Bind and they have their own problems over there. There are some down in Kend, but only a few.

There will be more, I am sure of it, said the evenly spoken Fin-Bregen-Ged, the God King.

Which is why I need the coin!

Sin-Cemper, what of your mothers? asked the tall, thickset man wearing heavy, intricately studded leathers.

Orlen Kaeggarson, there have been a thousand babies born to women pledged to The True Path, and they are all with child again.

You should be breeding my hunting dogs, said the warlord from the Northern Wastes with a laugh. You seem to have better success than my hound masters.

These women are honoured, snapped Sin-Cemper. They are not your breeding bitches! The man’s eyes flashed, and the two other men stepped back. We are recruiting young men as fast as we can, but we need those weapons, Velpor, and I need your training, Kaeggarson.

From what I have seen, your warriors, especially your archers are highly trained, Sin-Cemper, said the northerner. You would be a notable adversary; I have never before seen a bowman such as you.

Our elite archers, the Sten-Ged, are blessed with the ancestry of the Pharsil-Hin warriors, but our sword skills are less so, and your warriors are formidable with both sword and axe.

Once the new weapons are ready, I will send down a hundred warriors who will train your horde. The big man frowned, his thick, dark eyebrows almost touching together. Be aware that you will not find converts among my men, Sin-Cemper. We know the real origins of the dragons, and our most ancient songs tell of friendships with the ice dragons, which is in stark contradiction to the sermons of your priests.

Will that be a problem for you? I intend to burn any dragons, Kaeggarson.

As I said, ancient history. I have never met one, and I care not whether it is to share a beer or kill it with my axe. Our arrangement and the reasons for our alliance are simple enough and have not changed. We will help advance your cause in exchange for land. I have no opposing ideology to yours, so if you want to make the whole of dirt into a breeding pen for your religious warriors, that is fine by me.

Baron Velpor burst out laughing. My Northern friend has a simple view of the world, which I hope does not turn around and bite him one day, but his point is well made. I have little time for gods either, even if you appear to have your claws in my feeble sister, but I have no issue with you doing whatever you will with the serfs of this world. You may wish to leave the traders alone, however. Battle we might, but if trade dies, we all starve, whatever our beliefs, and my advisers warn of a severe winter ahead.

Perhaps you will change your hearts one day, gentlemen, said the white-robed priest. There is more power in belief than in an army of slave drivers. It is belief that will rule the new God Kingdoms and Adela, this world of Dirt.

Hecken looked over to Yovvan in their hiding place. Mistry is going to explode! he whispered. We need to get out of here. They crept back into the stables and made their way quietly towards the small door that led through the walls. Yovvan carefully eased the bolt across and pulled the heavy oak and iron door open, then cringed when it squeaked.

Oh, shit, muttered Yovvan when they heard a shout from the outer ward. Run for it! They banged the door open and charged out into the forest, cries of alarm ringing down from the castle walls following in their wake. It was dark with only one moon low in the sky, but the two were expert scouts, and they dodged between the trees almost silently. Suddenly, Hecken heard a gasp, and he spun around with his sword in his hand to see Yovvan, wide-eyed in shock, fall on his face, a long arrow drilled into his back and through his heart. In the far distance, in the doorway, he could see the white figure of Sin-Cemper, one of the five God-Kings, holding a huge bow and nocking his second arrow.

Sorry, mate, said Hecken to his dead friend, and keeping close to the ground, vanished into the shadows, heading to Wead-Wodder as fast as he could.

Chapter 1 – Death in Sarn

Standing alone, I wait for you,

My song prepared, my intentions true.

I feel unworthy of your demands.

That I’ll be nothing but a pawn in your hands.

You ask that I take a lead,

Be the strength that others need.

Yet I am feeble, young, and scared,

I will buckle yet, though it’s true I cared.

Will there be light at the end?

Is there some message I can send?

For I fear as shadows darken the ground,

That I will fail to hold back evil’s hounds.

Oh, don’t you dare, you wicked girl! Silvi leapt onto Be-Elin’s back and scooted up her neck, trying to use her weight to push the dragon’s head back into the waves.

Not a chance, wimpy kid! The huge dragon shook all the way from her tail to her nose and sent the screaming girl flying into the sea.

My turn! Falling from the sky, Be-Alene pounced on the desert dragon, the two disappearing behind an impressive wall of water. Teni grabbed Silvi for support.

Not fair! shouted the young girl nervously. My swimming is not up to this.

Why not? asked Silvi, grabbing her friend from behind and running her hands around her tummy.

Meressa is land-locked, in case you had forgotten, not like your lovely island.

Our lovely island, my darling, gorgeous thing! Come on, let’s roast those fish over the fire and get the hard cheeses turned while these two drown each other.

The two young women climbed up the rocks, hopped over the rock pools in their bare feet, and collapsed on the veranda of Pree’s cottage, now with a new roof and a room full of sea dragon silks.

Can the cheeses and the fish wait for a bit? asked Teni hopefully.

As long as we sort them before dark, girl. We are short of whale oil until we trot into Bay tomorrow. Why?

Because I have an important appointment with parts of your body that will not wait for cheese! Teni attacked Silvi under the ribs making her scream. The young women vanished into the tiny two-roomed cottage, burying themselves beneath their bedding, taking their love and passion with them.

Later, as Silvi lay dreaming, Teni fast asleep on her chest, she heard a small voice shouting in her ear.

