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Dragon's Voice: A Tale of Espar

Dragon's Voice: A Tale of Espar

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Dragon's Voice: A Tale of Espar

Length:
348 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 4, 2019
ISBN:
9781393715030
Format:
Book

Description

Sair Mirk was only the bastard son of a dead guardian until he stole the wrong magic amulet. Now the dragons of Dragon Pass want him as their voice and have sent him to the capital to convince the King of Espar not to build his border towers near the Pass.

 

In order to reach the king, Sair must convince Heir Durrek to take him seriously, a task made more difficult the farther into court politics Sair, an ungracious errands boy, falls. Alienating the heir seemed like the worst thing he could have done, but in doing so he also stumbles into an assassination plot against the king. Untangling the threat endangers the existence of magic in the world, and Sair is at the heart of it. Now even dragons cannot save him.  

 

Contains: Mild sexual content, violence, death.

Publisher:
Released:
Nov 4, 2019
ISBN:
9781393715030
Format:
Book

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Dragon's Voice - D. Lambert

22

CHAPTER 1

Sair Mirk ran at a full sprint, knowing exactly where to place every footstep along the roof despite the gloom. He cleared the blacksmith's awning in three strides and launched himself from the edge.

Overshooting the gap between buildings in his zeal, he smashed into the outside wall of Miller's shop. His knuckles scraped into the stone surface, but he surprised himself by catching the top of the shuttered window instead of the sill as he usually did. He hung for only a moment, letting out an uneasy breath as he realized he had nearly fallen two stories.

Worse, he had nearly been seen.

What's going on out there? called a groggy voice. The merchant was in town, making use of his apartment over the general goods shop. Thankfully, the ancient man moved at roughly the speed of milk curdling, leaving Sair more than enough time to push against the jamb and scramble onto the roof.

Ducking into a roll, Sair rode the slant of the thatching down, then off, the roof.

He landed in the freshly cut hay pile just outside the Kingsman's Stockings Inn. Even Miller didn't have a window facing the Stockings and, should the old man decide to investigate, it would likely take him until morning to get down his stairs. He was out of sight, for the moment.

When Sair shifted, something hard pressed into his shoulder. He looked up to see a pitchfork jauntily sticking out of the hay pile only a hand's breadth from where he had landed.

Trust Glinter to leave that lying around, he thought. His uncle never considered how leaving objects out of place might hinder a harried escape from the local wardens. But then, no one else in town ever worried how anything might hinder a harried escape from the wardens.

As Sair rose, he swapped his stolen gains—a pair of magic trinkets—from the obvious pouch on his belt into his boot's hidden pocket. He quickly picked the hay out of his hair. Finding the cask entrance into the inn, he flipped open the latch, glad to be home.

Something banged loudly, but the latch did not move.

Disbelieving, Sair pulled on it a second time. The loud metallic clang repeated. In the shadows between the buildings, he followed the latch down by touch to discover the clunky lock that held it. The moonlight was too thin even to let him see what kind of lock it was.

Oh, demon piss, he muttered, his heart climbing up his throat.

Voices called out in the street as if answering him. The wardens were rapping on doors nearby, asking if anyone had seen or heard someone passing.

Sair checked both directions. Running up the alley was useless; it was a dead end behind the inn. He could climb again—he had done that before—but they already knew to watch the roofs. Rodons was not a large village. He had to come off the roofs before long, and he had no other refuge. And going up through an open window of the inn would put him in a suspicious position this time of night.

Beyond the hay pile was the street, but the wardens there would see him. What excuse could he give for being outside so late without a light? This deep into summer, it was only dark close to midnight, too late to be out doing chores. Glinter would probably foul up the lie, should he be asked. And if Sair claimed he had been meeting Kahri, she wouldn't know to support the tale. He needed an alibi. The quiet street had none.

Running his fingers over the new lock, Sair decided his best chance was to go through the door.

His fingers told him it was a keyed lock, but one of good enough quality that his skeleton key set would be unlikely to succeed. He didn't have time to try a multitude of keys anyway, not with the wardens so close.

Sair pulled out the pick and tension wrench from the seam of his collar. Placing and torquing the tension wrench, he slid in the rake pick. Had it been a fine lock, he would have needed to lift each pin individually and would have no doubt been caught, but there were no fine lock makers in all of Rodons.

