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The Wandering Dragon
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The Wandering Dragon

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Author: Irene Radford
Publisher: DAW Books, 2014
Series: Children of The Dragon Nimbus: Book 3

1. The Silent Dragon
2. The Broken Dragon
3. The Wandering Dragon

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

The magical threat to Coronnan defeated, and the people of the kingdom working to rebuild their shattered realm, Lukan--son of the witchwoman Brevelan and Jaylor, the Chancellor of the University of Magicians--is determined to break free of his family's shadow and find his own place in the world.

He has finally achieved journeyman magician status, but he needs a special goal, a quest to complete his training. Wanting the quest to take him far from home and family, Lukan focuses on finding and rescuing his long-lost mentor, Master Robb.

The search will send him overseas to Amazonia along with the bard Skeller, who had won Lukan's sister Lily's heart but had been forced to leave her in the aftermath of a deadly incident. Now Skeller is returning to his own kingdom to take up the responsibilities of the king's son, a duty he never wanted to face.

But what awaits Lukan and Skeller in the land of Amazonia is a series of terrifying challenges--a mad king, a power-hungry witch, a people held captive by fear, and the very monsters that had nearly destroyed all of Coronnan!

Can a journeyman magician and an unwilling prince overcome the threats they must face to free a kingdom and rescue a master mage?


Excerpt

Lukan! Her journeyman called her.

Quickly she looked around the stillroom filled with aromatic herbs and brews and potions. All of the other healer apprentices were busy with their own tasks, trying to finish before the sun fully set lest darkness and unknown qualities invaded their medicines. She crept up the long, narrow staircase against the interior wall toward the journeymen's living quarters. Then past the bedrooms and up another stair to the apprentice dormitories. Finally the ladder to the loft attic appeared, deep in the shadows of the back corner.

At the top, in her own private space, she poured water into a palm-sized ceramic bowl, lit the candle with a snap of her fingers, and dropped her tiny shard of glass into the bowl.

Lukan's face appeared almost immediately.

Souska reached a finger to trace the curve of his cheek but he turned his face away, looking over his shoulder anxiously.

"I have no time. Tell Mistress Maigret that Rejiia is in the city, and I think she's recruiting a new coven."

"What?"

"I'm beached at Sacred Isle, and I can't work magic once I set foot out of my boat," he hissed at her. "Memorize what I said. The Masters need to know this." His face vanished.

Acknowledgments:

This book grew out of twelve previous volumes in the world of the Dragon Nimbus. Along the way I have had to thank all those who read the books with a critical eye, those who helped me promote the works, the ones who cooked dinner and planned research trips when I was on deadline, and the readers who bought books so the series could keep going. Rather than bore readers with a long and growing list of names of people they don't know, I ask that all you friends and family, colleagues and mentors, agents and editors, consider yourself thanked and hugged.

PROLOGUE

CORONNAN RESTS QUIET, but defensive and wary. The people are as wounded as the land after the mage-driven storm that flooded half the fertile fields in the country and ripped up the open prairie with its fearsome winds. The monstrous Krakatrice are mostly destroyed by teams of magicians and dragons. The king works everywhere with his people, rebuilding, restoring, stripping off his fine tunic to lend a strong back where needed. So do his two heirs.

The people adore King Darville de Draconis. He has forsaken strong drink and regained much of his youthful vigor and charm. No trace of scandal taints him, and the people have forgiven him his bastard son by a witchwoman, fathered before his marriage to his beloved Queen Rossemikka. This kingdom will not rise against him. Not now or for many years to come.

My father has become useless. Fifteen years in prison have taken their toll on his energy and intelligence. He looks old. He acts old, content to sit by the fire in the kitchen and swap tales with his old retainers. He cares not that another, weaker man wears his title, lives in his castle, and sits in the Council of Provinces. My father wants only peace, and has not even introduced himself to the cousin who rules his province. I doubt the vague lord and his even vaguer lady even know their predecessor lives in their castle. He has truly sloughed off the persona of his totem, the tin weasel with flaking gilt paint.

