Read Dragonbards Online

Authors: Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Tags: #adventure, #animals, #fantasy, #young adult, #dragons

Dragonbards (4 page)

BOOK: Dragonbards
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There were no pictures in Mund-Ardref, but
the walls were carved into shelves crowded with clay bowls and
jugs, and into alcoves that held small beds cozy with bright
weavings and thick blankets and pillows. The tables and stools were
simply made, from stone. It was a comfortable place.

But it was the ceiling that interested Teb.
The cave’s ceiling curved upward and caught the firelight in a deep
metallic glow shot with streaks like silver.

“The roof is iron,” King Flam said. “You
puzzle over it, and rightly. It is not iron of our world, Prince
Tebriel, but comes from some world none of us has ever seen. It is
iron that fell into this mountain, crashing down out of the sky
thousands of years ago.”

Teb’s mind touched the knowledge. All
history was a part of the bard knowledge, though some was muddled,
now, by the dark’s powers. He tried very hard, rejecting visions,
seeking others, until he could see the world of Tirror before there
was life on it. It was a mass of molten stone, with the fires of
other worlds blasting into it. He saw a fireball fall onto the
mountains of Yoorthed and lodge there. He could see the cave that
washed out beneath the iron over centuries.

“The iron has power,” King Flam said. “It
keeps the dark from us; they do not enter here. We have—”

Marshy’s cry stopped the king short.

The dragonling had begun to paw the air. Her
eyelids moved. Her nostrils flared. She scented Marshy. He remained
very still. She reached out to him.

The dragonling opened her eyes. They were as
green as sunlit sea.

Child and dragon stared at each other, their
recognition ancient and powerful.

Teb took Kiri’s hand and they moved away
with Flam and the dwarfs, leaving the child and dragonling alone.
The cave darkened as two big heads thrust in to see the baby awake.
Seastrider’s breath huffed through the cave in smoky whiffs;
Windcaller murmured softly; then they withdrew into the snow, their
eyes slitted with pleasure.

A feast had been laid out: roast rabbits,
broiled mushrooms and roots, a mild amber wine, warm bread, and a
fruit called payan that grew in the warm marsh near the volcano.
Kiri fixed a bowl for Marshy, but he hardly noticed it. He looked
up at Kiri, his face all alight with wonder. “Her name is
Iceflower.”

Kiri hugged him. “She’s lovely, Marshy.” The
young dragon nuzzled Kiri’s hand. Iceflower’s face was finely
sculptured. The pearly hues of her scales caught the colors of the
fire. Marshy’s eyes were filled with dreams that now, for the first
time, could come true. Kiri kissed him on the forehead and turned
away, putting aside her own disquiet.

The food smelled wonderful. She supposed she
would feel better once she’d eaten. But she couldn’t get her mind
from the dragonlings—was one of those young creatures meant to be
her own? She tried to touch the dragonlings in thought as they
moved across Yoorthed’s winds, tried hard to sense that subtle
bonding that would mark one special dragon. Her thoughts came back
to her empty.

She tried to sense her father and Camery,
too, but there was no hint of the two bards. Fear for them chilled
her—though she knew it was the enemy doing this, the power of the
dark clouding their silent speech. She shook her head, tried to
marshal her thoughts, and went to sit with Teb.

As they ate, Teb and Kiri told the dwarfs
all they could about the war. On the smaller continents, where Teb
and the dragons had been able to bring the past alive, slaves had
awakened and remembered their own worth, and had risen to kill
their dark masters. But that was only on the small continents. Teb
and the dragons, alone, had not been a large enough force to take
on the big continents where kings had been mind twisted or
replaced. Now that Teb had found the other bards, and now that
there would be more dragons, their band would have formidable
power—but against a formidable enemy.

“If . . .” Kiri began, then
stopped, her voice drowned by the thundering voices of dragons.
Bards and dwarfs, jumped up and pushed through the cave door into
the moonlight.

The night was filled with dragons, rearing
and careening as they greeted each other. Nightraider and
Starpounder towered blacker than the sky, in a sparring greeting
with Seastrider and Windcaller. Crowding around the big dragons
were four strapping dragonlings, three dark males and a female.