With a few back and forth movements, Sair felt the wrench turn the plug. He reset it and repeated the pick's motion. The next pin slipped up, and the padlock popped open.

A simple two-pinned lock, Sair thought. Easy.

The voices of the wardens were in conversation with Miller through an open window, close enough that Sair could see the light of their lantern sneaking into the path between the houses. Giving a final glance back, he hooked the lock on a nearby beam, swung open the latch, and crawled down the dark chute. He landed in the cellar of the Kingsman's Stockings, having gingerly closed the doors behind him.

By the time he heard wardens entering the Stockings, Sair was in the kitchen, helping his uncle by sweeping the back floors. Glinter gave him only a passing glance before returning to his job of cursing the dirt off the mugs. The owner and keeper of the inn, Master Ratch, had clearly given Glinter a talking-to of late; Sair's uncle was being unusually thorough with the cleaning. It was hard to say if the man's sweat was the effort of his swearing or the heat from the wash water. All the windows hung open, aiming to vent the mugginess.

Guardian Tracher was the first into the kitchen, and Sair tried to look suitably surprised. Of all the soldiers of Rodons, the guardian was the last person he had expected to be chasing a thief. He should have been off duty by now, leaving the job of monitoring the streets to his wardens. Sure enough, two wardens dressed in basic leather armor and simple tabards followed Tracher in. Both looked slightly drunk, but Tracher was stone-cold sober and glowered enough for all three men.

Had Sair known Tracher would be in the vicinity, he would have put the theft from the dragon hunter off to another night. Tracher had learned his devotion to justice from the best guardian the village of Rodons had ever known, Sair's father, and was relentless.

You two seen anyone come through from outside? the guardian asked.

Sair shook his head and went back to sweeping. Glinter grunted out Nope from among the Stockings' pile of mugs. He scrubbed harder on a stain on the wooden cup, resuming his swearing.

Ratch says there was a lock on the cellar door, but it's missing, Tracher added, giving the two kitchen servants a long, dark stare. The glare lingered most on Sair, making him wonder if he had missed some hay when cleaning himself. He reconsidered: no, it looked more like disappointment. That was common whenever anyone who had worked with his father looked at him.

Lock? That's my fault, Sair offered, smiling sheepishly. I didn't know there was a lock. I helped uncle bring in the ale barrels earlier, and I was the one who closed up after. He looked at his uncle.

Glinter was too fat to be seen as tall despite his height, and his voice sounded like he had lived in a chimney since birth. He wiped his hands on his apron, his expression as sour as the vinegar wine stains he was cleaning.

Then pay closer attention, Glinter snapped, and Sair wasn't sure if the rebuke was earnest or an act. Glinter turned his scowl on Tracher. If he didn't close up, the lock'll be outside the door. Sorry 'bout that. I'll have to' pologize to Master Ratch too.

Nodding once curtly—another thing he had learned from Sair's father—Tracher returned to the main room of the Stockings, presumably to ask the dragon hunters drinking there if they'd seen a thief. It would be a wonder if the guardian could be heard over the noise, but then, Tracher had a voice that carried well, and he knew how to make use of it.

The floor was finished and the mugs dried by the time Tracher left the Stockings. Sair checked the main room twice under the guise of collecting dishes before he was confident they would not be overheard.

As soon as he confirmed Tracher was gone, Glinter asked in his husky voice, What'd you get?

Nearly got impaled is what I got, Sair replied. You left the pitchfork out.

I told you: you need to pay attention, Glinter said, his black-toothed smile wide.

Sair's stomach sank. You did it on purpose, he said, realization dawning on him. Did you suggest the lock, too?

Nodding his three chins, Glinter chuckled. You're getting cocky, kid. Next time, I'll get Ratch to put a fancy four-pin monstrosity on that door. Didn't think you'd be in such a hurry, mind you. You sloppy enough to get seen?

As he spoke, Glinter made his way toward Sair, his hand out expectantly.

Just bad luck, Sair replied, fetching the brooch from his boot and handing it over.

The moment he said the words, he regretted them. Sure enough, Glinter's outstretched hand swung at him. The slap made his ears ring, but it was better than the beating he'd get if he tried to avoid it.

Luck? Glinter snapped, his voice a snarling whisper. Through the doors, the crowd of the Stockings let up a laugh, hiding Glinter's growl. You don't count on luck, and you don't use it as an excuse! I won't have it.

Glinter spat. It landed in the cleaned mugs on the table.

