Blood and Ashes: Chapter 1 (Sequel to Dragonlord)

“I…”  Aurel stared at him.  Then he shook his head.  Then he stared at Bastien some more.  “He what?”

“He did give me permission to tell you, though that’s probably because he figured out I was going to anyway.”  Bastien nodded.

“Alright.”  Aurel slowly nodded.  “I…”  He closed his eyes, then reopened them.  “Gods above, if he…”  He took a deep breath.  “If he knew this, why the hell didn’t he just deal with Rutger years ago?”

“That…”  Bastien blinked.  “Is a very good question.”

Continue reading Blood and Ashes: Chapter 1 (Sequel to Dragonlord)

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Dragonlord: Chapter 40

Reluctantly, Bastien stepped back as ordered.  They did need answers from Lammert.  Lammert, for his part, seemed fairly calm about having two crossbows pointed at him.  “First question.”  Rien tilted his head.  “Where is Mikaere?”

“Handling another matter.”  Lammert waved a hand.

“He’s hiding it, isn’t he?”  Maela shifted the crossbow slightly.  “Answer yes or no.  Is he hiding the scepter?”

“Yes.”  Lammert nodded.

“Why is…”  Bastien started to frown, then his eyes widened.  He saw Rien’s eyes do the same thing.

“How does one kill a dessicated corpse?”  Rachel narrowed her eyes.

“After it got back up for the third time…”  Lammert shrugged.  “I stabbed it with the scepter.”

“Blood and ashes…”  Rien started to stand but sank back into the chair.  “Blood and ashes, that’s how…”

“Yes or no.”  Maela stood.  “Did you put the keystone in the manticore’s den for Master Rien to find?”

“Yes.”

Bastien fumbled for a chair before falling backward into it.  “That’s how you knew to arrange a spear ahead of time and…”

“How you could tell the baron exactly when and where we would be.”  Rien shook his head.

“Find a dragon you couldn’t have known…”  Bastien stared.

“But…”  Rien rubbed his eyes.  “The bearer of the scepter can’t lie.  You lie all the time.  I mean, you lied about poisoning Ludo.”

“Did I?”

“He didn’t.”  Rachel shook her head.  “Every word he said was true.”

“It’s the way he said them that’s the lie.”  Maela glared.  “He didn’t say he didn’t poison Ludo.  He asked how he could possibly have done it and let that serve as a denial.”

“Clever girls.”  Lammert nodded to them.

“You can…”  Bastien took a deep breath.  “You can see the future.  You know what is going to happen.”

“I know what will happen if certain factors do not change.  I do not always know what will occur once I change them.”  Lammert shook his head.  “I am in no way omniscient, or we would never have reached this point in the first place.”

“How long ago did you arrange Rien’s pardon?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

“Twenty-two years ago, though that was more Jurgen’s doing than mine.”  Lammert leaned forward.  “We helped him rescue his son.”

“Did Jurgen know of your…”  Rien’s voice was quiet.

“Yes.”

“Then why…”  Rien’s eyes were dark.  “Is he dead?”

“I’ve seen all of you die a thousand times, Marinus.  There are nights I watch everyone I love be torn apart, watch the world turn to chaos and destruction.  As a boy, I used to wake screaming from the things I saw when I closed my eyes.  I don’t choose what I see, and I have learned, very much the hard way, what things I can change…”  Lammert looked away.  “And what things I cannot.  Sometimes…”  His voice thickened a little.  “I have to choose who I can save.”

“You chose wrong.”  Rien leapt to his feet.  “You chose wrong.  Jurgen was ten times the man I am.”

“And he made me promise that if I ever had to choose between him and you that…”  Lammert gave a short, bitter laugh.  “He chose you, Marinus.”

Rien looked as though he’d been run through.  Rachel set her crossbow aside, and went to him.  He pulled her into his arms, and buried his face in her hair.  The big man was shaking.

“If you knew…”  Maela frowned.  “To be in the market when Bast was being hurt…”  She adjusted the aim of her crossbow slightly.  “Why did you let him be hurt in the first place?”

“Because I know what would have happened if I had not.  The time he spent recovering kept him out of the way of another attempt by Rutger to eliminate him.  Phillip wanted Sir Bastien dead for thwarting his earlier plans.”  Lammert turned toward Bastien.  “You would have survived the second attempt.  Maela would not have.”

