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Dragon Legends 1: Dragon King

Dragon Legends 1: Dragon King

Автор Paul Green

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Dragon Legends 1: Dragon King

Автор Paul Green

Длина:
625 страниц
8 часов
Издатель:
Издано:
15 нояб. 2016 г.
ISBN:
9781370356089
Формат:
Книга

Описание

After fifteen centuries of peaceful unending rule in Thecia, the Praetorian Imperial Dynasty came to an abrupt and shocking end with the assassination of Emperor Titus II, in the year 16187; leaving the world throne vacant without heir and up for grabs.

After a long bloody decade of unresolved war and conflict and the tragic loss of tens of thousands of lives, an even greater and more alarming concern arose. A great horror arose from beyond the mountainous north. Long thought to be extinct - long believed to be nothing more than myth - a legend; a children's fairy tale come to life. It had been many millennia since dragons were last said to have flown the skies of Thecia.

In the midst of the world's greatest internal turmoil and struggles, dragons had once again been sighted high in the skies above the craggy inaccessible northernmost peaks. Further troubling news came in from the south, as sea dragons had also been sighted in the south-western seas. The time of a global Dragon Rising seemed to be imminent. Even worse, it was rumored the dragons were intelligent. And organized. And it was said the dragons had a King.

To most Thecians, it seemed to signal the beginning of the end, and that their doom was nigh; for Draic'Kin and man had never been known to coexist. The civil war was bad enough and had decimated their numbers. But neither man nor army could hope to stand against even a single mighty dragon. Mankind was divided and had no ruler. They had no unity. They were ripe to be conquered and completely obliterated from existence and it was widely believed the dragons had returned to do just that. It looked to be the end of all things. The people had no help, they had no hope, and they had no future.

Or did they?
-------------
Dragon Legends

Book 1: Dragon King
Book 2: Dragon Queen
Book 3: Dragon Rising

Издатель:
Издано:
15 нояб. 2016 г.
ISBN:
9781370356089
Формат:
Книга

Об авторе

Winner of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Paul Green (1894-1981) taught philosophy and drama at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was a native of Harnett County, North Carolina.


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Dragon Legends 1 - Paul Green

Dragon Legends Series • Book ONE

DRAGON KING

paul green

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dragon Legends Series

Reader Recommendation

Acknowledgements

Cover Page

From the author ...

Prologue

The Dream

~ Bereaved ~

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

~ Renewal ~

Dream

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

~ Fate ~

Dream

Chapter 10

~ Quest ~

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

~ Convergence ~

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

~ Dynasty ~

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

~ Asariel ~

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

~ Destiny ~

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

~ Chrysalis ~

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Epilogue

Dragon Queen

Notes to the reader ...

Dragon Legends Series

About the Author . . .

Copyright Notice

ISBN-13: 978-1539795629

ISBN-10: 1539795624

facebook.com/PaulGreenAuthor

www.PaulGreenAuthor.com

Copyright 2016 Paul Green All Rights Reserved.

First Printing: November 2016

Revision A5

Printed in the United States of America. No part of this work may be used or reproduced, transmitted, stored or used in any form or by any means graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, scanning, digitizing, tapping, Web distribution, information networks or information storage and retrieval systems, or in any manner whatsoever without the express written approval of the author, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review.

For further information, contact info@paulgreenauthor.com

United States laws and regulations are public domain and not subject to copyright. Any unauthorized copying, reproduction, translation, or distribution of any part of this material without permission by the author is prohibited and against the law.

Front Cover Artwork by Mhasi

Dragon Legends Series

Part One

Book 1: DRAGON KING

Book 2: DRAGON QUEEN

Book 3: DRAGON RISING

Book 4: DRAGON REIGN

facebook.com/PaulGreenAuthor

www.PaulGreenAuthor.com

Reader Recommendation

Due to the unique subject matter, this series will appeal to a very broad audience: teen to elderly, male and female alike.

Although some parts may be considered to be too intense for pre-teen or younger readers. Ages 16 and up recommended.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to all my reviewers. Your input has been invaluable.

Thank you to my son Christopher for his help in designing the covers.

And extra special thanks to the One who gave me the desire to write.

From the author ...

Hello friends. My 21st novel and the launch of a whole new set of stories - with this one officially marking my 4th series.

Sorry for this long intro, but there is some important stuff I want to cover here before we dive into this new series. Hopefully you can survive my long-windedness, but I think it's worth taking the time to read. If you're going to have a problem with this series, better to find out now rather than after you've gotten into it.

