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Authors: Cinda Williams Chima

Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy

The Dragon Heir

BOOK: The Dragon Heir
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Heir 3 - The Dragon Heir
Heir 3 - The Dragon Heir

Heir 3 - The Dragon Heir

Heir 3 - The Dragon Heir
Prologue  Seven Years Prior
Heir 3 - The Dragon Heir
 

 

Fog clung to Booker Mountain
like an old ragged coat. The pickup's chancy headlights poked frail tunnels
through the mist. Although the road was narrow and treacherous, Madison didn't
worry. Her grandmother Min could find her way blindfolded and sound asleep.

Min rammed the truck into low
gear as the grade steepened. Her face was set in hard, angry lines, but Madison
knew Min wasn't mad at her. She felt rescued, cocooned in the pickup with John
Robert on her lap and Grace jammed between her and the door. Grace was
sleeping, her head braced against the window, her hair hanging in knots around
her face. Min hadn't taken the time to comb it.

“Won't Mama worry when
she comes home and finds us gone?” Madison asked, speaking softly so as
not to startle John Robert, who was sucking his thumb with that drunk-baby look
on his face.

“Carlene could do with a
little worrying, if you ask me,” Min said. “The idea, leaving a ten-year-old in
charge of a baby and a toddler for two days.”

“Somebody probably called
off,” Madison suggested. “Or maybe Harold Duane asked her to work
late.”

“The tavern's only open
till two. She had no business staying out all night.”

“I'm real grown up for my
age, Mama says.”

Min snorted and rolled her
eyes. “I know you are, honey. You're more grown up than your mama. You
were born wise.”

They swept past the
brick-and-stone wall and lighted gateposts that marked the Roper place. Min
made a sign with her hand as they passed the broad driveway.

“What's that for?”
Madison asked, knowing it was a hex.

Min didn't answer. Min always
said good Christians didn't hex people.

“Why do you want to hex
the Ropers?” Madison persisted. Brice Roper lived there. He was in her
class at school. He had this glow around him like light through rain-smeared
glass— the kind of glow rich people had,
maybe. Brice had four Arabian horses, and he'd let you ride them if he liked
you.

Madison had never been riding
at the Ropers.

“The Ropers want our
mountain,” Min said.

Madison blinked. Booker
Mountain? What would they want with that? “But their place is much
nicer,” she blurted out.

If you liked fancy stone
houses with pillars and grassy lawns and miles of white fence. And Arabian
horses.

“Coal,” Min said
bluntly. “Bryson Roper can't get the rest of his coal out of the ground
without going through Booker Mountain. And that belongs to me.”

They rounded the last curve,
past the mailbox that said M. booker,
reader and adviser. The pickup rattled to a stop at the foot of the
porch steps.

Madison carried John Robert
and Min carried Grace. Madison walked flat-footed across the weathered planks
of the porch, so she wouldn't get splinters in her bare feet. By the time
they'd climbed the steps and crossed the porch and carried the kids to the back
bedrooms, Min was breathing hard, her face a funny gray color.

Madison felt the cold kiss of
fear on the back of her neck. “Gramma? You all right?”

Min only waved her hand, too
breathless to speak. She clawed open the neck of her blouse, revealing the opal
necklace she always wore. The one she sometimes let Madison try on.

Once they had the young ones
settled in bed, Madison built a fire in the stove and made coffee for both of
them. Min didn't even complain about how she made it, which was worrisome.

“It's going to be a cold
winter,” Min predicted, settling into the only chair with arms, and
wrapping a shawl around her shoulders. Some of her color had come back.
“More snow than we've had in a long time. A dying time.”

When Min predicted anything,
it was best to listen. Still, Madison was old enough to wonder how a person who
could foretell the future could run into so much bad luck.

Madison liked sitting at the
table in the front room, drinking sweet coffee with Min. The stripey cat lay
purring in front of the fire. Only one thing would make it better, if Min would
only say yes.

“Read the cards for me,
Gramma!” Madison begged. Reading the cards was a serious business, her
grandmother always said, and not done for the entertainment of
young girls.

But Min studied Madison a
moment, her pale blue eyes glittering like moonstones, her capable hands
wrapped around her mug of coffee, then nodded. “All right. It's time.
Fetch the cards from on top of the mantel.”