Hey, Silvi, you must get up!

Hmm? Why, Teni?

I’m not Teni. Now wake up!

What?

Silvi sat up in a hurry and groaned in annoyance as her beautiful dream evaporated. Anna, this better be good! What is it? She was camped out in Ferret’s cottage in Kend while the Ancient and Agetha were back in Taken arguing with Mistry and the builders.

It’s Sarn!

What about it?

It’s been attacked!

What is happening? Silvi skidded Merry to a halt by the gate of Weidess Burh.

Where is Be-Elin? asked Sir Sovan, running out to meet her.

Anna has run up to the red’s village to get her. What is going on?

Come on, there is a sky dragon waiting in Pree’s Camp.

Silvi sent the irascible horse towards the stables with a smack to the rear and followed the tall knight around the back of the castle.

Are you Silvi? I am Biel-Vanyessa. The sky dragon was visibly shaken and looked close to passing out. Please, armies are marching towards both the castle and Don. I was as quick I as could be, but I didn’t know the way, and it has taken me over two days!

What is going on? Be-Elin landed with Anna on her back and Mab-Corn on her tail.

Sarn is under attack, said Silvi briefly. Sovan, who is here, dragon wise?

I’m not sure. I will fetch whoever. Six are up north patrolling the passes.

Biel-Vanyessa, what can you tell me? asked Silvi.

Sorry, almost nothing. There was one force coming down from the north to the castle and another force in the forests to the east of Don. Biel-Deffrine has taken that ranger there.

Devin?

Yes, sorry, I don’t really know him. I just came straight here, and we have sent another Draig Awyr to Gornenshire.

Be-Elin, I think we need to go on ahead. Sovan, put together whatever you can and follow when you are ready. It is two hundred leagues; I warn you now. You won’t be there until late tomorrow at the very earliest.

I will take you, said the young sky dragon.

Look at me girl, said Be-Elin quickly, turning the sky dragon’s delicate head towards her. You are going nowhere. Mab-Corn, take this young one up to your village for a couple of hours’ sleep. She can come with the rest of you when you are ready. She twisted her nose in thought. Can you send one of the young reds to Taken to let Mistry and Hal know what is happening?

No worries, girl, said the massive Draig Mynyth Coh with a soft smile. Come with me, young lady. He took to the air with the sky dragon behind him and flew back up to the hill.

Anna, grab me something from the kitchens, please. Sorry! Silvi smiled at the girl who bolted into the castle. What do you reckon, Elin? Tol Nalan and Lefton?

Has to be. They have been itching to get their hands on Sarn. The dragon looked up at the thick clouds. I don’t like the look of those. I think it is going to snow soon.

A bit early, commented Sovan. But it’s been freezing for the last week up in the Red Mountains. Silvi, I think I better fetch the king and Terran back from Caan.

Anna reappeared with a leather bag of food and a water skin. Oh, girl you are a wonder! said Silvi. Be-Elin, how fast are sky dragons?

Slow; slower than sea dragons. They found it hard to fly from Angyn. I’m not surprised it took her over two days, especially if she was lost.

Can we do it in one? Silvi bit her lip, almost apologetically.

We can try! Silvi leapt up onto Be-Elin’s back and they flew up and over the trees.

Anna, go and find Be-Sula and Lena, please; I will leave them running things here, Sovan commanded his young charge. I’ll find Garron. The two headed off to put together a winged force as quickly as they could.

As the tiring Be-Elin descended into the valley from above the wintry clouds, her eyes opened in horror.

Silvi, wake up! The castle!

Oh, shit!

Below, the castle was a blackened ruin with smoke still rising through the remains of the roof. As they flew down into the valley, Be-Elin gasped at the sight of three dead sky dragons lying at the gates, and around them forty or fifty soldiers and knights.

All dead? asked the dragon. Please, no.

Get up to the dragon village, Be-Elin. It is too dangerous to just land here without finding out more.

The mighty desert dragon growled softly and flew up the side of the mountain, landing on the rock precipice that looked out over the valley. As she pulled in her wings, Maeb-Trien limped towards them followed by Sir Pallin leaning heavily on a crutch, his arm bandaged. Silvi jumped straight off Be-Elin and ran to the old knight.

Pallin?

Silvi, we have been slaughtered.

The Queen?

The old man looked heartbroken. She is here, but she is dying.

They got to her?

No, we got her out by taking her up on the roof, but she has been very ill recently, and it was too much for her. You better come.

Silvi took the old knight’s arm and helped him towards one of the stone and wood dragon houses.

Speak to me, Trien, said Be-Elin, following the young sky dragon to the long meeting house.

They were like ants, snarled the dragon. We didn’t stand a chance. There had to be five hundred of them at least. They just kept coming and set fire to the castle gates. Then they were in and burning everything. It was all I could do to rescue Pallin and the Queen from the roof.

Where are they now and who are they?

Tol Nalans and they marched to Don. Devin is there and Biel-Deffrine arrived back here this morning. She has been caught by arrows, but she is okay. The town is besieged. The young dragon suddenly sat down in the middle of the village and started shaking.

Trien?

Oh, Elin, they are all dead. My friend Biel-Fellina is dead! It is only Deffrine and me here and the two we sent with messages. The others are dead. Why has this happened?

The caring desert dragon wrapped her wings around the sky dragon and held him close as he shook with grief. She looked around the village, realising how empty it now was. I am so sorry, Trien. So sorry.

