"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
assume your visit with the Tonomai healer was not to your satisfaction,”
Halla’s voice said with strained dignity. Strained it was since Cornell
had just unceremoniously dropped the shield in a corner of his room, the
bronze knob toward the wall.
unceremonially, Cornell growled, “Shut up.” Massaging his forehead, he
dropped onto the left bed, next to his saddlebag. Automatically his hands
checked the bindings on the bag, to make sure that Barandas hadn’t
opened and searched it. No, the special lock was unbroken. He sighed. It
was more of a miracle that the lock was still there than that Barandas
hadn’t rummaged around in the bag. After all, the lock was magical, and
the wizard was difficult to part from any magical objects – unless the
one parting them used a sword.
voice was muffled when he said, “Shield bearer, I assure you that
there is nothing wrong with your heart. I would never keep anything like
this from you. I swore an oath to Decalleigh, the God of Healing, an oath
that I have never broken and never will.”
a merchant,” Cornell muttered, not bothering to look up.
coughed. “Well, yes. But that has nothing to do with my oath, or the
fact that I still am a priest. I was released from my duties at the
temple, so that I could continue the family business and support my
relatives after my father… Shield bearer, this has nothing –“
told you to shut up!” Cornell bellowed and finally sat up. “I
have no interest whatsoever in any of your fancy tales, or whatever else
you come up with. Perhaps I should just toss you out of the window and be
rid of all of you!”
a moment the voices were silent, then Halla answered, “Shield bearer,
you know that the edge might hurt people in the street. That would be
right,” Cornell nodded, slowly got up to look menacingly at the buckler.
“Can’t do anything like that. Of course. Well, what about I take you
somewhere out in the desert and bury you there? Maybe some unlucky fellow
will dig you out and have to carry you around, then!”
voice of the accountant Nev, the accursed cowardly Cayaborean, was the one
that spoke next, annoyed and angry as always, “Well, why don’t you?
That fellow might find a way to free me from this fornicating shield! By
all the abysses, death would be better than being stuck in here with those
pompous fools – and you! All you ever do is complain, that’s all. Get
a grip on yourself, and finally start doing something!”
be quiet,” Phindar muttered, seconded by Halla.
hardly cared about that. The idea of burying the shield sounded ever more
pleasant. “All of you shut up! Bloody tides, I ought to –“ He
stopped and glared angrily at the right bed, where a few of Barandas’
clothes were strewn untidily on top of the messy blankets. “Now I’m
starting to sound like you idiot,” Cornell muttered. He shook his head,
and slowly got up. Why couldn’t he lead a normal, uneventful life? Why
did he have to pick friends as silly as his travelling companions were?
Why couldn’t he just ride alone?
he had a mission! He was a dragon rider on a secret mission, and he should
be alone! What if his friends ever learned of his true identity? Could he
ever trust them to keep their stupid mouths shut?
As long as nobody was offering him large sums of money, a harem of his
very own, or a couple of magical trinkets, sure, he’d stay silent.
chuckled. Yes, sure, he could rely on Barandas. Nobody more trustworthy
than the wizard.
let’s not forget Flink, right? The alreu would never ever speak about your being a spy. No, he would keep something
as exciting as this an utter secret.
bearer…” Halla said carefully.
didn’t answer. He touched the magical lock, twisted the cylindrical
object in the right ways, then threw the flap back. Inside there was the
assortment of clothes and personal objects. And sticking right up towards
him was the end of the Modayrean dragon rod. Sighing he pulled it out. The
rod was two feet long, made of a dark metal that gleamed dimly. Skeletal
tendrils reached out from the rod’s casing, ready to mold themselves to
the arm of a wearer. Intricate markings spread all over the surface, right
down to the front end, shaped like a dragon’s maw, ready to spit fire.
that it wouldn’t. During their battle, back in Chazevo, with Barandas
and Sylasa, the rod was damaged and could no longer produce any of the
deadly, powerful rays for which it was famous. And desired by his
superiors in the Dragon Rider Corps. There were only a few dragon rods
outside of Modayre, a mysterious, secluded realm in the north. Of course
Cayaboré wanted to take a look at one, try to unravel its secrets and
reproduce the rods.
that a Modayrean weapon?” Halla asked. “I have heard of them before,
back in the days when I was alive. In Keroull, we had some of their
firelighters, but their more powerful magical appliances were but tales
the real thing,” Cornell sighed, subconsciously slid his arm into the
tendrils of the rod. The tendrils snapped shut, tight around his arm. With
a half-smile he raised the weapon and pointed the dragon’s maw at the
shield. “If it weren’t broken, I guess this would even blast your
precious elfwood apart.”
muttered, “Oh, really? Why don’t you just try it?”
quiet!” both Halla and Phindar snarled.
shook his head. Somehow all the fury had left him, and he only felt
drained. As if little mattered anymore. He felt alone, so alone. Nobody to
confide in. No friend he could trust. Nobody to speak to. All alone, that
was all, and –
suddenly froze and looked down at himself. What was happening to him?
