"Call of the Dragon, Pt I" Cornell #1
"Call of the Dragon, Pt II" Cornell #2
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
Chapter 15 <==/ Chapter 16 / ==> Chapter 17
“You will not survive this, savage,” Governor Derisham told Gabe with a sigh. “My troops will break through the rubble some time soon, and they will kill you.”
Gabe shrugged. “You will be dead by that time.” Maybe it had been a bad idea to take the gag from the governor’s mouth. But he’d felt too alone with Flink gone. The gods knew that the alreu was annoying most of the time, but Gabe had grown too accustomed to having the chattermouth around. Not hearing his voice all the time, that was starting to grate on his nerves.
To his surprise the governor nodded. “Of course. I don’t understand why the knight-errant chose you as his companion, but I expect you to do as you have said. A man’s word is his duty, as Clairbold always said.”
“Who?” Gabe frowned.
Derisham chuckled. “You don’t know the greatest knight-errant who ever lived? Clairbold of Amaldis was a great hero in his time, and a wise man. I have wished to be like him since my youngest days, even though Clairbold worshipped your false southern gods. But his ideals, oh, they ring true in any language and in any culture. Be honest, be proud! Stay true to your word! Do what is right!” He shook his head sadly. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever read about Clairbold’s exploits, have you?”
Gabe lifted an eyebrow. “I do not read.”
“Oh.” Derisham blinked. “I should have expected that, forgive me. You’re a barbarian, so you don’t know your letters, and –“
“I said,” Gabe growled dangerously, “I do not read, not that I cannot read. Words in books have little meaning to a man who lives his life, it is deeds that count. After one has spent one’s active days, and there is no more glory to be found, books may invigorate your existence. Until then, they are no more than a distraction.”
Derisham snorted. “Then you’ll be missing out on a lot. You won’t have an old age to read and to enjoy the wisdom of books, the guidance for life.”
“If reading has brought you to this end, then they are false guidance.”
“No, they’re –“ Derisham started angrily, wanted to raise his hands, and realized that they were still bound. He slumped forward. “In my case, you are right, savage. My fault was not reading the books and following their lead, I mistook what that lead was. I thought…” He swallowed hard, looked into the barbarian’s eyes. “I thought I could change things. Make the world a better place. You’ve seen the empire, haven’t you? Is it the marvel of civilization it once was? Does it expand, does it bring culture and salvation to new lands and new peoples? No, it doesn’t. We’re stuck in an endless cycle of cannibalizing ourselves, starting civil wars, and meanwhile the One God’s faith is shrinking. Leahcim, the holy city, has fallen to your heathen armies. Nuâsdal – what you call the Arrufat Peninsula – is no longer Tonomai, except for a small portion of the land.”
Gabe shifted in his seat, casually checked the venting grate whether Flink had returned and the rubble at the door for any activity, while he said, “Seems to me that our faith is stronger.”
“Maybe.” Derisham sighed. “Maybe the One God has had his time on Gushémal. But if that is the case, it is because of our failure. We should be a unified people, defending our god and spreading his gospel. That is what I wanted. The dragon egg… It could have helped me. Perhaps. I don’t know.”
“Those were your goals?” Gabe asked. He felt oddly moved by the governor’s words. There was a sense of nobility in his explanation. One fraught with silliness, that a single man could bring change. Yet was that not Gabe’s own plan for his homeland? “You have taken a bad road towards your goals. The means have bearing on the result.”
Derisham smiled wistfully. “Savage, you may never have heard of Clairbold, but you speak in his voice. That is what I have forgotten. For twenty years I have tried to awaken my people to the world. They never listened. Battle seemed to be the only option left. Yet that is the very problem I wanted to remove.”
“As I said,” Gabe nodded, “a bad road.”
“The worst,” Derisham agreed. “Not that it matters anymore. Either you kill me, or the empress will. I committed high treason.” His eyes slid down towards bwyell. “Your axe might be the kindest end to my life.”
Gabe leaned forward. “Did your hero, this Clairbold, give up so quickly?”
“What? Are you –“ Derisham caught himself, shook his head in confusion. “You are my enemy, why do you sound so… supportive all of a sudden?”
Gabe sighed, got up from his chair and stretched. “I am not supportive. You want to strengthen your empire so that it can attack other lands and the gods that I follow.” He put his foot on the chair, rested his arms on the leg and looked at the governor. “Yet I respect your goals. For your empire, they are good. You have walked the path to destruction instead of heeding your ideals. That was wrong. A man is entitled to making mistakes, because as long as he draws breath he can correct them. That is the right path.”