Fena?

Oh, Silvi. I am glad it is you! The queen was lying on a pile of rugs in one of the arched dragon houses, covered with soft silks. Pallin sat down by the head of his elderly cousin and put more logs on the fire.

We have sent messages to Taken, Fena.

Oh, I wasn’t meant to die yet, not quite yet. I am so old, Silvi. Hold me? I am cold.

The rider pulled off her gloves and cuddled the small, ancient lady. Agetha will be here soon, and Ferret. She can help you.

No, not now. I am not going to last that long, Silvi.

Please, hang on, Fena!

The old woman chuckled. Still trying to order a queen around? Silvi, please. There are things I need to tell Agetha, things I want to say to her. Can you help me write a letter? Pallin has hurt his writing arm, silly old fool. The knight smiled and stroked the old woman’s head gently.

I am not very good at writing, admitted Silvi. Alright at keeping silly notes.

I can write. Biel-Deffrine walked in from the cold, pulling closed the large canvas doorway. It is starting to snow.

Thank you, Deffrine. You write in Adelan? asked the queen softly.

I write in my own language, but it will be written.

Then please, come close.

Silvi left the dying queen in the care of the dragon and walked across the shallow valley to the meeting house.

Silvi? asked Be-Elin.

Oh, Elin, she’s not going to last the day. I was holding her hand. She is wrapped up like a child, and Pallin has a fire roaring in there, but she is frozen. She is dictating a letter to Biel-Deffrine for Agetha. Where is Maeb-Trien?

He has just gone to his dragon house for a moment. Silvi, apart from him, Deffrine and the two sky dragons sent as messengers, the other sky dragons all died trying to defend the castle.

What?

The sky dragons are the most peaceful of all of us, the gentlest. They love words and song and creating beautiful paintings. Be-Elin closed her eyes in sadness. They don’t know how to fight. They tried to shout at the Tol-Nalans; they didn’t know what to do!

Now what? asked Silvi, leaning against her friend. The castle looks wrecked.

Don is besieged. We have to help them.

I must sit with the Queen, Be-Elin. I need to for Agetha.

You go. I will rest and then Trien and I will scout down the valley. He doesn’t even know how to do that properly. I expect we will see a few sea dragons here very soon; Gornenshire is much closer than Kend.

As Silvi walked back to Biel-Deffrine’s house, five large male Draig Morglas landed on the edge of the precipice, and she ran to meet them, sending them to see Be-Elin.

And that is your language? The queen was trying to focus on the large parchment held up by the sky dragon. Written with a fine stylus in a dark-blue ink were the words of the queen. The dragon people’s own tongue was a soft, gentle, rolling language that lent itself so easily to song. Their script was pictorial, simple ideas joined together with intricate, scrolling lines, and in the artistic hand of Biel-Deffrine, it was a thing of wonder.

Yes, Fena. These are our words. I will translate it for Agetha, but I think she will understand some already.

I believe you are right, Deffrine, for I have always seen in her the poet and the artist. Please, will you read it back to me in your own tongue?

Fena, I will read it as we do for our closest loves; I will sing it for you.

Silvi sat by the old queen and took her hand while the dragon sang a warm, comforting melody, expressing all the love Fena had for her adopted daughter Agetha. As she sang, the queen’s breathing became shallow and uneven.

Silvi, whispered Fena, sounding frightened. Tell Agetha I love her, please. Give her my ring and hold her tightly. She has meant the world to me and has kept me breathing and wanting to live all these years. And look after her for me. She will need you and Eiferra and the dragons. She gasped. Pallin, hold me!

The knight gathered his cousin in his arms and held her close, her breaths coming slower and shallower. And as the last notes of the beautiful song echoed around the dragon house, the queen of Sarn took her last breath and died.

What? Mistry sat up in bed, hot and confused. What was that? Her head had exploded into pain.

Calm, be calm, said a woman in a soft voice.

Hush child, we can hear you, said another woman.

What? Who are you? Mistry looked around the darkened room and down at the sleeping Hal wrapped up next to her. What is happening? Mistry shuddered as more voices brushed through her mind and she rubbed her temples in panic. Weasel!

I am here, dear one, said the imaginary Ancient, crossing the room.

What is happening?

It is the voices, he said, with an amused smile.

Something is wrong, old man. Terribly wrong!

What is going on, Mistry? Hal sat up groggily and put his arm around her shoulder. Are you having a nightmare?

No. I don’t know. Hal, I’m scared! Something is wrong, and I can hear it!

What can you hear?

Calm, child. Be still, Agetha. We are with you, said someone with a light, clipped voice.

I know you! said Mistry in surprise. Lily?

Mistry? said the white dragon in shock.

Mistry, what is going on? asked Hal urgently. Who are you talking to?

With a crash, the door of the tiny bedroom in the rebuilt Pub by the Waters banged open and a stunned Ferret burst into the room.

Mistry! You heard that! How can you hear that?

What did I do?

Oh, the gods! Ferret shook her head. Oh, Agetha!

Go to her, she is upset. Lilygwin’s voice was so very recognisable.

Get up, Mistry! snapped Ferret.

Oh, shit, cursed the small rider. Hal, stay there. I don’t know what is going on and my head is thumping!

Hal watched in confusion as Ferret and Mistry ran out of the room and clattered up the stairs to Agetha’s room on the top floor.