Bad luck was the only excuse Sair had. He had selected the hunter and the item days before, knowing the man had been about to leave for Dragon Pass. Had things gone to plan, the hunter would not have known he was missing the brooch until he was well on his way to being eaten by a dragon. Instead of being fatalistically drunk as he had been every other night during his stay in Rodons, the man had come back to his room early and sober. Only Sair's speed and willingness to climb roofs had spared him. He had no explanation for the hunter's change in behavior.

Glinter squinted at the brooch, his expression skeptical. The trinket was a plain woven copper pattern without gems or precious metals. You sure about this one?

Sair shrugged. Feels magic to me, he said.

Casting him a glare, Glinter slipped the trinket into a pouch as he lumbered back to the dishes. I'll take your word on it, he said. As for luck, kid, make your own. No one in this world is going to help you do that. The grumbling man grabbed a rag and resumed his chores, ending the conversation.

Sair stayed another candle or so and was paid two copper leg coins by the innkeeper for his work.

He wouldn't need the coins once Glinter sold the brooch. Although his uncle never split the profits fairly, the brooch would earn Sair enough for a few special meals and a new piece of jewelry for Kahri. It wouldn't be much more than that, but Sair could always steal something else.

Crawling into the degrading attic above his uncle's home, Sair pulled off his shirt and boots. Then, certain he was alone except for the rats, he reached back into his boot and pulled out a second trinket.

Lying back on his straw mattress, Sair lifted the golden amulet into the starlight. By the weight, he could tell it wasn't pure gold, but it glimmered in the light as if it was. The gem in the middle, just off center, was a deep red. The amulet was shaped like a dragon holding the gem, the wings and tail looping in a perfect circle.

Something about the piece made Sair believe it was magic, although he had not seen the hunter use it. Glinter had taught him to target enchanted items, and this one had the tingle of magic to it.

Now that he had it, he did not know what to do with it. Enchanted items were too rare to be in hands such as his. He needed someone who could also recognize magic, someone who had enough money to afford a trinket, and someone who would deal with Sair, cutting his uncle out. No one like that existed in Rodons to Sair's knowledge. Sair had seen Glinter's buyer on occasion, but he did not know how to contact him. If Sair gave it to Glinter, he was sure to see only a sliver of the trinket's true worth.

But even if he could sell it, it would be worth a fortune that he had no way to use in Rodons. And Glinter had told him enough stories to make him dread the choked streets and lying nobility of the cities. The idea of leaving Rodons brought mixed emotions. On the one hand, he would be free of his father's shadow. On the other hand, he would know no one and have no way to earn a living.

There had to be something beyond Rodons, something more than being his father's bastard son, trapped in a town of gossipers and doomed dragon hunters. He couldn't clean the floors of the Stockings forever.

If Glinter was an example, Sair admitted, he could clean the Stockings for the rest of his life. But why steal things if not to amass a fortune and ride off to greater, richer things? What was the point?

He tucked the amulet away under his mattress. Pulling the wool blanket up to his chin, Sair gazed through the open window. He did not know why he had not given Glinter the amulet or what to do with it, but for now it was his. He could turn it over to Glinter later.

The moon hovered over the mountain outside, making the light red. The enormous DragonTail Mountains loomed on the edge of his view through the window, hiding the horizon with their red cliffs. Somewhere among those peaks and cliffs was Dragon Pass.

By now, Dragon Pass would be filled with treasure, Sair decided. Hundreds of hunters had come through Rodons over the decades, and none had ever come back. Was their equipment scattered along the floor of Dragon Pass, banked by red cliffs and dust, or did the dragons sweep them into a pile like Sair cleaning the Stockings' kitchen?

Rolling over, Sair put his back to the window. He dreamed of Kahri as the skittering of rats above him lulled him to sleep.

IN THE DARK, WHEN DRAGONS could see heat, the silver dragon rode the high winds over the mountains. The specks below him glowed in bright orange, indicating mammals. The shapes were that of humans, and the dragon gave a long, annoyed sigh.

For many days now, the humans had been bringing stones onto the outcropping near Dragon Pass. They cut trees and stripped them of bark, then transported them great distances to this place. The silver had watched them, expecting to see weapons, but these humans were not hunters. These were builders.

That worried the silver. Hunters were easy to anticipate. If these humans were building, that implied they intended to stay. They were close to Dragon Pass. He did not want them remaining.