“Clairbold never gave up,” Derisham mused. “Not even when the Wizard had imprisoned him in the Hall of Demons and he thought that Oggod – his companion – had been killed. Clairbold fought. He…” Derisham snorted and closed his eyes. “I am not Clairbold. I am an old fool who should have never read the books from your heathen lands. The beiqua should have been my only reading, then I would not be here now.”
“Probably not,” Gabe said. If the governor had not taken the dragon egg, Sylasa would not have come here to steal it, and the barbarian would be at The Crimson Talon right now, looking forward to Solstice Day tomorrow. Cornell would be grousing about the idiocy of this, Barandas and Flink would be plotting to steal something, and Gabe would be enjoying a good ale (after waiting for it to cool down to acceptable temperatures). “Do the ideals of your holy book disagree with those held by Clairbold?”
Derisham looked up. “The beiqua… No, savage, in many ways Clairbold might have been Tonomai.” He smiled softly. “Perhaps our peoples, and our faiths, are more alike than either of us care to admit.”
“Then hold on to your ideals. Die with the ideals in your heart, and you have chosen the right road. Do not give up.”
“Never surrender,” Derisham whispered. “Thank you. For whatever it’s worth.”
Gabe nodded. He picked up the gag and held it out to Derisham. The governor chuckled, then opened his mouth obligingly. After binding the gag, Gabe sighed and walked over to the rubble. Derisham might be right. They might all die in the next few hours. Was it any consolation to the barbarian that he had reminded the Tonomai of his ideals?
Yes, it was. Because it reminded him of why he had left his homeland and his wife. His purpose might perish in this room, but he would go down with the name of his goal on his lips.
I am Ryuujin.
Was that right? Was his name Ryuujin? It didn’t feel as if it belonged to him.
Rise, Hiryuu, and dispose of these interlopers.
Those weren’t his thoughts. They were alien, imprinted on his mind by something… or someone? So, was he then this Hiryuu? But that name felt as alien as the other thoughts. And… there was pain. Much pain, enveloping his body like a second skin. Or was it his skin that was hurting? That felt as if it was burning?
The grass fire.
“By the gods!” he exclaimed, or tried to. His voice failed to obey him all the way, sounded like the raspy cough of an ancient horse dragon. He’d run into the fire! How could he have possibly thought that fire was pleasant?
But he was still alive, wasn’t he? The pain was a good indicator. There couldn’t be any pain in the afterlife.
Hiryuu. The interlopers annoy me. Dispose of them so you can choose.
“Choose what?” he croaked.
The voice in his mind was silent. Instead he heard other noises, the sounds of battle, right next to him. Angry grunts, the clang of swords – a death scream, followed by a heavy body dropping to the ground. Who was fighting? He had to open his eyes! Why was his mind so slow?
The sunlight flamed into his eyes. He tried to yell, but his parched throat turned it into a gurgling sound.
Another scream. Another body fell. Then came a voice, sweet and female, but not tender. The pain roared inside him so much he didn’t feel cheated. “Are you yourself again, Cornell?”
“Cornell,” he repeated. His lips broke open. The salty taste of blood was on his tongue. “That… is my name, isn’t it?”
A shadowy figure appeared before him, gradually peeling out of the blinding light. “Yes, Cornell of Cayaboré, it is. How badly are you hurt?”
“Sylasa?” He recognized more features, bright silver, auburn locks, eyes as deep as oceans studying him concernedly. Isn’t that nice? She’s concerned about me.
She shook her head, the motion blurring his vision as badly as it had been. “Forget it. I’ll try my best to get us out of this, but we have a dragon to fight on top of the Tonomai.”
Hiryuu, the interlopers!
The voice was back, more urgent. Had it been a tad supercilious before? And was it now seeking his help?
Wait a minute! A dragon? “Ryuujin!”
“You’re babbling again,” Sylasa sighed, vanished from his vision. She must have gotten up. If he turned his head – yes, there she was, standing next to him, her sword drawn, gazing intently in one direction. “Oh, great. I’d been hoping the Tonomai had gotten him.”
Hiryuu! You cannot choose with these interlopers here! I want to be free, Hiryuu!
Who was Sylasa talking about? Who was supposed to have been killed by the Tonomai?
A horse was approaching, the hoofbeats echoing in his ears. But Sylasa made no motion to defend herself. That couldn’t be a Tonomai then, right?
“Can’t you even die like a man?” she said.