Agetha! The young red-headed woman was sitting on the bed, tears flowing down her face. What has happened? asked Ferret. You deafened me!

Oh, Eiferra, howled the young woman, leaping up and grabbing her riding leathers. It’s the queen! She is dead!

The wind rattled the canvas and wood door of the meeting house in the sky dragon village. King Hornan Liander marched up to the great fire followed by Sir Terran, both frozen to the bone.

Silvi, I’m sorry. Be-Elin told me when we landed.

She was not strong, Hornan. So very sad.

Where is she?

She is in one of the empty dragon houses, wrapped up in silks. There is no fire in there.

And what of the fallen dragons?

They are still at the Castle, some inside the ward. The sea dragons are going to deal with them and with the dead soldiers, those they can reach. They cannot get into the castle itself.

I will send people down there. Is it safe?

We think so. Hornan, I need you to do something for me.

Of course.

Sir Pallin is refusing to leave the queen’s side. He thinks he needs to keep a vigil until Agetha arrives, but he is an old man and injured; he is going to freeze to death.

Will he listen to me? I have only met him the once.

Sorry, Hornan, but I think you need to play at being a king again and order him. He will understand that, I think.

Hornan smiled at the concerned rider. Are you sure you are not as old as Ferret? You sound like you are sometimes.

No, very definitely not, but I have dealt with many knights over the last couple of years. They are amazingly similar to each other. She smiled apologetically at Sir Terran.

If you mean we are boring and predictable, then you’re probably right, said the knight, chuckling softly. Go to him, Hornan, and I will talk with Silvi.

This is now your country, Pallin, said Hornan Liander with little subtlety later in the meeting house. Or it is for the moment, so you need to take charge.

I am old, your Majesty.

Just Hornan. I now have a council running Kend and I will abdicate when the time is right. Silvi here says you are a competent commander.

You trust her opinion? The aged knight looked over to the young woman who was watching him carefully.

You have dealt with her and Ferret so perhaps I should ask you that question, but yes, I trust her. Probably more importantly, she has the confidence of the dragons, and I find them to be a people who do not trust us humans without question, and with good reason.

Sir Pallin stood stiffly and gazed around the meeting house at all those who had gathered. I will be honest, for the last twenty years my cousin and I have been each other’s only family and all I wish to do is grieve. It seems I do not have that luxury. Hornan, I have promised my queen to take this country from a monarchy to a land governed by the simple principles of Pree’s Law. I do not think it will be easy and I am not even convinced it will be better for the people here, but I will do it nonetheless, and I will make it work. The old knight looked down briefly and took a breath. When he raised his head, Silvi could see the anger in his eyes. I can do none of that while the Tol Nalans and Leftons are besieging our capital. I want them out of my country, and I will take any help I can get.

Be-Elin landed in the middle of the Barracks in Don, scattering the soldiers with a growl. The assortment of weapons pointed at her was as impressive as it was ridiculous.

Hold! shouted Devin, marching from the commander’s office. She’s a friend. That means stop pointing things at her! he yelled. The guards reluctantly lowered their weapons. Be-Elin, I thought I would see you and Silvi. Where is she?

I’m here! said Silvi, running into the barracks from the street. I wanted to look over your walls first.

They are not the safest place to be, commented Devin, smiling in welcome at the young woman.

So I noticed. One of them actually had the cheek to throw an arrow at me.

Is he still alive?

Doubtful. Silvi turned to Be-Elin. I’m going to stay here for the moment, I think. You need to sort out your dragons.

The gods of everything that flies help me! I need more Draig yr Anialr, Silvi, said Be-Elin.

That is not going to happen in a hurry, girl. Mistry might send a message to Correni, but she needs all her riders and dragons, and Tol-nee is only just staying in his town.

I know. Alright, I will go teach them to chuck rocks and try to keep the reds sober. The sleek desert dragon leapt into the air with a roar and disappeared into the falling snow.

Have you somewhere warm, ranger? asked Silvi.

Major now, apparently, which will teach me to get involved with you and Ferret. Come inside. How is the magical lady?

Missing you like crazy!

You’re winding me up, aren’t you?

Yep.

Devin poured coffee for the two of them and ran his hand through his hair. Oh, that is terrible news, Silvi. The queen has been very popular, especially out in the villages. Is Pallin in charge?

For the moment, though he’s not happy.

They were very close. The tall man sat down.

Who’s in charge here, Devin?

Good question. We have been in a mess anyway since the plot, and now we’ve lost two senior commanders during the Lefton attack; the colonel here at the barracks and one of the senior knights. That has left me as the ranking officer here and take your pick out of the knights. To make it worse, we lost the bloody mayor who was riding in through the gates at the time.

Is Jarnon still around?

He’s trying to hold the knights together, but he’s aged a lot in the last few months, and his health is not good. It’s a pity because he has probably been a more effective leader since your run in with him than at any other time in his career.

How many attacks have you had?

In the last hour? Devin made the joke with no humour. They have no siege weapons of any kind, at least not yet, and the walls here are old but strong and complete. We have more or less walled up all five gates. We were lucky, Silvi. Their advance force attacked as soon as they arrived, and the command here was able to push them back and seal off the town. If the Leftons had waited for the rest of their troops and the Tol Nalans, they would have been running the town by the end of the day. I don’t think they were planning on a siege.

Devin, I know nothing about sieges at all.

