THE LEGEND OF OESCIENNE
Step into the world of Ethöes, where creatures of myth and magic thrive and humans are a thing of legend. Enter a land where anything is possible and nothing is as it seems. For in Oescienne a young girl is about to discover what it means to be different, how it feels to be an outcast and what it takes to learn the true meaning of self worth.
When the dragon Jaax receives word that a human infant has been found in the province of Oescienne, he doesnt dare believe it. Humans have been extinct for centuries, trapped by a terrible curse and left to live out their existence in the form of dragons. Despite his doubts, however, Jaax assumes responsibility for the baby girl only to discover that what he has been seeking for so many years has finally been found . . .
Jahrra knows all about the legends and sagas of Oescienne, but never in her wildest dreams would she believe that she played a part in one of them. Shes far too busy dodging the bullies at school and seeking out new adventures with her friends to worry about what secrets her dragon mentor might be keeping from her, or that her every move is being watched by something living in the forest surrounding her home. But the secrets run deep, and as Jahrra fights to earn her place in this extraordinary world, she will begin to unravel the truth of it all: that she isnt as safe as she thought she was, that danger lurks around every corner, and that her role in this unfurling tale is far more significant than she could possibly imagine.
- Chapter One -
A Very Surprising Discover
Jaax wrinkled his nose as the sound of a chattering bird pulled him from his slumber, but he kept his eyes shut and remained motionless nonetheless. Not that he couldve moved much anyway, for the small, fern-laced hollow hed tucked himself into the night before was just big enough to accommodate his large size, wings and all. He sighed softly, releasing a hot, smoke-tinged breath that forced the damp leaves plastered to the forest floor to peel and curl in protest.
After a few heartbeats he risked a peek, opening one silvery-green dragons eye to catch a glimpse of the damp, grey morning that congested the forest like a heavy cold. Most dragons had eyes of yellow, orange or red, dominated by a wild intelligence. It was only the Tanaan dragons whose eyes were shaded in the blues, greens and browns of their human ancestors. Jaax shivered at the recollection. A terrible curse had meant the end of the humans in Ethes, the same curse that had brought about the existence of his particular race of dragons nearly five centuries ago.
Jaax blinked several times as if doing so would remove these dark thoughts from his mind the way tears dislodged grains of sand from ones eyes. And his eyes were quite unique, even for a Tanaan dragon. They shone with a fierce obscurity, as if theyd been tame at one time but had since returned to being wild. Why they had become this way, however, was a mystery known entirely to the soul buried behind them. It was only during this first waking moment that Jaax revealed any clues as to what sorrows and secrets he kept locked away, but that small amount of time was never long enough for anyone to discern the dragons troubles.
Jaax sighed and continued to listen to the singing bird from earlier. It was a heartsong sparrow, a harbinger of luck, hope and love. The tiny creature trilled on before it was frightened away by something larger foraging for food. Well, the dragon thought with an amused smile, at least it wasnt me this time.
With his fine musician flown, the dragon lifted his triangular head and gazed more thoroughly at his surroundings. The feathery ferns that brushed against his face acted as a fragile screen between his tiny vale and the outside world and the great, gnarled oaks stretching overhead resembled giant, arthritic hands reaching up out of the earth to grasp at the insubstantial fog. Despite its early morning lethargy, the forest was alive with a variety of scents: cold fog, decaying leaves and the distant tang of a fresh fire being the most prominent. Jaax tilted his head to listen for possible intruders, but all he heard was the drip of condensation gathering and slapping against the leaf-litter below.
The Tanaan dragon smiled softly, his eyelids drooping lazily as the cool silence weighed heavily upon him. His initial instincts told him there was no threat here. The instincts that ran deeper, however, told him something else. As the heartsong sparrow had announced earlier, there was change in the air, and not just any change, but a good change, one that had led him to this secluded corner of Ethes to begin with.
Yawning widely, Jaax stretched himself out of his forest bed, snapping twigs and cracking joints as he stood to his full height. The strong scent of earthworms and wild mushrooms filled the space around him as he pressed his weight into the dark, rich soil, and the taste of damp, mossy air filled his mouth and throat as he breathed. Jaax smiled despite himself. He loved the absolute quiet and heavy scents the fog evoked.