“You…”  He glanced at Maela.  “Made the right choice.  Put the crossbow down, Maela.”  He waited until she obeyed.  He glanced at Rien, and saw tears on the man’s face.  Bastien swallowed.  “We can…”  He exhaled.  “Continue this conversation another time.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 40

Dragonlord: Chapter 39

King Wendel’s entourage filled most of the courtyard.  The king was nearly fifty, but still a sturdy man.  His brown hair was half turned to steel gray, but he walked as confidently as his knights.  In his youth, he’d been accounted a fair warrior, and Bastien knew the sword that hung at the king’s side was not purely ceremonial.  He greeted Nadja, playing the part of a fond uncle rather than the part of a king.  Hopefully, that meant he would be in a good mood, though there were the girl’s own feelings on Rien to consider.

Rien stood beside him, uncharacteristically quiet as they awaited what could easily be his trial.  It was nearly an hour before the little duchess went back to her studies, and most of the king’s entourage left the hall.  Maybe a half-dozen men remained.  Only then did the king appear to take notice of Rien.  Bastien felt his stomach clench.  It was more than just their lives at stake.  Even the king’s mercy could result in Bastien himself being banished from Solsthriem entirely, and the disgrace of the newly formed noble house of Kohler.

“King Wendel.”  Aurel and Bastien both took a knee.  Aurel’s face darkened just a little when Rien did not.

“Rise.”  The king gestured.  His eyes went to Bastien.  “Sir Bastien Kohler, the realm owes you a great debt.  I am not blind to the sacrifice you made to keep our kingdom safe.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.”  Bastien bowed again.

Then the king turned his eyes once again to Rien.  “You are the one they call the River Dragon.”

“I am.”  Rien nodded.  “And you are King Wendel Jaeger.”

“I am.”  King Wendel returned the nod.  “Whatever your motives, you assisted Phillip in murdering my beloved cousin.  Additionally, you have conducted other raids along my borders, resulting in the deaths of both my soldiers and civilians.  You have taken slaves from among my people.  And I have been assured that if I do find in favor of your execution I will not incur the wrath of the Dragon Queen.”

His stomach started sinking.  It was starting to sound as though the king had made up his mind even before arriving.  And the worst part was the man was stating plain facts.  Aurel bowed his head.  “Your Majesty, I…”

“So, let us be very clear on this matter, Prince Marinus.  Your pardon extends only to the crimes previous committed.  Any further…”  King Wendel’s eyes narrowed.  “Malfeasance will not find me merciful.”

Bastien blinked.  Aurel looked shocked.  Rien tilted his head as if trying to make sense of what the king had just said.  “My…”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Pardon?”

“Your pardon.”  King Wendel nodded.  “Have his shackles removed.  We have much to discuss.”  He turned and stalked back to the table.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 39

Dragonlord: Chapter 38

Aurel folded his arms and shook his head.  He should have known that message and its offer was too good to be true.  When the king arrived, he’d be lucky if he managed to escape with nothing more than being stripped of his new title.  Two sons of the Dragon Queen, and he’d not only let one get away he’d obliged himself to protect the other.  Though it would have changed nothing if he hadn’t agreed to the deal.  There was still Bastien to protect.  “He called you his friend.”

“Father?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

“Marinus.  He called you his friend.”  Aurel turned to face his son.  “Are you his friend?”

“I…”  Bastien shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.  It’s…”  He rubbed the back of his head.  “It’s a lot harder to hate him than it should be.  He’s not evil, he’s just…”  Bastien shook his head.  “Kinda stupid.  I’m guessing that’s why Lammert didn’t argue with you putting him in a cell.  Whatever Lammert is doing, he wanted Rien out of the way while he took care of it, and that…”

“Is a troublesome notion.”  Aurel frowned.  “He didn’t call himself Lammert in the message he sent.  He used the name Liam.”  He sighed.  “Alright, Marinus said he’ll abide by what terms you set, so I suggest you come up with —”

“My lord?”  A servant stepped into the room.  The man’s face was red, and he couldn’t quite look at them.  “We have a…”  He winced.  “Situation.  With the prisoner.”

“What kind of situation?”  Aurel narrowed his eyes.

“Well, the woman brought him a book as instructed, but…”  The servant turned even redder.

“But?”  Aurel stopped himself from tapping his foot.

“Oh for…”  Bastien ran a hand down his face.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 38

Dragonlord: Chapter 37

Rien fell to his knees and tried not to vomit.  The baron was pulling the little girl away before she continued pressing her attack.  By the time he got his breath back, one of the servants was guiding the girl back to her room.  “You don’t…”  He glared.  The manacles weren’t heavy ones.  He could feel the lock that connected the two wrist cuffs.  “Have to find this funny.”

