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Authors: Peter Fane

The blind dragon

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The Blind Dragon

 

A Tale from the Canon of Tarn

 

 

Peter Fane

 

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

THEBLINDDRAGON

Copyright © 2016 by Peter Fane

All rights reserved.

 

Published by Silver Goat Media, LLC, Fargo, ND 58108. This publication is protected by copyright, and permission should be obtained from the publisher prior to any reproduction, storage in a retrieval system, or transmission in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or likewise. SGM books are available at discounts, regardless of quantity, for K-12 schools, non-profits, or other educational institutions. To obtain permission(s) to use material from this work, or to order in bulk, please submit a written request to Silver Goat Media, LLC, PO Box 2336, Fargo, ND 58108, or contact SGM directly at: [email protected]

 

This book was designed and produced by Silver Goat Media, LLC. Fargo, ND U.S.A. www.silvergoatmedia.com

SGM and the SGM goat are trademarks of Silver Goat Media, LLC.

 

Cover art: Kan Liu,Truth and Honor© 2016 SGM

Cover design: Travis Klath and Kristin Langerud © 2016 SGM

Author Photo: Tamara Weets © 2016 SGM

 

ISBN-10: 1-944296-02-6

ISBN-13: (Silver Goat Media) 978-1-944296-02-5

 

A portion of the annual proceeds from the sale of this book is donated to the Longspur Prairie Fund. www.longspurprairie.org

 

Peter Fane is on Facebook and Twitter. Let's talk dragons!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story is for Anna –

sister, friend, dragon rider.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

"CURSE MY EYES," Master Khondus growled. "This isn't right."

Anna Dyer stopped in her tracks and looked over her shoulder.

"Shall I wait, sir?" she asked.

Anna held a covered basket in front of her. It was woven from silvery reed and just heavy enough to make her lean back against its weight.

"No." Master Khondus scratched at his grey stubble. "No waiting. Maybe I'm mistaken."

Anna nodded, but she was confused.

Mistaken?

When it came to dragons, the Master didn't make "mistakes."

 

2

THEY WERE INthe lower stables' largest birthing stall, on the western side of the High Keep. The stall was warm and smelled of straw, dragons, and blood. Two flickering lanterns, hung from wrought hooks on either side of the door, lit the scene with warm, orange light. Straw lay knee-deep across the flagstones, glimmering like spun gold. Somewhere above them, on one of the Keep's ancient ramparts, a massive chain clattered, a flight ramp thundered open, and a dragon leapt roaring to the sky.

Anna started to ask another question, then thought better of it. She was fourteen years old. She'd worked in the lower stables since she was nine. And she'd assisted with over a dozen birthings. She knew what she was doing.At least she thought she did.She most certainly knew that the Master of Dragons didn't suffer fools. So she leaned her basket against her hip, hitched up her leather apron, and continued through the straw to Nightlove and her newborn dragon foal.

Nightlove was a big dragon, their finest broodmare. Her scales were ghostly white. From nose to tail, she measured over forty paces long and barely fit the birthing stall's length. She lay in the golden straw, her huge white wings folded flat against her sides, her long tail curled back at the stall's corner. Even under the lanterns' glow, her scales seemed to make their own light; she shone like the moon.

Nightlove's dragon foal lay by her hips, still covered in its bloody birth skin. It was barely moving, but it seemed fine. Its birth skin was completely intact, its limbs looked well, and it was a good size, about the size of a smallish horse, if you didn't count its long, serpentine tail. Not Nightlove's largest foal—not by a stretch—but hardly a runt, either.

Anna frowned and smoothed a lock of dark hair behind her ear. The foal had been late in coming, and the Master had been worried about that. But there hadn't been much birth blood. And that was usually a good sign.

So what's wrong?

What did the Master see?

Anna knelt in the straw, set her basket beside her, and put her hand on Nightlove's flank. At her touch, the big dragon gave a deep sigh. Her scales were smooth and very warm, almost hot to the touch.

Anna waited a moment to be sure Nightlove was comfortable with her presence. Then she took the cover off her basket, turned to the foal, and began removing its birth skin, starting with the foal's snout, peeling the slippery membrane away from its nose like a veil, dropping the slimy shreds into her basket. Beneath the birth skin, the foal's scales were pure white, just like its mother's. With a warm cloth, Anna wiped some blood from the foal's mouth, nostrils, and the nubs of its horns. It twitched and gave a wet snort. Its eyes were clamped shut. A silvery film glossed its eyelids and bits of gold straw stuck to its nose. Anna finished cleaning its face, then continued peeling the birth skin from the rest of its body, being especially careful not to bump its delicate facial scales or the fine hairs on its pinkish nostrils. When Anna pulled the birth skin away from its wings—wings that were surprisingly well-developed, she noticed—the foal began to murmur and coo, its white tail coiling in the straw as its crest and wings touched fresh air for the first time. It took Anna only a few more moments to finish.