The foraging animal from earlier, a towhee, noticed him immediately and twittered energetically as it fled the scene. The dragon grinned again as the birds distress calls disappeared into the mist. He was used to being feared but he never took it personally. As he shook the cold and sleep from his body his irony scales, rough and glimmering like polished granite, gradually changed from the bland colors of his surroundings to shades of copper, rusty bronze, deep-green and turquoise.
Finally fully awake, Jaax at last allowed his mind to consider his long awaited duty, and the letter that had called him to it. He was here on the bank of the Saem River to retrieve a young child, a newborn baby to be exact, and, according to what the correspondence had claimed, the only one of her kind. It was a very odd task for such a large dragon, but there was a chance that this child held the fate of the world in her tiny hands.
Jaax felt a rippling shiver pass under his tough skin as he considered what all of this meant. A baby girl, he thought in wonderment mixed with skepticism, found inside a hollow, yet very much alive shell of an ancient oak tree in northern Oescienne. The familiarity of it all made his great heart quicken with anticipation and even fear. The words of the Oracles . . . Jaax tried to bite back that enticing thought, but it was no use. This had been his purpose all along, to find her and protect her the day she was born. He realized that if this child truly was what the message claimed her to be, then there was good reason for the sudden flare of his once dormant emotions. Yet he still doubted, for he had been disappointed too many times before.
After one last lingering glance at his campsite, Jaax set his jaw in determination and spread his enormous wings. He beat them once and leaped into the gray sky, forcing the thick mist to dance in small eddies and the tree branches to whip around in protest. Once hed climbed high enough, he noted the fog sagging like a heavy blanket between the two ranges forming the Saem Valley. He glided soundlessly over the gray-white ocean of clouds below him, counting the miles as they passed and narrowing his pale eyes against the brilliant sun.
The dragons final destination was a place called Crie, a place as unassuming as a newborn infant. It was a small, secluded village on the river bank just a few miles east of where hed slept. The location was ideal, set against the southern Saem Hills on the flat land that rested just above the calm tributary. He knew this village well and the elves who lived there: they were descendants of the Woedehn elves, a race that still resided in the great forests of Hrunah to the east. Some of them had traveled to this part of the world after the rise of the Crimson King, hoping to relocate beyond his grasp. A great number of them, Jaax recalled, were actually Nesnan or Resai, the mixed-blood descendents of elf and human unions from long before the Tyrant transformed them. Though not immortal, they had inherited from their elfin ancestors at least some of their longevity. Many of these people were hundreds of years old but appeared rather youthful.
While he soared over the treetops, Jaax passed the time by picturing the townspeople he knew from his past meetings with them. He saw in his minds eye a gentle folk, secretive and simple in their ways, yet lively and sociable when the mood called for celebration. Like their Woedehn kin, the elves of Crie were short in stature but not petite and delicate like so many of the other races of their kind. They never quailed from hard work and were always eager to take on a good challenge. Whether that task be something as risky as driving a rabid dremmen wolf from their village or something as simple as removing a stubborn turnip from their garden, it didnt matter.
As he drew nearer to his destination, Jaax drifted below the fog line once more, flying low over the outskirts of the sleepy village. Many communities like this small colony were thought to be hiding in sheltered valleys and on mountaintops all throughout Ethes, but Jaax was only aware of a handful of them. He scanned the settlement quickly, counting the stubby, stone-and-adobe houses as they darted by. They looked remarkably like rounded cones with a thatching of reeds or small twigs for roofing. Some of them were several rooms large and gave the impression of a group of gumdrops being pressed firmly together. A single road twined through the village and the randomly placed dwellings like a brown snake searching out mice in a harvested field. Most of the stone huts had small gardens and fenced-in yards to grow kitchen herbs and to hold small livestock.
Smoke from early morning fires curled sluggishly above the earthen houses, their roofs dusted white with the crystalline frost of this uncommonly temperate winter. From what Jaax could judge, the elves had only been up long enough to light the fires in their hearths. He cast his eyes towards the center of the sprawling town and from his lofty view he spied a low burning bonfire ringed in by great, round stones. The coal-choked blaze looked like it had been burning for quite some time. Red-tinged smoke still rose and blended with the white mist above, signaling that this fire stood for more than just the celebration of the Solstice that had passed just over a week ago.
The dragon grinned as the cool winter air whipped around him. He knew these elves would be preparing breakfast for the whole town in anticipation of their rare visitor. Its been so long since theyve seen dragons grace the skies . . . he thought with a heavy heart. He secretly blessed the low cloud cover, for it masked the tainted smoke of the bonfire which, on a clear day, would point out a forbidden celebration.