The silver circled again, far too high above to be reached by even the most powerful hunter weapons.

He had no desire to harm humans, but if they built their home too close to Dragon Pass, what choice did he have? When humans met dragons, they sought to kill them. He wanted to be left to hunting wild horses and eating the dragon weed that grew so plentifully to the south of the mountains. He did not want humans.

They were too close, and there were too many of them.

The other dragons would not be happy. They had come to Dragon Pass because it distanced them from the humans while still providing enough food for several of them to live together. Humans would chase the dragons out.

Their only other choice was to destroy the humans doing the building, and that sickened the silver.

He turned from his patrol and aimed Dragon Pass. He would discuss this development with the others. Together, they could decide how to approach the problem. The mountains belonged to the dragons.

Silent in the chill of the high mountain air, the silver soared home.

CHAPTER 2

Knowing better than to leave anything unattended in his room while he was out for the day, Sair tucked the amulet under his shirt in the morning. The gold chain weighed heavily under the thin tunic, making him shiver.

He checked his boot knife and picks, then hid the rest of his tools in the space under the window where the sill and wall gaped. He tiptoed past Glinter's room, determined not to wake his uncle after a late night, and grabbed a wedge of bread as breakfast. On his way out the door, Sair passed the unnamed black-robed man as the stranger headed into the house.

Glinter must have been awake after all; he had called his buyer, probably to collect the brooch. Sair’s uncle was not one for delays when there was money involved.

As Sair headed down the street, he glanced back and saw the stranger looking up after him, one hand on the latch of the door. With his head lifted under the hood, Sair expected to see a face. Instead, he saw a blur of features, the face concealed.

Makes sense, Sair thought. Anyone who bought magic items would be able to hide themselves with the magic. It was probably the same way the stranger came and went from Rodons. No one else ever seemed to see the man.

Like most days, Sair made his way to the barracks of Rodons and was quickly assigned chores. Even some of the much younger boys could have done the jobs, but Sair was given preference due to his father's legacy. That, and he was the best sword sharpener, a task no warden assigned to a novice. The coliron, imported from the far northwest, was strong but sensitive if edged incorrectly. For those who could afford the sturdier metal, damaging a blade was devastating.

Chewing a snub of tarol root, Sair sat in the dirt track courtyard watching the wardens as they came and went from duty. The majority gave him a wave or a nod, although Cregs was still reeling from something, probably a lecture from Tracher, and hurried out so quickly he nearly ran over Sair in his haste. The disgruntled warden muttered a word that was not quite an apology or a curse and trudged on.

Coming in uncommonly late, Guardian Tracher arrived. To Sair's disappointment, the broad man paused, looming over him.

You ever hear funny noises in the cellar at the Stockings? Tracher asked bluntly.

Figuring it was too obvious to pretend he didn't notice, Sair asked, This have something to do with you coming by the Stockings last night?

Tracher nodded once curtly in the manner that reminded Sair so much of his father.

We had a fairy dragon down there last year, Sair admitted. Mistress Famina chased it out a dozen of times before it finally stopped coming back. Now we have big spiders, and no dragon to eat them.

Tracher chewed his lip pensively, his eyes for a moment fixed on something just beyond Sair's right ear.

Something happen? Sair prompted.

Some things got stolen, Tracher admitted. Miller says he heard the thief on the roof, but the trail goes cold beyond his house. I thought maybe the cellar chute.

Sair nodded throughout the explanation, trying his best to look interested.

They'd have to come up into the kitchen, Sair said, going back to sharpening the sword, unless there's another exit I don't know about.

I'll have to look. Trouble is, it wasn't just a hunter who lost something.

Sair's hands paused. No? The villagers were not worth stealing from, rarely having anything of value. Who else would a thief steal from?

Tracher shrugged, the gesture like an ox sighing, and turned to leave. Got a demon-kissing wizard in town today. I hate magic.

Wizard? Sair choked on the word. Real wizard?

Tracher did not even bother to turn around, emphasizing his disinterest. Calls himself Master Foran Nimsom. He's got 'Master' in front of his name, so I guess that makes him real enough. Pain in the ass, having to watch over some frumpy, white-maned scholar who won't even tell me why he's wandering out, corralling hunters . . .

The complaints trailed off as Tracher wandered out of earshot.

