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Authors: Aaron Pogue

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Taming Fire (44 page)

BOOK: Taming Fire
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I shuddered at the memory, but I knew it for a compliment. I bowed my head to the dragon.
"I could have done none of it without you."

I know,
the dragon said.
My debt is paid.
It shifted again, testing injured legs, then turned its head to look down on me.
My debt is paid,
it said again.
We are not friends. You know this, yes?

I nodded.
"I know,"
I said.
"And yet you have my thanks."

That means nothing at all,
the beast replied. Its long neck snaked up high, head whipping left and right to look out over the plains, and then one eye tracked down to me again.
Men will come, as they came before. I should not tarry here. My debt is paid.

I swallowed and nodded.
"Of course. I understand,"
I said.
"Your debt is paid. Now go and live."

And you as well,
the dragon said, and it leaped to grapple with the sky. Wings as wide as a village green flapped twice, three times, and the beast was gone.

 
 

I had to find my strength before I could go to Isabelle. I did my best to quell the fires that raged through the camp, and bound up one single flame like a torch above my hand. Then I turned toward the prison tent, my heart racing, and bent a gust of wind to lift its flaps. I stepped inside.

Like a rose in the desert she was there, sitting on her heels in the quiet darkness. Her eyes were wide, and I saw tears of fear upon her cheeks, but she had never budged. She'd waited. She had trusted me to bring her rescue.

She blossomed when she saw me. Light and hope and joy flared on her face, and she threw herself to her feet with more energy than I could have imagined. She flung herself upon me, arms around my neck and kisses on my face, and it was everything I could do to keep from falling. The sword dropped from my hand. My light blinked out, and the sword splashed like water and ended as a pile of dirt beside my feet. My attention was all elsewhere.

She paused in all the kisses to peek past me. She seemed very small then, fingers knotted in the threadbare fabric of my shirt and body pressed close against mine. She stretched up on her toes to see more clearly, and I heard a little squeak escape her lips. I raised a hand to brush at her hair and whispered softly, "It is done."

"You've killed them all!" she said with wonder in her voice.

I shook my head. "I've set them all in flight," I said. "I think I killed the wizard, though. And put a fear in all the rest they will not soon forget."

She nodded, blinking, and I saw tears in her eyes. "You did it," she said. "You really did it. My shepherd boy. My beggar from Chantire."

I laughed at that. "You do remember well."

The tears escaped her eyes and she reached up in frustration to wipe them away. "I didn't know.... I heard it all. I had to wait. I had to wait, and never knew, and then with all the screams—"

"It's done," I said, with a quiet ease I did not truly feel. I raised a hand to brush the tears from her cheek. She didn't need to know everything that had happened. She knew enough.

She leaned her forehead against my chest and I heard a little sniff. Without looking up she asked, "Where are the rest?"

"The rest?" I said.

"The soldiers. The king, his wizards, all his men. Where is the army? Are they out giving chase?"

I laughed again. I could not contain it. "The king? He would not come. He wouldn't even hear my plea."

"Then how...." She stopped, and her eyes were very wide again as she raised her gaze to mine. "You did it by yourself."

I swallowed. I didn't tell her that a dragon helped. She raised a hand to my face, awe in her eyes, and did not quite touch my skin. "You saved my home. You saved my life. You... alone."

I ducked my head to break her gaze. I sighed. "I could not let him win," I said.

She laughed, a sharp and startled sound like a pheasant breaking cover. "Of course," she said. "You couldn't let him win. So you alone bested an army to rescue me and mine." She shook her head slowly. "There is magic in you, Daven. It was there before the wizard ever found you."

"You don't understand," I said, but she stopped me with a finger on my lips. And then a kiss. It was softer, more hesitant than the flurry of little kisses she'd given me before. She pressed close against me, and she was warm. She held the kiss for a handful of heartbeats, then pulled away and had to catch her breath. I had no hope of catching mine.

"You are a hero," she said. I opened my mouth but she stopped my objection again. "You are my hero."

I had to swallow before I could speak. When I did I dipped my eyes in a little nod. "Lareth's force is broken," I said. "But we should go. This is no place to linger."

Her eyes flashed, and she chuckled low. "Will you escort me home?"

"I will," I said and offered her my hand. I stepped before her from the tent, straining my ears for any sound of struggle. In the distance fires still raged, but as we walked that way I reached out with my will and snuffed the dragon's flame. I left campfires here and there to light our way, but mostly I smothered those as well. A dozen paces down I drew another sword out of the earth, in case of need.

But there was none. A hundred paces brought us to a band of townsfolk come to investigate the disturbance. They cried out in joy when they saw Isabelle and rushed up to us. One and all they stopped a pace away, eyes flashing with gratitude and concern. 

Isabelle accepted their warm sentiments for a moment, then waved them to silence to offer a hurried explanation of what had happened. Heads shook in quiet awe, and when she gave me credit for the devastation all around me I saw a tremor of fear pass among them. They did not quite meet my eyes. But when Isabelle sent them on ahead, to carry word back to the town of what had happened, they bowed low and rushed away.

She caught one of them just before he left, and said with quiet authority, "Find my father first. Tell him everything I've told you. And tell him too that the hero's name is Daven. Themmichus's Daven."

