"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
is Sylasa?” Gabe asked when he helped Cornell to sit up in his bed. They
were in a tavern – not a kafeserat, fortunately -, that much his
companions had told him after waking up. He had no idea what had happened
on the road, and neither had his friends. Unpleasant enough to have just
dropped off his horse, Gabe had now told him that he had been unconscious
for half a day.
friend,” Cornell answered the barbarian’s question and gratefully took
the cup of water from his big hands. “She helped Barandas and me up in
wizard coughed. “I wouldn’t go as far as to call her a friend, you
water was refreshing, driving some of the clogginess from the
Cayaborean’s mouth. He looked over to the wizard who was sitting
backwards on a chair, next to him on the floor Flink and the shield.
“Barandas, you’d go a lot further with her than that.”
Cornell’s surprise, the wizard shrugged with a grin. “That may be
true, but I’ve seen what she can do with a sword. No, thank you. I like
my head attached to my neck. Just a personal preference, you know?”
what is she doing here?”
leaned forward on the chair. “She’s after something, what else? My
kind of woman.” He sobered up rather fast. “Which is always a good
reason to stay away from her. Are you all right again, Cornell?”
Cayaborean was ready to answer No, and get out so I can sleep, but
he actually felt very refreshed. With a smile he handed the cup back to
Gabe and leaped out of bed – only realizing a moment later that all his
clothes were neatly stacked on a stool next to the bed. Blood rushing to
his face, he grabbed the clothes and, pretending that there was nothing
unusual about standing naked in front of his companions, proceeded to get
dressed. The pretense was really difficult, considering that Flink
sauntered forward, his large eyes studying his physique with extreme
interest. Also, there was a slight laughter in the air, very feminine,
coming from the shield. Halla.
I’m hungry,” he said quickly. “If this is a tavern, there’s got to
be a commons room, right?”
his best to wipe a grin from his face, Gabe pointed downwards. “Yes,
there is. The cook should still have something stirring in his pot.
let’s go,” Cornell asserted, pulling his shirt over his head and
fastening his sword to his belt – pausing for a moment when he
remembered that Sylasa had picked it for him, during the fight in the
merchant’s villa in Chazevo.
nodded happily. “Oh, yes, that will be fun! And, think, Gabe, isn’t it
good to see that the sir is fine again? I was really worried about him
before, but now he is doing so well. Do you think we’ll meet that
lady, this Sylasa? It would be so wonderful if one more friend would be
with us for Solstice Day!”
last two words hit Cornell like a horsedragon’s tail. They were still
going on about that? His eyes rushed to take in the room – in particular
Gabe -, and his suspicions were confirmed. The wand with the rubies was
leaning on the bed, in grasping reach of the barbarian. “Gabe, leave
that stupid wand up here, will you? The Tonomai won’t take kindly to
seeing something like that. I want to eat in peace.”
problem there,” Gabe chuckled. “You’ll see.” He patted the
Cayaborean on the back, forceful enough that Cornell thought he ought to
be slammed into the next wall. “Solstice Day is soon, Cornell! Let’s
enjoy it!” The words
echoed in Cornell’s head when he walked down the stairs to the commons
room. The torches on the upper floor and below lit the way, enough so that
he could see the oil paintings on either side of the stairway. Very
un-Tonomai. One showed a lush green meadow, with riders hunting a fox, the
riders wearing the typical attire of Cayaborean nobles. As if that
wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Cornell thought that some of the faces
looked very familiar. The other painting wasn’t much better, a tiny
fishing boat riding the waves, with a port city in the distant background,
one that looked a lot like Dauverre, also in Cornell’s homeland of
been out for half a day, Gabe had told him, right? Not half a year! There
hadn’t been enough time to go all the way back to Cayaboré! His mind
must still be playing tricks on him, he decided.
he exited into the commons and was greeted by a sea of red garlands hung
on the ceiling, each carrying a paper mobile, with three disks pointing
upward, three outward, and three downward. There was a smell of bakery,
the sweet scent of almonds and the sharp aroma of seasonal spices. The
source of the smell was unmistakable, bowls on each of the – very
homestyle-looking tables – in the commons, each filled to the brim with
fresh cookies and cupcakes.