From inside the cave came a faint, coughing
roar, and Iceflower stumbled out behind the dwarfs, with Marshy
beside her. The four dragonlings gawked at her and at the little
boy.

“Your bard . . .”

“You found your bard.”

“Small . . . he’s so small.”

“Young . . .”

The dragonlings began to nose at Marshy and
sniff him all over.

“You’re alive,” said the white sister,
nosing at Iceflower. “We’re very glad you’re alive.”

“Not dead like Snowlake,” said the
blue-black dragon.

“I nearly was,” said Iceflower.

“We searched for you,” said the red-black.
“We had no sense of you. The dark . . .”

“They were still searching when we found
them,” Camery said.

“Iceflower was drugged,” Teb said. “A
drugged seal.”

Camery reached to stroke the sick
dragonling. “Did the dark mean to kill you, young one? Or did it
mean to capture you?”

“I suspect to capture and train her,” Teb
said, filled with sharp memory of the time when the dark tried to
warp his own mind to their evil way.

Camery touched Teb’s cheek and hugged
him.

“Did you see any ships?” he said.

“No. The dragonlings saw ships near the
otters’ bay at Cekus some weeks ago and felt the terrible power of
the dark.”

“Maybe we can send Quazelzeg’s ships to the
bottom for the sharks,” Teb said, “before we leave this land.”

Kiri had moved away, by herself. Teb watched
her, feeling sharply her disappointment that none of the
dragonlings was for her. He followed her and took her hand, and she
leaned her forehead against his shoulder.

“There will be other dragons, Kiri.”

“Where? There are no other dragons.”

He lifted her chin. “Once, you thought there
were
no
dragons on Tirror.”

“But . . .”

“There will be other dragons.” He put his
arms around her. She eased against him, her spirit filled with
sadness, needing him, needing his comforting.

“There will be other dragons. Somewhere, a
dragon is calling to you. Don’t you sense it?”

“I sense it. And I’m always disappointed.”
She buried her face against his shoulder.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

The unliving take nourishment from our
suffering. It is thus that the dark grows strong. They are the dark
opposite of human, and all evil feeds them, while all joy and love
incites their wrath. They can die, these un-men, as we die. But
they can never touch the Graven Light.

*

On the continent of Aquervell, deep in
Quazelzeg’s fort-castle, two generals and twelve captains met with
their leader in the skull chamber, a windowless stone room deep
beneath the earth. The chamber was lighted by candles made of human
fat. The walls were damp, the air heavy. Of the fourteen, six were
un-men, true creatures of the unliving. Eight were humans warped to
the ways of the dark. Only in the eyes of the humans could be seen
the defeat they had taken at Dacia.

Quazelzeg watched the group without
expression, seeing every flick of an eyelid, every movement of hand
and turn of head. He was a tall, heavy figure who seemed not made
to bend, with pale, tight skin over his heavy-boned face.

“I expect, Captain Vighert, that the present
expedition is going better than the last. Better than
your
expedition.”

A nerve at the side of Vighert’s left eye
twitched.

“I do not want another dragon killed.”
Quazelzeg studied Vighert. “I want them captured. I would not want
this to happen again. I plan to use these dragons. You would know
that, Vighert, if you paid attention. These dragons are very
important. Do you understand me?”

Vighert nodded, stiff and reluctant.

The child slaves along the wall watched the
men with blank faces, hiding whatever emotion might be left in
them. As Quazelzeg moved around the room, he shoved a dark-haired
child out of his way. She fell and did not rise until his back was
turned.

“Soon these dragons will belong to us,
Vighert. They will bring
our
visions,
our
truth, to
Tirror’s masses.” Quazelzeg smiled, a mirthless stretching of his
pale mouth. “And then, gentlemen, we will hold Tirror as powerfully
as we hold these slaves.” He took up a stick and hit the
dark-haired child across the face, for rising before he gave
permission. She knelt and kissed his boots. The fingers of a
red-haired boy trembled.

“Then
we
will be their ancestors,
gentlemen. We will be the ancestors of all Tirror, and they will
understand that our pleasures with them are a privilege—that terror
is a rare privilege!”