“Yes.”  Bast nodded.  “Yes, I do.”

“Blood and ashes.  I should introduce her to Jurgen’s youngest.”  Rien winced as he got back to his feet.  “Then we could just sit back and let them take over the world.”  He shook his head, then exhaled.  “I suppose I had that coming.”

“Duke Harald was a good man.”  Bast’s voice was quiet.  “A noble in every sense of the world, and he loved his daughter dearly.”

“You don’t have to keep reminding me of how badly I fucked up.”  Rien sighed.  “Phillip killed Jurgen.  He murdered my brother, then I stupidly helped him kill his.  I’m trying to make that right.”

“It isn’t us you will need to convince.”  Aurel shook his head.  “You…”  He gestured to the other four knights standing guard in the room.  “We lost friends in your attack.  Those four armed and armored men you killed were our brothers.”  His eyes narrowed.  “You put a collar around my son’s neck.”  He folded his arms. “Give me one reason not to shove you into an oubliette for the rest of your natural life.”

“I’m cooperating.”  Rien squared his shoulders.  “Phillip murdered my brother.  He conspired with Rutger to take over my people to use us as nothing more than weapons for Phillip’s war.  Left to their plan, they will destroy both our peoples.”  He took a deep breath and met Aurel’s eyes.  “I intend to kill them first.  You are my friend’s father, so I would really prefer not to have to go through you to do so.  So, I’m cooperating.”

“You are —”  Aurel started shaking his head.

“You don’t know me, or you would know that four knights are not a threat to me.  So let me be very clear on this matter.”  Rien put his full strength to work.  The lock connecting the cuffs snapped, and he brought his hands in front of him.  The eyes of the knights around him widened as they reached for their weapons.  “I am the River Dragon.  I am going to kill Phillip.  You are not going to stop me.”  He took a step forward.

“Rien, enough.”  Bast shook his head.

“I —”  Rien narrowed his eyes.

“Enough.”  Bast folded his arms.  “Behave yourself —”  He smiled.  “Or I’ll hold you to your bet.  Right now.”

“You —”  Rien turned to stare at him.  “You —”  He growled.  “Fine.”  He made himself take a couple deep breaths, ignoring the knights.  They were all looking at Aurel as though waiting for instruction.  Aurel, however, was merely watching him calmly.  It occurred to him in that moment that Aurel was the man who had trained Bast.  He turned back to the man.  “There is your reason.”  He pointed to Bast.  “I trust him.  I’ll abide by whatever…”  He shrugged.  “Whatever terms he arranges.  He knows the stakes.”  He turned and started walking back toward the cell.  “And someone bring me a damn book or something.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 37

Dragonlord: Chapter 36

Bastien watched as another knight escorted Lammert, Efua, and Mikaere to rooms within the castle.  His father was no fool.  Though Lammert could not be arrested, his father ordered a guard placed.  He’d be watched at all times and if he did try anything, he’d quickly find himself in a cell.  Maela and Rachel exchanged worried glances.  Aurel turned toward them.  “Ladies, I can arrange rooms or an escort to take you wherever…”  he trailed off uncertainly.

“Master Rien told us to stay with Bast.”  Rachel shifted her weight from foot to foot before turning her eyes to him.  “Bast?”

“It’s alright, Rachel.  You’ll be safe here…”  He trailed off when he saw the scared look on Maela’s face.  Bastien swallowed.  The last time she’d been in a castle…  “Father, could we arrange them a room near mine?”

“Bastien?”  Aurel blinked before giving the women an uncertain look.

“They are under my protection.”

“Of course.”  Aurel nodded.  “Yes.  It will be arranged, and I will have one of the servants fetch them, er…”  His father blushed a little.  “Proper attire.”  He shifted a little.  “Come.  Let’s get those collars off all of you.”

“But…”  Rachel’s eyes went wide.  “Bast, what if someone thinks we…”

“It’s alright, Rachel.”  Bastien held up a hand.  “It’s alright.  We’ll get…”  He exhaled.  “Trust me.”

Rachel gave him another fearful look, but Maela put a hand on her shoulder.  “Sister, it’s Bast.  You know he won’t let anyone hurt us.”  Maela smiled.