Jaax grimaced. He knew that this ancient tribe still remembered the time when the Crimson King first came into power, putting an end to their carefree way of life. No longer could they take part in the festivals they once cherished unless willing to risk enslavement or even death. Even now, nearly five centuries later, the people of Crie feared the Tyrant King. To them the threat of Cierryon was as real as it ever was and many of the villagers had to sacrifice much of their tradition to avoid discovery by the Tyrants minions. One of these sacrifices had been the large bonfires that were a central part of their ancient customs. On holidays and special occasions, the blazes were fed sacred plants and herbs, staining the smoke to a specific color. This was a sure sign of an outlawed festival, one not tolerated by the king.
This fear had kept them cautious for centuries, but today was different, today they had good reason to be joyous for the first time in ages. They had a real reason to celebrate and the thick, low clouds offered some protection from a curious gaze that might otherwise notice a large plume of ruddy smoke. Fear not this day, elves of Crie, Jaax thought with an optimistic grin as he glided in low to graze the conical tops of firs and spruce. If you have truly found what you claim, then today is the dawn of a new era, an era that will bring a lasting peace to Ethes.
Jaax swooped in between two ancient sycamores, standing bare for the winter. He came to rest just beyond the border of the settlement, beating his great wings and balancing his long tail to soften his heavy landing. He swiveled his thorny head, his keen eyes scanning the surroundings, his steamy breath puffing in the crisp air. The valley was a palette of cool colors this time of year with the frigid wilderness set against the wide and deep Saem River. Sycamores, oaks, aspen and a few conifers grew between the steep hills. Although the aspens and sycamores had lost their leaves, their white mottled trunks looked quite beautiful standing against the cool grey sky and sharp granite stones that protruded from the earth like giant, jagged teeth.
The great reptile looked out over the Saem River, moving slowly past the small islands like liquid ice. He wondered when a lasting snow would fall, but was grateful it wasnt any colder. Once his survey was through, he turned and walked east along the rivers edge, following the scent of roasting meat and smoke. As he approached Crie, the villagers cautiously poked their heads out of their houses, their eyes growing wide with delight when they recognized their rare visitor.
One of these curious townsfolk spotted the dragon just on the edge of town and shouted jovially, Raejaaxorix! Youve come at last!
The Resai man came rushing out of his squat home with a wide smile on his face. He was tanned and wrinkled with fading brown hair that stuck out at a hundred odd angles. He wore a simple white, long-sleeved tunic, worn russet pants and a pair of scuffed clogs. For such a large creature you sure make a quiet entrance! he continued in his cheerful, melodic voice, olive eyes twinkling brightly.
This time the dragon Raejaaxorix gave a full smile, revealing a line of white daggers. He loosened his stiff gait and answered, I hear youve found an infant Aydehn, probably Nesnan, maybe even Resai or full-blooded elf, but it cant possibly be what you claim it to be.
Ah, replied Aydehn with a grin and a shake of his finger, you never change Jaax, always straight to business and never time for too much small talk.
I just cant justify wasted time. Jaax gave the old elfin man a tired smirk.
Ha-ha! Right you are! Come, you must tell us news from the outside world, were dying to hear anything, and you must have something to eat, yes?
Jaax allowed himself to be led away by the small crowd of interested people that had gathered. He didnt mind their stares and whispers. In fact, he was glad for the company and couldnt blame these people for enjoying a chance to be hospitable. The discovery of this child could mean good news for them too, and perhaps the years of living their lives in secret might finally come to an end.
Following a meal of roasted deer and a detailed discussion of the state of Oescienne and its surrounding lands, the elves took Jaax to where theyd found the infant. The group climbed deep into the boulder-strewn hills, skirting around a jagged hillock and up a granite-laced canyon. The narrow gullies, crowded trees, and giant slabs of stone made movement through this forest cumbersome. If Jaax had been an old dragon, moving across this terrain would have proven difficult, but his lean frame and powerful build aided him much as he followed the people of Crie deeper into the hills. Instinctively, he peered around every corner, smelling the air carefully, a habit hed developed as a result of his elusive lifestyle.
When the entire party finally crested the steep rise, Jaax paused and gazed in wonder at the great tree spreading its thick canopy from one side of the expansive hilltop to the other. It was an ancient oak, magnificent and gnarled, its several knobby limbs twisting and grasping for the sky. The giant tree was hollow as a shell but strongly attached to the ground due to several knotty roots plunging deep into the heart of the earth. The heartwood of the oak had been burned out in a firestorm ages ago and now all that was left was an empty area large enough to accommodate him and the drove of elves.
