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Cries of Dragons: Levea, #2

Cries of Dragons: Levea, #2

Автор Rebecca Smith

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Cries of Dragons: Levea, #2

Автор Rebecca Smith

Длина:
334 страницы
4 часа
Издатель:
Издано:
1 авг. 2020 г.
ISBN:
9781393788928
Формат:
Книга

Описание

Assassins strike from the dark...

A ghostly form lures the princess into the forest...

After the fall of King Trea San, Crakaton is divided among the kingdoms of Levea. But not all is well...

When friction arises, Princess Kanea must ride to Crakaton with her trusted guards, Captain Tanyon Fitherlew and Lordling Nicoron Salindone.

A diplomatic quest morphs into a lethal struggle again mysterious forces.

Can Tanyon and Nicoron identify the dangers before the princess is harmed-or worse?

Издатель:
Издано:
1 авг. 2020 г.
ISBN:
9781393788928
Формат:
Книга

Об авторе

Rebecca Smith's most recent book is The Jane Austen Writers' Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World's Best-Loved Novelist. She is also the author of three novels: The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That and A Bit of Earth (all Bloomsbury) and Jane Austen's Guide to Modern Life's Dilemmas, which has been published around the world. Her first novel for children, Shadow Eyes, was shortlisted for the 2012 Kelpies Prize. From 2009-2010 she was the Writer in Residence at Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton. She lives in Hampshire and teaches creative writing at the University of Southampton.


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Cries of Dragons - Rebecca Smith

Prologue

The wind blowing across the sea hurled waves against the rocky shore, tearing apart the palm trees, frond by frond. The only place untouched by the wind’s powerful fingers was the caves. Hunkered down deep inside the cave’s halls, Dibla San sat on a stony throne padded with lush leaves and the small pelts of island creatures. She cradled a wriggling dragonling in her lap that repeatedly assaulted her hands with his sharp fangs and claws.

Her tinkling laughter echoed off of the walls of the cave. You are a fierce one. She stroked his back. Soon your back will be covered with sharp spikes, and one of the dragoneers will be training you for a great mission.

A tall, rough man dressed in black leather and chainmail audibly cleared his throat. Your majesty...

Dibla snapped to attention. Yes, Burladase, what is it?

We had another incident with the warriors. They are growing very restless. They need combat and action, or else they will continue to turn on each other for sport.

She placed the dragonling on the arm of her throne and gave the captain her full attention. What is the report on our numbers?

We have 75 flying dragoneers, 150 footmen, and 63 men who have spent their entire lives on this tiny island.

What of the ships?

We have three sloops ready for sail—enough to carry all of our footmen, though perhaps somewhat uncomfortably.

Sailing great distances is always uncomfortable, Dibla snorted. Are the men fully armed?

Most of them are armed with two weapons whether sword, dagger, bow or crossbow. However, some have only one weapon, he reported. We do not have enough iron to make more weapons.

A small setback, she growled, making the captain bristle. It sounds as if we are ready. Is that right, Burladase?

If you say so, my queen. The captain bowed.

A cool smile slipped its way up the corner of her mouth. Then we shall tell the troops now.

As she rose from her throne, Burladase was reminded of her giant ancestors. Though she was only about two decades old, she towered over him and the rest of her soldiers at a height of eight feet, though shorter than her father’s ten and a half feet. Her long legs carried her quickly to the entrance of the cave where she could see the result of two years of hiding.

The ground sloped down to the shore where the gray waves beat the shore. Since the wind had temporarily died down, black-clad warriors emerged from their bunkers to loiter

around the shore and the paths. A few dragons sunned them­selves on the sand and flat rocks. Three small ships bobbed in the tumultuous sea.

As she and Burladase wended their way down the rocky path to the shore, a shadow snaked overhead and landed before them on the path.

Screecher, good boy, she called.

He curled his long neck around her and rumbled.

The dragonling had followed them and perched on Screech­er’s back. The two were similar but had some significant differences; the dragonling was half Screecher and half Terror. His elder siblings proved the successful crossbreeding of Screecher and the Terrors by combining their strengths and eliminating their weaknesses.

You have some amazing accomplishments, Screecher. Dibla motioned to the little dragon.

The magnificent Screecher puffed smoke.

Queen Dibla! called an advancing soldier.

She smirked. Yes, Sal?

The troops want to know when we fly.

As soon as possible.

IN A SECLUDED PART of Pneutra’s northern forest, three peo­ple—two men and a lady—gathered beneath the roof of a log cabin.