isn’t possible,” he whispered and was jerked unpleasantly from his
shocked sightseeing when Gabe pushed him on into the room, out of the
stairway. The barbarian raised his hand and called a cheerful “Yelof’s
blessing to you, Master Vairpole!” to the innkeeper, a rotund man with a
may Egap smile on all of you!” the innkeeper responded with a basso
profundo voice that was tinged deeply with the accent of the northern
provinces of Cayaboré. He was standing next to his counter, fashioned
from oak and darkened from spilled drink and the soot of the open fire
burning in the center of the commons room. A pretty girl, her face cut
somewhat similar to the innkeeper’s, was standing behind the counter,
filling jars of ale and handing them over to a young man who looked to be
her brother. Behind them, a bust of the goddess Airnté – who, amongst
other things, was responsible for bringing ale to Gushémal – took up a
large part of the shelves filled with bottles and jars.
thought he should be dizzy and swaying. This had to be Cayaboré. Somehow,
they all must have been transported home, across the hundreds of miles,
across Shane’s Sea, far away from Tonomat.
What were those Tonomai doing in his homeland? He counted at least eleven,
sitting along the tables, some munching on the cupcakes, others drinking
their coffee – all unmistakable by their garb and their swarthy faces.
is this place?” he muttered.
then, the innkeeper – Vairpole – had come closer and was taken a good
look at Cornell. “You’re the one who fell off the horse, aren’t
you?” he asked.
Cornell’s head jerked up and he said, “No, I never fall off a
horse, I –“ Fortunately he stopped himself and remembered what had in
fact happened a little earlier. “I mean –“
still suffering from his fight with an emperor dragon,” Gabe commented
nonchalantly. “It was a magnificent battle! Isn’t that right,
Cornell said eloquently. He didn’t remember all that much about fighting
the dragon – not much more than running a lot until he faced the beast,
and that was pretty much where his memory ended. He knew that the dragon
had been slain, he did remember seeing the cadaver. Beyond that, he had no
idea what had happened. “That’s, uh, right.”
laughed heartily. “Then it’s no shame to have kissed the ground like
that, my friend. Few people survive to see an emperor dragon. What is your
name? I would like to have a plaque inscribed, that you stayed here!”
was looking at the Solstice Day decorations around him, so very surreal in
the Tonomai Empire. For that reason he wasn’t thinking too clearly when
he said, “I’m Cornell of Cayaboré, and I really don’t think that a
that point he saw Vairpole’s face suddenly drop in surprise, and then
gradually transform into a servile and very pleased expression. “That is
really an honor, your lordship! To have you hear in the time – you will
stay for Solstice Day, will you not? Please, it would be a great honor to
have you here on The Longest Night!”
was very much aware of the curious glances he suddenly received from his
companions. He almost could see the buckler grow eyes as well, probably on
stalks from the bronze knob. “Oh, Master Vairpole, I cannot yet say how
long my business will keep me and my friends in this city. Your
hospitality is much welcomed.”
course, of course,” the innkeeper hurried to say, then waved to a table
next to the fire – currently occupied by three men with the faces of
southrons like Cornell. “Would your lordships wish to sit down? I’ll
have my wife prepare you a humble dinner, it shall only take a short
while, rest assured of that.”
nodded and headed over to the table, preceded quickly by the innkeeper who
spoke to the patrons in the nearly incomprehensible dialect of his home
province. The patrons gaped at Cornell, then hurried to fetch their mugs
and withdraw from the table. Vairpole quickly straightened the coasters,
wiped some of the spilled ale with a towel that had been stuck in his
belt, then smiled widely at the party. “Thank you, Master Vairpole,”
Cornell said, sat down – and froze suddenly when he saw the incredulous
glances of his companions.
no. Within heartbeats he
had slipped back into the familiar attitude of home – completely
forgetting that none of his companions knew (or were supposed to know)
that Cornell was not just any adventurer but a nobleman officer of Cayaboré’s
Dragonrider Corps, on an extended mission of espionage. The moment he had
told the innkeeper his name, Vairpole had known him to be an aristocrat.
Only nobles had the privilege – and duty – to call themselves of
Cayaboré. No ordinary citizen of his homeland would ever dare to use
that suffix. At best they would say that they were from Cayaboré,
but never would they use this in their name.
glancing over at the men who had just vacated the table, Barandas sat down
opposite from Cornell and stared at him suspiciously. “You wouldn’t
mind explaining what just happened?”