Neither do we, he said in exasperation. Another coffee?

Please. The weather outside is getting colder and we saw they are camping in the woods. What sort of attacks have you had? Silvi had seen the end of one attack as she and Be-Elin had flown in, but it had been ineffectual.

Attacking the gates and sending a lot of flaming arrows over the wall. We have moved people out of the houses nearest to the walls and are running up and down dousing fires. We have very few archers, so we cannot man the walls properly. They really don’t need to do anything more than they doing already.

Why?

The weather. They might be camping, but they have easy access to food and a forest full of firewood. If they stay there for the winter, we will run out of both food and wood.

Silvi rubbed her head. Well, if nothing else, the dragons can fly in some food, but you have a lot of people to keep fed.

Six and a half thousand, if I remember rightly. And we have no idea what is happening in the villages.

Do you know how many Leftons and Tol-Nalan there are?

I don’t. I would guess it is around two thousand, but we cannot get out there to check.

Try three thousand.

Mistry! Silvi hugged her great mother as she pushed the door shut against a snow flurry. What are you doing here?

We followed Eiferra and Agetha. They are up at the Castle.

You were quick! We only sent the messenger a few days ago.

We met her on the way over. Agetha knew something was wrong before any of us did and ran out of the inn and up onto Be-Rosenna. So, the rest of us followed.

How do you know there are three thousand?

Mab-Onin and I spent months spying on troops and we were good at numbers. Sir Dragon is good too, so we’ve been flying up and down counting.

Sir Dragon? asked Devin.

Sorry, Mab-Intuan. It’s a long story.

Mistry, how long can you stay? Silvi asked her great mother.

Hal is working back on the island and I need a break from Ferret and Agetha today, so you have the two of us, at least as scouts.

Thank you. Devin, I think we need to bring everyone with any authority here and put together some sort of command. Pallin has ordered for it to be sorted out so I can at least pass that message on. I take it by your face you don’t want to be in charge.

Definitely not! They still see me as a ranger here and so do I if I’m honest. Have you a plan?

No!

Devin, we are here to help, not take over, said Mistry. This is your country, not mine or Silvi’s.

Sorry, you’re right. I will go fetch who I can and bring them back here. Devin pulled on his ranger’s coat and stepped out into the snow.

Silvi turned to Mistry. What do you mean about Agetha knowing something was wrong?

Mistry sighed. She felt the queen die, Silvi, and woke up screaming. She is devastated.

That’s just over three days ago. The young rider looked at Mistry thoughtfully. You came here on Mab-Intuan. How did you get here from Taken so fast? The desert dragons and some of the unusually quick sea dragons and red dragons can travel fast and long, but to do that, they use the highest winds and fly far higher than a human can survive. Mistry looked up at Silvi, worry in her eyes. Mistry, what is going on? Silvi held the woman by the shoulders.

The voices, Silvi, said Mistry softly. I can hear the voices.

What? You mean what Ferret and Agetha can hear?

Yes.

And the flight? Silvi looked at Mistry suspiciously.

I can fly as high as they can, just about. I knew I could fly higher than you, but I had not realised quite how much higher. I cannot always tell on Bell-Sendinar, especially over the ocean. We flew here right at the limit for the dragons.

But how?

I don’t know. No, I do know. It’s Weasel. It is not just memories or living a bit longer. He has changed me. Mistry looked close to tears. I, you see … oh, Silvi. I was able to heal Hal.

What? I thought that healer in Sarn-Lien did that.

She did, or she finished it. But I healed him first because his lung was punctured. Weasel, his memory, talked me through it. I had already told Eiferra and we were not sure what it meant. But hearing the voices? That is something else.

Silvi sat down on the desk and ran her fingers through her hair. So, what does this mean? Are you saying my granny is an Ancient?

No. I mean, I don’t know. No, I can’t be. Ferret has learned more, and Ancients are not human and they are not dragon either. I haven’t become a different creature, I think. I hope.

Then what? Silvi looked over to Mistry and saw how upset she was. Oh, gods, you want a hug?

Oh, yes! Mistry hugged Silvi fiercely and then pulled back looking apologetic. I’m sorry, what is going on here is so much more important than my stupid head.

What has Ferret said?

Apart from shouting at me? Not a lot. We couldn’t talk on the way over. It’s still hard flying that high and we all had to sleep. Oh, Hal!

What’s wrong with him? asked Silvi, a worried look on her face.

Oh, nothing. Sorry, girl. I have just deserted him there, sitting in the common room looking confused.

How is he doing?

Better. We have been back to see Dienella at the Peppered Pony, and she has given us some herbal mixes to help. She was really annoyed at me for taking him away but says he will be alright now. He has taken on overseeing the restoration and sorting problems out at the harbour, and he is back on a horse, but still suffering from some pain.

Well, Granny dear, we have a mess here.

Sorry, Silvi. Were you there when Fena died?

Yes, I was. Can I tell you later? I should talk to Agetha first.

Of course. So, you and I have just said this is not our problem, but here we are. Any ideas?

Not a lot. What’s the weather like in Taken?

The weather? Mistry blinked in surprise. Normal, wet, winter-season Taken weather. Why?

It’s freezing in the Red Mountains, Mistry, and has been for a while. The knights there are saying it is far too early to be that cold. Same here. Last night I was chilled to the bone and even the dragons are complaining. If this is going to be a terrible winter, then either we have to beat the Leftons back as quickly as possible, or we are going to have to find a way of keeping six thousand people fed and warm.