First things first. Do not, under any circumstance, no matter how tempting it may be, peek ahead to the end of the story. Seriously, this story in particular WILL be completely ruined for you if you do. Be strong, brave reader; tough it out, I know you can do it. Hang in there and don't cheat yourself this amazing adventure. I believe in you. Now having gotten that little warning out of the way... :)

Initially planned as a trilogy, Dragon Legends could conceivably grow beyond three, depending on the response. (I've already got nine books mapped out in my head). This series is going to be unique for multiple reasons. The first being that this will be a full-on fantasy series. It will not have links or references or tie-ins to our real world or actual world history as the other series do, because ... well ... this one is a whole 'nuther world. :) One that I have created from scratch.

Instead of Earth, the world which I have envisioned in this series is a pre-technological world called Thecia; with the world model concept being somewhere between the Iron Age and 16th century Pre-Industrial Age. A simpler, non-technological time; but with a few scant modern conveniences and benefits. We will have simple basic plumbing, wooden buildings, bathrooms and kitchens, iron stoves, glass windows, steel weapons - but no firearms of any kind, as gunpowder doesn't exist. Though fortunately, advantageous matches are relatively common to find. The only modes of transportation are by horse and sailing ship. There is also an aspect of sword-wielding barbarism among some of the barbarian-like warrior classes.

It is one world with many nations and races, all united under one world ruler. The power and governing reins belongs solely in the hands of a long successive string of absolute world monarchs: the Emperors; living in splendor in a grand marble palace in Imperial City. The government feel may have a slight Roman-esque vibe to it, but it's not really Roman-ey other than on occasional name or phrase. It is exclusively a monarchy of my own design.

For our first opening story which introduces the world of Thecia, our focus will be upon a specific region called The Imperial Valley; a large mostly civilized region where the Seat of the Empire resides (Imperial City), including all of its local surrounding lands and 'Holds'. In other stories we will adventure beyond the borders of Imperial Valley and explore the rest of the world; but trust me, there is plenty of action and adventure to be had for this story in just this region alone. It will be a great beginning to our overall grand adventure in the amazing world of Thecia:

In our first book, we will be introduced to the first three primary races. The predominant race in Thecia is human - to give us a familiar grounded base to start, but over the course of the series we will be introduced to other races as well. However, I wanted all of this to be original; I refuse to rely upon highly overused fantasy stereotypes; namely elves, orcs, dwarfs, etc. Rather, the races I introduce are more of my own imaginings. Well ... dragons, aside. ;) But even dragons will be unique from what you have encountered before. My goal was to create something new, fresh and different.

However I will admit to having borrowed on occasion a sporadic name, term or phrase, and maybe even a minor concept or two from a variety of sources; including books, movies and even video games (and even some of my own earlier stories :). But nothing prevalent; this was done more as a minor convenience, because I think some names and phrases and concepts are cool. ;)

Being that it is unrelated to my other series, we of course will be introduced to a whole new set of characters. But fear not, just like my previous writings, Dragon Legends is VERY character-centered and heavily story-driven, and I promise you'll become attached to and emotionally invested in these new characters right from the start.

Something else unique that am doing for the first time - I will include actual artwork depicting some of the main characters. In the past I have always striven to keep the characters somewhat vague; leaving them to the reader's imagination as much as possible; only mentioning their hair and eye color and build. The rest I always left up to you. I will still do that here with some characters, but in this particular series I felt it was important to provide a more accurate depiction of some of our players. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to our primary protagonist in this story: Dimitrius.

With his emerald green cat-like eyes, Dimitrius is certainly unique looking. As an FYI, the book's cover picture features Dimitrius as a young boy. The first six chapters will set the stage for our first protagonist Dimitrius; so you may wish to take the time to read all six chapters in your first sitting.

Of course eventually as the story progresses, we will be introduced to more key players.

As for the Dragon Legends storyline itself, this series will be a little more deep and profound than my other stories. Immersive, atmospheric, and at times a little more emotional. You're gonna be punched in the feels with this one; especially as the story progresses. It's also going to be thought-provoking (I'm gonna make you think in this one), causing you to ponder upon things long after finishing and closing the book.

Another difference is that this series will be a bit more mature. We will on occasion be dealing with more mature subjects and themes. Possibly more oriented towards adults; though I think it will still be safe for most teens to read as well - there won't be anything here that teens don't already hear about every day in school. However in Dragon Legends, I will not be afraid of touching on a variety of subjects I might otherwise be hesitant about in my other stories; including topics such as drugs, bullying and hate crimes, sex crimes, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality and other mature subjects. But I promise I won't be outlandish; I will be careful and sensitive with how I deal with these matters just like I have always tried to do. Like I said, perhaps as a mild warning, this series Dragon Legends will be touching on more mature themes on occasion.