Cornell asked innocently back. “Anything unusual about the innkeeper
being happy to see another Cayaborean?”
Gabe said and plopped down heavily into a chair, leaning the buckler
against a table leg and putting his wand on top of it, “those other
people were Cayaboreans, too, weren’t they?”
shrugged, plucked one of the pastries from the bowl and took a bite.
“But they are locals, I’d say. And they haven’t killed an emperor
dragon. That’s very important in my home. Songs are sung endlessly about
it, and –“ A grin appeared on his lips, and he shrugged again. “You
did hear the innkeeper talking about that plaque? Just another sign.
It’s a divine gift, being allowed to slay an emperor dragon.”
of his friends were satisfied with that answer, except for Flink. The
alreu clambered on a chair of his own, staring greedily into the bowl. He
took a very long time before he selected a cupcake – with the ninefold
symbol of Solstice Day in its center – and carefully nibbled on it,
completely absorbed by the task.
will your lordships be having?” the pretty girl interrupted the business
of Cornell staring innocently at Gabe and Barandas, while the latter were
staring suspiciously back. “We have good wine from Northerton Province,
our home. The very best, mind you. Or would you like some ale?”
was startled, his head jerked about and stopped very quickly at the sight
of the girl. A supposedly suave smile crept onto his face, as he leaned
back and pursed his lips while pretending to look at her face rather than
several inches below. “Well,” he started to say slowly – but found
himself cut off by Cornell who curtly said, “The wine will do fine,
nodded – but before she could turn around, Flink urgently said (most of
his mouth busy with consuming a cupcake), “Do you have coffee? I’d
really love some of that stuff to dunk the pastry in, you know, I bet that
must be a terrific taste! Why don’t we all try it?”
Gabe, Cornell and Barandas said in unison.
Flink shook his head and directed his soulful eyes at the waitress. “But
I can have some, can’t I?”
girl cast a quick glance to Cornell who shrugged and nodded. “Of course
you can, young sir,” she smiled and tousled Flink’s hair. “It will
be along shortly. I’ll brew it myself.”
Flink cried, nibbling the cinnamon crust from the next cupcake.
another smile to the alreu she walked off – straight by Barandas who
couldn’t resist pinching her full behind. He already had a look of utter
innocence firmly entrenched in his face – when the girl giggled and gave
him a smile before walking back to the counter.
(and a bit surprised), the wizard turned back to the table and reached out
for the bowl of pastries.
be so sure of yourself,” Cornell muttered. He knew why the girl had
minded being pinched – and also why it had been her instead of her
brother coming to the table. Vairpole and his family thought all of them
were noblemen (probably excluding Flink who must have been registered as a
pet). “I’m betting that this lady has only thoughts of marriage.”
Barandas guffawed. “Whatever gives you that idea?”
covertly pointed at the innkeeper who was watching them proudly. In
particular his glance seemed to be directed at Barandas, with a sort of
fatherly expression in his face.
wizard’s face fell and he quickly stuffed a piece of pastry in his
mouth. “No, thanks. One marriage is enough for me.”
next moment he clearly regretted saying that, for now every eye at the
table (plus the bronze knob of the buckler, apparently) was staring at him
with the same curiosity that had plagued Cornell a bit earlier. “Do
tell…” the Cayaborean said softly. “You wouldn’t happen to be
married, now would you?”
breathed deeply, shrugged, looked over at the nearest table – longingly
eyeing the mugs of ale -, then shrugged again, got up from his chair and
said, “Where is that wine? I’d better –“ Then he caught himself
when he noticed the innkeeper perking up and watching him expectantly.
“Gotta be a chamber pot around here, somewhere,” Barandas quickly
corrected himself and headed urgently for the stairs.
and Cornell looked at each other, determined to find out just what was
behind the wizard’s odd behavior. And also making mental notes that marriage
was a topic to taunt Barandas with.
the meantime Flink had hopped off the table to stand before the table and
tap lightly on the elfwood. “Did you hear that?” he asked excitedly.