He’d never been this depressed! Not that he could recall, anyway, and
his memory was rather good.
his heart was starting to ache lightly.
isn’t me,” he whispered, loosened the dragon rod quickly and put it
back in his bag. He should be feeling angry, that was a more comfortable
emotion than this odd despair. Not to mention that he was troubled by his
heart. All of this had started when he had come to Atnas. Was there
something in here that affected him?
spell of some sort?
that was it, he frowned. The rebels his party had fought a few weeks ago
had been magically adept enough to raise a demon – a powerful one, he
recalled grimly. Who knew how many other abilities they had at their
gotta get out of here,” he said, and with renewed determination started
to gather whatever of his belongings had been under the bed back into his
knocked on the door. “What?” Cornell said loudly.
voice answered from outside, “Your lordship, there is someone here to
see you. It is – rather important. May we come in?”
all the baggage of emotions fell off from Cornell, replaced by quiet
determination when he quickly crossed the room to put the shield back on
and place his fingers tightly around his sword’s handle. “Come in,”
door opened, and there stood Vairpole, looking very intimidated.
Understandably so, Cornell realized when he saw the man standing next to
him. A Tonomai of around forty years, not very tall, impressive only
because of the imperious expression on his face. And the rich ceremonial
robe he wore, bedecked with gold and silver ornamentation.
to mention that two heavy-set imperial guards were in the corridor behind
the first Tonomai, fully armored, their hands also on the grips of their
no,” Nev whispered. “Now we’re done for. We really should have kept
away from those rebels.”
thought you wanted to die?” Phindar muttered crossly.
of that exchange seemed to reach the robed Tonomai. Haughtily he waved at
Cornell and said, “You are the Cayaborean nobleman, Lord Cornell of
danger from this man. The others need to push Vairpole and the other one
out of the way to attack… Throw the shield, and it’ll cut them down
he was already pulling his shield arm back, so that he could quickly hurl
the buckler, while he smiled easily and nodded. “That is who I am. But
you have me at a disadvantage here, Master…?”
Tonomai bowed lightly. “My name is of no import, esteemed sir. My liege,
Lord Governor Derisham, wishes to speak to you. My men and I will take you
to his residence, where I am sure you will find more, ah, suitable
surroundings than this.” His nose twitched, as if an awful smell
assaulted him. By his side, Vairpole showed not the least reaction –
clearly he was used to treatment of this sort. (A tiny voice in the back
of Cornell’s mind mentioned that he himself had contributed to
Vairpole’s experience in this regard.)
audience?” he asked. “Why, that sounds amusing. Yet I am a bit
surprised that the Lord Governor would request my presence. Though noble
by birth, I surely am not of sufficient import to bother one as eminent
and busy as your liege.”
the contrary, esteemed sir,” the Tonomai replied smoothly. “My liege
has heard that you have slain an emperor dragon. A deed that no mere
mortal could achieve. The One God only grants a victory of this kind to
one of the highest birth, of the highest importance. As such, my liege is
looking forward to enjoying your presence.”
cringed as soon as the emperor dragon was mentioned. Naturally,
Cornell thought, he’s been talking to his Tonomai guests about this,
hasn’t he? This fool is proving almost as much trouble as an alreu.
His face set in a nobleman’s self-assured manner, Cornell nodded. “If
the Lord Governor insists, I will be happy to comply. Unfortunately my
attire is that of a traveller. I do hope that the Lord Governor will
the Tonomai servant replied with a faint smile, “can be rectified,
esteemed sir. If you would please follow me?”
was no alternative that Cornell could see. Unless he seriously counted
attacking the servant and the guards. He had no qualms about doing that
– if it proved necessary. Unfortunately, this might just turn out to be
an innocent invitation, one that bore no danger for him. In that case, he
would only bring down the wrath of the Tonomai Empire on him, and by
exactly something that his superiors in the Dragon Corps would appreciate.
good man,” Cornell said. “Lead the way.”
