Authors: Avril Sabine
Broken Gate Publishing
PO Box 6241
Maroochydore BC 4558
Genre: Children’s Fantasy
Copyright 2013 © Avril Petersen
Cover design by Caitlyn Petersen
All rights reserved
For my oldest son, who told me I needed to write a story with dragons. Here it is, as ordered.
In a world ruled by those who own dragons it is almost impossible to change your station in life. Fen is an orphan with a short life expectancy and no hope for the future. In the process of trying to steal a dragon for his master, Fen’s life looks like it’s going to become even shorter. He’s faced with a difficult decision. Should he risk everything, including his blood boiling in his veins, for the chance of a future or remain with his corrupt master.
This novel was written by an Australian author using Australian spelling.
Fen huddled under a damp bush. The steady drip of moisture from the leaves trickled down his back. He drew his arms in tight against his ribs and held his clasped hands at his mouth so he could breathe warmth on them. After pulling the grimy woollen cap down to cover his ears he went back to breathing on his hands.
He had brown eyes, a slightly crooked nose and his worn cotton shirt, patched until it had been thrown in the rubbish, did nothing to keep him from shivering. All that kept him in the cold drizzle was the thought of what would happen if he returned to Rhone empty handed. A shiver went through him at that thought, one that had nothing to do with the damp night.
The door Fen watched opened and two men came out with a lantern. The door closed behind them and they sauntered past the front of the windowless stone building, disappearing around the corner. Once the men were out of sight, Fen slowly counted to ten. Exactly as Rhone had told him. Crawling out from under the bush, he tried to straighten. A leg cramp made him buckle and he bit back a gasp. He kneaded the muscle, his forehead pressed against his knee. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth in an effort to stay quiet. The pain ebbed away. He took a deep breath and warily rose. After a glance around he hurried to the building.
There was very little moonlight, but enough to see more than shadows. Enough to see the door wasn’t quite shut. Fen stared at it. He began to chew on his lip, frowning as he tried to decide what to do. The door should be locked. He took a step away from the door. Stopped. His back could almost feel Rhone’s walking stick land across it. He had to go forward. As his hand reached to push against the door, Fen reminded himself of one of the other orphans Rhone had taken in. The one who hadn’t risen after Rhone had used his walking stick on him. He’d been dumped in the river with no one to care what happened to him.
Fen slipped inside the building, pulled the door shut and glanced around. Lamps hanging from the ceiling gave off a soft glow of light. Fen stared at them. He’d heard of wizard lamps before but had never seen them. They gave off light but no heat and wouldn’t burn anything down if they were knocked over.
There was a lot to burn down. Straw was scattered over the floor and on the raised wooden boxes. Some of the boxes had large eggs nestled around a heat stone. Something else Fen had only ever heard of. He stepped forward. Dirt streaked fingers hesitantly reached out to touch the heat stone. He snatched his fingers back at the last second, forcing his mind to the job at hand. At the end of the room was a rock wall with a metal door set in it. This was where Fen needed to go. Rhone had said the place would be fire proof. He’d never heard of stone or metal catching fire, unless magic was involved.
Fen looked around. Nothing but very large eggs. No one was inside. He shrugged. Who knew how servants of wealthy people thought. If he owned this place he’d make sure it was always locked up real good. He moved forward, more confident now he was out of the rain and no longer shivering. The building was warm from all the heat stones. He considered stealing one but knew Rhone’d take it from him.
Rhone warned each kid he took in that they could only stay with him until they were fifteen or sixteen. After that they were on their own. Even though he didn’t know his exact age, he recognised the signs. He didn’t want to do anything to make Rhone throw him out any sooner. He wasn’t ready to strike out on his own. All he had was a couple of coins, but that wouldn’t be enough to help him survive.
The metal door swung open easily and Fen stepped into the room. The floor was heated granite and the sudden warmth on Fen’s bare feet sent goosebumps up his arms. He rubbed them and moved into the room. There was a scattering of straw on the floor that looked like it had been walked in from the other room, but that was all the flammable material he could see. The room was divided by rock walls and metal doors, which reached to Fen’s chest height to create a stable. He moved to the first one, peering inside at the tumble of limbs.