Let me give you a ‘for instance'. For my more conservative readers out there, this may come as a bit of a surprise, but about halfway through this story - I will be introducing a very important character - one whom it is hinted as having an affinity for the same sex. But it is my hope and desire in this story, that you will be able to look past that and come to appreciate and care about the true inner person inside; because after all, that is precisely what The Man Upstairs does with all of us. Where man looks at and judges the outward, God looks at the heart; and regardless of race, gender, past choices or current life decisions that we all have made, God still loves each and every one of us equally. That is, in fact, one of my motives for this important character, to help show us how prone we are to misjudge people based upon initial outward perceptions; and that everyone is of value and worth, and worth loving, in spite of how others might judge them. In fact, not only is this character paramount to the story of the Dragon King, this unique character also happens to be my personal favorite in this story. I am confident that by the time you reach the end, you will have come to greatly love and appreciate this amazing and extraordinary character as much as I do. Again, this crucial character will be introduced around the halfway point.

Enough about that.

There will be no sci-fi elements. That means no time-travel or any other easy way to get out of difficult predicaments. Dragon Legends will have very real consequences and repercussions to some very difficult decisions.

So ... this series - more mature and not so 'silly' (although I still have my moments - wink, wink), a little more intelligent (sorry long-time fans, guys aren't always idiots in this series. ha-ha). A little more serious and at times a little more intense. By the time you reach the halfway point, the feel train will have left the station and will be merrily rolling over your hearts for the rest of the ride. Mwahaha. Definitely character-driven, definitely memorable and thought-provoking, you will definitely become attached to these characters; and yes, even some romance for those romantics out there; we certainly can't overlook that now, can we? Hopefully, you will come to love these characters as much as I have come to love them.

Lastly, being that Dragon Legends is based in a 'fantasy' world of my warped imaginations, I have decided to invoke the use of 'common language' - meaning the characters will use normal speech patterns in the same way that we do. I won't be trying to mimic medieval or any other form of historical inflections. Though for the most part I will try to steer clear of modern slang; they'll just speak normally the same way that we do, because to them, that's how they would sound to each other, right? Figured it would be simpler that way.

Buckle up and get ready for an amazing and unforgettable journey. I will talk to you again at the finish line.

Paul

Prologue

After fifteen centuries of peaceful unending rule in Thecia, the Praetorian Imperial Dynasty came to an abrupt and shocking end with the assassination of Emperor Titus II, in the year 16187; leaving the world throne vacant without heir and up for grabs.

The murderous party was never identified, and no one stepped forward to accept responsibility for the brutal slaying, and thus everyone was suspect. The Governors of the Four Holds of the Imperial Valley: Westwilde, Springvale, Easthaven and Lochland - pointed accusing fingers at one another and claimed the Imperial throne for themselves. Naturally their claims were unilaterally rejected by their fellow Governors, and so it was that a world that had enjoyed its most recent 15 centuries of peace and prosperity and tranquility and security - was plunged into global chaos and civil war. The resulting tumult left by the vacuum of a ruling Emperor was felt around the globe by all peoples, races and nations; though it was the citizens among the Four Holds of the Imperial Valley itself who were among the most affected.

The only nation and race who remained isolated and unaffected by global unrest were those who dwelt upon the distant and mysterious western Isle of Adreathel and its equally mysterious inhabitants. They were isolationists, and wanted no part of the mainland's civil strife and opted to stay out of the war, leaving the Four Holds to bicker amongst themselves. Known only as the Lunari, over the centuries only a few had ever laid claim to them; who were always described as being hooded and cloaked to conceal their features; eventually giving rise to the rumors that the Lunari themselves were not human.

Then, after a long bloody decade of unresolved war and conflict and the tragic loss of tens of thousands of lives, an even greater and more alarming concern arose. A great horror arose from beyond the mountainous north. Long thought to be extinct - long believed to be nothing more than myth - a legend; a children's fairy tale come to life. It had been many millennia since dragons were last said to have flown the skies of Thecia.

Among the most ancient and oldest of legends, known only to a sparse few scholars in the current day and age, the dragons - or Draic'Kin in the old tongue, were believed by some to be the old gods, the creators of the world. Possessing the most powerful and ancient of all magicks known as Dragon Dream, it was believed reality had first been forged and shaped into existence through the dreams of the White Dragon, the first of the Draic'Kin.