That is nearly impossible. Even with the dragons; we don’t have enough.

I’ve already told Devin that. Once he is back, we must make sure they can hold on here and then we help from outside. Kend is sending who they can, but they can’t send everyone.

The dragon house was cold but light, and Agetha’s misty breath drifted over the still body of Queen Fena.

Thank you, said the young woman to the graceful Biel-Deffrine, who was sitting beside her and had just finished reading Agetha the letter from the queen.

You wish to be alone? asked the dragon, quietly.

No. Do you sing?

Yes, I do. I sang to the Queen.

She would have like that.

I hope so. She is beautiful, Agetha.

The young woman looked up at the Draig Awyr, tears in her eyes. You really mean that, don’t you?

Yes.

I have so much to learn, Biel-Deffrine. Will you sing with me? Will you help me sing to the woman who became my mother?

I would be honoured.

The song started simply and gently, the tall, elegant dragon listening to the soft, caring voice of the Fe-Geir, Agetha. Then, after a couple of verses, Biel-Deffrine added her own rich voice, singing softly in the tongue of the dragons of Angyn, a counterpoint of hope and love to help the heartbroken red-headed young woman who was now holding her hand so fiercely.

Silver was the light

That danced across her brow,

Glowing with the morning sun,

Bringing love to the child.

Red was the sadness

That was quietly brushed away,

Warming a maudlin heart,

As around the storm blew wild.

Golden was the joy

That ushered in each day,

To take a girl to womanhood,

As she danced amongst the trees.

Blue was the silence

That listened to the words,

As the girl sang of her love,

Of the queen she longed to please.

Purple was the robe

That was worn with laughter loud,

The trappings of a queen

Who wished to make things right.

White was the hue of sadness

Now the dearest heart had died,

And I loved so very much

The mother who held me tight.

Agetha stopped singing and listened to the dragon who filled the simple house with the warm melody. And in her head, she heard the voices of the healers from every land of the world of Dirt, singing a song of their own, the love washing through her, soothing her heart. Outside, Ferret stopped in the middle of the village, and her own heart ached as she listened to the voices singing their healing words. And in Don, Mistry, unable to cope with the beauty and sadness that filled her mind, hung tightly to Silvi, feeling the grief of centuries flood over her.

Mother, said Agetha, both out loud and to those that could hear the words of a Cwendrina. You loved me, even though you did not know who I was. You took in my mother and me, gave us a warm home and fed us both. You wished for so much for the people of Sarn, and without a second thought, welcomed the dragons looking for a place to build. I am not a warrior or a fighter, and I cannot save your country. That is for Pallin and the others to do. But I know as I go forward with my own people, with the dragons, with Eiferra, the voices, and the others who are lost and I have yet to find, I will be carried by the strength you gave me over all these years. I love you so much, and I hurt more than I know how to say. I will miss you always.

Agetha choked on the last words and curled into a ball on the ground, sobbing like a child. So, very gently, Biel-Deffrine picked her up in her arms, and leaving the dragon house, flew high into the air so the young woman could look down over the beautiful lands of Queen Fena of Sarn.

Come on Mistry, we need to talk to them out there. Silvi was sitting in a back room in the barracks while the greatest dragon rider of all time tried to get her breath back.

Oh, the gods, Silvi. I hope that doesn’t happen too often or I will never get anything done. These voices better have a cheerful side! Mistry shook her head and stood up. Come on, let’s see what your friend has for us. He must think we’re nuts.

Devin looked somewhat concerned as the two riders re-entered the commander’s office. When the song had started, he had returned just in time to see Silvi grab Mistry and push her into the back room.

Right, who is who? asked Silvi as if nothing had happened.

Silvi! An older knight bowed and smiled at the young woman who had given him so much grief.

Jarnon! Are you in command of the knights?

With Sir Rennon here. He has the youth and health I lack and does the hard work.

Before we get into too many details, interrupted Devin, this is Larn Fornton. He is not military but with the mayor’s office, and he grabbed me on my way back over.

I am sorry to barge in, gentlemen and ladies. I’m in charge of the town infrastructure including the drains and the walls. I think I know a way in and out of the town that our enemy has no idea exists.

Chapter 2 – The Siege of Don

Are you sure about this? Sir Jarnon looked at the ancient, faded map that Fornton had laid out on the table. The stocky official was dwarfed but undaunted by the tall soldiers and knights who were leaning over him.

Four generations my family have been working in this town, Sir Jarnon, and that is just those I know about. This map is even older and has been in the family all this time.

If the drains are so deep and widespread, asked Silvi, why are there open sewers in some parts of the town? Don might have been a lovely town in a beautiful country, but like most towns on Dirt it was far from the most pleasant-smelling place much of the time.

To be honest, miss, I don’t know, said the small man, shrugging. This town is ancient, but many of the buildings are only a couple of hundred years old and are built on the foundations of older properties. At a guess, I would think Don might have been partly destroyed at some point, perhaps during the old wars, because many of the drains marked on here are collapsed and unusable.

We didn’t destroy them, murmured Mistry, forgetting for the moment that none but Silvi knew who she was.

Silvi grinned at the puzzled frown on the engineer’s face and pressed on. But this is not a drain? She pointed at the sketched line the engineer had first shown them.

