"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
stared at the healer as if the man was insane. All things considered, that
might be true, after all. The healer was a Tonomai named Relehim, a
wizened old man who seemed to be somewhere inbetween one hundred and three
thousand years old. He wore a robe that had seen its last cleaning
sometime around the time of the Elven Flood, and a rag wound around his
head that might have been purple at some point in the past, but now it was
only a brownish color. Granted that most of this was only put on for the
customer, that much Cornell had seen quickly when Vairpole had hurried him
inside the Relehim’s home. He’d caught a quick glance through a
half-open door into a room that sparkled of cleanliness, along with some
very new robes draped over a couch. An old woman had looked up in surprise
and then hurried towards the door to close it quickly. The woman had worn
the customary dress of the Tonomai, a long roll of cloth that was wound
around the body, and it had seen much better maintenance than the clothes
of the healer.
his study, lit by a few candles which created a very mystic atmosphere,
helped not only by the slight smell of incense but also the messy array of
books and scrolls cluttered on two small tables, chairs and several
shelves, plus several statues that looked very demonic to Cornell. And
lots of jars that had unreadable inscriptions on them. They were written
in the language of magic, that much he could tell. Not that this was in
any way relieving. Did Tonomai wizards use the same language as everybody
else back home? Did they not have their own system, like they seemed to
have in every other respect?
now this. The healer – if he could heal anything in the first place! –
had told him something completely ridiculous, and Cornell couldn’t help
but think he’d fallen into the hands of a charlatan. Who would be very
happy about the gold torkyn that Cornell had already handed him.
I said,” Relehim repeated slowly, underlining each word carefully,
“your heart is in excellent condition. It is quite amazing. I wish I
could study it in appropriate depth.”
I meant what you said afterwards,” Cornell muttered impatiently. “My
heart is a what?”
healer clucked and rocked a little back in his chair. “Obviously it is
not the heart you were born with. It belonged to an emperor dragon, an old
and powerful specimen. Amazing how it has fit into your body, how it fuels
you with its ulamquiri… How do you say? Its ancient force?”
shook his head, got up from his own chair and reached for his shirt.
“You are mad. A dragon’s heart! Ridiculous!”
had just pushed his right arm through a sleeve when Relehim shot up from
his seat with surprising speed and put his wizened fingers on the
Cayaborean’s chest. “You do not know? Powerful magic was performed on
you – without your knowledge? See for yourself!” His voice seemed to
shift down an octave, as he started mumbling strange words that sounded
like those wizards used. A tingle ran through Cornell’s chest, and he
healer wasn’t a priest of the One God, that much he had known before.
(Phindar had been ranting about this a few days ago, that only women could
serve as clerics.) But that he was a wizard – that came as a
surprise to him.
what happened next was more of a shock. The skin on his chest turned
translucent, revealing the red flesh below, but only for brief moments
before the flesh itself faded out of sight, opening the view deeper into
Cornell’s own body. Deeper, until the Cayaborean saw the mighty muscle
in his chest, contracting and expanding, pumping blood. Blood that was
tinged with green, a color almost as strong as the green of his heart.
his education, he had once seen a similar spell, when a wizard from the
Royal Academy had introduced the pupils to the workings of the human body.
A heart was supposed to be red, he knew. And as he recalled from that
experience (as well as several other times when he had seen human hearts,
mostly defunct after their owners had been cut to ribbons), this green thing
looked different from what a human heart was supposed to look like.
is a trick,” he muttered and cast Relehim’s hand away. “What are you
trying to pull? Get another torkyn out of me?”
healer moaned as he rubbed his shoulder vigorously. “You are strong,
rolled his eyes. He was getting sick of these Tonomai people, the healer
in particular. Nonsense of this kind was not the way to convince him of
anything. (Barandas and Gabe, of course, would testify that convincing
Cornell was nearly impossible in the best of times.) He shook his head,
put his shirt on and headed for the door.
sir,” Relehim said cautiously, “would you do me one favor?”
was about to disregard him, but then he noticed the old man holding up a torkyn,
apparently the same golden coin that he had been paid. “This I will
return if you do not believe that I tell the truth – after the favor.”
mean you’ll prove to me that my heart is an emperor dragon’s,
that I will,” the healer said eagerly and placed the torkyn on a
small table. “There will be no doubt left that you have the ulamquiri,
scoffed, “The only doubt that’s gone is that you’ll be using one of
your wizard tricks again, old man. Try fooling somebody else next time. I
don’t know how you’re planning to get more money out of me, and I
don’t care. A good day.” With that he turned around, not giving the torkyn
a second glance. This had gone on long enough! How dumb did that Tonomai
think he was, anyway?