Sair expected a man of the sword like Tracher would dislike men of the wand. Most were honest enough from what Sair had heard, but even the prospect of magic unsettled any guardian who might have to confront a caster. Wizards seemed to have no limitations to their power, making them an intimidating opponent.

Domin Mobar, Sair's father, had not shared that concern. In his role as a festival storyteller, he had recounted tales of brave wizards defending the kingdom, defeating red dragons, or keeping storms at bay. Wizards were heroes in all Guardian Mobar's stories. But Guardian Mobar had come from the capital, where the King of Espar could keep watch over wizards. If rumors were true, the king also had magic in his family, and some of the heirs were casters. They could defend themselves from the magic of other wizards. Regular people, like guardians, had no such protection.

The amulet felt awkward around Sair's neck as he realized he had not stolen from a dragon hunter at all. He had taken the trinket from a wizard.

He contemplated his ill luck all afternoon, trying to decide on a course of action. Hiding the amulet would only work for so long. Could he return it, claim he had found it? Or could wizards detect lies? Perhaps his best hope was to convince Glinter that he had stolen another trinket during the day and convince his uncle to take it on.

Would Glinter be angry if he found out the trinket came from a wizard? Was he in danger, since he had the brooch?

By dusk, Sair had finished every chore the wardens had given him, earning himself another two copper legs, and he still did not know what to do. Deciding his best chance was to hand the ruddy amulet to Glinter, he headed to the Kingsman's Stockings.

Glinter was not in the kitchen. Assuming he was handling the bar, Sair hesitantly snuck into the public portion of the inn.

The Kingsman's Stockings Inn had a main room with six large tables. Not surprisingly, hunters populated the tables, each dressed in dragon scale, claws, and talons to boast of their kills. The youngest wore simple leathers of glittering, multi colored scales spliced together from fairy dragons, while their seniors had the smooth hide of firedrakes as their basic clothing. A scattered few, likely aiming to impress someone, wore sturdier armor of blue or green scale, their weapons often made of the teeth and claws of dead dragons. At least two hunters had a gold scale mounted on their armor. Those men had the largest gatherings around them, and when they told stories, everyone listened.

No one had silver scales.

Sair checked the tables for the bear-like hunter he had stolen from and found the man in a corner chair with a stooped partner. Sair chose to take a table on the opposite side of the room, next to a pair of hunters and a flamboyantly dressed man who wore no dragon paraphernalia. Despite searching, he could not find Glinter. Was he not working today?

Kahri was serving, and Sair caught her eye as she left the kitchen with a pile of food for the robbed hunter and his friend. She winked at him before depositing her load on the table and being forced to talk to the hunter there.

At seventeen, Kahrianne Famina was the young woman every man in Rodons wanted. In addition to being the daughter of the Famina family, who owned the Stockings, Kahri was stunningly beautiful. Tonight, her golden hair was woven in an intricate pattern that seemed to have no end and no beginning. No matter how much she worked at the Stockings, she never had a single lock out of place. She had once tried to use some of the paints from the cities to dress her face up with colors, but Sair told her, and believed, that she needed none of the makeup. Her figure had become that of a woman, and Sair was uncomfortable with how much he enjoyed watching her.

When she turned from the table and again met Sair's eye, she shot him a broad, flirtatious smile that made his chest tighten.

She disappeared into the kitchen, and Sair managed to let out his breath. With the extra coin from the barracks, he had enough to skip working at the Stockings tonight. If Glinter was elsewhere, he would have to catch him at home, but that meant he had time. He was considering enticing Kahri into meeting him by the burned willow behind the Stockings when a nearby conversation caught his attention.

I've got no need to go further, the brightly clad man at the next table said. He rubbed his face as if a beard had been recently shaved clean. That horse carried me from Forsinth, and it breaks my heart to lose him, but I can't justify keeping such a fine steed.

The dragon hunter across from the man pursed his lips in doubt. Horses are questionable around dragons, the hunter said.

Not Shale, the shaven man insisted. Steady as the rock for which his coat named him. Beautiful beast. Lucky white feet, all four. I have heard it said that Totho himself drew the star on his brow, and the God of Wind granted him his speed. That is why my price is so high, but it is worth every piece, I assure you.

Kahri arrived at Sair's table, but he hardly noticed her, his attention on the conversation. The description of the horse was distinctly familiar.

Taking a table tonight? she sweetly asked. What can I get you?

"Are Miller's horses in the barn?

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