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The Dragonstone

A Novel of Mithgar

Mithgar

Dennis L. McKiernan - Author

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ISBN 9781101626429 | 576 pages | 04 Jun 2013 | Roc | 18 - AND UP
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Welcome to Mithgar, Dennis L. McKiernan’s classic bestselling fantasy series of adventure where legends are forged in the fires of sorcery....
 
For as long as she can remember, the Elven Lady Arin has been besieged by visions from the past—or the future. But none has ever left her so shaken as the one that foretells the fall of Mithgar: images of raging dragons and brutal legions laying waste to everything in their path signifying a devastating war that will threaten the land.
 
There is more to the prophecy than a warning—riddles within the vision that Arin must decipher if she is to prevent the forthcoming destruction. And it will take a journey across countless leagues—connected to a relic of immense power known as the Dragonstone—to find the answers to Mithgar’s salvation....

Chapter 1

Lightning stroked the night, the glare flaring through the narrow windows, thunder rolling after. As if summoned by the flash, a blast of rain hammered down on the small, ramshackle, dockside tavern, while the wind rattled door and sideboards and slammed a loose shutter to and fro, and waves roared against the pilings ’neath.

Inside the weatherworn building the sound of the storm was muted somewhat, and Olar, his sharp elbows on the rough broad plank, which served as a bar, leaned forward and hissed at Tryg, “Wha’ be them two women doin’ here, eh?” He thrust his narrow chin sideways toward the shadow–wrapped corner where the two strangers sat just beyond the yellow light of the single tavern lantern hanging above the bar. “Mayhap a couple o’ doxies come t’ ply their trade when th’ raiders return, aye?”

Tryg, proprietor of the Cover, snorted at Olar’s remark, then leaned forwards and said in a voice just loud enough to be heard above the moan of the wind and drum of the rain and the rattle and bang and swash. “Ye’d better not let them hear ye call ’em doxies, laddie, else ye’re like to come up missing y’r balls.”

Yngli, the only other person in the tavern, slapped the plank and laughed at this remark, but Olar looked at Tryg in surprise. “’N’ j’st why d’ye say that?”

“’Cause one o’ them be an Elf, ’n’ t’other’s a, a, well I don’t rightly know her kind yet she be th’ one wi’ th’ gleamin’ swords.”

Olar drew his breath in through clenched teeth and glanced towards the shadows of the darkened corner as lightning against stroked nearby, thunder slapping after.

The flare briefly illuminated the outsiders’ faces: delicate, strange, exotic. The one on the left was fair skinned—ivory and alabaster—and she had hazel eyes aslant and chestnut locks falling to her shoulders, with pointed–tipped ears showing through. The one on the right was saffron skinned—tawny, ivory yellow—her tilted eyes glittered onyx, her short–cropped raven–black hair shone glossy…but this one’s ears were not tipped.

The strangers sat in the corner with their backs to the wall, silent, impassive, as if waiting. On the table before the yellow one lay two unsheathed swords, one long, one shorter, each slightly curved; the blades glinted wickedly as lightning flared.

Olar blenched and quickly faces forward once more. After a moment he said, “Then wha’ think ye be th’ reason brought them two t’ Mørkfjord, eh?”

Tryg shrugged his beefy shoulders as he tipped the pitcher to replenish the mug sitting before the gaunt fisherman. “Seekin’ passage, I would think, now, aye?”

Olar cocked an eyebrow, but Yngli shook his head. “I think they ha’e come t’ hire a Dragonship and crew—a raid on enemies, aye? They be waiting for the return o’ them anow—likely Orri’s craft, since he fared out first and should come back soonest, I would say.”

Rain hammered down as against Olar cast a quick sideways glance toward the enshadowed corner. Then he leaned forward and slurped at the foam in his mug. Wiping the back of his hand across his lips, “Th’ Elf,” he hissed, “d’ye suppose she be one o’ them Lian, one o’ them Guardians? ”

Tryg shook his head. “Too short. More like them what lives in th’ deep woods—“

“Dylvana, ye mean?” interjected Yngli.

“Like as not.”

Yngli smiled, “Then she be my size.”

Tryg looked at the grin on Yngli’s face. “P’rhaps y’r size, my smallish friend, but I wouldn’t go about getting ideas, else ye, too, are like t’ lose y’r hope f’r future off–spring, from what I hear about Dylvana females.”

“Wha’ about th’ yellow one?” sissed Olar. “D’ye suppose she be an Elf, too?”

Tryg shrugged.

“She ha’e got slanty eyes,” muttered Yngli.

“But her ears don’t be pointy,” responded Tryg.

Yngli eyed the swords. “D’ye think they be here t’ stir up trouble? Mayhap t’ kill some’n’ who did ’em wrong?”