Four grey coloured dragons lay together, their wings tucked in against their bodies and their arms and legs sprawled out like a basket of kittens that had fallen asleep playing. But they were much bigger than a kitten, more like a mid-sized dog.
Grey dragons were just what Rhone wanted. A new hatchling still not come into its colour. Fen started to open the metal door into the dragon enclosure when a sound made him freeze.
“What are you doing in my stable?”
Fen spun around. “You’re a girl!” For a moment he’d expected someone older. He could outsmart another kid.
The girl tossed brown hair, tilting her head so she could look down her pointed nose. Blue eyes glared at him, her hands on her hips. “And you’re just a boy.” She wrinkled her nose. “A filthy one at that. Don’t you ever take a bath?”
“What for?” Fen looked confused.
“You didn’t answer my question. And who are you?”
“Who are you?” Fen demanded.
“I asked first. Besides, I’m meant to be here and you don’t look like any stableboy I’ve ever seen. At least they bathe once a week.”
“It was cold outside, I came in to get warm.” Fen put a whine in his voice in the hope the girl would feel sympathetic.
“Sure.” The girl drew the word out. “I’m not stupid. There are grey dragons in that pen. Everyone knows you can only steal grey dragons since you can’t blood hunt them until they change colour. Even I know a dragon’s useless until it changes colour and can be tracked.”
“I’m no thief. I’m an orphan. It’s cold out there.”
“What’s your name, dragon thief?”
Fen started to move away from the dragons. “I’m cold and starving. I haven’t eaten since last night.” Both comments were true. Rhone believed a hungry boy was more anxious to do his job and return for a feed.
“Take one more step and I’ll alert the guards. And don’t think I can’t. The right word, even whispered, will set off alarms all over the place.”
Fen eyed her carefully. She had to want something from him. There had to be a way to use that against her. “Then why haven’t you?”
“Because I think we can help each other.”
“How?” His eyes narrowed. “And why would you help me?”
“I haven’t decided if I will yet. First I need to know your name and then I need to know why you want a dragon.”
Fen sighed. Rhone had told him it’d be the easiest night’s work he’d done since he’d taken him in. Nothing was ever simple in life.
“I guess I could always give you a name. It’s better than calling you boy, or dragon thief, or even scavenger. Now, you don’t look much like a Selig. I have a cousin Selig and he’s much bigger than you. You’re rather scrawny aren’t you?”
Fear started to be replaced by annoyance. “Don’t you ever shut up?”
“Shh, this is a tough decision.” The girl glared at him again.
“Oh, for peace before you talk me to death. It’s Fen. My name’s Fen.”
The girl smiled. “Now, that wasn’t too hard, was it? And yes, I can be quiet.” She flashed him another smile. “When I get my own way. Now, why do you want the dragon?”
Fen shook his head, muttering ‘spoilt brat’ under his breath. “My master wants it.”
“How the hell would I know? He’d rap me across the head with his walking stick and yell at me to get out of his business.”
The girl sighed. “That doesn’t sound good. I don’t know what’d be worse.” She frowned and then suddenly looked at Fen thoughtfully. “What would you swear to be able to take a dragon tonight?”
“A blood oath?”
Fen went pale under his layer of dirt. “Well…” his mind quickly tried to find a way out of the situation. “We don’t have a wizard to do the spell.”
“My father has parchment that’s been spelled for blood oaths. Will you sign one?”
“What’s the oath?”
“You’ll protect the dragon from all harm, even to putting your own life in danger.”
Fen closed his eyes. How could he keep such an oath? With a master like Rhone it’d be impossible. For all he knew the dragon would be slaughtered for parts to sell to wizards for spells. Not every wizard questioned where rare items came from.