“You mean it?”
Madison scrambled down from her chair before Min could change her mind.

Min kept two decks of cards in
a battered wooden box with a cross carved into the top. She called them
“gypsy cards,” but they looked like regular playing cards to Madison,
with a few extras. The box also held a leather pouch full of pebbles and little
bones, but Madison had never seen Min use those.

Min handed her the thicker
deck. Madison shuffled the cards awkwardly, cut them three times, and shuffled
again.

“Lay them out in three
rows of three,” Min said, and Madison did.

Her grandmother flipped them
over, the cards slapping softly on the weathered wood of the table.

“Madison Moss.” Now
her voice was a stranger's, the voice of the reader. “Would you hear the
truth?”

“Yes, ma'am,”
Madison answered, swallowing hard, hoping there wouldn't be anything scary.

Min studied the cards, pushed
her glasses down on her nose, and studied them some more. Madison leaned
forward, squinting down at them. The center card in each row was a dragon with
snaky eyes and a long, twisting tail, brilliant with color, glittering with
gilt.

Abruptly, Min scooped them up
and handed them back to Madison. “Shuffle again.”

Mystified, Madison shuffled
and spread them. Dragons again. Min frowned at them. Moved them about with the
tips of her fingers. Pulling the leather pouch from the box, she emptied it
into her palm. Tossed the pebbles and bones down onto the table. Raked them up
and threw them down, muttering to herself.

“What's the matter?”
Madison asked, disappointed. “Aren't they working?”

“Oh, child,” Min
said, shaking her head. The color had left her face again. She extended her
trembly hand toward Madison, then drew it back as if afraid to touch her.
“Never mind. Let's try something else.” Min handed her the smaller,
thirty-two-card deck, sevens and up.

Madison shuffled the cards
again and set them out in the familiar gypsy spread, three rows of seven cards
in pairs. Past, present, and future.

No dragons.

Personally, Madison wasn't all
that interested in the past or the present. But she had hopes for the future.
She leaned forward eagerly as Min flipped the cards over one by one. Min
whispered her reading, as if unsure of herself.

“A squabble over
money,” she said, turning over the seven of diamonds. In the next pair,
the nine of spades lay over the queen of clubs. “The death of a wise
woman.” A three of diamonds placed over the other two. “A legal
letter and a bequest.”

Madison was bored by the
notion of squabbles about money and legal letters. “Will I ever have a
boyfriend?” she demanded. She was already old enough to know she didn't
care much for the boys of Coal Grove.

Min turned the face cards up.
Two kings. King of clubs and king of spades. Jack of diamonds. She flipped up
the modifiers, stared at them a moment. Seemed like she didn't like what she
was seeing. Min gripped both of Madison's hands, leaning in close, her blue
eyes like windows to a younger Min enclosed in wrinkly skin.

“Maddie, honey, listen.
Beware the magical guilds,” she whispered. “Especially wizards.”

“Gramma, I don't know any
magical gills,” Madison said, floundering for understanding.

“Brice Roper,” Min
said. “He's a bad one. Ain't nothing good about him.”

Madison blinked at her.
“Old Brice or young Brice?” she asked.

“Young Brice,” Min
said, which surprised her, because old Brice was scary and mean, and everybody
said young Brice had a way about him. People buzzed around young Brice like
yellow jackets around lemonade.

“Do not mingle with the
gifted, Madison. Do not mess with magic. It's meant nothing but trouble for our
family. Swear you won't truck with them.”

Min sounded almost like the
preacher in the Quonset hut church Madison went to once, who talked about those
who trafficked with the devil. “But, Gramma. Aren't the cards magic?”
Madison ventured.

“Swear it!” Min
squeezed her hands so hard that tears sprang to Madison's eyes.

“All right, I
swear!” she said, blinking fast to keep the tears from escaping her eyes
and running down her face. She didn't think the Ropers wanted to truck with
her, anyway.

Min released Madison's hands.
“My wisdom is wasted on you, child.” She looked more sad than mad.

Her gramma looked back at the
cards. “I see four pretty witch boys coming. Two will claim your heart in
different ways. Two are deceivers who'll come to your door, one dark, one fair.
All of them have magic…”

By then, Madison had kind of
lost track of who was who. Still, this was a wonderful fortune, with
four pretty boys to dream on.