“Alright.”  Rachel slowly nodded.  “If Bast thinks it is best, then…”  She nodded again.  “Alright.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 36

Dragonlord: Chapter 35

Even if Bast hadn’t identified the man it would have been obvious who he was.  The resemblance between his knight and the knight currently hugging him was obvious.  Which meant they were once again in Solsthriem, in what had been the duke’s territory.  Surrounded by knights loyal to the deceased duke and following Baron Kohler.  Who happened to be Bast’s father.  This had the potential to be…  Rien blinked.  “Wait a minute.”  He turned toward Lammert.  “He’s your contact?”

Baron Kohler turned toward Lammert.  “You’re the one, then?”  He was smiling, and his hand stayed on Bast’s shoulder.  The older knight laughed softly before looking at the prisoners.  “The captain of Phillip’s mercenaries.”

“That was our arrangement.”  Lammert nodded.

“True, it’s just…”  Baron Kohler laughed again, then his voice softened.  “Until I saw you riding in I didn’t dare hope…”  He turned toward his son again.  “Come, we should head back to the castle.”  There were actual tears in the man’s eyes.  And if he wasn’t mistaken, the same was true of Bast.

Nervous as he was about riding into that castle again, he couldn’t deny this to his knight.  If for no reason other than he likely wouldn’t survive doing so.  “Thank you, Baron Kohler.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 35

Dragonlord: Chapter 34

As much as it went against his nature, he had everyone sleep in separate cots.  It felt strange not having any warm bodies curled up next to him.  Rien woke well before dawn.  Mikaere was awake, having taken the last watch.  He still couldn’t get over just how tiny that man was.  Even the twins were taller.

They’d brought most of their gear in with them.  Mikaere and Efua had clearly expected them to come with Lammert, as they’d had horses and food enough for everyone.  His own gear, however, was distressingly light.  The girls had brought the jewels he’d given them, and he’d packed others as well, to trade for what they might need.  It had seemed a smarter idea than to try to pack for every contingency.

He’d forgotten to pack himself a bow.  Not that he really minded sticking to the axe and letting the girls do the shooting, but from time to time someone needed to die and insisted on standing all the way over there.  Rien shrugged, and walked over to the bundle of extra weaponry Lammert’s people had brought with them.

“What are you doing?”  Mikaere frowned as he caught sight of Rien.

“Borrowing one of your longbows.”  Rien untied the bundle.

“I will get one for you.”  Mikaere started to rise, stumbling out of his chair a little.  Around them, the others started to stir.

Rien pulled back the woven blanket that had been wrapped around the bundle of weapons, and then stared in shock.  A shorter spear, one made of a gleaming silvery metal, was at the center of the bundle.  A faintly glowing emerald was set into curved blade, and ornate runes were inlaid into the haft in a coppery metal.  Rien looked up at where his brother was rising.  “You stole it?”  He shook his head.  “You actually stole it?”

“Rien…”  Lammert took a deep breath.

Laughter escaped him.  “You stole the Scepter of Asrael back.”  Rien pulled the woven blanket back over it.  “Brother, that’s…”  He ran a hand down his face as he kept laughing.  “Nice to know you aren’t above a little petty vengeance.”  He rolled his eyes.  “She’s going to be furious when she finds out.”

“We should get moving.  It will be dawn soon.”  Lammert ran a hand through his close-cropped hair.

“Right.”  Rien went back over to his side of the room.  Maela and Bast were already up and dressing.  Rachel was up, sitting on the side of her cot.  There was a small frown on her beautiful face.  “Lovely, is everything alright?”  He put a hand on her shoulder.

“I…”  Rachel looked up at him, then smiled.  “Just pondering.”

“As long as it is only pondering.”  He bent and kissed her.  “You don’t have to do all the worrying.”

“Yes, Master Rien.”  She let him pull her to her feet.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 34

Dragonlord: Chapter 33

He took watch.  Maela and Rachel both curled by Bast, their heads resting on his torso.  Frankly, he considered it a rather heroic act of willpower that he didn’t kick his brother awake and then go pounce on his bed-slaves.  They looked rather adorable in their little dog-pile.  Early on, Bast had objected to the girls using him as a pillow.  The knight had lost that particular battle without the girls even having to call upon Rien for aid.  Maela even had hold of Bast’s hand.