The horse stopped. A man’s voice said, “I’m going to regret this later,” somebody jumped from the horse, “but shut up, lady!” A shadow blackened Cornell’s vision, blocking his sight of Sylasa, and a face appeared before his eyes, a very familiar face. “You always need my help, Cornell, don’t you?” Barandas grinned – and something cool hit his stomach. Metal and wood. “Do your job, priest! Heal him!”
Cold. So cold in his stomach. Refreshingly cold.
The pain subsided. Just a bit, but he felt his breath come in more easily. And his mind cleared a lot more. The temple! The dragon egg, the Tonomai attack, Barandas with the fireball, his sudden love affair with fire, then Sylasa – beating him up? Again?
me! I want to fly!
“Ryuujin hatched, didn’t he?” he asked, surprised at the strength of his voice.
“Who in the bloody tides is Ryuujin?!” Barandas hissed back. “Look, we’ve got a dragon, a lot of frightened Tonomai –“
“– and a frightened wizard,” Sylasa interjected.
Barandas cast a dirty glance in her direction. “That’s a bloody dragon, all right? Maybe you’ve never fought one, but I have. And it’s no picknick, not even with a pup like that!”
“His name,” Cornell – that was his name! – said and raised his hand weakly, “is Ryuujin. He’s talking to me.”
Both Barandas and Sylasa stared at him incredulously. The shield souls seemed to do the same, even though the bronze knob was firmly planted on his chest, and the Decalleigh priest Phindar was doing his best to undo the damage in Cornell’s body.
“I think,” Cornell continued slowly, “he’s been talking to me all the time. He calls me Hiryuu. Don’t ask how but I think that means flying dragon, like a horse dragon. I’m from Cayaboré, I’ve had my own dragon all my life. Ryuujin must have sensed that.”
“That’s crazy,” Barandas muttered and slapped the shield. “Priest, you’ve got to do better than that!”
Phindar was doing rather well, Cornell thought. His skin was still aching, but that was only a shadow of the pain that had been there before. Now Cornell placed his hand on Barandas’ shoulder and said, “It is the truth, you idiot. I thought it was Melawdis and her spellsong that was messing with my mind, but it was Ryuujin. He’s the reason why I fell off my horse in Atnas. He was afraid, and he transmitted that fear to me. And that,“ he lowered his hand carefully from the shoulder to the shield on the wizard’s arm, “isn’t yours.”
“Be my guest,” Barandas snarled, readily sliding his arm out of the straps. “You can have your toy back, Cornell. It tried to kill me.”
“What a surprise.”
“Very funny.” The wizard slapped him on the shoulder with a sour face, then rose. “Where are the Tonomai?”
Hiryuu, that is better. Now come to me and choose.
“Good work, Phindar,” Cornell said, ignoring the voice in his head as he sat up. “I’m as good as new.”
“No, you aren’t,” the priest’s voice replied from the buckler. “I stilled your nerves so you cannot feel the pain, but the damage –“
“Fine,” the Cayaborean cut him off. What was the shield doing? Spoiling a good deed by talking endlessly? They should have called it alreuwood rather than elfwood. “Sylasa, the Tonomai?”
She was standing three yards away from him, gazing intently at the hills. At the hills? “They’re fleeing.”
“Fleeing? From the dragon?”
Come to me!
“No,” Sylasa shook her head and pointed to the northern end of the valley. “From them.”
Cornell followed her direction with his eyes while bending forward, getting his legs under him. At first he only noted a cloud of dust behind the rocky expanse on which only a few clumps of green had escaped the fire. Then he saw them. More Tonomai soldiers, fully armored, mounted on horses, coming down the hills in an orderly file. The foremost rider carried a standard, its flag drooping on the staff sadly, wanting for wind to unfurl it.
“I don’t understand…”
Sylasa shrugged. “Those are troops of the empress. Governor Derisham was about to rebel against her, using the dragon. Apparently she’s discovered his intents.”
And wants to put a stop to it, Cornell concluded the statement in his mind. He looked over to the temple. The snake dragon pup was curling his long body around the crumbling walls, an arrow embedded over its right forepaw, Ryuujin’s yellow eyes watching him.
now! Choose, so I can fly!
The horses? Had Ryuujin devoured Stormwind and the others? If he had, he’d have a lot to answer for. No matter that Stormwind had been acting strange lately, the stallion belonged to Cornell, and nobody would take what was his.
He couldn’t help but smile. His mind was clear at last!