He is perfect—just perfect. The thin man with a distin­guished Van Dyke beard gestured toward some paper

Are you sure, uncle? questioned his niece. We should not lower our standards just to increase our numbers. The Knights Patronus have only chosen the best of the warriors and lords of our land. Why not Nicoron Salindone or Denel Quariopel or another nobling who has served? I believe even Asher Salindone would be a better choice because he is nobility and would have some idea of who we are and what we do. This possibility is only an average warrior.

Is he so average? her uncle challenged. He was at the top of his class throughout his training. He distinguished himself on several occasions and is loyal to the throne. What do you think of him, Attai? He spoke to the quiet man in the corner.

Attai was shorter than average with small, almond-shaped eyes and darker skin than the average man. He ran his stout hand through his smooth, blue-black hair. Our subject has skills and qualities worthy of the Knights Patronus.

His niece frowned at him.

Attai continued, Perhaps we should watch him for a little longer.

Their elder ground his teeth. What more do you need? When he was a new recruit in the citadel, he saved the princess from a potentially dangerous prank.

She raised a heavy eyebrow. What kind of prank?

One mischievous trainee planted a bucket of cold water above a door that the princess was about to walk through. Our subject knew about it and pushed the princess out of the way and took the bucket for her, her uncle replied. What of the incident two years ago when he saved the lives of four other people from danger? Certainly, I do not have to go into much detail about that time since the adventure has been made into ballads and poetry by now.

His niece still seemed reluctant to accept their new choice.

Attai spoke up. Why do we not wait a little longer and see what else our candidate will do?

Their patriarch grunted in frustration. Very well, we shall wait, but I give you but one more month. After that, I am approaching the queen and asking her if she will relinquish him to us.

Chapter One

Kanea watched her opponent’s blades carefully. They flew up and came down. Blocking hori­zontally with her left hand and vertically with her right, she pushed forward and recoiled. The block had been clumsy, and she knew that she had to do better if she were ever to survive a real fight. Her trainer could read her expressions like a book written in large letters.

You are improving, Princess.

But that last block was so clumsy. I would have been effectively sliced in a real confrontation.

True, and for that reason we are training. Here is the place to make the mistakes and to end clumsiness.

At the sidelines, Nicoron and Denel watched with great interest as Kanea was being schooled under one of the best train­ers in Pneutra.

Imagine if she were one of the warrioresses of legend, Nic murmured.

I can imagine her becoming a legend in time, Denel replied. She is quite remarkable. Whatever got her into taking knifing lessons?

Jakkon Kingerly mentioned how absolutely useful knives could be, and she prefers two daggers to a sword. He pointed to the trainer. Jak also introduced her to the knife authority, Sir Paltiel.

The clash of daggers jerked their attention away from their conversation. Once again, the trainer and the princess were locked in mock combat.

Eventually, the sun reached the middle of the sky.

It seems that the time to end our lesson has come, Paltiel announced. And I happen to know that you must return to the palace in order to prepare to entertain tonight.

I do wish that we could spend more time training today. Kanea sighed.

The mature warrior wistfully nodded. As am I, but your formal duties call. One ideal you must never forget is that no matter your desires, you must perform your true duties first.

Kanea bowed. Yes, Sir Paltiel. Thank you for your training as well as your wisdom. She handed her daggers to Nicoron. Will you care for these?

Smiling, he took them. I will gladly care for your daggers.

I know that you will. I trust your ability to care for my weapons as you care for your own.

His chest swelled with pride because it was true that he cared for weapons as if they were his own children. He sharpened, cleaned, and waxed every sword and knife for which he was responsible.

I will strive not to disappoint you.

Thanks! Kanea raced out of the arena.

Princess! Denel was forced to jog after her. His battle hammer slowed him down, and for a moment, he lost track of her. Panic-stricken, he frantically scanned the training arenas. A creak drew his attention to a swinging gate that he knew led to the street. He dashed toward it and caught a glimpse of a flowing skirt. Princess Kanea! he shouted.

She whirled around, her braid swinging around her head. "Denel, what took you so long? I thought you were right behind me."

You should never, ever, run off like that ever again for the rest of your...long and...and prosperous life! He had to scold her, but he also had to be respectful. You often run off as if this is some safe fairyland for children, but this isn’t! Bands of raiders would love to get their filthy paws on you.

Kanea crossed her arms and looked at him in amusement. The fact that you take your job so seriously is quite sweet, but the citadel is very safe. You know the resident warriors take care of all the miscreants. We have nothing to fear.

A frown creased his brow, but he did not reply. I wish Nicoron were here now, he moaned inwardly. She would listen to him better—not that I know why.