The years of imprisonment were kinder to me. I feel as if time stopped. I look as if time slowed, or even reversed. I made certain of that, when the restoration spell fueling the storm changed us. I stood behind my father and directed things so that... some of my aging dumped into him and some of his former youth fed back into me. People mistake my years by ten at least. My beauty is intact.

My powers are not. I need a coven to support my magic. I shall begin recruiting practitioners, men and women who enjoy the inflicting and receiving of pain. Men and women who draw power from the suffering of others.

Pain is the essence of power. That and a few doses of the addictive Tambootie leaf.

A few members here and there I can achieve easily. But for a full thirteen I must search further afield. A new coven, new powers, a new land to rule and subdue. People with a great deal of anger buried deep within.

And no one will suspect my true goals, nor how ruthless I can be when something, someone, stands between me and what I want.

CHAPTER 1

"TOGETHER WE MOURN. Together we bury the dead." The pulsing rhythm of priestly plainsong vibrated through the soles of Lukan's journey boots.

A dragon bellowed in mourning from the sky above.

The journeyman magician looked up, scanning for a flicker of sunlight against nearly invisible, crystalline dragon fur. There! He caught sight of a delicate tracery of fire-green defining a wing.

Why had the dragons come here? Today? They should be at their home deep in the Southern Mountains--towering, jagged peaks trying to pierce the sky with their icy serrated knife tops. Deep ravines lay in shadow most of the year there, hiding treacherous passes and blind snow caves. A safe refuge for dragonkind from the fearful reactions of an ignorant populace. Dragons had always lived separate from humans, intruding occasionally to admonish, to offer wisdom, to celebrate life.

And now to grieve. Matriarch Shayla and her consort Baamin had maintained close ties to Brevelan and Jaylor, Lukan's parents. Upon their deaths, within moments of each other, the dragons had retreated from humankind. The Stargods only knew when, or if, the dragons would once more hover in the back of Lukan's mind. He'd grown up among them and now their absence left a gnawing emptiness behind his heart. Or was that his own grief?

He paused in indecision as he approached the top of the latest hill he and the bard, Skeller were climbing. The slopes were gentle, the footing even. Ten to fifteen miles a day they covered, easily. He didn't expect the next leg of their journey to be as easy; for reasons more painful than difficult terrain. Tall grasses, waving bright green in the sun of high summer. But autumn must follow soon, and already the plains showed signs of going to seed. The stalks brushed their knees before bending in their wake, leaving a faint trail behind. And seeds to be carried farther afield to spread the bounty.

A bounty sorely needed this year, for though tall, the grasses should have reached shoulder height, and the seedpods should have contained fifteen to twenty seeds each. He counted only three on each tufted head of the grasses in his path.

The disastrous floods of early summer had damaged the wild crops as well as the sown ones.

Once Lukan delivered the cursed letter in his pack to Crown Prince Glenndon, he and Skeller could set out on their own individual missions, and depart this damaged kingdom once and for all. He hoped.

Somewhere deep in his gut he knew that leaving Coronnan did not mean he'd leave his problems and anger behind as well. But his instincts demanded he run far and fast and forget his friends, the University of Magicians, the untimely deaths of his parents, and... and the love he'd shared with his brother... half brother.

The only person he thought he'd miss would be Souska, the little apprentice magician he'd been mentoring.

The soft chanting in response to the priest's deep bass voice echoed around the vale just beyond the hill's ridgeline.

Skeller flung his arm across Lukan's chest, forcing him to stop. The wood-and-leather harp case on the bard's back shifted with his movement, thumping lightly. Lukan almost believed the harp--Telynnia--alive and wanting to add her voice to those ahead of them. Skeller's relationship with his music and instrument bordered on magic.

"What?" Lukan mouthed. Then the meaning of the words penetrated his mind.

"Funeral," Skeller said quietly at the same time the word touched the tip of Lukan's tongue. Skeller sounded as if he wanted to add his light baritone to the prayers rising from a great many voices.