Do you know this tree, Raejaax? asked Aydehn quietly. His tone was more serious now, his face turning grave as he clasped his hands together in anticipation.
Yes, yes I do. Jaax answered in similar tones as he focused his silver-green eyes on the full beauty of the tree. Its Ethes first oak, the Sacred Oak. I knew it was located in this part of Oescienne, but I wasnt aware it was so near Crie.
Aye, answered the Resai man in an anxious whisper, his eyes wide with feeling, this is why our ancestors came to rest here when they fled the east. They knew this was Ethes Oak, and the oak of all trees! The most sacred! They found themselves quite blessed when they happened upon it, and they knew then that the Goddess would keep them safe here. It has become a sacred place to us, and it is here that we give thanks to the Goddess.
Jaax looked around inside of the hollow tree, ignoring the silent and inquisitive stares pouring over him. There was a charred pit in the center for a fire, perhaps to be lit on the Solstice and the Equinox. He sniffed at the air again, this time trying hard to detect any aroma that might reveal the secret to this place. It smelled of old smoke, dust and ancient forest, but nothing unusual or even unique drifted on the air, not even the smallest trace of magic.
There was no mother? Jaax asked suddenly, turning his keen eyes on the group that had accompanied him.
Aydehn nodded somberly, his voice sounding dry, We found her here, completely naked and only a few hours old, according to our midwives. When Jaax adopted a pensive look, the Resai man added, That must be significant, inside the Sacred Oak?
We didnt see anything out of the ordinary, no markings, nothing on the ground around her. continued one of the village elders, a wizened old woman leaning on a crooked cane with a voice like an irritated frog, She was just here. In fact, its a miracle that someone happened by. Luckily the Solsticetide had just passed, or else we would generally not come out this way, for weeks sometimes.
Jaax puzzled this over. A female child seemingly born from the earth itself; yes, this did sound similar to what the Oracles had promised. And there was the Sacred Oak, a connection to Ethes herself. There was only one more thing to prove, and the Tanaan dragon didnt see that as likely, despite what the message he received had claimed. It was all probably coincidence anyhow, coincidences happened all the time and hed definitely been alive long enough to know that. Nevertheless, he couldnt help but wonder: could this girl really be human?
Jaax sighed as he thought about the strange circumstances. Over the years hed gone on mission after mission, receiving word of a human child having been found. Hed been to what seemed like every province of Ethes, as far north as the Baer Mountains in Rhohwynd and as far south as the Soahna Flatlands and all the other places in between. Hed seen hundreds of infants, all being proclaimed as the one the Oracles had promised, but none of them had been human. Some of these children had even been boys, in which case Jaax became angry. It was clearly foretold that the human child would be a girl. Half the time he thought these people only wanted to see a dragon, a rare sight in Ethes these days.
Wheres the child now? queried Jaax, leaving his thoughts for later.
Shes with my wife, Thenya. Aydehn answered, Shall we go and get her?
Yes, Jaax dropped his distracted gaze and looked at the elderly Resai man standing below him, Ill see her now and decide if shes better off with Hroombra or better off left here with you.
Jaax followed the elves back to the village, reflecting in silence the entire journey back. He was thinking about what had been prophesied, although his better judgment told him not to. Hed waited so many years, long years, longer than his patience should have had to endure. Could the Oracles have spoken truth and could the search finally be over? Nows not the time to ask yourself these questions, he thought in self-chastisement, theyre all counting on your final say. Lets hope that this time the child really is the one.
The young dragon sighed, scorching the icy air as he exhaled. The Oracles claim had been faulty and vague, that was undeniable. When has an Oracle ever been absolutely clear about the future anyway? But right now he needed to focus on what was best for this child if she wasnt the one he sought.
Thenya stepped out of her small hut as the party approached Crie. Jaax looked up at her as she drew near and saw a tangled look of reluctance, joy and sorrow on her wrinkled face. Like her husband, Thenya was short and sturdy. She wore her salted chestnut hair in a tight bun, but several wisps had come loose and now framed her head like a halo. Her eyes were a light hazel color, and her slightly pointed ears appeared to be tucked back into her hair. She wore a dark blue dress dusted with flour and a stained white apron. In her arms she carried a bundle of multi-colored cloth that couldve been a load of dirty laundry headed for the washboards. Jaax froze when he saw the bundle squirm.