Halla whispered derisively, “is a reception room?”
could have fooled me,” Cornell muttered back. Indeed the place they were
in didn’t look like the austere, business-like room he had expected –
to some extent – from the words of the Tonomai servant, who still
hadn’t revealed his name.
the other hand he should have known better. After all, he was a
nobleman and well accustomed to the mannerisms of the aristocracy. That
servant, he acted like your run-of-the-mill courtier back at home, servile
and haughty as you please. After they had reached the Governor’s
Residence, a large building topped by two of the curly towers the Tonomai
favored, Cornell had been ushered quickly into a dressing room where an
obese, bored-looking man had presented him with a set of velvet clothes
that, according to the servant, were more fitting.
servant had left the dressing room while the obese man had stayed to offer
occasional advice on how to put the clothes on, in stammering meantongue
that Cornell barely understood. What he did comprehend was that this
wasn’t exactly a man but a eunuch. Not that he really cared. The Tonomai
had their own ways, few of which he agreed with.
the advice was needed, Cornell discovered to his discomfort. Instead of
ordinary pants and a shirt, the clothes proved to be some sort of
wrap-around combination of both, with gilded clasps that held the
haphazard combination together. Wearing the irasagot, as the eunuch
called it, Cornell felt nearly naked – if it weren’t for the fact that
he had been permitted to put on both his sword belt (with blade) and the
latter was the only reason why he felt somewhat at ease. Why would they
let him wear his weapons when he was to face trial for the murder of the
rebels? Why would they give him these clothes.
there was the question why the governor had asked him here in the first
place. And that thought was nagging at him all the time, worse than Flink
gushing about a curious piece of stone he’d found.
that the so-called reception room looked more like the throne room of a
monarch added to his discomfort. The hall was large, the better part of it
reserved for benches where courtiers could – and did – lounge and talk
low-key, with servants occasionally making their rounds to refill empty
cups of wine. Two aisles cut through the benches, one leading to the door
through which Cornell had entered, the other to one nearly identical but
guarded by four imperials.
was only a vestigial ceiling, swelling into a dome-like structure for some
six or seven feet before tapering out and leaving a wide open gap through
which the afternoon sky could be seen. Clouds were starting to spread,
likely to shed their load within the next couple of hours. Raining
straight into this room. But there were grooves cut into the ground that
would lead the water outside, perhaps into a cistern. And certainly there
were enough tent canopies around, most of them folded up, with a servant
waiting by their side.
largest, deeply purple colored, was unfurled, extending over the opposite
end of the hall. Under it, on an elevated dais, the governor –
apparently – sat and watched as Cornell approached. The governor was a
portly Tonomai, as swarthy as all his people, in his late fifties. His
hair should have been gray, but it was a strong – and rather greasy –
black, proof of a dye of some sort. His face might have been called kind
in some past day. There were lines of laughter, but they seemed to vanish
under those created by sorrow and grimness. As it was, Derisham looked
like a man who had seen many of his dreams turn to ashes. Or perhaps more
apt, he’d seen them ground to dust in the wheels of daily routine as a
had seen men like him before. Some of the courtiers at King Armyron’s
palace in Cayaboré looked that way, those whose years were waning, but
they had never been rewarded with the kind of position they felt was their
due, such as a royal consultant, with the king’s ear, or a minister of
of those didn’t deserve any such position, but then again, Cornell often
thought that those who did hold high offices didn’t deserve that honor
wasn’t given more time to ponder what kind of man Derisham was, for the
servant – the one who had brought him to the residence – suddenly
appeared by his side and cried out loudly, “Your honor, great and wise
Lord Governor, here to grace your presence is the esteemed Cornell of
Cayaboré, Slayer of Dragons and Wearer of the Living Shield.”
you,” Cornell mumbled towards the buckler on his arm.
had noticed,” Halla replied pointedly.
should have been a bit of relief to hear the shield mentioned. After all,
that made the audience all the more innocent. Cornell had by now learned
that magical items of any sort were rare in Tonomat, much rarer than in
the lands he was accustomed to – most of all because the clergy of the
One God collected magical appliances and guarded them jealously.
walking about town with a talking – and yes, living – shield on his
arm, that surely would have brought him to the attention of Atnas’
governor. So, this might turn out to be a pleasant affair after all, he
thought. And didn’t believe himself.
sure that his demeanor was the perfectly ordinary
I-am-better-than-anybody-else attitude of a proper Cayaborean nobleman in
an it-has-to-be-shabby-because-it-isn’t-home foreign place, Cornell
walked forward and sketched a quick bow. “Lord Governor, I thank you for
the pleasure of being granted an audience.”