Kanea was already weaving her way through the crowds in the street. Following close behind her, Denel observed their surroundings.

The people were the typical Pneutraites doing business in the citadel. Scribes carrying leather-bound books and scrolls ran hither and thither in their soft robes and sandals. Merchants called out their wares. Loggers and huntsmen from the far corners of the kingdom were there to sell their products of wood, meat, and hide. Children darted in and out of the crowd. A contingent of soldiers marching by stopped and bowed be­fore the princess.

Kanea curtsied in reply and exchanged a few pleasantries with the commander.

Something on the rooftop caught Denel’s eye, but when he looked carefully, he saw nothing out of place to cause him worry. To calm his nerves, he inhaled and let it out slowly.

Denel!

NICORON SPENT AMPLE time examining the daggers to ensure that they had not sustained any damage. The weapons seemed to be in perfect condition. He ran the blades over a sharpening stone once and wiped them clean. Soon he was jogging toward the court, hoping to catch up to Denel and Kanea. He noticed the gate of the arena slightly open and guessed that Kanea and Denel had raced through there. Where else would they go? he considered. He made a right, jogging up the road toward the palace in the center of the citadel. The people parted for him to have a clear way. He nodded as he passed, appreciating their simple act of respect. His experience as a warrior, hero, and royal guard was well known. People called him one of the heroes of Levea, along with Tanyon Fitherlew, Jakkon Kingerly, Prin­cess Kanea, and the Dukeling Tari Helyanwe. Yet, a little voice in the back of his mind reminded him that he was not worthy of all the respect and honor bestowed upon him. His head lowered when he recalled why he really had become this hero of Levea. I must not allow myself to become prideful again.

A loud voice ahead of him shook him from his reflection, and he skidded to a stop to see exactly what was happening. Ahead, Kanea was speaking with a commander and his troops. Denel stood beside her like a statue. A glint on a balcony caught his keen eyes. He scanned the balcony, at first seeing nothing. Then he made out the shadowy form of someone wearing a dark, hooded cloak obscuring the entire form and face of the watcher. The figure produced something long and cylindrical from inside the cloak and raised it to his lips. Nic’s eyes traced a straight line from the figure to the princess and back. He gasped. From his distance, he could do nothing expediently except...

Denel! he screamed at the top of his lungs.

His friend whirled around.

Pointing frantically at the balcony, Nic shouted with the first thought in his head. The balcony! The balcony!

Denel glanced up and then lunged toward the princess.

Kanea screamed.

Nicoron was almost frozen in place as he watched the scene unfold.

A small brown blur whizzed through the air and struck Denel as he shielded the princess. Nic glanced up at the balcony. The cloaked person was gone. Someone has just tried to kill our princess! Anger fueled his legs as he raced toward the building with the balcony.

Surely that assassin could not have run far. He broke through the front door. The establishment’s first floor was empty. He bounded up the stairs in the corner and scanned the second floor—also empty. Even more incensed, Nicoron skidded back down the stairs and dashed out the back door into a lonely alley. The bright sun exposed even the darkest corners, but he saw no one. In frustration, Nic kicked over a wooden box neatly stacked by the door and stomped inside. He threw open every cabinet and closet, looking for any trace of the assassin. Finally, he went out onto the balcony. Whoever this assassin is, he is fleeter than a fearful fawn. Looking below, he saw Denel bent over as Kanea fussed about his shoulder. The commander had ordered the soldiers to form a circle around the princess and her guard; all were on high alert.

Kanea spotted Nic and waved for him to come down.

Before leaving, he surveyed the balcony yet again and noticed a bit of black cloth snagged on a splinter. I do not know how helpful this will be, he considered as he plucked it, but I shall take it anyway.

Nicoron was still fuming when he marched up to the ring of soldiers surrounding the princess.

A burly one stopped him in his path. Who are you?

You know very well who I am! Nic snapped, not in the mood to be challenged. I am Lordling Nicoron Salindone, guard to her highness, Princess Kanea. Now let me in!

I have been given strict orders not to let anyone through to the princess. The soldier emphasized the word anyone.

Kanea could be heard from behind him. Oh, let him in! He is my guard!

Yes, let the guard in, warrior, the commander said. He has the most right to be in that circle.

Nic pushed past the warrior. Denel, are you all right? I saw you get hit with something. What was it?

I am not hurt. Denel waved aside the comment.

And he was hit with this. The princess held a thin cylinder of wood, with feathers at one end and a needle at the opposite. But it did not penetrate his armor.