No, but it connects to the old drain system. We think it goes beyond the walls of Don and up under the hill to the old temple ruins which are in the woods to the north of the town. Major Devin, you must know where I mean.

I think I do, said Devin, stoking up the fire. In the last hour, the wind had changed direction and the weather was becoming colder still. Is it that place with the strange statues?

That be it. I have no idea what it is. People around here say it’s thousands of years old.

I would like to see that, said Mistry with interest. What are the statues of?

I haven’t been there for years, replied Devin. If I remember, they were women looking like they were praying, so not the Church of the True; all their icons are men.

The question is, can we find the tunnel and it is usable? asked Captain Leorn, head of the town guards.

Well, I would not have even suggested it a year ago, said Fornton. But we had that fire in the old barracks, if you remember, and part of one of the older buildings fell in. It opened up a big hole in the ground. Now, what with all the troubles a few months back and me being short of workers, we haven’t had the chance to sort that building out, but it’s right here. He pointed on the map to a section along his line. I think that hole is the tunnel.

Well, we have to find out, said Devin, putting on his coat. Now is as good as time as any.

I agree, Devin, said Jarnon.

So do I, added Rene, the deputy who had now found himself in the role of mayor since the death of his predecessor a few days earlier.

Which leaves one question, said Silvi quickly. I must get back to Sir Pallin and he will want to know what is happening and who is in charge. I am not from around here, so I’m just the message bearer.

Mistry stifled a laugh as each of the men looked at the others in a moment of confusion bordering on panic. The distrust and unease following the treachery of months before were still far from being exorcised, and it was obvious that no one was eager to do a job that might leave them vulnerable. Devin, you said you didn’t want the job, she said, mischievously.

Did he? commented Jarnon. Pity that; good man.

I am only a ranger, said Devin hastily.

No bad history and knows his way around, pointed out Captain Geel of the rangers. Well trusted.

Very popular up at Fere Erieve, I hear, added Sir Rennon. And he’s been doing a good job so far. And you are nearly the most senior in rank, Major.

In which case, you have the job of defending us, announced the deputy mayor. I am just a bureaucrat and I am going to have enough problems worrying about the citizenry and food. Oh, the gods, what are we going to do about food?

I am going to have to go, said Silvi. But we do have dragons that can carry some food if there is any to carry. It won’t be much, though. Mistry, can I steal Sir Dragon?

He was stamping up and down outside complaining there was no fire, so I doubt he will take much stealing, but let me grab my bags first. I made notes of all the positions we could see on the way over. The two dragon riders trotted outside, leaving Devin scowling.

You look like you have been set up, said Geel warmly as Devin removed his coat again.

I have constantly been set up ever since I met Silvi and her friend near the Fellinor border. And I get the feeling you’re only agreeing to this because I’m tall and make a good target.

That about sums it up, said Captain Leorn smugly. But we are all in this together. Now, where do we start?

Have you got decent maps of the area outside the town? asked Mistry, entering the office and pushing the door closed behind her. That wind is whipping up out there and will cause the dragons problems.

I am sorry, miss, said Mayor Rene. I’m a bit confused about who you are, though I welcome help, wherever it comes from.

Her name is Mistry, said Devin. And I get the idea that Silvi Farthing, Eiferra, and the dragons, kind of work for her. She was well known to the queen.

That will do me, said Rene with a smile. I am sorry, but I’m catching up here.

I am of best use to you as a scout, said Mistry with a small smile. One way or another, that is what I have done for years. If we can find our way out of this town, then give me a handful of your best and I will learn what I can of your guests outside.

It’s dangerous out there, commented Geel, frowning at the small woman, who scowled back at him.

Make comments like that too often and it will get dangerous in here, said Devin hurriedly. I have seen Silvi in action and she tells me Mistry is better than she is.

Please, a map? asked Mistry, impatiently. Devin pulled a large general map out from a locker and spread it over the desk with an apology. Mistry pulled out her ancient notebook and quickly added markings to the map. This is a guess, but there are at least three thousand encamped in the woods to your immediate east, though they have spread themselves out into groups, sensibly.

Why sensibly? asked Sir Jarnon.

Well, it might just be from accidental good fortune, but dragons and trees do not mix well. If you want to protect yourself from something of the size of the Draig that was glaring at you when you came in, stand under some bushy trees. Spreading out into smaller groups is better still.

That makes sense, observed Rennon. Are the dragons going to be of limited help here then? He shook his head slightly. I’m sorry, I’m assuming they’ll help, but there is no reason why they should.

Stick to that attitude and you will make friends of them, said Mistry with the first warm smile of her day. Yes, they will help because they think this is a good land. Dragons are not territorial like humans, though they will protect their homes. They do not judge based on which side of a border you are on, but rather if you will make a good friend.

I will remember that, said the tall knight. It’s a rare attitude and not something I have seen from any of our neighbours here. However, what help can they bring? I’m sure I heard that they don’t fight, at least not our sky dragons. By the way, we are all very sorry they have lost their friends.

Thank you, said Mistry. I will pass that on; it will mean a lot to the remaining four. Most dragons will not fight or do not know how. There is no history of dragons fighting other dragons, and mostly when humans fight they stay out of the way.

I sympathise with that, muttered the older Sir Jarnon.

Draig yr Anialr, desert dragons, are different, however, and train to fight. Even some of the red dragons are now taking part, as they did in those old wars that you spoke of inaccurately.

Inaccurately? asked Captain Leorn.