“She called me ‘young sir’! Just like the sir, you know?”
it just me, or are there more imperial guards around?” Cornell whispered
the next day, walking along one of the many roads of Atnas.
buckler on his arm responded in Phindar’s voice, “That may be, but
I’m a lot more concerned about how you’re using my abilities. I
don’t think it’s proper that I should heal your hangover. You should
pay the bill for drinking that much wine yesterday.”
shrugged. “You were there.” He noticed that some of the people around
him were staring openly at him, and chided himself for speaking to the
shield like that. In the past few weeks he had gotten so accustomed to
this, he’d forgotten that other people weren’t used to a spectacle
like this. Especially not with the buckler answering.
does not matter right now,” Halla interrupted forcefully. “You have
the right of it, shield bearer. The guards are more numerous.”
they know what we did?” the accountant Nev asked in a trembling voice.
same thought had been going through Cornell’s mind from the instant he
had left Vairpole’s tavern. He had wanted to pass through Atnas without
calling any attention to his party. Instead he had fallen off his horse in
the middle of the main street, right behind a convoy with imperial
escorts. If Phindar was wrong about the Empire’s stance towards those
rebels, they would know for sure who he and his friends were.
the other hand, he told himself again, the guards hadn’t paid him any
attention at all. At least not more than could be expected when the
Tonomai saw a foreigner walking through their town. There could be some
other, perfectly innocent explanation why a guard was standing at every
street corner, and patrols were frequently passing through the street,
warily watching the passersby. Cornell only wished he knew what that
also would have liked to know what exactly he was doing right now. He
wanted to know why he had fainted on the street. That wasn’t a habit he
wanted to get anywhere near to. Then there was also the fact that Sylasa
had been there. The last time he’d seen her had been in Chazevo, several
months ago. Cornell had planned on travelling to the southern coast of
Tonomat in the straightest line possible, but his plan had unraveled more
than once along the way. Sylasa might have reached Asnat as much as a
month earlier. She had disguised herself as a male Tonomai – given that
her figure was quite feminine, she was lucky that the locals preferred
walking around town didn’t seem like a good way of solving either of his
problems. Staying at the tavern hadn’t been an option, though. Not with
the way that Vairpole and his family were fawning over him. Oh, sure,
Barandas was enjoying the attention, Gabe was pretending to ignore it, and
Flink was hopping mad with joy.
out had seemed a good idea at the time.
looks like a merchant’s quarter,” Phindar commented. “Lots of
warehouses, a couple of shops and very few living quarters. Didn’t you
say your friend was dressed as a merchant?”
stopped and took a closer look around. The priest was right. In the other
parts of town, there had been more non-descript people who seemed like
they were going for a stroll. Women had been walking around with their
children, and in some cases the children had been dragging their mothers
could only see one woman now, and she was standing inside a small booth,
hawking sweetmeats as refreshments. The shops looked more like they sold
from one merchant to the other, no wares on obvious and alluring display,
except for a few here and there. So, was that good, or was that bad.
he rubbed his chest. His heart was starting to ache a little.
a minute! His heart? Just like it had been on the road? No, not quite. His
mind was still as alert as before. At least he thought so, but there was a
slight pressure on his heart, not really painful, just barely noticeable.
Cornell whispered to the shield hesitantly, “would you please examine
me, if there is anything wrong with my heart.”
priest harumphed, then said, “Of course. Put your hand on the
buckler’s knob, and I’ll have a look.”
did so, wondering how silly he looked. A lot, probably. Not that it
mattered to him that much. He hadn’t liked fainting, and if he was sick
– well, he’d better find out as soon as possible, right?
he asked when the priest hadn’t said anything for a while.
sorry, shield bearer,” the voice from the shield said. “It took me a
while to understand your heart, it’s not like I’m used to –“
interrupted the priest suddenly, “Your heart is fine, that’s what
he’s saying. Why?”
mind,” Cornell said slowly, blinking twice. There had to be something
wrong, he knew, but why had Halla interrupted Phindar? The two of them had
struck him as very honest people, reliable and trustworthy. Not like Nev,
the other soul in the shield. (Or, come to think of it, Barandas.)
right, that was a third mystery. Or was it? If this was connected to his
fainting on the road, then… But why wouldn’t they tell him what the
matter was? Was it something dangerous? Was he sick?
have to find another priest to examine him. Did the Tonomai have healing
priests? They had priests, that much he was sure of, but he didn’t know
the extent of their abilities. Vairpole would know. Yes, he’d ask the
innkeeper later on.
now, though, he’d just continue walking and trying to find something of
pain in his chest didn’t subside, a troubling truth in the back of his
head that he tried to ignore during the next minutes. Few people in the
street paid him any attention, the merchants going about their business
and conversing in their odd language. Cornell understood a few of the
words, enough to know that most of their discussions revolved around
prices and trade.
only thing he found strange was the watchdog in front of one of the shops.