They were all the same, whether they were from Tonomat – or from the
Topay Coalition like Cornell’s own magic-wielding pain in the butt.
foreign sir!” the healer insisted and held up his hand urgently. “You
have ulamquiri, the dragon’s essence, you are –“
door slammed shut behind Cornell, and the seething Cayaborean thought
about a few choice words he would tell Vairpole about this wonderful
physician the innkeeper had recommended. Oh, yes, the innkeeper had some
yelling coming his way. A charlatan! Out for money – and the old man
thought that Cornell would have been dumb enough to fall for something as
outrageous as that!
left the healer’s house, slammed the main door with goodly force, enough
to make the frame shiver. Hah!
Tonomai construction! So weak
that a simple human being could make it tremble!
did it go, your lordship?” Vairpole asked. He’d been waiting outside,
and his face showed only honest concern.
Cornell considered for a moment, the innkeeper had actually been fooled by
the healer. Not that it would save him from Cornell’s wrath. The
Cayaborean took a deep breath, and then started shouting.
bar maiden was carefully balancing her toes on a chair, stretching herself
out so that her tender fingers could twirl a garland over a beam in the
commons room. Her perch was precarious – and suddenly she toppled,
letting go a screech of surprise. A screech that turned into a muffled
noise of relief when she found two strong arms grabbing her from the air
and pressing her against a chest covered with thick fur.
there, girl,” Gabe boomed and laughed. Instinctively the maiden had
slung her arms around him, holding on tight. “You’re safe now.”
pulled her head back to look at her savior, her breath still quickened by
the surprise. Red quickly streamed into her face, as she tried her best to
appear dignified in the cradle that Gabe’s arms formed. “I thank ye
mightily, yer lordship,” she said and issued a careful smile.
no need for that,” Gabe grinned and gently deposited her on the ground.
Then he took the garland that her fingers were twisted about, said,
“I’ll take care of this for you,” and stepped onto the chair. The
big man needed no more than lift his hand a little above eye level to
string the garland over the beam. He gave it a little twist so that the
garland’s curls could rustle merrily whenever the tavern’s door was
opened and a gust of wind came in. “There,” he said as he got back
down from the chair. “It looks nice, doesn’t it?”
it does,” the bar maiden smiled, straightening her dress and brushing a
lock from her forehead. “But really, yer lordship, it isn’t becomin’
fer one o’yer standin’ to help a mere lass like meself.”
looked at her sincerely, frowned and pretended to ponder the idea
strenuously. “Well, if it is that important to you,” he said and put
one foot back on the chair, “I will just have to take the garland back
laughed and put one hand on his arm. “No, don’t ye dare! It’s
wonderful where’t is.” Gabe joined in the laughter – which she
suddenly cut off, took a hasty step backwards and put a hand over her
mouth for a moment. “Oh, dear me!” she said, blushing once more.
“Forgive me, your lordship, you must think me completely uneducated,
speaking in these gruff tones.”
shrugged. “As a matter of fact, I like it. Eorhan dei novla’hea,
as my brother always says. Each native tongue has its charm.” He shook
his head. “It’s your turn to forgive me, I never got the hang of
you tell me that!” she exclaimed. “That sounded beautiful. What
language is that?”
Gabe’s voice suddenly grew tense – he had forgotten for an instant how
elves were often regarded, especially the stratiotioi, the
soldiers. Murderous scum, those were the words many had used. (Those who
had done so in Gabe’s vicinity had often learned to be more careful.)
And what do people think when you say that your brother is an elf? How
long will they stop to find out that he’s your stepbrother?
his surprise, the girl did not look frightened. “Your brother speaks
elventongue?” she marveled instead. “My, he must be well traveled,
then. As much as you are? Do you speak their tongue as well?”
smile returned to his face, along with a warm feeling in his heart when he
remembered the long passed days of his youth, in the house of his
stepfather, Toriel. Down south, in the cold and apparently barren
Robhovard, he lived and farmed with his family. Down there, Gabe had grown
up, and down there lived the woman he loved. His wife, Caeryl. The one he
might never hold in his arms again.
he answered the girl absent-mindedly, “I speak it well. After a
you say a few lines in elventongue? It’s such a beautiful sound.”
shook his head. “Neaha’lei xifos su belos glames Caeryl dei
charaleo,” he whispered, unaware of the entranced smile on the
girl’s face, as she tried to decipher the meaning of the words,
listening to the rhythm.
she said, “Have you ever noticed that your voice changes when you speak
elventongue? It sounds brighter, not as deep and booming.”
me?” Gabe shook himself out of the reverie, brought on by the memories
of his home. “I… never paid any attention to that. If you say so,
I’m sure that’s right.”
