Table of Contents
DAW Books Presents the Finest in Fantasy by
THE RUINS OF AMBRAI
THE MAGEBORN TRAITOR
THE CAPTAL’S TOWER*
THE STAR SCROLL
THE DRAGON TOKEN
THE GOLDEN KEY
(With Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott)
*Forthcoming in hardcover from DAW Books
Copyright ©1985 by Melanie Rawn.
All rights reserved.
DAW Books Collectors No. 764
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
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First Trade Printing, June
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
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HECHO EN U.S.A.
eISBN : 978-1-101-16664-2
In memory of my parents
Robert Dawson Rawn
August 24, 1921-
February 24, 1987
Alma Lucile Fisk
August 28, 1928-
June 19, 2002
When my editor, Sheila Gilbert, mentioned that this printing of
was an opportunity to write a preface, I thought for quite a while about what I might say in it. Here was the chance to answer all the questions people have asked over the years; to comment on my writing in general and this book in particular; to acknowledge friends and relatives previously unmentioned.
If I tried to address all those questions, I’d be stuck with the answers. If I started in on writing and so forth, I’d have to admit that when I wrote this interminable tome, I really had no idea what I was doing—and still don’t. And if I made a list of people to whom I owe large debts of gratitude, not only would it be longer than this book but I’d inevitably forget someone and embarass myself even further in public print.
So I decided that there was only one thing to do in a preface to a new edition of
. The essential thing is to thank you for reading my work.
You changed my life. Thank you.
Faces in Fire
rince Zehava squinted into the sunlight and smiled his satisfaction. All the signs were good for the hunt today: claw marks on the cliffs, wing marks on the sand, and the close cropping of bittersweet plants along the canyon ridges. But the prince’s perceptions were more subtle and had no need of these obvious signs. He could feel the presence of his prey all along his skin, scent it in the air, sense it in every nerve. His admirers said he could tell when the time was ripe for the hunt simply by glancing at the sky. His enemies said it was not surprising that he could sense such things, for he himself had been dragon-spawned.
In truth, he seemed a human version of the dragon he hunted today. A long, proud nose reared out of a lean and predatory face, saved from ruthlessness by the humor lurking at the corners of his mouth. Nearly sixty winters had framed his eyes with deep lines, but his body was still tough and supple, his pose in the saddle easy, his back straight as his sword. The proudest of old dragons was Zehava, a cloak as black as his eyes billowing out behind him like wings as he rode a tall black war-horse into the Desert he had ruled for thirty-four winters.
“We advance, my prince?”
Zehava glanced at his son-by-marriage. “We advance,” he replied in the time-honored formula, then grinned. “We most certainly advance, Chay, unless your sword arm is already growing tired.”
The young man grinned back. “The only time it ever did was when we fought the Merida, and then only a little, and only because you kept tossing so many in my direction!”
“Tobin wanted to boast of your prowess, and I’ve never been able to deny my daughter anything.” He pressed his heels to the horse’s ribs and the troop advanced into the Desert behind him, bridles muffled and saddles devoid of the usual trappings that might clatter a warning to the dragon.
“Another ten measures, I make it,” Chaynal said.
“Ten! That son of the Storm Devil will be holed up in the hills and strike from there.”
“Five,” Zehava said again. “And he’ll be at the mouth of Rivenrock like High Prince Roelstra at Castle Crag.”
Chaynal’s handsome face pulled into a grimace. “And here I was enjoying myself. Why did you have to mention
Zehava laughed. Inwardly, however, he was wishing that this fine young man was truly the son of his body, his heir. He felt much closer to Chay than he did to his blood son, Prince Rohan—a slight, quiet youth given to study and thoughtfulness rather than devotion to the manly arts. Rohan was a credible swordsman, an excellent hunter of everything but dragons, and a cunning whirlwind in a knife fight, but Zehava found his son incomprehensible in that these things were not the end and aim of life to him. Rohan’s taste for books and learned discussion was utterly beyond Zehava’s understanding. Honesty compelled him to admit that Chaynal had interests other than the hunt and the skirmish, but at least he did not prefer those other things to all else. Yet when Zehava attempted to press Rohan into other activities, his own wife and daughter flew at him like furious she-dragons.
Zehava grinned to himself as he rode through the scorching heat toward Rivenrock Canyon. Tobin should have been born the male child. As a young girl she had been able to out-ride and out-knife any boy her age. Marriage and motherhood had calmed her, but she was still capable of black-eyed rages to match Zehava’s own. Part of Chaynal’s marriage contract stipulated that she was forbidden to bring a dagger into their bedchamber. Chay’s idea of a joke, of course, which had brought howls of laughter from everyone—including Tobin—but it added to the family legend, which was something Zehava despaired of Rohan ever doing.
Not that Tobin was lacking in femininity, he mused, glancing at Chaynal again. Only a completely enchanting woman could have captured and held the fiery young Lord of Radzyn Keep. After six years of marriage and the birth of twin sons, the princess and her lord were as besotted with each other as ever. A pity Rohan hadn’t yet found himself a girl to stiffen his spine and his manhood. There was nothing like the desire to impress a pretty girl to turn boy into man.
Zehava’s prediction proved accurate: the dragon had chosen the lookout spire at the canyon mouth for his perch. The hunt paused a full measure away to admire the beast, dark gold as the sands that had hatched him, with a wingspan greater than the height of three tall men. His malignant glare could be felt even at this distance.
“A real grandsire of a beast,” Chay murmured appreciatively. “Have a care, my prince.”
Zehava took the caution as it had been intended, not as a warning that he might lose this contest, but as a reminder not to damage himself during it. If he came home with more than a few scratches, his wife would alternately coddle his injuries and rage at his clumsiness in acquiring them. Princess Milar was as legendary for her temper as for the golden looks, so rare here in the Desert, that she had passed on to her son.
The twenty riders fanned out, taking up positions according to the etiquette of the game, and Zehava rode forward alone. The dragon eyed him balefully, and the prince smiled. This was a profoundly angry beast. The stench of oil was rank in the hot air, oozing from glands at the base of the long, spiked tail. He was ready to mate the females hidden in their caves, and anyone who distracted him from his purpose was marked for a painful death.