The dark-haired girl and the redheaded boy
did not look up, but something subtle passed across their faces.
Quazelzeg did not see; he was watching Vighert. He returned to
humiliating the captain. “Let us hope that those now on
Yoorthed—and Captain Shevek, who is about to go there—are more
skilled at capturing dragons than you were, Captain Vighert.”

Vighert’s face seemed to fold in on itself.
Shevek’s pock-scarred face looked colorless. The pulse in his neck
pounded.

Quazelzeg fixed his eyes on the four who
would accompany Shevek. “The dragons are to be chained. Their wings
are to be clipped. I want their mouths chained shut so they can’t
use fire to cut their bonds. I want them drugged and tamed and
obedient. Now, does someone wish to express an opposing opinion on
the best way to handle young dragons?”

No one did.

“Once the dragons are captive, gentlemen, we
will train them with the two bard children.”

Vighert said, “No one knows if these
children have the skills.”

“Of course they have the skills. They have
the blood. Both have the mark of the bard.” He beckoned the
dark-haired girl to him. A tiny brown, three-clawed print marked
the inside of her left thigh. He parted the boy’s red hair so his
neck shone white, and pointed to the same birthmark. “They have the
power. With these two, we will create a new history for Tirror—a
history that will become more narcotic than cadacus in its
power.

“And if this Tebriel and his tribe come here
searching . . .” A chilling smile stretched Quazelzeg’s
face. “If they are drawn here by our powers, we will welcome
them.

“For then, gentlemen, we will have all the
bards we could want.”

“How,” said a voice from the second row, a
small man with stringy hair tangled across the shoulders of his
yellow tunic, “how do you keep a dragon captive?”

“In the caves, of course, Captain Flackel.
In the marble caves. No dragon can melt marble.”

Flackel stared. “Sivich tried to put a
dragon in a cage.”

“They tried to
trap
it in a cage,
Flackel. You can’t trap a grown dragon; you have to capture it in
other ways. For instance, with the help of my new pets.
Then
you put it in the cage. A cage it cannot melt.”

“It was this Tebriel,” said Captain Flackel,
“that they used for bait in that trap. He escaped from it.”

Quazelzeg gave Flackel a deeply irritated
look. “When I capture Tebriel, Captain Flackel, he will not escape.
Unless, of course, I wish him to do so.”

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

The seers among the speaking animals were
rare and wonderful. I fear there are no more animal seers left on
Tirror; I fear the dark has murdered them. I weep that my own
children will never know the friendship of such a one.

*

It was the night after the dragonlings were
found that two of them discovered the dark ship lying hidden in the
marsh to the south, and Teb sensed the captive animal chained
there.

The bards had lingered at Stilvoke Cave,
waiting for Iceflower to grow stronger. The dragons fished for
salmon for the dwarfs to roast; bards, dragons, and dwarfs spent
the evening around a campfire built under the cold stars, swapping
tales. The dragonlings told how their mother had died, and how, in
a last act of closeness with her, they had named themselves in the
time-old ritual.

Rockdrumlin had chosen his name for a hill
formed by ice glaciers. Red-black Firemont took his name from
Yoorthed’s smoking volcanoes.

The three females found their names in the
icy mountains, Iceflower and Snowblitz—and Snowlake, who had been
killed in the marsh.

Bluepiper chose his name from the blue
snowbird that pecked for worms among the ice floes, its song like
the breaking of crystal.

Late in the evening, Teb sensed something
amiss, but no one else did. He could not put a direction or shape
to it, and as he puzzled over it, it was gone.

Not until well past midnight did the dwarf
folk slip off to their sleeping alcoves. The bards and Iceflower
stretched out beside the fire. Outside, in the cold night, the
other dragons bedded down close together and slept. But Firemont
and Bluepiper woke very soon, sensing what Teb had sensed.

They went to investigate. They circled over
the ice mountains, puzzled by the pressing sense of terror, and of
cruelty, then headed south. They circled the volcano, their
nostrils filled with the smell of sulfur that clung around the
smoking mountain. The warm swamp lay beyond, sulking in its own
heavy steam. They approached it, shivering with the evil they felt
there.

They came storming back to Stilvoke Cave
just at dawn, wild with shouting.

BOOK: Dragonbards
6.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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