Then she let him go. I watched it all, anxious to bring Isabelle after them to the safety of her father's house, but she showed no hurry. She strolled instead, as though we were walking in a city garden, and held my empty hand between two of hers. My heart pounded as we went, and it was not entirely for fear of rebels coming back.

When we arrived at Teelevon I found a little town without walls or gates, little larger than Sachaerrich on the green. It was not yet dawn, but everyone in town seemed to be there, gathered in two crowds with a broad path down the center of the green. At the end of that path was a house that could have put Jemminor's to shame—a mansion on the green, fronted by a wide patio atop a dozen marble steps. And on the porch stood a man I'd seen once two lifetimes ago, a glimpse through a distant door.

Isabelle's father, the Baron Eliade. He was a friend of the king and a Lord of the Ardain. He waited with attendants at his side, and down upon the green a hurrah went up as we approached. Isabelle never stirred. She squeezed my hand more tightly and watched me instead of the crowd as we approached her father's house.

He did not frown at me as we approached. He did not narrow his eyes or ask suspicious questions. He held my eyes with a tearful smile. "She said she'd bring us help," he said, and I heard the husk of tears in his voice. "In a note." He swallowed and shook his head. "I thought her lost."

"Oh, Papa," she said, chiding, and the old man burst into tears. Big and strong and full of joy, he threw himself at me, and I flung my sword aside or he'd have been hurt. He wrapped me in his arms and heaved me from my feet in a great bear hug, and behind me a cheer went up to shame the one that had gone before. The whole town cried out.

I drifted in it all like a man at sea. I could find no solid ground, no touchstone to reality, except Isabelle's hand. She never took it from my arm, and her long, cool fingers held my focus. I heard her laugh again, "Oh, Papa, please!" and Baron Eliade released me and stepped back.

"Teelevon," he cried to all the crowd. "My girl is back! Our Isabelle is safe. The siege is done. We're saved, by this man's hand!" He spun me, then, to face the crowd, and for a moment I lost Isabelle's touch. She found my other arm, and gripped it with both hands, and turned her smile on the crowd below.

The baron still proclaimed, "His name is Daven! Wizard. And a friend of our family. Forever." He dropped a heavy hand on my shoulder, warm and strong, and in a lower voice he mumbled, "Thank you, boy. I cannot say enough. You have a home here as long as you might want one."

Isabelle tore her gaze from the crowd at that and fixed it on my eyes. I felt a sudden nervousness in her grip on my arms, a fear that was entirely out of place in her expression. She lowered her voice and said, "Will you please stay? You're welcome here. Will you please stay?"

I looked at her and laughed. It was absurd. Her eyes shone bright beneath the silver moon. They glinted, and I saw the hint of tears. She had taken my laughter for rejection. I bent my head closer to her, blocking out the noise of the crowd. I stared into her eyes. "I shall do whatever you desire," I said to her. "I am your shepherd after all."

Her eyes danced at that. She caught her breath, and then she smiled. She reached up to touch my face. "You'll be my prince. But that is talk for tomorrow." She leaned against me again and took another breath. "For now, you are our hero, and this can be your home. Is that enough for you?"

I could not have answered her, but she did not seem to need one. She leaned against me, and waved out to the crowd, and I could feel her breathing. 

This could be my home. It was enough. I had honor, and hope, and a place to lay my head. I stretched an arm around the girl and she did not object. I had a family here and friends. I had everything I wanted.

In the back of my mind there burned a weary pain, reminder of other things. I had Vechernyvetr's guesses but I knew not what had become of the attack on the king's garrison at Tirah. I did know there were dragons in the world and more waking. Vechernyvetr had confirmed it.

There were still rebels, too, and the wizard had escaped. I'd given him injuries far worse than the ones that had lain Claighan low, but I could not trust him to die easily. I had an enemy in him.

I had powerful adversaries at court as well. And I would have more, if they survived the dragons' attack, for the way I'd left my prison cell. The king still thought me a murderer and a traitor. And his Knight-Captain, Othin...twice now I'd slipped the officer's custody and stained his pride. I had enemies enough to make a strong man tremble.

But that was a matter for tomorrow. For now, I had survived. For now, I was a hero. For now, I had a home.

That was enough, for now.

 
 

Daven's story continues in December 2011 with
The Dragonswarm
.

While you're waiting, why not check out some of Aaron Pogue's other work? Start with the first book in the sci-fi mystery series Ghost Targets:

Gods Tomorrow

We abandoned privacy and turned databases into something like gods. They listened to our prayers. They met our needs and blessed us with new riches. They watched over us, protected us, and punished the wicked among us. We almost made a paradise.

But there were those who tried to hide from the databases’ all-seeing eye. They used their wealth or power or intellect to turn themselves into ghosts within the endless archive. For years these ghosts have used their anonymity to perpetrate atrocious crimes and slip away unscathed. And now someone among them may go further still. Someone wants to bring the system down.

The only thing that stands in his way is the FBI's understaffed and overwhelmed Ghost Targets section. The agent on the case is their newest rookie, Special Agent Katie Pratt, and she's in over her head. The first day on the job gives her an unsolvable murder that ultimately leads her to the greatest threat these gods have ever seen. Can one desperate woman prevent the downfall of her entire society?

Available now from
Consortium Books
!

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BOOK: Taming Fire
8.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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