“Or t’ cut off their balls?” groaned Olar, shivering.

Tryg opened his mouth to say something, but in that moment the rattling door flew open, admitting wind and rain and a scrawny old man who came lurching in, water runneling down through drenched strings of unkempt, long hair fringing ’round his glistering wet bald pate, his scraggly beard and his ragged cloak dripping.

“Get out, Alos!” shouted Tryg above the blow. “’N’ shut th’ door behind as ye go!” The old man staggered a few more feet, a trail of wetness following. “I told ye before, I don’t want ye in here, Alos!” The tavernkeep started around the end of the bar as the old man inarticulately whined something and turned his head aside and threw up a warding hand and fled stumbling among the few tables, seeking refuge. Behind him the door whipped to and fro, banging against the wall in counterpoint to the loose shutter, and rain gusted inward and the tavern lantern swung on its chain in the swirling blow to set the shadows swaying.

Muttering curses, Tryg started for the old man. “Get th’ door for me, Yngli,” called the beefy tavernkeep, “while I throw this good–for–nought out.”

Yngli leapt to his feet and stepped to the banging door, pushing it to and standing ready at the latch while Tryg went after the whimpering old man.

Ineffectually, the older scrabbled among the tables, trying to evade Tryg, finally cowering under one to no effect, the tavernkeep swiftly caught him by the cloak collar and jerked him up to his feet. “Alos, I told ye I don’t wan ye in here ever.”

In the swaying lanternlight, the old man looked up at Tryg, one eye watery brown, the other, blind, the entire cornea white. “Just one drink, Mater Tryg”—his voice was a whine—“one is all I need.”

Left hand on Alos’s collar, the right gripping a fistful of breeks through the sodden cloak, Tryg yanked the old man on the tiptoes and propelled him mewling toward the door, where Yngli stood waiting. But Yngli’s eyes widened and he gasped hoarsely and scuttled backwards, away, his gaze beyond Alos, beyond Tryg.

“ ’Ware, Tryg,” sounded Olar’s call, more of a squawk than a shout.

At the same time—“Hold!” came a command from the shadows.

Tryg jerked his head ’round and he sucked in air between clenched teeth, his grip on Alos all but forgotten, for there just behind stood the yellow lady, her swords in hand, the blades viciously gleaming in the shifting light. She had left her cloak behind, and for the first time Tryg could see that she was not wearing a proper dress like a proper lady should, but instead was garbed in brown leather—vest and breeks and boots. Hammered bronze plates like scales were sewn on the vest; underneath she wore a silk jerkin the color of cream. A brown leather headband incised with red glyphs held her raven–black hair back and away from her high–cheekboned face. She stood in a warrior’s stance: balanced, ready. Like one o’ them Jordian warrior maids…’cept she ain’t not Jordian, being slanty–eyed and yellow and all.

Armed and armored and standing perhaps but five feet two, she looked at Tryg, her tilted eyes black and impassive. “Kanshu, my mistress would speak with this one,” she said quietly in a strangely accented voices as she canted her head toward Alos. The old man smiled a snag–toothed grin at her, his few remaining teeth yellow–brown.

Tryg glanced at the Dylvana in the corner then back at the yellow woman. “Lady, he be nought but a derelict, a beggarly drunk, and no good’ll come o’ this.”

The swords shifted slightly, glimmering.

Tryg released Alos. “ ’Tis all on y’r heads,” he muttered under his breath, backing away from this female. “Don’t say I didn’t warn ye.”

With a great show of dignity, Alos stood erect and gripped the lapels of his sodden cloak and straightened the garment, stretching his dirt–encrusted wet scrawny neck as he did so; then he turned his white eye toward his rescuer and bobbed his head and grinned a mindless gap–toothed ocherous smile. “First we’ll have us a drink, aye?”

For a moment the yellow lady eyed him impassively…then with a quick turn of her hands she reverse gripped her swords and fluidly sheathed them. Then she spun on her heel and stepped toward the shadows where the Dylvana waited, the old man trailing water and licking his lips in anticipation as he lurched after.


Chapter 2

Even before Tryg could leave the table the sodden old man slurped down his ale, running his grimy finger around the rim of the mug to pick up the remaining light froth of foam then licking the finger clean, dirt and all. He looked up at Tryg expectantly and then over at the two ladies and smiled his brown–stained gap–toothed grin at them and bobbed his head eagerly.

The saffron–skinned, black–haired female warrior merely stared back at him impassively. The Dylvana sighed and looked into the blind white eye of the oldster as if considering her options.

Tryg cocked an eyebrow at the Dylvana. She, too, was dressed somewhat like a man: a long–sleeved pale green silk jerkin and tan breeks and brown boots. Her chestnut hair was held in place by a green silk ribbon bound ’round her head. He guessed she was shorter than the yellow woman by as much as seven or eight inches—perhaps no taller than four feet six or seven—though it was difficult to judge with her sitting down. As far as he could tell, unlike her companion she was unarmed. He cleared his throat. “Lady?”