But what was he to do if he failed to take a dragon to Rhone? There was no way he could survive on the streets yet. If he served Rhone well, he’d give him a knife and a few coins before sending him on his way. He could protect himself with a knife. Being one of Rhone’s boys was what protected him now. But if he failed tonight, that’d quickly change. He thought of the blood oath. Surely he could figure out a way around it.
“Have you fallen asleep?”
Fen’s eyes snapped open. “I wish.”
“Well? What’s your answer?”
“What’s your name?” Fen demanded.
“Your name. If I swear a blood oath, I want to know who holds it.”
The girl nodded, took a breath and then said, “Edana Lenita Behira Yileen Renarlo con Crinitie.”
“A bloody royal blood. I should have known.” They were the only ones who used the word ‘con’ to add the mother’s family name after the father’s family name.
“I’m not that royal. At least a thousand people would have to die before I could get anywhere near the throne.”
Fen cast about for something to talk about. Something to take her mind off the blood oath. “What’s with the stupid name? Your ma must have the lungs of a diver to call you when she wants you.”
“It’s not stupid. I’ll have you know they’re all family names. Besides, everyone calls me Edana.”
“Too bossy and annoying to be called that. It sounds more like a girl who sits at embroidery all day and doesn’t hang out in stables wearing pants and boots,” Fen sneered.
“Just ’cause I’m royal doesn’t mean I have to wear stupid frills and be bored all day talking about dresses and parties. I like pants and I love dragons.”
“You’re more of an Ed. I knew an Ed once and he was as annoying as you.”
“I am not.” She glared at Fen. “What happened to him if you don’t know him now?”
“Upset the wrong person and became fish food.”
“What do you mean?”
Fen rolled his eyes. “Don’t you know anything?”
“Probably more than you. Now quit stalling. Will you take a blood oath?”
Fen sighed. That hadn’t worked. Maybe he could disappear while she was gone. “What choice do I have? Go ahead and get the parchment.”
“Not so quickly. I’m not having you run off with a dragon the moment I go.” Edana pulled a linen handkerchief out of a leather pouch at the side of her belt and held it out to Fen. “Blood tracker.”
Fen shuddered at the thought of blood tracker hounds after him. She was smarter than he’d first thought. “I don’t have a knife.” He looked warily between the handkerchief and Edana.
Edana smiled. “I do.” She pulled out the small knife hung in a sheath on the left side of her belt. In the top of the handle, which was wrapped in leather for comfort, was a blue jewel. When Fen looked at the jewel, she said, “It’s spelled so it can’t be used against me or taken from the knife without a really loud sound going off. Come on. Are you going to make the cut or will I?”
“I’ll do it. You’d probably slice too deep or take a finger off or something.” Fen took the knife, pulled back his ragged sleeve and slid the sharp blade against the skin of his arm. A thin line of blood welled up amongst the dirt. The knife still clutched in his hand, he took the handkerchief and smeared blood and dirt on it. He then wiped his blood off the knife blade before he handed it back.
“And the handkerchief.” Edana held out her hand.
“You’ll give it to me when you get back here?”
“It wouldn’t matter. I’d have your blood on the oath. I can use that for blood trackers.”
“You wouldn’t be as careless with an oath.”
“I’ll think about it. Stop stalling. The guards come and check on things again in about an hour. I don’t think they’ll be as helpful as I’m being.”
“You aren’t being helpful. You want something. What is it?”
“You’ll have to wait until I come back. You don’t want to be caught do you?” Before Fen could answer, Edana snatched the handkerchief and ran through the metal door.
Fen sighed. How had this day gone so wrong? All he’d needed to do was hide in the bushes and wait for the guards to leave so he could steal a grey dragon. Rhone had made sure the dogs that normally patrolled the grounds wouldn’t bother him. He didn’t know how. It hadn’t been his business. As it was, he’d have to come up with a good story for why he’d be returning late. That’d be difficult.
He started to pace, impatient for Edana to return. When he heard footsteps behind him, he turned swiftly. It was Edana. Pulling her cloak off, she dropped it on the floor near the door that led outside. She rubbed her hands together and then looked up to where Fen stood in the doorway that led to the young dragons.