His smile wavered when he saw a rider on a pony detach from the main group of Tonomai. The rider was small, too small to fit on the large horses the soldiers rode, and she was not a soldier. Not to forget, Cornell knew her. Melawdis, the song dwarf from the governor’s palace. What was she doing with the empress’ troops? “Sylasa,” he said carefully, “I think I’ve missed a lot here. Care to tell me what we should do now?”
“Wish I knew,” she shrugged, switched her sword to her left hand so she could flex her right. “With the dragon hatched, we’ve lost our bargaining chip.”
Cornell chose not to wonder about that last line. Instead he looked back to Ryuujin in the temple, his glance locking with the dragon’s momentarily. “He wants me to come to him and choose something. What?”
Barandas coughed and grinned. “Fried or raw? Would you like to have a drink with your meal?”
Hiryuu, choose! The interlopers are gone! They’ve hurt me, I need to fly home!
The soldiers of the Tonomai empress had reached the ground of the valley. The rider next to the standard bearer raised his hand, made a signal, then the troops spread out to a long line in front of the hills. Bows were drawn, arrows nocked.
Meanwhile Melawdis was slowly approaching them on her pony. She had given up her pretense of madness – now that she wasn’t at the governor’s anymore, there was no need for it, Cornell supposed. He subconsciously checked himself. The pain was mostly gone, his breath was easy, his muscles felt only a little strained, and – yes – his sword was still at his side. He nodded to himself, put his hand on the hilt, walked to stand beside Sylasa. Barandas stayed behind them, close to Solania, ready to jump on the mare’s back and gallop off as fast as the horse could.
Couldn’t the dwarf right a bit faster? Cornell wanted to know whom he’d have to fight – Ryuujin or the company of Tonomai.
“Excuse me,” Barandas said. “Maybe we ought to leave the Tonomai to deal with the dragon. Look, they are well equipped, they can handle the beast.”
“Coward,” Sylasa snarled.
“Pardon me for enjoying my life. Not everyone can be a suicidal maniac like you and Cornell.”
She returned her sword to her right hand. “It’s your loss, wizard.”
“Loss of life? No, thank you kindly.”
By the time their exchange was over, Melawdis was close enough to wave to them and call, “Hello, Sylasa. Crimson dragon.”
She knew Sylasa? Cornell darted a glance to her – she ignored him and stepped forward. “Melawdis. We had an agreement that you would bring the army here after I had taken the egg.”
The songdwarf reined in her pony some ten yards away from them. “Your plan had gone awry. I felt it prudent to change mine as well.”
“Really,” Sylasa said.
“Really,” Melawdis nodded. “Do you wish to fight me and the soldiers?”
“The thought has crossed my mind.”
Cornell wondered if he should take part in the conversation. On the other hand, he had missed a lot. Sylasa and Melawdis had been working together – the songdwarf must have provided her with information on the dragon egg. Now they had a falling out, and –
Cornell stepped quickly forward, pointed his sword at the temple. “Excuse me, ladies, you can continue your sparring later. We have to take care of Ryuujin.” Melawdis frowned. Cornell rolled his eyes. “The dragon. His name is Ryuujin.”
“He talks to you?”
“Yes, he does,” Cornell said slowly. Melawdis didn’t seem surprised that the dragon was talking to someone – only that he had selected Cornell. “Do you know what he wants?”
The songdwarf chuckled. “He wants to be free so he can return to his home beyond the Laru’sedna Mountains, where all his brethren live. But he can only do that after granting a wish. Snake dragons are immensely powerful wizards. When they hatch, their magic is at a peak and must be discharged. Otherwise, the pup will perish.”
“In other words,” Barandas said with sudden interest, “we don’t do anything, and the thing will up and die? Sounds fine to me, let’s ride.”
“You’re a fool,” Melawdis said sharply. Cornell and Sylasa looked at each other, nodding with soft smiles. That wasn’t exactly news to either of them. “A snake dragon’s magic is supreme. At hatching, its power rivals that of a deity.”
Sylasa snorted. “You’re exaggerating. The beast’s mortal, not a god.”
In response the songdwarf shrugged. “Maybe, but it is so powerful that nearly every wish can be fulfilled. Unfortunately,” she sighed and looked at Cornell, “the pup has selected you, Cayaborean. It is up to you to make your wish. Whatever it is, it will be granted.”
“You sure it won’t eat us?” Barandas muttered, both hands around a triple-edged sword that looked out of place on the wizard. Especially since he was wasting his strength holding it ahead of him, and had done so during their entire walk back to the temple.