They were all in danger.  Because of him.  He’d had bed-slaves before.  The last one he’d kept for almost a year.  She’d pleased him well enough he’d told Jochem to free her before he’d left.  He’d been fond of her but…  He’d been fond of her the way he was fond of his good boots.  Rutger had been surprised when he’d stepped between the archer and Rachel.  Looking back, so was he.  He’d told Bast that Rutger would target the girls to make him and Bast stand down.  Frankly, he hoped he was wrong, that Rutger wouldn’t use such a tactic.  It was somewhat terrifying to realize if Rutger did, it would work.

Rien was considering pouring himself some tea when Lammert’s eyes abruptly opened.  He sat up, then exhaled before pinching the bridge of his nose.  Nearby, Efua stirred and looked up at him.  “Mi’sala ven adomas?”

“Se cha.  Vola drisis non sala.”  Lammert shook his head at her.

Efua nodded before laying down and going back to sleep.  Lammert however, rose and went to the fire.  Rien shrugged, and grabbed a second cup.  He filled both before handing one to Lammert.  “What language is that?”

“Ilael.”

“Those are the sea people, right?”  Rien nodded.  “You know, I’ve never actually heard you speak other languages before.  I mean, I guess it’s not a surprise you can, just…”  He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Suppose I just hadn’t thought about it before.”  Rien tilted his head.  “How many languages are there?”

“Hard to say.”  Lammert shrugged.  “Some regional dialects differ enough they may very well be separate languages, and then there are written works that have outlived any speakers of those dialects.  Even more have been lost save for a relic or two.”

“This contact of yours, where are we meeting him?”  Rien kept his voice quiet, and added another piece of wood to the fire.  The fire was small, but there was a chill in the air.  Maybe he should start fresh tea.

“He’ll find us, you needn’t worry.”

For a moment, he was quiet.  “Did you mean it?”

“Marinus?”  Lammert raised an eyebrow.

“When you said…”  He sighed.  “When you said that this time when you leave, you’re not…”  He looked down at his tea.  “You’re not coming back?”

“Yes.”  Lammert hesitated, then looked up at him.  “You offered to stand as my champion.”

“Yeah I…”  Rien snorted softly.  “Thought you didn’t stand a chance against Ludo and I…”  He rubbed the back of his neck.  “I was pretty sure I could take him.”

“I appreciated that, little brother.  Perhaps more than you can understand.”  Lammert was quiet for a moment.  “Kindly ask Maela to stop, if you would.”

“Maela to…”  Rien blinked, then looked up at Lammert.  “You mean you did notice?”

“I would rather Efua not decide she needs to handle the matter.”  Lammert shrugged.  “I will answer your questions, Marinus, in time.”

“Alright.  I just…”  Rien shrugged.  “You know I don’t actually mind, really.  I mean, if you want Maela to…”  He looked up.  “I could share Bast if you…”

“Sela tenai, Rien…”  Lammert began taking items from their food store.  “You do realize I’m the same age as his father, yes?”

“Yeah, I guess.”  He chuckled.  “So…”  He shrugged.  “Are you and Efua…”  He glanced at Lammert’s side of the camp.  “Or you and Mikaere…?”

Lammert sighed.  “Oh, Marinus.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 33

Dragonlord: Chapter 32

The girls required only a small amount of assistance to climb down from the balcony.  The rope harnesses prevented any chance of them falling, even carrying their packs and weaponry.  Lammert had brought five sets of climbing harnesses and hidden them in a sack in Rien’s own quarters.  He’d planned this ahead of time, somehow.  Bastien stared helping Maela out of her harness when they reached safety.  Something kept nagging at him.  He looked up at Maela.  “We are missing something here.”

She nodded.  “I think you are right, but…”

“We need to be moving.”  Rien’s voice was firm.  “This way.”  He started moving.

To Bastien’s surprise, Lammert didn’t object.  Instead he followed Rien like the rest of them.  Unlike Rien and Bastien, he had no armor of any kind, but he was carrying the spear.  Rien had said Lammert was a competent fighter, at least.  Maela and Rachel weren’t wearing armor either, but both carried their crossbows and fierce expressions.  “Keep your heads down.”  Bastien nodded to them.

“He’ll try to take us alive, at least.”  Rien frowned, then glanced at Lammert.  “Well, most of us.”  He gave Rachel a worried look before turning back to Bastien.  “Rutger isn’t stupid.  He’ll target the girls to make you and I stand down.”

“If he tries, Master Rien…”  Rachel checked her crossbow.  “I will aim for his testicles.”