She turned her tilted hazel eyes his way and nodded, and Tryg took up the empty mug and headed for the bar, the old man’s full attention now locked up his retreating back.

“The taverner seems a decent sort, Aiko,” said the Dylvana. “I do not think thou didst need show him they swords to have him release our guest.”

Aiko’s almond–eyed gaze followed Tryg as well. “Ever at rest a sword in the hand speaks with a loud voice, Dara.”

The Dylvana smiled, then turned to Alos, but the oldster was totally absorbed in watching Tryg refill the mug. The Dylvana sighed but said nothing, instead studying the old man’s face, her gaze returning ever again to his white eye.

Shortly the tavernkeep came back to the table, and Alos avidly reached out both of his liver–spotted hands to eagerly take the mug. Again he quickly drained it and once more fingered the remaining froth of foam. He ardently looked at the Dylvana in anticipation and smiled his yellow–brown snag–toothed smile, but his face fell as she shook her head and waved Tryg away and said, “We will talk first and then perhaps have some more ale.”

“But, mum, I could talk better if—“

Aiko’s hand struck viper swift across the table, and snatched the old man by his still damp wrist. “Kojiki, you will address her as ’Lady’ or as ’Dara’,” she hissed. As if to underscore her words, a thunderbolt cracked the night sky, light flaring through the window, Aiko’s face standing out in bold relief.

The old man whined and tried to pull back to no avail.

“Aiko,” came the Dylvana’s soft words. “Let be.”

Roughly, Aiko pushed Alos’s arm away, and the old man pulled back his sleeve and rubbed his age–marked skin and looked for damange, finding none.

“This unclean yodakari cannot be the one,” said Aiko, turning her dark gaze to the Elf.

The Dylvana shook her head. “Aiko, we know it not.”

After a moment Aiko looked away, her black eyes impassive again.

The Dylvana reached across to pat Alos’s hand, but the old man flinched back. She withdrew the gesture and instead took up her wine cup and stared into its depths as if seeking something within. At last she lowered the cup to the table and said, “I am called Arin and my companion’s name is Aiko. We have journeyed far to reach Mørkfjord…perhaps to see thee.”

Alos nodded, but his one good eye was on her nearly full cup wine cup as she absently turned it about and about.

“Tell me, Alos, art though the only one–eyed person in the steading?”

Momentarily taken aback, he looked up at her, his white eye seeming to glare. Then he grinned gap–toothed and said, “As far as I know, mu—er, Lady Arin.”

At this answer, Arin glanced at Aiko, but the warrior woman just shook her head and said nothing. Arin gazed back at Alos. The old man’s good eye was once again locked on her wine cup. Arin put her palm down over the top, and a look of resigned disappointment fell upon Alos’s face as he blew out through his lips and looked up at her.

Arin leaned back in her chair, away from the oldster. He smells like a wet goat and his rank breath could knock a camel off its feet. He is filthy and dirt smeared and probably hasn’t seen soap and water in a year or more. Even so, he could be the one, for there seems to be no other choice, at least not in this village.

“Dost though know of any other one–eyed person living nearby? Mayhap in another steading?”

He shook his head and muttered, “None I know, Lady Arin.”

“Thy blind eye, Alos, there is scar tissue all about, as if burned long past. Pray tell, if it bothers thee not to speak of it, how came thee to be blind?”

Flinching, Alos looked down and covered his white eye with his right hand. “I take it you are looking for someone one–eyed, mu—er, Lady Arin, true?” He lowered his hand to the table and stared at her with his white eye. “If it’s to give a reward, then I’m your man; if it’s to reap one, I’m not him.”

Arin smiled. “Thine accent, Alos, it does not sound Fjordlander to mine ear.”

“I’m Tholian by birth, from th’ Long Coast.” Alos glanced at his empty mug and at Tryg, then asked in a plaintive voice, with a hint of whine in overtone, “Lady, could we have another nip?”

His eyes widened as Arin pushed her cup across to him, for seldom did wine come his way. He held the nearly full cup to his nose and savored the aroma; perhaps it was some of Tryg’s best, her being a Lady and all, and an Elf at that. In two gulps it was gone, its warmth filling his belly and spreading outward. Smacking his lips he ran his licking–finger around and down and into the bottom of the cup, searching for a leftover drop or two.

Her black eyes glittering in the lamplight, Aiko stared impassively at the dirt–streaked old man as he slurped at his digit, grime embedded under the split nail.

“Ah. From the Long Coast of Thol,” said Arin. “Yes, I recognize thine accent now. But how came thee to be here in Mørkfjord?”