Whether such things were true or not, most dismissed such beliefs as mere fantasy. Why dragons had disappeared, no one knew; for it was too long ago and too many ages had passed and most of the ancient knowledge regarding the Draic'Kin had passed away into dust. But now, in the midst of the world's greatest internal turmoil and struggles, dragons had once again been sighted high in the skies above the craggy inaccessible northernmost peaks.

Further troubling news came in from the south, as sea dragons had also been sighted in the south-western seas. The time of a global Dragon Rising seemed to be imminent. Even worse, it was rumored the dragons were intelligent. And organized. And it was said the dragons had a King.

To most Thecians, it seemed to signal the beginning of the end, and that their doom was nigh; for Draic'Kin and man had never been known to coexist. The civil war was bad enough and had decimated their numbers. But neither man nor army could hope to stand against even a single mighty dragon. Mankind was divided and had no ruler. They had no unity. They were ripe to be conquered and completely obliterated from existence and it was widely believed the dragons had returned to do just that. It looked to be the end of all things. The people had no help, they had no hope, and they had no future.

Or did they?

The Dream

Sitting

Upon a mountain

High above the world, in the clouds

It is coming

I can see it

From far away

Looming larger

Coming towards me

It is coming ... for me

Am I dreaming?

I am eight years old

I am alone

And I will not be afraid

~ Bereaved ~

Chapter 1

Springvale Hold

Dimitrius! THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!!!

It was the middle of the night when fifteen-year-old Dimitrius awoke to his alarmed older sister's voice.

What? Rae? Wha...what's going on?

Dimi get up! We have to get out of here!

And before he could realize or understand what was happening, he was violently yanked out of bed by his sister's hand just as the burning roof collapsed right where he had been sleeping moments earlier.

That woke him up.

RAE! THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!!! he yelled, stating the obvious.

KEEP MOVING! she screamed, as they frantically fought through burning timbers and debris, desperately trying to make their way towards the door. But just then, the doorway and their only means of escape collapsed as well - amidst a room filled with thick black smoke and searing heat and choking ash. And they realized in horror that they were trapped.

Then they heard the horrific screaming of their parents in the next room over. And then ... dreadful silence ... as another portion of the house collapsed in on their parent's bedroom, extinguishing their terrible burning agony.

Outside, they could hear the shrieks of horses; and the clash of sword and shield and the yelling and cursing of men.

They were under attack.

The last thing they remembered, was the fiery collapse of the entire roof just above their heads.

And two strong powerful hands grabbing them both by the scruffs of their necks.

Chapter 2

Evening - two days later

Once again Dimitrius opened his eyes - this time to find himself inside a cold dark cave lit by a small cooking fire set amidst a small circle of stones.

At first he didn't remember. He looked around at his strange surroundings ... and finally saw his seventeen-year-old sister Raelene sitting nearby, warming her hands at the fire. He saw tears in her eyes.

They're dead. she said, solemnly.

*** *** ***

Both brother and sister were very intelligent; though Raelene grudgingly admitted her younger brother was smarter than she. Neither sibling were competitive; they were in fact loyal and deeply devoted and supportive of one another; they were as bonded as a brother and sister could be. A big reason for that being that they had previously been orphaned together. While Raelene and Dimitrius shared some common facial features, that was about the end of their similarities. For other than these things, they were as different as night and day.

Two years older, Raelene was of average size and build, and was maturing into a stunningly beautiful young woman, with striking features - fair-skinned with a long mane of wavy black hair and deep blue eyes. She had high cheekbones, a perfectly formed nose and a sensuous mouth with full lips. There was no doubt in anyone's mind there would be a long line of suitors in her future.

Fifteen-year-old Dimitrius was very different in appearance than his older sibling. He was already nearly a head taller than her. His shorter-length unkempt and wild hair was dark brown and insisted upon looking tousled - ever since he had been a young boy; regardless of how often his mother had desperately tried to comb it - and to his great and constant chagrin, she had tried often. Even though he was only fifteen, he was already very attractive - a ruddy light-brown complexion that perfectly complimented his dark brown hair, a wide mouth and full lips like his sister including a naturally-formed permanent slight smile that almost looked like a smirk, and never seemed to fade away. But the most unusual of his features were his intense eyes - bright emerald green pupils with an elliptical iris - they almost looked like cat's eyes - and they seemed to stare right through you.