"There we are," Anna whispered.

The dragon foal went still at her voice. Then it snorted and swiveled its snout towards her. Its eyes were still shut. Its tail quivered and its nostrils flared. A menacing growl rose from its chest.

"Easy there," Anna said gently. "Easy." She placed her palm on its forehead, applying calm, steady pressure between its eyes. The foal went quiet, gave a satisfied snort, and settled back against Nightlove's flank.

And then it opened its eyes. They were big, blank, and sightless. Like white, silvery moons. The baby dragon had been born blind.

 

3

ANNA LOOKED OVERher shoulder.

Master Khondus said nothing, but his eyes were dark.

"What do I do?" she looked back at the dragon foal.

The foal cocked its head at her, its big eyes wide. Then it cooed, like a question—a question posed specifically for her. Anna frowned. Like all noble-born squires of Dávanor, she'd worked with dragons since she was a child. But this was a question for which she had no answer.

Master Khondus stepped up, looked the foal over, then knelt beside Anna in the straw. He cradled the foal's white jaws in his scarred hands and looked into its face. The foal went still, staring back at the Master, unblinking, as if it could see. Master Khondus licked his thumb, wiped some of the silvery film from beneath the foal's eyes, inspecting it. Then he sniffed it, tasted it with the tip of his tongue, and frowned. He glanced under the foal's tail.

"Male." The Master shook his head. "Nightlove's getting older. And this is Voidbane's first siring in three years. Should've been more careful with them both. Great misfortune."

Anna nodded.

Nightlove gave a deep groan.

"There's a good girl." Master Khondus patted her huge side. "Good girl."

"Shall I open the window, sir?" Anna cleared her throat. "Some morning air, sir?"

"Wait."

Anna shut her mouth and waited.

For a long moment, the Master neither spoke nor moved. Finally, he put his hand on the foal's chest. His fingers were thick and calloused, his wrists and grey-haired arms permanently scarred by the tell-tale pattern of dragon gauntlets. His hand rose and fell with the swell of the foal's breath—up and down, up and down—the rhythm deep and strong.

Some years ago, Master Zar had told Anna a story about Master Khondus's great grandfather, the legendary Jonathan Khondus, and how that great warrior had subdued Voidbane, House Dradón's largest war dragon, with his hands and eyes alone. "No goad. No tools. No harness." Master Zar had nodded, his purple eyes sparkling. "Just knowledge, courage, and will. The reputation of Master Khondus's people is ancient—and well-earned." There was no family of Dragon Masters more respected on all Dávanor. That meant there was no family of Dragon Masters more respected in all the Kingdom. Master Khondus was more than a great captain of House Dradón; he was one of the greatest captains of the entire Realm.

Anna put her hand on the foal's chest, right next to Master Khondus's, careful to copy the Master's stance and position exactly. At her touch, the foal turned its white eyes to her, pointed its snout at her heart, and gave a wet little burp. More gold straw stuck to its snout. Anna reached to clean it off.

"Get the hammer," Master Khondus murmured.

Anna stopped short.

"Leave it outside the door. Make sure she doesn't see it." He tilted his head to indicate Nightlove.

Anna didn't move. The foal turned its nose to the Master then back at Anna again. It didn't blink. Its eyes really werehuge, Anna realized. The biggest eyes she'd ever seen on a newborn. Silvery white and beautiful. They seemed to glow.

Like pearls.

Like huge, perfect, silvery pearls.

"Hear me, girl?" Master Khondus asked quietly.

"Yes, sir!" Anna saluted, crossing her fist over her chest.

But she didn't move. She couldn't stop looking into the foal's eyes. The foal returned her gaze, equally mesmerized, or so it seemed, something powerful and unspoken channeling between them.

Voidbane's first siring in three years,Anna thought.Voidbane's son.

The foal went still, cocked its head, then gurgled inquisitively. It butted its snout against her hand, demanding her attention. She made to stroke his nose, then stopped herself. She knew her duty. Master Khondus shook his head, stood, and smoothed his grey hair over his head. He tightened the leather strap at the nape of his neck that held his grey queue.

"Get the hammer," he sighed.

"Yes, sir." Anna's mouth was dry. "Should I finish cleaning him?"

"Why?" Master Khondus asked, a faint edge to his voice.

The foal cocked its head at the change in the Master's tone. It seemed to consider for a moment. Then it hissed and struggled to its feet, muscular legs splayed and wobbly, sticky wings peeling from its chest. Gold straw stuck everywhere to its white belly. It tilted its head towards Anna for a moment, reared onto its haunches, and stepped unsteadily in front of her, turning to face Master Khondus as if it wanted to protect her. For a long moment, it stared at the Master. Then its eyes narrowed, it leaned forward, and it hissed savagely, pinkish-white lips peeling back to reveal a mouthful of fully-developed fangs. It was well over twice Anna's height, sitting up like that.