Denel arose and rubbed his arm. I think I will have a bruise from the mere force of that projectile though.

Princess, put that down! the authoritative voice of the commander bellowed.

Startled, she dropped it on the ground.

One scratch from that poisonous dart you were holding would have condemned you to death.

She stared at it. Is it really that dangerous?

Indeed. The commander cautiously picked up the dart on the feathered end. This is the unmistakable work of the Shrikes of Shade.

Nic and Denel exchanged concerned glances.

Shrikes of Shade? Nicoron repeated.

The commander searched their surroundings. I do not have the time to tell you now. I must get my troops to the wall to relieve the other sentries. Directing his comment to Nic, he suggested, You should take the princess to a safe place and keep her there. I cannot come without disobeying my orders.

Excellent idea, sir, Nic agreed. We were just about to do that.

What of the dart? the commander queried.

Denel unlatched a leather pouch on his belt. I can take it to a place where no one will trouble it.

With a nod, the commander dropped the dart into the pouch. Then I shall leave the care of the princess to you. He marched his troops toward the wall.

Nic whirled to face the princess and Denel. We should get to the palace immediately. Denel led the way, and Nic followed behind Kanea, keeping her sandwiched between them.

Nic, Kanea quivered, what are we going to do about this? Who shall we tell? Her eyes flashed, checking her surroundings, fearfully examining every movement.

Princess Kanea

Nic himself did not know what to do about the situation. Who am I to tell? Who should know? Who should we trust? Then a thought hit him. I believe I know exactly who we can trust.

Chapter Two

The two guards and the princess stood in the palace before an ornate door that led to a lavish guestroom. Nicoron raised a fist and pounded on the wooden door.

Are you sure that he will see us, Nic? Denel nervously glanced up and down the hall. He is a very important lord.

He should see us about this matter, Nic retorted. This attempted assassination would pertain to his duties as a Knight Patronus, sworn protector of the royalty. He is the elitist warrior in the kingdom. Who else would we go to?

Then the doorknob jiggled, and the door opened to reveal a tall, distinguished-looking man with a full head of graying hair and a neatly clipped Van Dyke beard. Attached to his belt was an ornate rapier.

Lord Halftree, please forgive us for disturbing you, but we desperately need to speak with you, Nic began.

Lord Halftree looked from him to Denel and finally Kanea.

Come, Lordling Nic, Lordling Denel, and Princess Kanea. He stepped aside for them to enter.

The apartment was beautifully decorated—as were all royal apartments housing nobles at the palace.

Sitting in an overstuffed chair was a young brunette meticulously examining a bowstring. She arose and bowed. Good afternoon. Her husky voice matched her demeanor. She wore leather braces on her arms and shins and a shirt of chainmail underneath her dress reaching just below her knees. Her hair was pinned back in a tight braid, but rebellious locks fell around her face.

Princess and lordlings, meet my niece, Lady Wymarc, Halftree introduced. Wymarc, I am sure you know Princess Kanea and the lordlings, Nic and Denel.

Indeed, she replied with a curtsy, It is my honor to be in your presence.

Nic and Denel bowed, and Kanea curtsied in reply.

As it is for us, my lady, Kanea greeted. I have heard much of your achievements, and I have always wanted to meet you in person.

Wymarc smiled.

Lord Halftree clapped his hands and began rubbing them as if anticipating something exciting. Now, what can I do for you young heroes?

Nicoron took a deep breath before beginning. Someone just tried to assassinate Princess Kanea.

Halftree and Wymarc went rigid.

The lady’s light-brown eyes darted from one to the other, piercing their very souls. How can this be? she asked with a bewildered look in her eyes.

Halftree exhaled and sat down. Please, sit. He motioned to the couch across from him. Tell us everything.

Kanea sat on the couch with her guards on either side of her.

Nic shared an account of the day’s activities from Kanea’s knifing lessons to the attempted assassination. I saw something on a balcony out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked again, I could discern nothing. Only after a second of more careful observation could I see that someone was there.

Denel hung his head. I thought that I had seen something on that same balcony as well, but I did not take the time to look more carefully.

The lord waved his hand as if to brush aside the idea. I would not castigate yourself for that little error. You were looking at the ground level, and that matters as well. Many more dangers lurk than can be accounted for by one man. Thus, we have at least two guards each for the princess and the queen. He eyed Kanea with raised eyebrows. And, Princess Kanea, these two guards should stay with you always!

Kanea sheepishly looked toward the floor.

Now continue, Nicoron.

Nic took another breath.

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