Min caressed the tiny
portraits of the kings with the tips of her fingers. “But, remember this,
Madison Moss: they have no power that you don't give away.”

 

 

Heir 3 - The Dragon Heir
Chapter One  Raven's Ghyll

 

 

The wind shrieked down out of
Scotland, over Solway Firth, and bullied its way between the peaks and fells of
the Cumbrian lakes, driving snow before it. Jason Haley hunched his shoulders
against the sleet that needled his face and hands.

Raven's Ghyll spread before
him, alternately hidden, then revealed by swirls of cloud and ice. A treacherous
sheep path, pricked by cairns of stone, descended toward the valley floor.

His wizard stone thrummed
within him, responding to the proximity of the Weirstone. The massive
crystalline stone gleamed like a sapphire against the flank of the mountain known
as Ravenshead. Blinking snow from his eyelashes, Jason peered up at it. Also
known as the Dragon's Tooth, the Weirstone was the source of power for all of
the magical Weirguilds.

It had been six hours by car
from London to Keswick, over increasingly hazardous roads, fighting the weather
and the
weird British custom of driving on the left side of the road. By the time he
reached Keswick, Jason's eyes were twitchy from peering through the swirling
flakes and his arms and shoulders ached from gripping the steering wheel.

That was the easy part.

He'd made the long climb to
the top of the ghyll, his feet sliding on the weathered stones despite his
spiked climbing boots. He'd had to slide between the sentries posted by the
Roses on the surrounding hills. The Wizard Houses of the Red and the White Rose
had laid siege to Raven's Ghyll after the lord of the ghyll, Claude D'Orsay,
betrayed them on the island of Second Sister.

At least Jason was in good
shape, better than he'd ever been. Most wizards were soft, since they used
magic to do the heavy lifting. Jason, on the other hand, had been training
under the tender hand of Leander Hastings, who favored five-mile runs before
breakfast. Jason was only seventeen and Hastings had been around for more than
a century, but it still wasn't easy to keep up with the lean wizard.

Turning his back to the wind,
creating a small shelter with his body, Jason lit a cigarette. Hastings was
always on him about the smoking. But the risk seemed small compared to the
danger he was in, here on the edge of the abyss.

He'd be lucky to make it to
eighteen. For one thing, there was a good chance Hastings would kill him when
he found out what he'd been up to.

Somewhere down below was
D'Orsay, renegade wizard and holder of the fraudulent Covenant signed at Second
Sister—the document that threatened to
enslave them all.

D'Orsay was everything Jason
was not: he was a cake-eater, born to privilege, former Master of the Game,
heir of an aristocratic Wizard House. Jason was an underpowered street punk, a
mixed-blood orphan holding a grudge.

Hopefully D'Orsay had no idea
that bad news was coming down the hill toward him. Hopefully no one would
expect an intruder on a night like this. Hopefully he could locate the Covenant
and be away with it before anyone knew he was there.

If he couldn't find the
Covenant, he'd look for D'Orsay's legendary hoard of weapons—the last legacy of Old Magic. That rumor was the only
thing keeping the Roses at bay.

At the very least, he'd scope
out D'Orsay's fortifications and find out how many wizards protected the ghyll.
If he could succeed at any one of those things, Hastings might give him a
longer leash.

At least he was doing something.
Maybe Hastings was content to hang out in London, watching and waiting for
somebody to jump. But there was nothing more boring than watching the Roses
watch D'Orsay.

When Jason finished his
cigarette, he shrugged into his backpack and began the painfully slow descent
to the floor of the ghyll. To call it a trail was a stretch—he'd chosen it for its obscurity. D'Orsay couldn't
possibly monitor every overgrown sheep track and hiking path that led into the
ghyll.

Jason had hoped the weather
would let up once he got below the shoulder of the peak, but the biting wind
still slammed snow into his face and tugged at his extremities, threatening to
rip him off the mountain.

Ahead, a yellowish mist
shrouded the trail, close to the ground, strange for the weather and time of
day. An odd color for any season. Jason eyed it warily, extended his gloved hand,
and spoke a charm. Nothing. He didn't know if the problem was in the
charm or in himself. Wasn't that Shakespeare?