“That’s my girl.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 32

Dragonlord: Chapter 31

It took Rien a few moments to comprehend what his brother had just said.  Next to him, Rachel had gone utterly still.  Maela and Bast were staring.  Rien swallowed.  “It was you.”  He looked at Lammert as though he’d never seen him before in his life.  “You left the note and the…”  He trailed off, uncertain what to say.

“Currish venomed beef-witted boil-brained full-gorged spleen-clotted piss-filled moldwarp.  What sort of loggerheaded warped fen-sucked shard-borne doghearted maggot-minded froward monstrosity of a dankishly ill-bred fucking perfidious shit-skinned game are you playing?”

Trust Bast to rise to the occasion.  Rien jerked his head in the knight’s direction.  “What he said.”  He shook his head.  “Blood and ashes, Lammert!  If you found the keystones that would make you the fucking heir!  Whoever finds the keystones —”

“No.”  Lammert shook his head.  “Whoever brought a keystone to Darodelf.  I was very, very careful not to so much as set foot in Clan Draak’s territory while those stones were in my possession.”

“You…”  Rien tilted his head.  “You don’t…”  He took a deep breath.  “But you could have been king of the Wildlands, Lammert.”

“I don’t want to be king of the Wildlands, Marinus.”  Lammert sighed.  “Is that really so hard for you to comprehend?”

“Yes.”  Rien waved a hand.  “This is…”   He clenched his fists.  “All of this is because of some half-assed garbled prophecy?”

“Because some felt the prophecy was of value rather than mere words, and sought to ensure it comes to fruition.”  Lammert nodded.  “We are pieces in a larger game, Marinus, one we dare not take the chance of losing.  As small a hope as you are, little brother, it seems you may be the only one we have.”

“But you could have been king of the Wildlands!”  Rien growled.  “Ruled our people, our home.”

“These are not my people, Marinus.  This is not my home.”  Lammert shook his head.  “And it never was.”

“It’s…”  He swallowed.  “Do you really hate us that much?”

“Marinus…”  Lammert hung his head a moment, then lifted it to meet his eyes.  His voice softened.  “You were the only reason I came back to the Wildlands the first time.”

“I…”  He took a few more deep breaths.  “Alright, we…”  He exhaled.  “We should all get some rest.  You’ll stay here, Lammert.  Should be safe…”  He shrugged.  “Ish.  I’ll talk to Jochem in the morning, let him…”  He frowned, then nodded.  “Let you tell him what to do while I get what we need for going after Phillip.  You aren’t to leave these chambers without Bast and I accompanying you, got that?”

“I’ll humor you.”  Lammert inclined his head toward Rien.

“Good.  Cause if you don’t, I’m going kick the shit out of you and let the girls tie you up.”  Rien stood.  “Everyone relax, and maybe try to get some sleep.”  He scooped Rachel up into his arms.  “We’ll talk in the morning.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 31

DragonLord: Chapter 30

He tried questioning his brother, but Lammert refused to explain anything or answer any questions until they’d bathed.  It made for an unprecedented experience.  Bast, Rachel, and Maela were all naked in the basin with him, and he wasn’t inclined to luxuriate.  Rien didn’t even object when Bast pulled on trousers instead of the loincloth.  Bast must have also been distracted, because he didn’t protest when Maela handed him just a vest instead of a tunic.

They emerged into the living area to find Lammert had made tea.  He held a cup out to Rien.  Rien stared at it a moment.  “You just poisoned a man.”

“Marinus, if I wanted you dead you’d never have made it to your first birthday.”  Lammert lifted the cup.

“Right.”  He took the cup.  “I’m sorry we were too late, Lammert.”

“On the contrary, your arrival was just in time.”  Lammert handed cups to Rachel, Maela, and Bast.  Then he took one for himself.  “Had you not been present, I imagine I’d not have been permitted to walk away from the arena.”

“Probably not.”  Rien sniffed at the tea.  It smelled pretty good.  Then he sighed, and took a deep breath.  “Rutger had Phillip kill Jurgen.”

“So you said.”  Lammert sat down.  “The only way the likes of Phillip could kill Jurgen would be through treachery.”

“We’ll bring charges against Rutger.”  Rien drank from his cup.

“Don’t be a fool, Marinus.”

“Lammert…”  Rien started shaking his head.

“What charge will you bring?”  Lammert took a sip from his own cup.  “That Rutger allied with the man responsible for our brother’s death?”  He glanced at Bast.  “Sir Bastien, would you be so kind as to remind Marinus who he was working with when he took you prisoner?”