"Here?" Lukan asked in surprise. By his calculation they should be approaching Battle Mound, sacred ground, not to be disturbed, plowed, or grazed. Not just anyone could be buried here. Only someone important, someone deeply honored by one and all. And only if the deceased had fallen in battle. Who?

His heart pounded loud in his ears. Glenndon!

No. He forced his panic to recede. He'd know if his brother--his brother, not just his half brother--had passed. He'd know.

He dropped low to the ground and crawled up to the crest where a few scraggly trees offered shade from the hot summer sun as well as shadow to hide him.

"How many?" Skeller asked. His fingers drummed a light tattoo upon his thigh, covered in journey leather trews, in a pattern that took on the cadence of the chant.

"Looks like hundreds," Lukan whispered. He tried spotting individuals in the ring of people holding hands around a wide swath of churned dirt.

Why? Why had they dug up the site of the last great battle in the civil war that had nearly torn Coronnan to pieces three hundred years ago? Only Nimbulan, the greatest magician of all time, had stopped the war by making a covenant with the dragons and establishing a new form of magic that could be controlled by a group, rather than greedy individuals constantly working against each other. The group in charge had evolved into the Magic Circle, twelve master magicians who could combine their powers to overcome any single rogue.

Lukan picked out the master magicians who counseled the twelve lords of the Council of Provinces quite easily, identified by their deep blue robes. Glenndon was also easy to spot with his bright golden hair and richly brocaded tunic in the royal colors, green and gold. (Lukan didn't like to admit how relieved he felt to see his brother standing tall and very much alive. He still harbored a great deal of anger toward him. And toward their Da, Master Magician Jaylor, dead these two, nearly three moons.) Two small girls, about twelve and ten, with darker hair but equally rich green and gold gowns, stood next to him. Those must be Glenndon's half sisters through his father, the king. Ah, there was King Darville with his long silver-gilt hair pulled back into a tight four-strand queue and a heavy glass crown shaped like a dragon ready to take flight. Next to him was the queen. She could only be Queen Rossemikka. Her clothes and demi-crown didn't matter; she was an older, near duplicate of her daughter Rosselinda, who had forsaken her royal heritage to become a magician and was currently first assistant to Master Maigret, who now ran the Forest University.

"Reports from the capital said only one in ten survived the mage-driven storm and flooding," Skeller said, his voice dropping as he gulped back strong emotions. He shuddered, and the rhythm of his beating fingers slowed to a dirge. "In a city that boasted twenty thousand souls when I left here at the beginning of summer... I just can't fathom it. They must be buried here too."

Good reason to further sanctify Battle Mound, a place to honor the newly dead as well as those lost in battle long ago.

The citizens had needed nearly three moons to recover as many bodies as possible, and to rebuild enough that they could leave their temporary shelters for this day of mourning.

Lukan turned his face away from the mass grave and looked toward the western horizon, across the River Coronnan, which had receded back within its normal banks. The sun had dipped past its zenith three hours ago. "If we hurry, we can be inside the city before dusk."

"You could give your brother the letter from your father here and we wouldn't have to go into the city at all," Skeller reminded him. He didn't look happy about that solution.

"Not here. Too public. This last meeting between us needs to be private." Lukan looked sadly toward the blond young man in the distance, barely a year older than himself. They'd been incredibly close until a few moons ago. They'd shared everything, wrestled, fought, played tricks on each other, swapped chores in defiance of Da and their masters, and laughed together over everything and nothing. They'd rarely spent more than a few hours apart. Their twin sisters were much the same. But now Lillian and Valeria had gone their separate ways, and it was time for Lukan and Glenndon to do the same. The ties that had bound them were badly frayed last spring when King Darville called Glenndon, his illegitimate son, to the capital to become heir to the dragon crown. Now the time had come to totally sever those ties and find their different destinies.

Lukan only wanted to connect with one person at the University. He wasn't certain how long he could maintain that one connection in good conscience. Souska needed a tutor. Lately, she sounded more interested in becoming a lover.