Ryuujin was sliding down a window, towards the statue in front of the ruin.
Choose! Quickly, Hiryuu!
Cornell came to a halt a goodly twenty yards away from the creature. “You will leave right away, after I’ve made my wish.”
Yes! I want to go home!
“Melawdis, can I trust him?”
The songdwarf shrugged on her pony. “I don’t know. You might wish him home, that would be safer.”
“And waste all the opportunities?!” Barandas yelled. “Every kind of wish come true?”
Sylasa snarled, “I thought you were afraid he’d eat us.”
“Sure I am, but – Cornell, wish for us a palace in the Topay Coalition, with a harem of pretty girls, where we’ll spend the rest of our lives in happiness. That should do, we’d have to be there, so the beast can’t kill us here.”
From the shield, Phindar said, “Don’t listen to the wizard! We have a chance here to do some good. We can wish away all disease in the world.”
“Disease?!” the accountant Nev’s voice yelled. “Who cares about disease? Let’s get the dragon away, and –“
Barandas rushed forward, dropping his sword, grabbed Cornell’s shoulders (from behind, to keep the Cayaborean between himself and the dragon) and said urgently, “A palace, Cornell! With lots of gold, lots of girls, and land to control, and a harem, and don’t forget about living long – let’s make it eternal youth, all right? Doesn’t have to be Topay, how about Cayaboré? We can be happy for centuries! All the girls we want, and –“
“You sound like Flink,” Cornell shrugged him off. “Shut up.”
“No need to insult me! This is bloody important, we’ve got to –“
Sylasa smacked the broadside of her sword into the wizard’s ribs. “He told you to shut up.”
“Whoa, lady, I don’t have to –“
“Ryuujin, I have chosen,” Cornell interrupted them. Every pair of eyes in the vicinity focused on him, including the yellow balls in the dragon’s head.
Finally! Yes, Hiryuu, tell me! I will grant it, and I will leave!
Slowly Cornell raised his shield, held it up so the dragon could see the buckler. “Give these souls their bodies back as they have been before they were attacked by the holnesh. Make them live again.”
As you wish. Thank you, Hiryuu.
“Noooooo!” Barandas screamed. “You can’t have done that! Tell me you didn’t!”
The shield shivered. The vibrations increased, running through Cornell’s arm. Quickly he knelt down, slid the buckler off to the ground. The bronze knob in the center was glowing, shadows twisting and writhing inside the glow. The souls’ voices sounded, incomprehensible, distorted, broken – then one of the shadows darted up! It left the bronze knob, unformed black hovering for a heartbeat before it expanded, assumed a vaguely human shape. Colors seeped into the darkness, yellow, brown, pink.
Another heartbeat, and a man stood on top of the buckler, some fifty years old, with a graying beard and short-cropped hair, wearing a beige tunic suited for desert travel. “I’m… alive?” the stranger said with Phindar’s voice, then hurried aside when another shadow floated up from the bronze knob.
It turned into a thirtyish, heavy-set man with blonde hair, a reddish complexion, and eyes wide with amazement. Nev wasted no time to hurl himself at Cornell’s feet, breathing hard from the exertion and crying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m out of that abyss! Thank you, thank –“
Cornell ignored the babbling. He couldn’t help being anxious for the next shadow. Only Halla was left in the shield.
He was surprised when the third shadow coalesced into a woman of a little over five feet in height, very petite, long, black hair falling over her shoulders, green eyes in a delicate face that could be no older than sixteen years.
“Halla?” Cornell whispered.
The girl shook her head quickly, studying him with her soulful eyes. “My name is Ana, sir. Halla’s still inside.” She smiled at him – then blushed and ran over to Phindar’s side. The priest held out his hands, locking them with the girl’s and watching her with a fond expression on his face.
There had been four people in the shield? How? When? He’d spoken to the three others, and they… The final soul left the shield. Its shadow hovered a bit longer above the bronze, draining the last glow out of it. Subconsciously Cornell noted that the knob was dented and scratched again, as it had been when he’d found the shield. But his glance was drawn more to the figure that now took shape.
This was indubitably Halla Valfrey, the shield maiden. She was about Cornell’s height, her bare arms thickly corded with muscles, steel breast and back plates covering her torso, leather pants with ringmail sewed onto them. A bastard sword was tied to her back, its hilt over her right shoulder. Her blonde hair was cut close to her skull, very unfeminine. Her face could at best be called plain. Scars crisscrossed her left cheek, the nose looked as if it had been broken twice. Self-confidence was radiating from her eyes.