“But he —” Rien cut himself off.  He made himself take a couple breaths.  He’d missed too much already.  If he went charging in, he’d end up tripping and falling on his own axe.  He sat down in the chair across from Lammert.  Rachel sat beside him, and he put his arm around her.  “I spoke to Jochem.  He said you…”  He frowned.  “He said you gave your holdings away before…”  He looked up at Lammert.  “Why?”

“Because the next time I leave these lands, Marinus…”  Lammert swirled his tea before taking another drink.  “I’ll not be returning.  One way or another, they were going to cease to be mine anyway.  I’d rather Jurgen’s children have them than Thirza give them to Rutger.”

“They were supposed to…”  Buy time.  Whoever had left him the keystones had promised they would buy time.  Perhaps they had, just not enough of it.  He couldn’t blame Lammert for wanting to leave.  He sighed.  “Damn it.”

“What happened with the dragon?”  Lammert raised an eyebrow.

“We found it and…”  He hesitated.  Then he glanced at Bast, and sighed.  “And Bast killed it.  The blade bonded to him.”

“That…”  Lammert leaned back.  “Makes everything more complicated than it should be.”

“No, it’s alright.”  Maela spoke up.  “It still fits the prophecy, because Rien wields Bast.”

“She’s got a point.”  Bast’s voice was resigned.  “I owe Rien fealty.”

“I brought the keystone, and led the expedition that got the blade and killed the dragon.”  Rien nodded.  “That makes me the future king.”

“No, Marinus.”  Lammert shook his head.  “That makes Sir Bastien there the kingmaker.”

“Bast belongs to me.”  Rien frowned.

“For now.”  Lammert exhaled.  “Until someone finds means of taking him away from you.”  He looked up at Bast.  “I do not mean to impugn your honor, Sir Bastien.  But the fact that you kneel to Marinus proves you have a price, and even if that were not true…”  He sighed.  “Every man has a breaking point.”

“Bast can’t be bought.”  Rien glared.

“You bought him with warning drums, Marinus.  Thirza won’t bother to find his price.  She’ll have him shattered, smelted, and reforged into whatever manner of blade she feels best suits Rutger’s hand.”  Lammert leaned forward.  “You’re the heir apparent, Rien, for now.  But you are not the king.”

““The blade is bound by honor, not by chain.”  Maela spoke up.  “The fate of oath and crown are sealed together.”

Continue reading DragonLord: Chapter 30

Dragonlord: Chapter 29

He wanted to smash everything.  To race back to the hall and put his axe through Rutger and damn the consequences.  The worst part was Lammert hadn’t even been surprised that his own mother was willing to condemn him to death.  Once he’d wondered why Lammert had left so often.  Now he found himself wondering why the man had ever come back.  Rien turned and headed for the stairs.

“You don’t have to watch this, Rien.”  Bast’s voice was quiet.

“Yes.”  Rien swallowed.  “I do.  I missed this, Bast.  I never wondered why Sten wasn’t here.  I nearly got you killed by telling Rutger I needed you.  And somehow, in twenty-seven years I never fucking realized my mother hated my brother despite knowing…”  He shook his head.  “I closed my eyes too long, Bast.  Lammert deserves better than for me to turn away now.”

“I’m sorry.”

“If there is a way, if…”  Rien took a deep breath.  “An opportunity presents itself…”

“I owe him, Rien.”  Bast nodded.  Behind him, the girls also nodded, and he realized they were both still carrying crossbows.  “Just give the word.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 29

Dragonlord: Chapter 28

Rachel’s leg was a clean break.  Rien carried her over to a shaded area before giving her one of the potions.  Maela was cleaning the dirt from his abrasions before he took a potion for himself.  His breastplate was a loss without a blacksmith to repair it, and both he and Rien were covered in dragon blood.

Bastien looked up when Rien walked over.  “I’m sorry.  I…”  He glanced at the blade.  It sat on a rock, inert unless he touched the hilt.

“No.”  Rien shook his head.  “If you hadn’t, Rachel and I would both be dead, and…”  He hung his head.  “I can’t look at a single portion of any of this without seeing how clearly it is my own fault.”  He glanced at the corpse.  “The dragon is done.  That portent, at least, is…”  He exhaled.  “That threat is done.”

He drank the potion, and within moments the pain from where he’d hit the rock started to fade.  “You hurt?”  He raised an eyebrow at Rien.

“A couple bruises.  Rachel…”  He looked back at the girl.  “She’s brave.”