A big canine monster that looked more like a wolf than a nice little
doggie had been lying there, chewing every now and then on a bone, looking
as ferocious as you’d please. But when Cornell had come closer, the dog
had looked up in sudden fear, forgotten about its bone and ran yelping
inside the shop. Talk about ferocious, Cornell thought. One harmless
Cayaborean, and the dog was useless.
amusement ceased a bit later when the pain in his heart increased. He
didn’t feel any strain, breathing was easy. That shouldn’t happen. It couldn’t
happen. Cornell had heard of people having trouble with their hearts, but
those were all old people on the verge of dying. And out of shape. Cornell
thoughts chasing each other he dug into an alley, out of sight of most
people and propped his buckler against the wall. “Let’s try this
again, Phindar. My heart is not fine, and I don’t care what Halla
says. Find out what’s wrong and heal it. Understood?”
herself answered, her strong voice unperturbed. “Shield bearer, I would
never interfere with Phindar when it comes to your health. If you believe
otherwise, you have misunderstood –“
don’t give a damn about that, Halla. Phindar, do your work!” Snarling
he pushed his chest into contact with the bronze knob, careful not to let
his hands touch the sharp edge of the elfwood shield. His heart still
hurt, and it wasn’t changing. “Phindar!” Cornell said urgently.
priest’s voice was muffled when he answered, “I truly am sorry, but I
cannot find anything in your heart that should cause you pain. It is
perfectly embedded in your body, and in excellent shape for its age. If
you feel pain, there is no physical cause for it.”
Cornell tore his chest away from the shield, got back up to his feet. What
was wrong with these souls? What were they keeping from him? “I’m not
imagining the pain,” he snarled.
did not say that,” Phindar said in a tone of voice that would have been
credible at any other time. “I said that I could not find any cause in
your body. Please remember that there are other causes that a priest of
Decalleigh knows little about. Magic, for instance. Perhaps the wizard
Barandas could be more helpful.”
is –“ Cornell started to answer but stopped himself. Actually it
wasn’t all that ridiculous. Maybe somebody was casting a spell on him.
And for some reason it didn’t work. Or did it? Maybe it was supposed to
make him distrustful of his friends, just as he felt right now.
that the souls in the shield were keeping something from him.
Something about his heart. Frowning Cornell slipped the buckler back onto
his arms. Three days more until Solstice Day. Spend The Longest Night with
your family and friends. What a laugh.
me, your lordship,” Vairpole said as he peeked into the room that
Cornell and Barandas shared. The wizard was lying on his bed, toying with
an arcane object that he was trying to make sense of. He wasn’t making
any decent progress thus far, and besides, he really enjoyed the way the
innkeeper treated him. (Also his daughter’s attentions were welcome, but
he still had to plan exactly how to avoid the dreaded topic of marriage.
Perhaps later that night.)
what is it?” Barandas said in an annoyed voice as if he shouldn’t be
bothered right now and the innkeeper should have known better.
swallowed. “Pardon me for intruding, your lordship, but there a woman
downstairs who has asked for you and Sir Cornell. Maybe you would like to
woman?” Barandas said, working hard to contain his interest. Well,
obviously he didn’t know who this woman was, or even if she was good
looking. It never hurt to keep your options open, though. Besides, she was
interested in him! (And Cornell, but Barandas believed that minor details
should not spoil one’s enjoyment.) “And she asked for me? By name?”
innkeeper crooked his head slightly as if he was afraid of continuing.
“Well, not… not exactly. She said that she would have words with, and
mind you, I am quoting here, these aren’t my words –“
nodded. “She said she would speak to a Barandas the Magpie.”
wizard’s mouth fell open. And closed half a heartbeat later. “That’s
Barandas the Magnificent!” he yelled and jumped up from the bed.
I know, you have told me so,” Vairpole hurried to assert – and then
hurried to get out of the wizard’s way. Barandas barreled down the short
corridor to the stairs, and the innkeeper rolled his eyes and muttered,
“You’ve told me so repeatedly.”
Read on in Chapter Three!