You did make the association with Silvi Farthing, didn’t you? hinted Devin.

Well, not as such… Oh! That Farthing?

Anyway, Mistry continued, having made her point, if slightly obscurely. The dragons can and will scout, and they can also shift supplies, depending on the weather. She looked back down at the map. I’m worried this might not be everything your enemy has to throw at you, and they may have reserves. We would have done. I have to admit I don’t know very much about this region, but will all these be Leftons?

Mostly, replied Devin. The Tol Nalan force worked their way down through the mountains from the north and attacked the castle, then joined the Leftons here. But they were the smaller force. I have no idea whether more from Tol Nalan came in with the Lefton troops or not. If you are right about reserves, those may be Tol Nalans, of course, and are probably up north somewhere. To be honest, it makes no difference as they are commanded by the two brothers who rule the two countries. He looked at her notes. They have chosen a good area to set up camp, he said. Those woodlands are dense in places and that’s a shallow valley which will help protect them from the north winds. If you are going to be stuck outside in winter, that is a better position than many. I need to know how complete this siege is. This is not a huge town by area, but it’s densely populated and is big enough to be difficult to patrol from outside. However, they have shot the odd flaming arrow over the walls even in the north, and we have seen them building outposts from the battlements.

Then that is definitely my task, said Mistry. Get me outside with some others, preferably independent soldiers who can work quietly on their own, and I will find out what you need.

I’m happy with that, said Devin, realising he would be perfect for the job but now was stuck in the town. Rangers are best at this. Captain Geel, can you supply Mistry with a couple of squads?

Of course, Major. Who will be in command of them?

I will, said Mistry over her shoulder, making some additional notes from the map. She turned and looked up at the big ranger. Make sure they can read, write, and make maps. I don’t want anyone relying on memory alone. I will come and collect them when I’m ready. Come on Fornton; let’s go find your tunnel.

Once the two headed out into the growing storm, the others turned to Devin and Jarnon, who were both grinning.

What is so funny? asked Geel.

Oh, nothing, replied Devin. You will get used to not feeling in charge of anything while any of those ladies or dragons are around. I have almost missed it.

I haven’t, muttered Jarnon.

Silvi and Agetha had grown closer in a quiet way over the last few months. Agetha was a Fe-Geir, one of the mysterious First People, but unlike the others of her kin, she would live a normal length life as Silvi would. Both felt sometimes overwhelmed by the long lives and accumulated knowledge of their friends. However much Agetha may have learned about who or what she really was, and how much affinity she felt with Ferret, Bell-Sendinar, and Lilygwinn, in the end, she was a young woman like Silvi. When the rider walked into the dragon house up on the mountain, Agetha threw herself into Silvi’s arms and sobbed in a way she had yet to do with the others.

Hey, girl, whispered Silvi. It’s alright. She held on tightly while Agetha buried her face into her neck, the vibrant red hair of the Fe-Geir hiding her tear-streaked face. Silvi walked Agetha over to the pile of dragon rugs and sat her down gently, pulling her in closely until the crying subsided.

Sorry, whispered Agetha, taking a breath.

Don’t be. Here, I have something for you. Silvi took the Queen’s ring from her pocket and pressed it into Agetha’s palm. She asked me to give this to you.

I should have been here, I really should.

You weren’t to know, girl. Pallin was here and Biel-Deffrine. She sang to her, you know.

And you were here. Thank you, Silvi.

I liked her, said Silvi with a small smile. She was strong.

Yes, she was.

You are too. She said to tell you she loved you.

Did you hear what she wrote to me?

I only heard it in the dragon language, which I really don’t understand.

She said my songs had brought her joy and pain. Joy when they sang of love and pain when I spoke of the people, especially the poorer villagers in the valleys. She said I made her more determined to make things right for Sarn and that I made her a better person. I didn’t, Silvi; she was a such a good person anyway!

I think you are right, but I also know what she meant. You seem to understand people, Agetha, with the same ease that I get them wrong so often. I think she saw that in you and that helped her fulfil her dreams. I know Sarn is not yet what Pree would have wanted, but it’s a good place with good people and it will get better.

I used to dream of Pree when I was young, said Agetha, resting her head on Silvi’s shoulder. I wrote songs about her. I didn’t know who she was, really; just a face in a drawing my mother gave me. I know she wasn’t a Fe-Geir like me, but I feel a connection with her, and not just because Rustina and she were so close.

I know I do, said Silvi. We have all become wrapped up in her dream. Mistry might have carried that dream to us, but it was begun by Pree, Farthing, and Weasel, and we are all connected to them one way or another.

Agetha pushed herself upright and looked Silvi in the eyes. What can I do? I’m not a fighter like you and Mistry or even Ferret, but I should do something.

I’m not sure, to be honest. We don’t know what we are going to do either yet. Really, we are just helping, and this is for Pallin and Devin now. They have inherited this land and it’s theirs to defend.

Sometimes you can be creepily wise, cousin, said Ferret, coming in with a noisy flap of the huge doorway and a gust of snow. Definitely snowing now, she grumbled.

Our girl has led a far too luxurious life in her villa and summer house, said Silvi to Agetha, and was rewarded with a smile. Mind you, I saw Be-Elin shivering earlier, and she is meant to be a tough northern dragon.

Been on Angyn for five hundred years, remember, remarked Ferret. All warm and balmy there.

"True enough. So, what

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