Besides being the younger of the two siblings, Dimitrius' personality was a bit more introverted and introspective, and he was somewhat quiet-spoken; whereas Raelene was slightly more outgoing, socially - albeit calm, cool and collected. But she could sometimes be impatient and did have a tendency towards a short temper when provoked, and sometimes there could even be a frosty edge to her cool personality; at least towards strangers. In that regard, quiet and reflective Dimitrius was the warmer of the two siblings in that he didn't share his sister's often icy disposition towards people she didn't know.

They didn't know which biological parent they took after. For in fact, they never knew their actual birth parents - the couple who had raised them were in fact their foster parents. Both had been adopted when Dimitrius was merely an infant - being that they had both been orphaned by the war. Someone had left the two-year-old-girl and her newly born brother upon the farmer's porch with a brief note, and then disappeared without a trace. The note merely stated their birth names; and that like so many other all-too-common war orphans, their parents had been killed in the war; and a plea to care for the young siblings. Each of the two children were covered in blood; both from some of their own cuts and scrapes mingled with the blood from others; whose blood they never knew. Nevertheless, their kind-hearted foster parents took pity upon the injured war orphans and took them in; for they had no children of their own.

For thirteen years they had been good and nurturing parents to the young orphans and raised them on their farm, and had been the only parents and family the children had ever known. Being merely two years of age when they first found her, Raelene recalled a few vague things about her birth parents, but for the most part they were but brief and fleeting images and memories. About all she could remember was that her mother had black hair like her and enjoyed gardening, her father had dark brown hair like Dimitrius and liked to hunt, and that was about all her young memory had been able to retain.

But she was seventeen now, her brother was fifteen. And though they were opposite in every way and distinctly different from one another, they were nevertheless inseparable and tightly bonded as brother and sister.

*** *** ***

Huh? What?

They're dead, Dimi. Mama and Papa ... are dead.

Then he remembered. The fire ... the burning ... the smoke and heat and the screaming and yelling ... the collapsing of the roof ... the horrific sounds of their foster-parents as they died ... he remembered it all.

And his eyes welled with tears. I ... I don't understand. How ... how can they be ... dead?

What's to understand? she replied icily and bitterly. Some bad men came, and they killed them. she sneered. And then they tried to kill us.

Mama ... and Papa ... are dead?

It's been two days, Dimi. You were struck on the head by a falling timber. There was a lot of blood, but Graz says it is nothing serious.

Graz? What's a ... 'Graz'?

The man who saved us.

Saved ... us? he replied, struggling to come to grasp with their horrible new reality. Mama and Papa ... are dead?

Raelene wiped her eyes. I keep saying it aloud, as if that might help me accept it. But it doesn't help.

I ... I am starting to remember. Who attacked us?

I don't know.

How did ... 'Graz' ... find us?

I don't know. He just did.

Finally, the emotions began to overcome him as tears ran down his cheeks.. Are they really dead?

Yes. she replied mournfully, fighting her own tears. We are all alone, now.

Who would want to hurt us?

I don't know, Dimi. Maybe it was bandits. Maybe it was marauders. Maybe it was soldiers. Does it matter?

We're just farmers! We don't have anything to steal!

Graz said they were looking for anything they could take; gold ... jewelry ... anything. All I know is ... they were bad men, and they took everything away from us. They stole our family and our farm and our lives, and now we have nothing.

As Dimitrius began to cry, Raelene broke her hard cold stare into the fire and came over to hold and rock her brother in her arms. And she began to weep with him.

*** *** ***

I can't stop crying, Rae. It really hurts. I can still hear their screams.

I know. I have had two days and it is not getting any easier for me.

I can't believe...

I know, Dimi. I know. I can't believe they're gone, either.

How did we end up in this cave?

Graz brought us here. Right now he is out hunting something for dinner.

Who is this ... 'Graz' you keep talking about?

Rae stopped rocking her brother and sat up straight to inspect him. I am sorry; are you feeling okay? How is your head?

Putting his hand to his temple he replied. My head ... hurts. But it's not that bad.

Graz put something on it to help soothe the pain, and help you sleep better. Some sort of poultice made of salve and roots he found nearby. He said by the time you woke up, you would hardly be able to feel anything. As far as who he is ... I honestly don't know. He's ... really big. He's really strong. And he's really ... scary looking.

Dimitrius looked at her in surprise. Scary ... looking?

He is some sort of ... I don't know ... mercenary or warrior-soldier. He is covered with scars and burns, and his eyes ... well he just looks mean. But don't let his appearance fool you. He may look like a giant brute, but he's been nice to me. I can tell he is also very intelligent. As for where he got all of his scars, he didn't seem especially interested in sharing war stories.