maiden stepped a bit closer and smiled conspiratively at him. “You
don’t look nearly as frightening as you do otherwise, your lordship. May
I – may I call you Gabe?”
looked at her, the mirth slowly creeping back into his face. “That is my
name. And what is yours, by the way?”
pursed her lips. “I am called Rose.”
pretty name,” Gabe nodded and held out his hand. “Pleased to make your
acquaintance, Mistress Rose.”
girl curtsied, her eyes twinkling merrily. “Tell me, Gabe,” she said
eagerly, “what do the elves call a rose?”
voice gruffly kept Gabe from answering, “Something long and winding,
probably. Gabe, you can flirt with the girl some other time. Where are
Barandas and Flink?”
sighed and looked over to the entrance. The Cayaborean was striding
inside, his face set in simmering anger – followed by Vairpole at a
considerable distance. The innkeeper was looking anything but happy, more
as if a carriage had just rolled over his favorite dog and killed it.
come to think of it, as if he’d just seen his daughter flirting with a
strange barbarian from the south.
was only talking to Mistress Rose,” Gabe told the innkeeper sincerely,
noting that the girl was hurrying back behind the counter and busying
herself with some task that kept her eyes glued to the top of the counter.
“There was no –“
he doesn’t care,” Cornell muttered and stopped at the fireplace. The
buckler was still resting on the rim. Of course nobody had removed it, not
even Gabe. Halla would have protested that only the shield bearer was
permitted to touch the buckler, and Gabe had always honored this. Now,
though, Cornell grimaced as he pulled the shield from the fireplace and
slipped it onto his arm, taking care that one half of the shield was well
away from his body. The souls in the shield breathed a collective sigh of
relief, which prompted the Cayaborean to snarl at them, “What are you
complaining about? The fire’s died down by now, anyway!” Without any
pause, Cornell re-focused on Gabe and said, “Now, where’s Barandas?
He’s not near that girl, so has he found anything else to steal? And
while we’re on the topic of stealing, Flink is demolishing what and
where? No, never mind. Gabe, tell them to get here, gather their
belongings. We’re leaving tomorrow morning.”
Gabe exclaimed. (Behind the counter, Rose raised her head for a moment,
her eyes widened in disappointment as she mouthed the same word, neither
of which Gabe noticed. Her father did, though, and that was the only ray
of sunlight he seemed to get at that time as he looked appreciatively over
to the barbarian.) “But, Cornell, it’s only three days until the
solstice! We’d agreed to stay here until then, to celebrate –“
Cornell shook his head, “you had agreed. We’ve already spent
too much time here, by now we should have been some forty miles further
south! All this just because of that Solstice Day nonsense! Your precious
Egap and Yelof will find you in the south just as well as here!” He
suddenly held up his hands, as if trying to ward off any possible answers
from Gabe. “Just tell them, all right?”
don’t know where they are,” Gabe shrugged. “They left sometime this
morning. I think you were still in your room at that time.”
Cayaborean’s hands turned into claws all of a sudden, while he took a
deep breath. Sweetly and slowly he continued, “Did they, pray tell, dear
friend, inform you when they would be back? Or – just a thought – do
we have to search the local jailhouse for them?”
would do you well to have more faith in your friends, Gabe thought and shook his head. Or to have a bit of Solstice Day
spirit. He said neither, knowing all too well how Cornell would react.
Instead he sighed and said, “I will find them and bring them here. But
then, Cornell, we will talk again of whether we shall leave. Is it that
much to ask for you to spend three more days in as pleasant a place as
this? To celebrate Solstice Day?”
it is,” Cornell said, dropped his hands and walked straight by Gabe
towards the staircase.
barbarian rolled his eyes. He should have known better. Cornell was always
nodded to Vairpole, waved a light greeting to Rose, then he left The
Crimson Talon to look for the wayward wizard and alreu.
don’t think this is a good idea,” Barandas whispered nervously to
Ibrollenian warrior woman shook her head and said loudly, “You don’t
have to worry. Tarum will take good care of your possessions.”
rolled his eyes. That’s what I’m afraid of, that he’ll take good
care of it – for himself. He didn’t say anything, considering that
they were in a storage hall somewhere in a remote area of Atnas,
surrounded by fifteen burly, heavy-set men, all of whom were well armed
with the curved swords of the Tonomai. As if they needed any! Just looking
at the scars on their faces, the thick ropes of muscles on their arms,
Barandas saw images of himself being beaten in several rather ingenious
and very uncomfortable ways. Most of them were busy unloading the crates
and sacks of jewels from their wagon, all the loot that the party had
gathered in the past few weeks. Most of it was from the emperor dragon’s
hoard, and Barandas was all too aware of what Cornell would say to him
once he found out.