He tried a couple more charms
without success until the mist grudgingly yielded to his magic, dissolving to
shreds that the wind carried away.

By now it was dark in the
ghyll below, the peaks around him gilded with the last of the light. Lamps
kindled in Raven's Ghyll Castle, at the far end of the valley. The dark shape
of it bulked through the swirls of flakes and blowing snow.

He was able to move with
greater speed as he neared the bottom, since the sharp verticals gave way to
more gradual switchbacks. Until he rounded a corner and blundered into a mess—like a giant cobweb made of thick, translucent
cords—nearly invisible in the failing light.

It was a Weirnet, a magical
web made to capture the gifted. He tried to back out of it, but it was
incredibly sticky, and every move embedded him further.

So much for a surprise attack.
Jason forced himself into stillness, moving only his right arm, which he used
to fish for his knife. Gripping the hilt, he pulled it free and sliced
carefully at the tendrils within reach. The net parted reluctantly. It was
designed to resist magic, and he wasn't doing much better with an actual blade.

Something bright streaked
across the sky like a comet, then detonated at the height of its arc, flooding
the ghyll with phosphorescent light.

Now the fun begins, Jason
thought.

It took ten precious minutes
to cut himself free. Even then, the opening was just broad enough to slide
through.

He knew he should ditch the
mission and get out while he could. But his entire life had been a string of
bad decisions. He had no desire to slink back to Hastings with the same bad taste
in his mouth he'd had since Leicester and D'Orsay killed his father.

He thrust his body through the
breach. As he emerged, volleys of wizard flame erupted from the hillside above,
and he flung himself sideways. He scrambled on hands and knees into a grove of
trees, then turned to look.

All around him, black-clad
wizards slipped through the forest, directing withering fire toward the tear in
the web.

Jason considered his options.
If D'Orsay was smart (and he was), he would stay barricaded inside the hold
until the all-clear. D'Orsay's hoard of magical pieces would be in the keep,
too. Along with the Covenant that made D'Orsay ruler of all the magical guilds.

To the castle, then. But best
not to be noticed.

Jason stuffed his fingers
under his coat and pulled out a circlet of dull stone engraved with runes. It
was a dyrne sefa, meaning secret heart, an amulet of power. Despite the
cold, it was hot to the touch, steaming in the brittle air, drawing power from
the nearby Weirstone. Stroking the surface with his fingertips, he spoke a
charm.

Now rendered unnoticeable,
Jason threaded through the woods and across the open meadow of the valley floor
toward the castle. Away from the shelter of the ghyll walls, the wind assaulted
him again. But now he was impervious to the cold, ignited with power and
determination.

The meadow was studded with
wind-seared brush, powdered with fine, dry snow, and fissured with ravines. The
need to mind his footing warred with the desire to peer about like a tourist.

These must be the tournament
fields.

Here the blood of generations
of warriors had been shed in ritual battles that allocated power to the Wizard
Houses. Here the warriors Jack Swift and Ellen Stephenson had fought the
tournament that broke the original Covenant and challenged the power of the
Roses.

Here the sanctuary of Trinity was
born.

More than anything, Jason
wanted to make the same kind of mark on the world.

Wizard flares rocketed into
the air, lighting the ghyll as if it were midday. Trees went up like torches,
sending smoke roiling into the sky. Jason guessed he should be flattered at the
intensity of the response to his trespassing. It was like using a shotgun
against a gnat. Still the snow fell, glittering in impossible colors as the
light struck it.

Ahead loomed the castle, a
forbidding stone structure that might have been hewn from the side of the
mountain. Terraced gardens surrounded it, littered with the skeletons of
winter-dead plants, like the leavings of a failed fair-weather civilization.

Squadrons of wizards charged
up and down the valley, magical shields fixed in place, splattering power in
all directions. Some passed within a few feet of him, glowing white ghosts in
hooded, snow-powdered parkas. Jason continued his stubborn march on the hold.

He'd hoped they'd give up,
assuming their intruder had fled. But no. D'Orsay's wizards gathered near the
castle, forming a broad phalanx of bristling power. Charms were spoken, and a
great wall of poisonous green vapor rolled toward him across the meadow.