Which side of the war is he on?

Again, I don't know. I get the impression he isn't on anybody's side. As I said, I think he is probably some sort of mercenary or something; a sword for hire. He said he happened to be traveling through our region when he noticed our farmhouse was on fire. He rode over to investigate and ... here we are.

Why did he bring us ... here? And where is ... 'here'?

The bad men who attacked our home ... well, he said he didn't want anyone to follow us or track us or hurt us. He said he didn't know anything about us or why those men destroyed our house, except that he didn't think armed men should be attacking innocent children on a farm. He ... killed all of them.

One man!? he exclaimed. Killed all of those men who were attacking us!?

When you see him, trust me you'll understand. Anyway, he left no one alive; he said he didn't want witnesses to which way we went. Which is ... east, I think. As I said, it has been two days and we arrived at this cave just this afternoon. We are two days away from the farm. You now know all that I know.

A home which ... we no longer have.

We are orphans, Dimi.

We were orphans when we started out.

Raelene sneered bitterly. Losing parents seems to be our destiny in life.

What's going to happen to us, Rae? Where are we going to go? What are we going to do? Who is going to take care of us?

How should I know? Mama and Papa had no living family or relatives; that we know of, anyway. Papa's brother died in the war, and Mama's family ... well, you know what happened to them; they were victims just like all the rest.

But we didn't do anything! We weren't hurting anybody or taking any sides! Why would someone want to hurt us!?

Just then, a deep husky gravelly voice spoke out of the darkness as 'Graz' entered the cave, carrying a burlap sack slung over his shoulder, filled with several dead rabbits. Now that is the question, isn't it?.

Dimitrius' eyes widened in alarm as the giant man stepped into the light of the campfire.

Besides his monstrously immense size - which looked to be at least seven feet tall - he was powerfully muscled and sure enough, he was heavily scarred - including countless burn scars. Graz had obviously seen a staggering amount of battle, and Dimitrius could now easily envision this one single monster of a man taking out an entire garrison single-handedly. His shoulder-length hair was iron gray and his thick gray beard was tied in braids. Graz was a terrifying figure, and obviously an extremely dangerous man. He was wearing heavy armor in many places, though much of his chest area and arms were bare. Dimitrius guessed he was as much concerned about freedom of movement as much as protection; though his thick rough heavily-scarred skin practically appeared to serve as armor in its own right. At his back were sheathed three heavy steel swords, as well as a quiver of arrows and a massive war bow. Besides being heavily armed, he quite clearly knew how to use his weapons. Graz was formidable and menacing, intimidating and definitely 'scary looking', and Dimitrius' eyes widened fearfully at the sight of him.

Hello, Graz. Raelene said calmly, making introductions. "This is my brother, Dimitrius. Or ... 'Dimi' [pronounced Dee-Mee] as I often call him. Dimi, this is Graz. Our savior."

Graz looked down at Dimitrius and offered him a slight nod. But Dimitrius was too stunned to offer any kind of response; all he could do was stare at the large beast of a man.

Graz's offered him a slight albeit scary smile. Though surprisingly, the words that followed indicated he was indeed smart, intelligent and at times even eloquent. Well met, young lad. I suspect everything has not quite sunk in yet. But like your sister, you must choose bravery over despair. These are signs of being survivors. You will both need such fortitude if you are indeed to survive in this harsh world.

Dimitrius was still awed and unable to respond.

Still addressing Dimitrius, Graz looked over Raelene. Like your sibling, you need time. She was none too forthcoming at first, either. Now however, after overcoming her initial shock, she has shown herself to be a fair lass with a steeled soul. She has already told me a little of your story. You are fortunate to have such precious and blessed blood as your kin.

Dimitrius sighed and looked down, fighting against more tears. Except for her, I have no more kin. Rae is all I have left.

Raelene reached over and took his hand. We have each other. We ... are all we have left. But that is enough. As you say Graz, we will survive. Somehow.

Graz bowed his head in appreciation. A mere two days out from the loss of home and family, and already you speak with bravery of heart. I am well pleased. He turned and looked back at Dimitrius. You both also show strength. A lesser man would have buckled by now.

Then it was that Dimitrius couldn't hold it in any longer and once more his grief overpowered him. He bowed his head as the tears once more began to flow.

Graz nodded in understanding. There is no shame in shedding tears of bereavement for loved ones lost; you are no less a man for doing so.