“It’s cold out there. Well, let’s get this over. I’ve written on it already. Do you want to read it?” Edana held the parchment out towards Fen.
“Yeah, right, Ed. What would I need with reading?”
“It’s Edana, not Ed. And why can’t you read?”
“What would it do for me? Can I eat it? Wear it? Will it keep me warm?”
Edana shook her head. “No, but people can’t trick you or charge you more than they should if you can read.”
“You’re the one who called me thief. What makes you think a thief would pay for things when they can steal them?”
“Fine. You can’t read. It says, the oath is between two unnamed parties who hold this parchment while a binding oath is spoken and the party who seals this with their blood at the end will uphold the oath.”
“What’s the oath?”
“You need to say your full name, and that you’ll protect with your life the dragon given to you by, and then say my name. Say you bind the oath with your blood and it’ll boil in your veins if you break it.” Edana held the parchment towards Fen.
He hesitated a moment before he took it. “I Fenton will protect with my life the dragon given to me by Edana Lenita… Behira Yileen Renarlo con… Crinitie.” He closed his eyes a moment and then opened them and looked into Edana’s dark blue eyes. “If I break this oath may my blood boil in my veins.” A quick glance showed the cut on his arm had congealed. He needed fresh blood for the spell. He held out his hand for the knife.
Fen slipped the knife into the hand that still held the parchment and then brushed his thumb against the blade. He watched the red droplet form on his thumb. It hung a moment before it fell to the parchment beneath it. To Fen it seemed to hang in mid air before it hit the surface and spread. Once again his eyelids closed and he tried to force thoughts of boiling blood from his mind.
“As it was sealed, let it be paid,” Edana said.
Fen opened his eyes to stare at her, unable to speak for a moment. He would find a way around this. “As it was sealed, let it be paid,” he finally whispered.
Edana nodded, folded the parchment and slid it into her leather pouch. She held out her hand for her knife and her foot tapped as she waited for Fen to wipe it clean on his shirt hem.
“Argh, disgusting,” Edana said when Fen put his thumb in his mouth so the blood wouldn’t drip on the floor.
“I don’t want anyone else getting hold of my blood. Now what about your hanky?”
“We’ll see. Come and have a look at the dragon.”
Fen followed her to the last pen. Inside were five dragons. Four coloured, one grey. The coloured dragons curled sleepily together, the grey watched them.
“Why him?” Fen asked.
“This is what I need help with. He can’t stay here. In two days if he hasn’t changed colour they’ll kill him for parts. He can’t be tracked unless he changes colour. He’s no good to them if they can’t protect their investment. So they’re going to get what they can for him,” Edana said.
“What if he changes colour tomorrow?”
“He’s three-months-old in two days time. His egg mates changed within the first week.”
“Oh,” Fen said. There wasn’t anything he could say. Most dragons changed colour within the first week. A few more by the end of the first month. It was a rare dragon that changed colour after three months. Some never changed colour and stayed grey their entire life. A blood tracker couldn’t track a grey dragon. It was impossible. No Dragon Lord wanted a dragon that a thief would want to steal. Protecting it would be extremely difficult. They lost enough grey hatchlings to thieves each year without wanting to risk dragons they’d spent time and money feeding and training.
“What could I offer you to take him from here and not give him to your master? I want you to raise him yourself.”
“What?” Fen wondered if he’d heard Edana right. The first year of raising a dragon wasn’t too bad. They didn’t grow much. But by the time they were two they towered over an adult. And who was to look after the dragon when Fen was dead? Dragons could live for hundreds of years.
“I want you to hide him,” Edana said more slowly.
“You’re completely crazy.” Fen took a step away from her. “Mad.”
“No I’m not. You could do it. I’ll help you,” Edana said.
“No way. You don’t know Rhone. If he found I’d crossed him, he’d kill me.” Fen backed further away.
Edana smiled. “If you take the dragon to Rhone the blood oath will kill you. Taking him there will be the opposite of protecting him.”