nodded, started to answer – but was cut off by a shrill shriek from his
side. “Dragon! Dragon!” a high voice screeched, and only now Cornell
noticed that there was a diminutive figure that had been hugging the legs
of Derisham’s chair. Now, though, it suddenly jumped up, crying the word
“Dragon!” over and over again, pointing with feverishly maddened eyes
dwarf?! was Cornell’s
first thought, recognizing the grayish tone of skin, the tell-tale build
of the dwarven race – except that this one’s figure had a more
distinctly female appearance than he had ever seen in a dwarf. Actually,
it was always difficult to spot a female dwarf, unless one studied her
closely to see whether this was a young caidwarf who still had to shave
his beard, or a woman, after all.
one, though, was definitely female, with more curves than a dwarf should
rightfully have. Her face was also quite female, with a gentle softness to
it that no other dwarves possessed. Granted, it was distorted by maddened
fear and agony, but Cornell was captivated more by the fact that it was
unlike other dwarves.
acharadh,” Halla whispered.
songdwarf? This was one of the acharadh, the rarest of dwarven races, the
one surrounded by myth and mystery? Cornell gaped at her, wondering what
exactly had caused all those legends to be told about her kind.
creature was still screaming madly, not at all encumbered by the guard who
suddenly appeared behind her and snatched her up in his arms, to carry her
away. “Dragon! Dragon!”
shouted something at the guard, and Phindar whispered, “He just told the
man to quiet her down.”
the guard tried his best to do, by placing his hammy hand over her mouth
– only to have it bit hard by the dwarf, enough so that the creature
could slip from his grip and leap off the dais, running straight toward
Cornell. “Dragon! There be the dragon!” she screamed, stopping three
yards before him, pointing at him. “He be no slayer of dragons, he be
the dragon! He be ulamquiri! Slay the beast, slay it afore it kills
Cornell could do anything (like drawing his sword and stopping the
annoying noise the quickest way), a courtier shot from the row of seats
closest to the dais, dived at the dwarf to hug her tightly and mumble
soothing words in her ear. It took a long while, during which the entire
hall fell quiet and everyone watched the event captivatedly, but
eventually the dwarf stopped her screaming, focused her narrow eyes on the
courtier. The man continued his mumbling, and slowly the dwarf nodded. She
cast a wary glance at Cornell, then followed the courtier’s lead away
from the aisle, to the back of the dais.
Derisham cleared his throat, then nodded to Cornell, a sorrowful
expression on his face. “Forgive this exchange, please, esteemed sir.
The acharadh is ordinarily quite amusing in her madness. Very harmless, I
assure you. Kerash has a good hold on her. Again, forgive me.” His
meantongue was quite fluent, although tinted by an odd accent that Cornell
couldn’t place. Not like that of other Tonomai, strangely enough.
took some effort for Cornell to maintain his attitude, but he succeeded.
Negligently he waved the matter away with his hand and repeated his
sketchy bow. “There is nothing to be forgiven, Lord Governor. A minor
nuisance, no more. You say the acharadh is mad?”
smile spread on Derisham’s face. “Certainly,” he nodded.
“Otherwise I suspect she could not be kept here. She has a bit of magic
to her, like all the amhran acharadh. Fortunately she seems to believe
that Kerash is her father, wherefore she trusts him completely.”
Cornell shrugged, as if he was accustomed to seeing mad songdwarves all
the time. Instead he was deeply intrigued by the sight. Acharadh were said
to be in touch with magic, far more than any other species, or any priest
or wizard could claim. Tales abounded how they appeared from nowhere, to
tweak the wheel of fate in one direction or the other, only to vanish
after the deed was done, as inexplicably as they had appeared. Nobody knew
of any acharadh villages or mountain homes, they had no homeland – in
most places, songdwarves were considered a mere legend, as much a myth as
this was a songdwarf, and Cornell had seen her! He wanted to learn more
about her, to find out whether there was even a kernel of truth to the
legends. Of course there wouldn’t be; that much his cynicism told him.
He still wanted to find out.
he reminded himself. “Lord Governor,” he bowed his head, “now that
this mishap has been cleared up, I wish to extend my gratitude to you for
your invitation and these fine clothes that you have lent me.”
those,” Derisham said. “I know that travel is a dire business. The
dust, the horses, quite dreadful. But I must say, esteemed sir, that I was
appalled to hear that you have taken lodging in that – that tavern.
Quite appalled, really. For a knight-errant such as yourself, that is no
place to be.”
What was the governor talking about? Knight-errants were a part of
history, as far as Cornell was concerned, mostly one that Keroull – now
Rek’atrednu, the Land of the Undead – was famed for. Fools who
undertook supposedly adventurous journeys to gain the favor of their
sovereign; they had probably spent most of their time shacked up in an inn
with a local girl, figuring out how to present themselves as heroes in the
fables they told after their return.