"I wonder there is any city left," Skeller said. "A mage-cast storm thrusting a wall of water thirty feet high one hundred miles across the Bay and up the river... It would have wiped clean every one of the hundreds of river islands making up the city." He shook his head, wanting to deny what the reports had said over and over.

"Of course the city is still there. Glenndon the Magnificent rode a Dragon to the rescue, cast the greatest magic spell of all time, and triumphed over the storm of the millennium," Lukan sneered. "But he left countering the storm to Da and the Circle." Fighting the storm had cost Da his life. His mother had miscarried and hemorrhaged within minutes of Da's passing. She hadn't had the strength or the will to fight for life without him. Lukan gulped back strong emotions.

"All I have to do is deliver this S'murghin letter, then we cross to the far side of that mile-wide river and set up camp."

"I was looking forward to a hot meal and a real bed for a change," Skeller sighed wistfully.

"I thought you liked the wandering life, following the caravans, singing for your supper, and sleeping under the stars."

"I do. But I also like the occasional inn with a generous barmaid and an appreciative audience." He looked away, no doubt wishing he could replace the generous barmaid with Lukan's sister Lillian. But despite their love for each other, they needed time apart. They both had things to learn about life and love before they could decide if they wanted to be together.

"I don't know this city. I wasn't invited to come with my sisters last spring to help Da and Glenndon fight the Krakatrice and the civil war," Lukan grumbled. Another time when Da had had no use for him and had forgotten his existence. "But I'm willing to bet the inns and taverns were the first to rebuild, especially close to the port, where aid will have come from King Darville's barons and allies across the sea. I still want to sleep rough and unhindered, but you shall find your beer there. Then tomorrow, we'll search out a berth on the next ship headed to Amazonia, one that leaves after I complete my journeyman's quest."

"And what am I to do alone while you row over to Sacred Isle? Presuming the island and its trees even survived the flood."

"You will sing in whatever bar we can find near the port and listen to the gossip. Listen to the sailors talk while beer loosens their tongues and learn what they know or have heard about your father's prisoner."

The chant soared into a hymn, a familiar and comforting one. Skeller's fingers drumming against his thigh took up the new rhythm, and his entire body took on a straighter and more comfortable posture. He couldn't help lifting his magnificent voice in song, joining with those who mourned and now released their lost loved ones to the beneficence of the Stargods.

Lukan couldn't let go so easily. He held his grief and his grudges tightly in his heart and in his mind, despite the tug of that beautiful hymn, and the dragon flying above. But even he had to add his own voice to the triumphant ending.

Just then, Glenndon lifted his head and scanned the ridge where Lukan crouched. The prince's gaze settled on his half brother.

You came, Glenndon said directly into Lukan's mind with a sigh of relief.

I was sent, Lukan replied.

For the first eighteen years of his life Glenndon had never spoken aloud. His telepathic powers came more easily to him than speech, and even now, five moons after a near-miraculous healing of his throat, he still reverted to mind-speech.

Can you meet me in the palace?

Where in the palace? I hear it's a big place. The twins had been there and reported convoluted passages, wings sprouting at odd angles, twisting staircases, and abandoned sections left over from generations before.

Private parlor, ground floor. I'll have Keerkin, my... friend wait for you at the main door. Mentally, Glenndon directed Lukan's gaze to a man of middling height and neutral coloring a few years older than themselves, who stood directly to Glenndon's right.

Lukan nodded his head and grunted an acceptance. Glenndon wouldn't meet him himself, he had to trust that chore to an underling. Just as Lukan was an underling to him. Everyone in Coronnan was an underling to him except the king.

The king. The man who had seduced... actually loved... their mother before she married Master Magician Jaylor. Mama kept that brief affair secret for eighteen years. The king and Da had been best friends for decades. But the king needed a male heir and had only daughters from his queen, so he'd yanked Glenndon away from his family, and out of his silence, and made him Crown Prince. Now both Mama and Da had passed. Glenndon had his new family, the royal family. Lukan had no one. Even his companion the wandering bard would leave him as soon as they reached his home in Amazonia.

Copyright © 2014 by Irene Radford


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