these Tonomai hoodlums would turn out kinder than the Cayaborean.
up,” Sylasa said and punched him in the side, not very gently. “I told
you that Tarum would make sure that every single item of ours will be here
when we need it. Isn’t that right, Tarum, my dear?”
few feet away from them, a swarthy man of a little over six feet (and
getting close to the same width in his shoulders) turned around and
grinned broadly at Sylasa. “Of course, my dear, as you say.”
she told Barandas. “Don’t you see that he is an honest businessman?”
wizard was rather unconvinced. He wished that he had some good, suitable
magical item stowed away in one of the pockets of his robe, something that
could cast a protective spell over the goods, make sure that this Tarum
fellow couldn’t just run off with them. Alas, he hadn’t been able to
replenish his stock lately, not with Cornell looking over his shoulder all
the time. (Never mind that an, uh, ordinary wizard might have taken
care of this with his own magic. Barandas had never bothered with being
ordinary in any other regard of his life, why should he do so about
had he even agreed to this? Oh, sure, Sylasa had explained to him why
they’d need the wagon, that they couldn’t just carry the item she was
after. And this wagon had proven to be sturdy, more than they could say
for any that they could buy. It sounded so simple. But then the thought of
securing the loot had raised its ugly head. They couldn’t just dump it
in one of their rooms at the tavern, could they? That would surely have
raised some attention (not least of all Cornell’s). Usually it was
Barandas’ task to guard the party’s possessions, or to make
arrangements for safekeeping. Cornell rarely bothered to ask about the
details – the Cayaborean knew only too well where to find Barandas
should something go missing. (Unless of course the wizard could push the
blame onto Flink. One of the rare moments the alreu was actually good for
something.) And one thing Cornell was good at was vengefully pursuing
somebody who had done him wrong. Or of whom the Cayaborean thought had
done him wrong. Trouble was, Barandas hadn’t put much trust in
Vairpole’s ability to safeguard their possessions in the first place.
that trust was admittedly stronger than any which Tarum could command.
hope,” he whispered urgently, “you have some better reason to trust
him than his words.” Am I the only one with any brains around here?
had just finished the thought when he realized that the warrior woman’s
eyes transfixed him like two icy spears. “Do not question me, wizard,”
she said in a low voice that sounded strangely inhuman. (It would have
sounded completely inhuman if Barandas hadn’t heard similar tones from
Cornell on occasion. That man could get annoyed by so many utterly inconsequential
things!) “Am I understood?”
there were many people who said that Barandas was a coward who didn’t
know the meaning of the word spine. Of course that wasn’t true.
He hadn’t missed that many biology lessons at the wizard’s college. As
for applying those lessons to his own life, that was a matter he felt
should be resolved by other, less survival-oriented people. Except of
course that you should avoid getting your spine injured…
yes, naturally,” he smiled suddenly and nodded eagerly in Tarum’s
direction. “I can see that you’re an upstanding citizen. Looking
forward to doing business with you again, really I am.”
didn’t bother to spare him a glance. Instead his eyes were fully
concentrated on Sylasa, a picture of beauty and strength. “I will see
you here again, as we have agreed. It will be rewarding to us both.”
doubt that, dearest Tarum,” Sylasa smiled coyly, while her fingers
inconspicuously dug into Barandas’ arm and started to drag him towards
the wagon. “Never doubt that!”
won’t,” the Tonomai grinned smugly.
practically shoved Barandas onto the seat of the wagon, followed quickly
and took the reins. By that time the wizard had finally understood what
was going on here. Inwardly he was smacking his forehead, that he could
have been this stupid. After all, why did he assume that he was the only
one to fall for the warrior woman’s beauty? Just because Cornell and
Gabe were able to switch off their manhood on command (because of their
silly concepts of morale or something, he’d never bothered to delve too
deeply into that murky area), that didn’t mean others could do so as
few moments later they were back out on the road, Sylasa waved merrily
towards Tarum, and then turned her harsh glance back on the wizard. “Are
you quite done making problems?”
don’t mind me,” Barandas muttered.
Sylasa answered and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t forget it.”
won’t,” the wizard promised with a happy smile that instantly turned
to a frown when she averted her gaze and snapped the reins to get the
horses going. The wagon quickly started rolling, and the dour wizard cast
an inconspicuous glance at the figure of the woman seated next to him. He
could almost feel the warmth of her body, and he knew how pleasant it
would be to have her arms wrapped around him.
she was ready to give herself to that Tonomai savage?
tides of magic, what a waste!
never entered Barandas’ mind that Cornell might be in love with her. Not
that he didn’t care about his friend’s feelings, he… Well, actually
he didn’t care. How the Cayaborean would deal with this was his own
Read on in Chapter Five!