Alos blew out a long breath and leaned slightly up on one hip and noisily passed gas, then peered about as if to find the miscreant. A look of disgust fell across Aiko’s face and she wrinkled her nose and glanced at Arin and raised an eyebrow, but Arin merely shook her head slightly.

“My ship, uh….foundered,” replied Alos. “Yes… foundered.”

Arin waited for him to continue, to elaborate, but he said no more.

Lightning flared as Alos looked into the wine cup, searching, and thunder rolled as he shoved the empty cup aside and shifted his gaze to his leftover ale mug. His good eyes widened and he titled the mug up to catch one more drop of brew on his tongue, while rain drummed on the roof of the tavern. He smacked his lips and emitted a belch—a bubble of frothy spittle appeared at the corner of his mouth, which he quickly sucked back in.

Aiko looked away in disgust, but Arin took a deep breath and leaned forward. “Alos, ’tis not accident we are here with thee.”

“Here? In the Cove? With me?” Alos’s good eye widened then narrowed. “How did you know I would be here?”

Arin shrugged. “We asked about. They said thou would’st likely be making the rounds of the taverns and there are only three. This one is closest to thy… sleeping place.”

Alos finger–combed at the long wet strings of white hair fringing his bald top and he smoothed his scraggly beard. He tugged at the lapels of his damp cloak, straightening it. Then he looked at Arin. “Well now, you came to talk with me personally?”

Arin nodded. “Perhaps.” She glanced at Aiko, then back at Alos and said, “We come on a mission and it seems as if thou art part and parcel of it.”

Aiko sighed.

The oldster’s watery brown eye widened, and he glanced Tryg’s way. Then he smiled his yellow–brown grin and turned toward Arin. “A mission, you say? And with me in it? Well anow, let’s have some more wine—or even brandy, eh?—while you tell me about this mission, aye? It needn’t be the best brandy, or even the best wine. In fact, it could be mere ale, what with—“

There came above the storm the cry of voices, and the dock shuddered as if struck a blow. Tryg stepped ’round the end of the bar and toward the door, but both Olar an Yngli were there before him.

“ ’Tis a ship,” called Yngli, peering out into the rain. “Tyin’up now.”

“Who be it, eh?” asked Tryg.

“Ship’s lanterns or no, I can’t tell,” replied Yngli. “Too dark in this blasted rain.”

“Some o’ them be comin’ this way,” said Olar, “carryin’ somethin’ or some’n on a litter.”

“Here now, step back,” commanded Tryg. “They be comin’ to th’ Cove.”

Aiko was on her feet, her swords in hand. Arin, too, was standing, though her hands were empty. Behind them Alos scrabbled back and away and crawled under a table in a far dark corner.

Through the door came a large, burly man, helmed and cloaked, fleece vest and leather pants and buskins beneath. He carried a lantern and behind him came two more men, these bearing an unconscious fourth.

“Orri!” cried Yngli. “Y’r back.”

“Some’n fetch th’ healer,” called the burly man as he set aside the lantern and swept the mugs from the bar. “Lay him here, lads,” he ordered the two bearers. As they hefted the litter to the plank, the large man’s gaze fell upon Yngli. “You, Yngli. Run get Thar. Damned Jutes; Egil took a sword cut fro th’ duke’s brother—killed him dead for it, though—but th’ wound ha’ fevered him.”

“Right, Orri!” Yngli gulped down the last of his ale, then snatched up his cloak and Orri’s lantern and dashed away on his errand.

As the Dragonship was secured, more men came through the door and into the Cove, a few with bandaged wounds, but most hale though wet from the storm. Orri glanced about as the place began to fill, then he cast a handful of silver coins onto the counter and called out to the taverner: “These men fought like wild wolves, Tryg, ’n’ worked up a mighty thirst, so open y’r taps wide ’n’ star th’ ale t’ flowin’.”

There was a glad whoop and men surged toward the bar. “But what about Egil? ” cried Tryg, shouting to be heard.

“Ar, there’s nought can be done till Thar arrives,” bellowed Orri above the clamor. “Besides, wound or no, fever or no, should Egil wake he’ll want an ale o’ his own.”

As men crowded forward to get one of the mugs of brew being served across Egil’s prostrate form, Olar wormed his way through the press to get one of his own. As he stood behind Orri, he craned his neck up and looked over the raider’s shoulder at the wounded man. “Adon’s daughter Elwydd,” Olar burst out atop the milling din, “Egil’s lost an eye!”

At these words, Aiko, standing unnoticed in the shadows along the wall, drew in her breath and glanced at Arin, just as the Dylvana started forward.

“McKiernan brews magic with an insightful blend of laughter, tears and high courage.” Janny Wurts, author of Curse of the Mistwraith

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