“They both are.”  Bastien nodded.  He sat there, waiting.  Rien was still staring at the dragon’s corpse.  Finally, he took a deep breath.  “What happens now?”

“I…”  Rien rubbed his forehead.  “I don’t know.  I…”

“The stories didn’t say the sword glowed.”  Maela spoke up, her voice nervous.

“Maela’s right, Master Rien.”  Rachel nodded.

“If we bring back part of the dragon as a trophy…”  Maela gestured.  “And you carry the blade, no one has to know.”

“I’ll know.”  Rien’s voice was flat.  “I’ll not claim glory won by another.”

“Not even to save Lammert’s life?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow at him.

“I…”  Rien took a deep breath, then turned to look at the blade.

“Whoever wields it.”  Rachel’s voice was contemplative.

“Yes, Lovely, we…”  Rien turned toward her, then trailed off.  He sighed.  “Speak your mind, Lovely.”

“The prophecy said whoever wields the blade, not whoever claims it.”  Rachel stood, testing her leg.  “Bast claimed the blade, Master Rien.  But he’s your knight.  He owes you fealty.”

“Oh, yes.”  Maela clapped her hands together.  “Yes, Master Rien.  You wield the blade still, because you command Bast.”

“You’re arguing…”  Rien glanced at Bastien.

“Semantics.”  Bastien rubbed the back of his neck.

“Semantics.  That’s not the way…”

“But it is, Master Rien.  Prophecies are like that.”  Maela folded her arms.

“There are hundreds of stories where prophecies had such twists.”  Rachel nodded.

“And if you think about it, it’s better this way, even.  Bast can fight and slay dragons, but if someone as mighty as him answers to you…”  Maela gestured.

“It could work.”  Bastien turned toward Rien.  “At least enough to muddy the water and give us a good chance at stopping Rutger and Phillip.”

“But it means…”  Rien sighed.  “I don’t have a choice here, do I?  It’s this or…”  He shook his head.  “They killed Jurgen.  They need to pay for that.”

Phillip had betrayed the duke, arranged for the murder of his own brother.  He needed to pay for that.  It was bitterly ironic that the best chance he had of seeing that done was serving one of those that had taken part in that very murder.  “Yes, Rien.”  Bastien nodded.  “They need to pay.”

“Then let’s figure out what part of that fucking thing we’re bringing home to show off.”

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 28

Dragonlord: Chapter 27

The night was cold enough they all huddled together under the cloaks.  The chill was sufficient Bastien couldn’t bring himself to even half-heartedly object, despite the fact that if Maela were any closer she’d actually be inside his skin.  Though asleep, Rien was holding Rachel to him.  The gesture seemed more protective than anything else.

From what little he’d seen, back in the tomb, Rien had stood down when Rachel was threatened.  That was not something he’d expected from the man.  Then there were the events of this evening to consider.  When Rien had pushed him against the wall, he’d expected…  Had the man actually apologized?

Bastien looked up at the stars.  Rien had lost two brothers.  One murdered, the other a betrayer.  If they were too late, Rien would lose the third as well, and he did owe Lammert.  From what he’d managed to understand later, Lammert had taken a not inconsiderable risk by intervening, and perhaps a greater one by stopping Rien from going after Wessel.  According to Rachel, Lammert had thrown Rien into a wall.  He wished he’d been conscious to see that.

They were taking a risk, and that was taking its toll on Rien.  If killing the dragon delayed them too long, Lammert would probably die.  If they failed to kill the dragon, Lammert and they would all die.  But if they went back without killing the dragon, it would be Rien’s word against Rutger’s.  And Rutger was far better with words.  The best they could hope for would be Rien’s mother sending them all to their respective rooms.  That Rien hadn’t been able to arrange a group of a hundred friends without half of them being willing to kill him didn’t bode well for their odds at that point.

But Wilders were Wilders.  If Rien came back as the dragonslayer, Rutger’s political maneuvering would be washed away.  However clever Rutger was with words and promises, it was strength and glory the Wilders prized.  It could be done.  Maela and Rachel had both pointed out all the stories said the Dragonlord had killed the dragon by himself, and there were similar legends.

Whoever had left them the keystones had said they would buy time.  Hopefully, they could buy enough.  And hopefully their motives were virtuous.

In the air, a dragon was nigh unstoppable.  But if they could get it on the ground and keep it there…

He sighed, and let sleep claim him.

Continue reading Dragonlord: Chapter 27