Of course! That’s what Derisham’s accent sounds like! Now
how could he use that information?
he said slowly, still working through the array of possibilities before
him, “it seemed the most apt at the time. Travelling with my companions,
in my disheveled state of affairs, I would never have presumed to call
upon a more prestigious house.”
Derisham smiled softly, “the governor?” He rose from his chair,
fetched a walking stick – richly decorated with jewels and silver
tassles along its front – and descended from the dais. “Fear not your
presumptions, esteemed Cornell, for the tales of your courage and your
accomplishments precede you. One who has slain an emperor dragon, the most
fearful beast of the world, one such as you deserves no less than to stay
in Atnas as my guest, here in my residence.”
If Cornell’s thoughts had been moving fast before, now they kicked up
their speed more than a few notches. Stay at the residence? Why?
Because I am a knight-errant? Is he fool enough to fall for those winter
tales by old spinsters? Does he think I could be of some service to him?
Could I use that? No, forget that! There’s got to be more to this, far
more! Think, blasted fool, think!
leaned on his walking stick – clearly he did not need it, but used it as
a tool – and smiled, “Ahh, you are taken by surprise, are you not? A
knight-errant should not be, esteemed sir, albeit I have heard that this
is not uncommon. No, sir, you should reap the rewards of your courage, and
which place would be more suited to you than my humble residence?”
Governor,” Cornell said, “my plans called for me to continue on my
journey. So I fear that I cannot accept your gracious offer, and –“
no, you must not!” Derisham cried eagerly. “Not before the new year
has come! The Solstice Day is so famed in your lands, it would be an honor
to have you celebrate your grand feast in my home – where you can tell
of your adventures, of your quest, of your lady waiting faithfully at home
for your return!”
I think he’s serious.
Now who was the mad one in this hall – the female acharadh, or Derisham?
Quickly Cornell searched for a proper answer to extricate him from this
affair, one that could allow him to leave both the residence and the
entire town of Atnas as fast as possible. Gods, he wanted to leave all of
Tonomat behind him, return to Cayaboré, to his home town of Hallowton,
see his father again, fly through the skies on his horse dragon, Tempest.
Anything but remain here any longer.
insist!” Derisham said urgently. “Quarters have already been arranged
for you and your servants, quarters fitting a man of your import. No, do
not say anything, esteemed sir! I will not accept any other answer but a
strong and firm ‘yes’. Sir Cornell of Cayaboré, I welcome you to my
home as a valued guest, and I am looking forward to hearing more of your
travails!” With that he made an imperious gesture to several servants
that had already moved along the aisle behind Cornell.
Cayaborean stood silent, fighting down the urge to whirl about and try to
flee. There was no sign of danger at the moment, nothing beyond a silly
old man’s fancy that would bind him to this place for a few days longer.
With Derisham’s insistence, he could not escape, not without causing
more trouble than he wanted. And why should he? After all, it seemed as if
those days would be pleasant enough, having once again servants catering
to his every whim, rather than being forced to endure the hardships of the
road. His brother, Gaius, would never have thought twice about it.
(Provided there would have been a first thought, of course.)
he felt trapped, as if more was going on than the thoughts of
Governor, it will be a pleasure to spend the next days with you.”
Derisham nodded and returned to his dais, while the servants proceeded to
guide Cornell out of the hall, up a floor and into a suite of rooms that
were as lavishly decorated as anyone could wish for.
took half an hour before Cornell was alone with his shield. The servants
had done their best to make him feel at home, and had only managed to put
him more on edge than before. One of the servants had told him that a
messenger had already been dispatched to The Crimson Talon, to
gather his friends and bring them to the residence as well.
have a very bad feeling about this,” he finally shook his head and
dropped into a chair with velvet covering over the soft cushions.
spoke from the buckler, sounding as wary as he did, “So do I, shield
bearer. The acharadh is not as mad as she claims to be. When none of the
people in the hall were looking her way, she was studying you closely,
with nary a trace of the feverishness. It seems she does not know that we
in the shield can see.”
frowned. If that was true, then why was the songdwarf faking her madness?
Why did she allow herself to be treated as the court’s amusement?
why did she call “Dragon!” when I came in? If she isn’t mad, there
has to be some reason for it, hasn’t there?
Or perhaps it was just part of her routine. Provided that it was a
routine. He still didn’t trust the shield very much, no matter how
convincing the souls sounded.
is going to be interesting,” he muttered and put the shield beside the
chair. “I hate interesting times.”