"Easy there, strong one," Master Khondus said, as if he was talking to a newborn kitten rather than a war dragon bred to kill. "All's well. See his teeth? Fully formed. He was late, but even so. Unusual. And look how he stands, look at his wings.Easythere, strong one. Very fine indeed." He scratched at his stubble. "More's the pity."

"Easy there," Anna murmured, gazing into the foal's strange white eyes. "All's well, strong one."

The foal turned to Anna and gave her a gentle head-butt. Then it yawned, licked its fangs, and grunted, settling back on its haunches. Nightlove rumbled, eyes closed with exhaustion, and turned her head over her huge shoulder, nudging the foal with her snout. Her head was almost as large as the foal's entire body. Her broad tongue touched at its scales, its wings, the nubs of its horns, its legs, and its nose. Her eyes cracked open. They were dark blue, like liquid sapphire, a striking contrast to the white of her scales.

The foal grunted and settled back against its mother's flank, still staring at Anna. Then it seemed to reconsider, flopped onto its back, took a deep breath, and stretched its hind legs straight into the air, holding them like that for a moment before twisting onto its side with a satisfied snort, its white tail coiling happily in the straw. During this entire maneuver, its eyes never left Anna's face. Not even for a moment.

Nightlove began to croon. Her sound was a deep, soothing flute.

"We can't wait," Master Khondus said, below the dragon's music. "If she bonds any further with him, it'll ruin her for months. Get the hammer. I'll show you how to do it. He won't suffer."

 

4

ANNA STOOD ANDwalked outof the birthing stall. As she left, she heard the foal gurgle as it struggled to its feet.

Then it cried out, as if in pain.

Crying for her?

She couldn't help but wonder.

Master Khondus soothed it with a word, but Anna's stomach knotted.

And now the hammer.

The hammer.

"The hammer," she whispered.

And she'd be the one to swing it. That's what the Master had meant about "showing her how to do it." There was no doubt about it. In a way, she supposed, it proved the Master's faith in her. He knew she understood her duty. So she'd kill this beautiful dragon. Voidbane's son. Because it was blind.

She walked past five other stall doors, down the stable's central hallway, to the storage closet at its end. It was early morning, not even dawn. No one was around. At the end of the hallway, she opened the storage closet and went to the tackle cabinet at its rear. The cabinet's doors were decorated with panels of Anorian oak, each carved with a dragon rampant, their eyes inlaid with dark blue glass. When the cabinet doors were closed, it looked like the two dragons were rearing up to fight one another. The dragons' sapphire blue eyes reminded her of Nightlove.

She opened the cabinet. Training harnesses jingled. The hammer rested in the back corner, behind stacked buckets, crisply folded fire blankets, and neatly stacked rows of feeding tubes, training harnesses, starter goads, oil pots, cleaning buckets, safety lanterns, and other gear. She scraped the hammer out. Its iron head weighed a full stone, probably more. Its handle was almost as long as her leg.

How was she supposed to swing the cursed thing?

In her mind's eye, Anna saw herself hefting the hammer awkwardly to her shoulder, then swinging it with all her might, smashing the foal's fragile skull, the wet sound like an eggshell crushed under a boot. She shut her eyes and shook her head, trying to push the image away, but was rewarded with another instead: herself swinging the hammer, but this timemissingher target, hitting the foal's side or neck or snout. A scream of agony. The foal's eyes wide with confusion. What had it done wrong? Had it made a mistake? The ultimate violation of trust.

Down the hallway, back in the birthing stall, the foal howled, the cry echoing in the ancient vaults. Her guts wrenched.

During her five years in the Drádonhold's stables, Anna had seen dragon foals put down twice. Two times in five years. Each of those times, the newborn had been born into pain. And each of those times, Master Khondus had swung the hammer himself. It had been terrible to watch, but the foals hadn't suffered. Anna was certain of it.

After the second time she'd seen it, back in the High Keep's library, Master Borónd had told her the same thing. "That foal felt nothing, Miss Dyer." He adjusted his reading spectacles, looking at her over their gold wire frames. "But that's not the point, is it? The point is this: There are other stables, other high houses on Dávanor, whereanyimperfection is met with the hammer. But not here. So consider yourself fortunate. You've seen this twice during your tenure with Master Khondus. If you'd served elsewhere, you might have seen it five or six times a season."

But not here.

Not in House Dradón.