As he buried his head into his sisters breast, Raelene looked up at Graz and noticed a hard look in his eyes. Have you ever lost family? Have you ever lost anyone close to you?

A sneer formed on his lips as he replied, Yes. And that was all he said.

Rae nodded as her own eyes glistened. Then you do understand.

Shaking his head, Graz replied It has been many years for me, but I still mourn for my loss.

I am sorry to hear that. Thank you for everything you have done for us, Graz. Besides owing you our lives, I don't know what would have become of us had we been left on our own. Our farm sustained us. My brother and I ... we have no money. We have ... no way of caring for ourselves.

Graz held up his hand to stop her. I shall do what I can for you. I have a sister several days to the north, safely tucked away in a hidden valley. I scouted the location myself years ago, seeking to find somewhere safely secluded for my sister to raise a family in peace. She and her husband work a farm, not unlike yours. That is where I intend to take the two of you; before I continue on my journey to the east. I have other urgent responsibilities lying in wait for me; beyond caring for two orphans. Worry not, my sister has a good heart; you will have no difficulty earning her pity and benevolence. Although... he began to say to Dimitrius with a teasing glint in his eye, ...she may be tempted to put you out with the other mousers.

Huh? What?

Asks the man who has the eyes of a cat. he chuckled.

Oh. That. Yea, I've gotten that my whole life.

Your eyes are quite unusual, I must say; I have never before seen that in a human. Most unusual; what shade of green are they?

They're just green. he sighed.

Ah. If you say so.

Rae managed a slight smile at her brother. I have always tried getting him to wear green; it brings out his emerald eyes.

Graz nodded. His choice of wearing a green shirt seems to support your preference.

Ignoring further attempts at small talk, Dimitrius shrugged. Then in a sudden change of tone and with a glint of anger in his eyes, Dimitrius looked up at Graz, suspiciously. Why?

Why what? Graz replied, innocently.

Why are you helping us?

Why would I not?

You are obviously a strong and capable warrior. Rae says you are a mercenary and that you don't take sides in the war. You don't know the first thing about us. Why would a man of battle and well acquainted with death suddenly take interest in two homeless orphans?

Graz nodded with approval. A fair question. I see you have a mind to accompany that ... brave heart of yours. Few men would dare to be confrontational with me. Very well, bravery deserves answer. Though I have seen much death, often by my own hand, I am not a cruel man. I am merely a defender of that, and those, which are innocent and honorable. Your family, youngling, was attacked by cruel men. The both of you are innocents in this matter. If I had left you to die, then I would have been no better than the cruel men. I take no delight in unjust suffering.

Are you a lying man?

When it suits me.

I see. Are you lying now?

You have given me no reason to lie to you. And I have told you all you need to know. Enough talk. I have said my fill for the night. I shall prepare our meal, and then you will both rest. Be ready to leave at first light; and be prepared to ride fast. The two of you will be sharing my pack horse. As I said, we have several days to reach my sister's farm in the north, and I am now already two days behind schedule in my journey to the east. I dare not delay a day longer.

Chapter 3

Four days later

For four days, Graz rarely spoke. And neither did the two siblings. Having suffered so much loss, the 15-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl were both still devastated and in mourning.

It was late summer with autumn just around the corner, and fortunately the weather was ideal for traveling. In quiet mournful silence, they rode on swiftly, making excellent time, stopping only at dusk to setup camp. There was a full moon rising, and coupled with the setting sun it was still bright enough to see far. They happened to be traversing an upper mountainous pass when finally a distant hidden valley came into view; a lush grassy vale with a river running through it and a kind, life-giving sun spreading it's inviting warmth over the entire valley, bathing the picturesque vale at sunset in its comforting light. Their new home had just came into view for the very first time. The eyes of the young teens widened in wonder at the beauty of the sight; and for the first time, the sun's rays brought their first ray of hope into their darkened hearts.

Graz held up his hand for them to stop, as he often did when entering a new territory. As they reigned in their horses, he sniffed the air and looked all around. His steel-gray eyes were sharp and could make out details from a great distance.

Is that... Dimitrius dared to ask.

Indeed it is. Graz answered. My sister's farm lies in the heart of the vale.

It's beautiful. noted Raelene. The whole valley! Is beautiful! Especially with this lovely sunset! She paused and sighed appreciatively. The colors of the autumn leaves, they are like tiny flames. I could stare at this mesmerizing scene for a lifetime.

Graz smiled and nodded in agreement. My sister is blessed to have secured for herself a safe, good and bountiful life, with a good man for a husband.