Halla took a deep breath, relishing the sensation. “So many years,” she whispered. Strange to hear the familiar voice come from a woman’s mouth rather than a bronze knob. She turned her head around, gave everyone present a long look before coming to the Cayaborean. “Cornell,” she said, walked forward and held out her hand, “I thank you for freeing me.”
“The dragon!” Barandas screamed suddenly, and Cornell felt Ryuujin’s presence come closer.
He’d been about to grasp Halla’s hand, now he jumped aside, drew his sword. Sylasa followed suit, stood on Cornell’s right. Halla whirled about, dove forward to grab the shield and roll back up, pulling the bastard sword from her back, then positioned herself to the left of Cornell.
Ryuujin had slithered closer, his tail slung around the base of the female statue in three coils, his paws slowly pushing him onward, moving much like a snake. His fanged head was five yards away from the humans.
“Great idea, getting more food for the dragon,” the wizard muttered behind Cornell. He was retrieving his sword from the ground, not moving an inch closer to the dragon. “You should have taken the harem.”
Cornell breathed deeply. “Ryuujin, I told you to leave. Open your mouth to breathe fire, and we will kill you.”
Hiryuu, you look like a human. Shed the form and join me on my flight.
What was the dragon blathering about? Not that it mattered. “Leave,” Cornell repeated. His peripheral vision showed Halla pulling her arm back, with the buckler ready to be thrown. It was still elfwood, sharp as ever. “You will fly alone, Ryuujin.”
You persist in the pretense of humanity? Hiryuu is your nature. Recognize it. Fly with me.
The dragon must be mad, Cornell decided. At least it didn’t seem aggressive, as far as he could tell. The voice in his mind sounded confused. Ryuujin truly thought that Cornell was a dragon ensorceled into human shape.
Best to play along. “I know my nature,” he smiled. “I have chosen this form for my own reasons, Ryuujin. I will go to my own home and fly there. Later.”
You are Hiryuu.
“Yes,” Cornell nodded, wondering how he could convince the snake dragon to leave, “I am Hiryuu. The flying dragon.”
You will shed the form and fly.
“Yes, I –“ He stopped himself abruptly when he realized that Ryuujin hadn’t asked a question. He’d stated a fact, sounding very secure about it. Cornell frowned.
I will fly home. Good hunting, Hiryuu, may the wind fill your wings.
The snake dragon’s head curled back, looked at his body. The skin suddenly broke open along the sides, two long gashes of green blood – and something emerged. Covered with streaks of blood, Ryuujin stretched out his wings, yellowish skin attached to thin bones. The blood stopped flowing from the gashes, raw flesh pushing in to close the wounds with a viscous white liquid that hardened quickly.
Cornell watched with amazement as Ryuujin extended his wings all the way, flapped them once to see if they were working. He snorted in satisfaction, tiny jets of fire flaming from his nostrils – then the dragon beat them down hard, sending a cloud of dust into the air. Moments later Ryuujin’s body followed, lifting slowly from the ground as the wings were beating mightily.
“May the wind fill your wings,” Cornell said when the dragon was several yards away, turning gracefully eastward. Ryuujin didn’t hear his words or ignored them. He was gaining height with every move of his wings, and more importantly distancing himself from the humans (and the songdwarf) on the ground. When he had reached the hills, Cornell added, “Very far away.”
“I second that,” Barandas growled. “Nice work, Cornell. We can’t sell the dragon egg, you’ve lost the magical shield, and now I suppose those four want their share of our loot.”
“Do remind me,” Cornell said dangerously, “where our money is right now. Safe in the wagon at the tavern, I suppose?”
He knew that the wizard must now be eyeing his mare longingly, wondering if he should try to ride away very fast. Cornell shook his head with a soft grin. Barandas knew better than to try that.
There was something else to take care of. Cornell looked at Melawdis. The songdwarf stood a little behind them, watching Phindar, Nev and the girl with great interest. “Melawdis,” the Cayaborean said, “what about your army? Do we have to resist arrest, or are we free to go?”
The songdwarf kept her eyes trained on the three humans while she shook her head. “I want you to be in Atnas for Derisham’s trial. You’re witnesses. Two weeks, then you can leave. Otherwise,” she finally looked at Cornell, “you will have to fight.”
“I want your word that we will be allowed to leave in two weeks.”
“You have it.”
“Then,” Cornell said with a sigh of relief as he returned his sword to its scabbard, “we’re agreed.”