"Dragons aren't like men, girl," Master Khondus had told her later that evening, when Anna had brought it up again. "They don't ruin their dreams with silly vanities—what some fool might say about an off-center crest, a bent horn, a patch of dull scale. And they sure as spit don't care about land, title, or coin. They dream of nothing save their rider's love—her love of the air, her love of the flight, and her love of a good fight. Those are their dreams, girl. So those are the dreams we honor. In House Dradón, every dragon fights."

Every dragon?

Anna frowned. She couldn't get the foal's silvery-white eyes out of her head. The trust there. The unspoken faith. Her Father had been Voidbane's rider for almost two decades. And this foal was Voidbane's first siring in three years. Didn't her family owe the great dragon something?

She shook her head. She'd seen it done before. It was a simple task.

But it wasn't so simple, was it?

"Enough." She took a breath. "In battle, dragons die."

Of course they did. Impaled, burned, slashed, shot, screaming, falling from the sky, their last moments savage and brutal, with only the glory of future song to give solace.

But those dragons had had a chance to earn their glory in battle, a chance to serve their House and their rider, achanceto face the enemy.

Anna realized that she hadn't moved.

She was still standing in the storage closet. Staring into the tackle cabinet.

"I won't hurt him," Anna said to the stacked goads. "I'll do it right."

 

5

ANNA SHUT THEcabinet doors, closed the storage closet, and walked back to the birthing stall. She held the hammer in front of her.

From inside the stall, Master Khondus said to someone else, "I warned your father of this."

Anna stopped outside the door. Inside, Nightlove snorted like a blast furnace, then growled with exhaustion. The foal hissed. Its tail thrashed the straw.

"Weare responsible, Khondus?" A young man chuckled. His voice was a light tenor marked by the heavy accent of Dávanor's far western counties, where the Kingdom's common tongue was taught late to children. His voice seemed familiar. "This isourfault? My father will findthatinteresting."

"No," Master Khondus acknowledged. "The fault is mine."

"Just so." The young man sniffed. "It is good for you to understand. I havealwaystold my father that you need to understand these things."

"Your sense of humor is as sophisticated as ever, my Lord," the Master said.

"Huh? That is . . . uh, very well."

Anna peeked around the door jamb.

The Master was talking to a skinny, blond-haired young man. Anna recognized him immediately. Lord Layne Tevéss. He was the son of High Lady Abigail's chief advisor, Lord Gideon Tevéss. Anna didn't know Lord Layne personally, of course. But she knew his reputation. The young heir of House Tevéss was a gossip, showoff, and lack-wit whose giant mouth was outweighed only by his tiny brain. The lordling was a bit shorter than Master Khondus and elaborately dressed in the dark maroon of House Tevéss. He wore velvet leggings, a maroon doublet of Eulorian silk, and knee high boots of Abúcian leather, also dyed maroon. An ornamental dagger, pommeled with a burgundy stone, swung from his belt on a long, gilt chain. As was the fashion in Dávanor's western counties, both his ears were clasped in elaborate gold casings. Under the lantern's orange light, the jewels on his slender fingers shone like blood.

The dragon foal cooed inquisitively and turned to face her. Anna pulled her head away from the doorway.

Something was wrong.

Lord Gideon Tevéss, Lord Layne's father, had been one of the High Lady's chief advisors for three years. But nobody trusted him. And they didn't trust him because House Tevéss had close ties to Lord Oskor Fel. Lord Oskor Fel was a traitor. The House of Fel was House Dradón's oldest and deadliest enemy. And three years ago, Lord Oskor had killed Anna's father.

In her mind's eye, Anna saw Father's body lying on the cot in the upper barracks. She saw the gaping hole in his breastplate. She saw dark blood pooled on ancient stone. Inside the stall, the dragon foal hissed savagely. Anna pushed the image away. She'd get angry if she dwelled on it too long. She'd think about it more. She'd get angrier and more distracted. Then she wouldn't be able to do her work. Then she wouldn't be able to do her duty. And Father wouldn't like that.

She shook her head and tried to think about something else.

What was Lord Layne doing down here in the first place? Alone and before dawn?

A mystery.

The enemy is here. But why is he here?

The foal gurgled. The wet, baby noise made her smile. And suddenly she felt better. Calmer. The foal sighed. She nodded to herself. Right. Stay focused. Stay ready. She scooted closer to the stall's door and cocked her ear.

"Yes, the fault is mine," Master Khondus said again, patting the foal's side. "And mine alone."

"Which brings me to my purpose." Lord Layne cleared his throat. "You have new orders for this broodmare today, Khondus. And I have decided thatIwill be the one to give those orders to you—."

"And since the fault is mine," Master Khondus interrupted him calmly, "the responsibility belongs to me, as well. This is what happens when a dragon is over-bred, Layne. This is what happens when we break our most sacred trust. It won't happen again."

Lord Layne paused, as if he didn't understand the Master's words. Then he sniffed. "My father says you can breed a proper mare once a year, easily. Twice, even—."

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