Will we make it there today? Dimitrius asked, looking up at the sinking sun.

Shaking his head, Graz replied, Nay. Tomorrow. The crisscrossed path downwards is steep and can be treacherous if one is not careful. We will need to take our time and be cautious in our descent. We shall camp up here for the night so that we may see our way better by day.

How far down is it? Dimitrius asked. From this vantage point, we must be up awfully high.

Five thousand spans. answered Graz. If we were much higher we would be at snowline at six thousand spans; even in the summer months. Fortunately these mountains allow us passage well below that.

Though they were several days distant from their destroyed home, the only home they had ever known, the lovely vale below and the farm area looked comfortably familiar. Even from their distance they could make out many horses in a pasture. For the first time in a week, a brand new flicker of hope arose in their otherwise dark and mournful hearts.

Do you... Dimitrius asked nervously, ...I mean ... do you think she will like us? What if she doesn't want us?

A slight smile appeared on Graz's grizzled face. Oh, I assure you, younglings; my sister would much prefer to take you under her wing than allow you to continue a stone's throw further with me. She has ... never much approved of my lot in life.

Dimitrius turned a slight smile of his own to Graz. Well, I like you. I will put in a good word for you.

And for the first time, Graz actually chuckled. What is this? Does the sun actually dare show its face from behind darkened clouds?

Raelene responded in a cool, doleful tone, It still hurts.

I know it does, lass. Graz replied with a hint of compassion. Deep heartache such as yours shall require much time to mend. One moment you will think you are doing well; then from out of nowhere another unexpected wave will come and crash over you, and you will find yourself awash in tears. Grief is like that; waves of bereavement come and go like the tide; trust me, I know. But this I can promise you, one day your heart shall mend. At least you will have safe haven to heal; this region is remote and far from any concerns of war. My sister's place shall serve the both of you well - far better than any physician's elixir.

What's her name? Dimitrius asked.

Anora. Her husband's name is Owen; he was a former scholar from Imperial City, turned farmer. As I said he is a good man; she married well. They also have a young daughter; she should be about fourteen now I believe; near to the same age as Dimitrius, here. Though her name escapes me at the moment; it has been years since I have last visited. The child was only barely walking the last time I saw her. But no matter; you will meet them all soon enough.

Raelene reached over and lightly touched his arm. Graz? I know I have not been especially ... grateful. It was never intended towards you.

Graz smiled at her and patted her hand. I understand, more than you know.

Yes, you obviously have known your own hardships and are well acquainted with grief. Even just looking at you I can tell. I am sorry for your own loss, whatever it may be. Thank you, Graz. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for everything. Again I say, we owe you our lives. Without you... she paused and sighed. I am at a loss for words. I don't how we can ever repay your kindness.

Pleased with what he heard, Graz gave her long nodding look of approval. Good. he finally said. Good. Just promise me you will grow up ... well. And make good choices.

She looked at him in surprise. Well?

His face turned serious for a moment. And in a surprising display of cultured eloquence for such an intense, brutish looking beast of a man, he said, Lass ... if I may be so bold, you are a beautiful young woman. I have traveled all over the world. And I daresay in all my years, I have never seen a young girl who equals your beauty; not even among the noble classes. Your perfectly formed features which look to have been sculpted by the finest master artisans, the color contrasts of your black hair, deep blue eyes, and your unusually fair skin completes the picture, making you indeed the most beautiful work of art I have laid eyes upon.

Raelene's eyes widened. And her cheeks slightly reddened in embarrassment. Me? Beautiful?

You have no idea. From the moment I first laid eyes upon you, I was awestruck by your appearance; more than my meager words can express. If you are not careful, this can be a dangerous and corrupting thing.

Again she looked at him in surprise. Dangerous? Corrupting?

Mark my words, lass; you shall draw the eyes of many a man. Do not allow your beauty to go to your head. And do not confuse your beauty with your worth. Harken my words, youngling; your outward appearance ... does not define who you are. I do not say these things lightly.

Looking somewhat confused, Raelene replied. Uhm ... okay. Sure.

Graz nodded. You need not understand my words now. Someday however, I hope you will recall my words when you need them, and heed my counsel.

If you say so.

Graz turned his head and looked at Dimitrius, who was looking even more confused. And Dimitrius was beginning to wrinkle his nose. Graz chuckled, saying You do not consider your sibling to be pleasing to the eye?

Ewww! No! Yuck! She's my sister! Okay, maybe a little.

Graz laughed at that, and then turned his horse toward the left. "It would serve you well, youngling,

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