Chemical warfare, wizard
style.

Swearing softly, Jason
disabled the unnoticeable charm so he could use other magic. He extended his
hand and tried to reproduce the charm he'd used on the yellow mist.
Either he got it wrong, or he simply wasn't strong enough. The cloud kept
coming, relentlessly swallowing trees and stones and fleeing animals. There'd
be nothing left alive in the ghyll by morning.

His only hope was to get above
the cloud. Jason turned, sprinted for the Ravenshead, and began to climb. As
the way grew steeper, he had to reach high to find handholds above his head,
desperately hauling himself up by insinuating his body into crevices and
wedging his feet into the imperfections that marred the stone face of the
mountain.

About the time he thought his
lungs would burst, he reached a ledge just below the Weirstone and shoved his
body up and over. He lay facedown in the snow until he caught his breath, then
pulled himself to his feet.

The ghyll below was a sea of
mist, a vast polluted cesspool that lapped higher and higher on the surrounding
slopes.

Then the earthquakes began.
Thunder rumbled through the ghyll, and the stones under Jason's feet rippled
like an out-of-control skateboard. The mountain shifted and shuddered, trying
to fling him off. Boulders crashed down from above, shaken loose from ancient
perches high on the slopes, bouncing past him and disappearing into the sea of
mist at the bottom. This was more than wizard mischief. It seemed…apocalyptic.

Jason crouched back against
Ravenshead, his arms wrapped around his head to fend off falling debris, his
gaze drawn back to the blue flame of the Weirstone.

It loomed above his head, a
faceted crystal the blue-green color of the deepest and clearest ocean. With
the stone so near,  blood  surged  through  his  body,  intoxicating  him, heating him
down to his fingers and toes. Power battered him from all sides, vibrating in
his bones like a crashing bass from a magical band.

As he watched, a jagged crack
opened in the solid rock face above him. It yawned wider and wider, a raw gash
in the shadow of the stone. Small stones and grit stung his skin and he
squeezed his eyes shut to avoid being blinded.

Gradually, the earth quieted
and the stone dimmed. Jason opened his eyes. He crept forward and peered over
the edge of the rock. The green mist was still inching up the slope.

He sat back on his heels,
eyeing the new-made cave. Cool air, flowing from under the Weirstone, kissed
his face. Maybe he could worm deeper into the mountain until the mist subsided.
Seeing no other choice, he plunged into the opening.

The air was surprisingly fresh
to have been bottled up in the mountain for so long. Jason collected light on
the tips of his fingers, a makeshift lamp to show the way. As he snaked back
into the rock, it became clear that the quake had reopened a cave hewn out of
the mountain in centuries past. Scattered across the stone floor was evidence
of prior occupation: the bones of large animals, shards of pottery, and metal
fittings.

Jason pushed on, the cave wind
blowing against his face. Good, he thought. That might keep the mist at bay.

The passage ended in a chamber
the size of a large ballroom. Far above, the wind whistled through an opening
to the outside. That, then, was the source of the fresh air. Jason tried to
push light to the ceiling, but the dark vault soared high overhead, beyond the
reach of his puny lamp. The Weirstone glittered, a long shaft driving far into
the mountain.

Soot smudged the walls all
around, as if from the smoke of thousands of ancient fires. In one corner bulked a
great raised platform, eight feet off the floor. Jason found fingerholds and
scrambled to the top.

Here were fragments of fabric:
velvets and satins and lace that disintegrated when he touched them. More large
bones lay piled neatly in a corner, including what might have been human
skeletons. Human and animal skulls grinned out from niches in the wall. He was
in the lair of some great predator or the site of a long-ago battle.

At the far end of the platform
was a massive oak door.

Jason eyed the door. In a
movie, that would be the door you shouldn't open.

But of course you would.

By now, the ghyll, the mist,
and the wizards searching for him outside seemed a distant threat. He had to
get past that door. Something drew him forward.

Jason pulled the dyrne sefa
free once again. Using it like an eyepiece, he scanned the entry. It was
covered with a delicate labyrinth of glittering threads, invisible to the naked
eye. Another kind of web.

BOOK: The Dragon Heir
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