Thenya slowly approached the towering dragon and pulled back a violet-blue cloth revealing a tiny face, two bright blue eyes and quite a lot of golden-blond hair. Jaaxs heart caught in his throat: blue eyes.
When was this child found exactly? he asked, perhaps a little too harshly.
A few days after the Solsticetide, about a week ago. Aydehns response from beside him was both startled and automatic.
And youre positive she was newborn the day you found her? Jaax was finding it hard to wait for his friends answers. His mind was beginning to hum, mingling with the buzzing of the curious voices of the onlookers.
Oh yes, absolutely sure, only a few hours or so.
Jaaxs head was no longer humming but spinning. Blue eyes!
Your children Aydehn, theyre born with eyes white except the pupils, is this not true? he continued in that rough voice.
Why of course, any race containing elf blood or dwarf blood is born with white eyes and then the color comes in later. In fact, the only known race to be born with blue eyes is . . .
Human. Jaax cut him off. And not just part human, full-blooded human. A pure-blooded human, unbelievable! Impossible!
His voice was now a hiss, almost inaudible over the growing clamor of the shifting and murmuring throng. Jaax was astounded. He knew hed hoped for this, for centuries he had, but hed never expected this day to come after so many long years of disappointment. How could a human, a race thats been extinct for five hundred years, end up inside an oak tree in a tiny village in northern Oescienne? Could the Oracles, then, be telling the truth? Had Ethes not forsaken them after all? Jaax took in a deep breath and released it on a long, heated sigh.
Well Aydehn, Ill definitely be taking this child off your hands. His words carried over the crowd, suddenly hushed by the return of the dragons strong voice. Dont worry, shell be well protected. he added after seeing Thenyas tearful eyes, Ill take her to the Korli dragon Hroombramantu in Oescienne. Shell be well secluded and protected there, so Ethes willing, the Crimson King will never find her.
Reluctantly, Thenya handed over the infant with shaking hands. She had known this day would come, but her composure proved that she hadnt expected it so soon.
What do you call her? Jaaxs voice was suddenly soft, full of understanding for what Thenya was giving up.
We havent thought of any proper human names since we know none. Thenya answered in a trembling voice, her eyes fixed upon the infants small, round face. But we call her Drisihn, Little Oak.
Then that shall be her elfin name. Jaax nodded courteously.
What shall we call her as a human, if she ever comes back this way? Thenya asked, looking up at the great dragon with clear and hopeful eyes.
Jaax paused, turning back to face the inquiring village, all of whom had now gathered around the strange scene. The bonfire behind them still breathed out its tainted smoke, now more of an orange hue than the red he had seen earlier that morning. The hungry bleats of goats and clucks of chickens sounded in the near distance, but every last townsperson was silent, their eyes trained upon the dragon gazing so intently upon the tiny infant.
Jaaxs mind was still reeling from what hed learned this day, but he forced the shock and excitement away as he tried to answer Thenyas plea. He had once known a human name, a girls name, and he allowed his memory to wander back to the time when human names were still known.
Jahrraneh, he replied quietly after a long pause, then out loud for all to hear, Alls Hope. But I think shell be called Jahrra.
Then Jahrra Drisihn we shall call her. Aydehn replied quietly, smiling as he placed a gentle hand on his wifes shoulder.
Jaax watched as the tiny child was strapped to him by some of the less timid villagers. He purposely kept his gaze away from Thenya, for she had drawn away when little Jahrra had been taken from her. The dragon sought the eyes of the baby, surprised to find her watching him as well. She gazed back up with what looked like wide, blue amazement and began to laugh.
Now, would you look at that, she likes you Raejaax! Thenya exclaimed, showing a bright smile in an attempt to hide her tears.
Well, thought the dragon, recalling the songbird that had sung for him that morning, what do you know? Two for two.
Thenya shooed the young villagers away and finished wrapping the baby securely to Jaaxs neck. When she was finished, he turned to leave, but stopped short.
What is it? asked Aydehn.
I need something to give her when she asks from where she came. he replied, brow furrowed.
Here, Thenya reached into a large pocket in her skirt and pulled out a closed fist, take this. She opened her hand to reveal a single acorn. Its from the Sacred Oak. In fact, we found it right next to little Drisihn, next to Jahrra. The woman dropped her eyes and swallowed before going on. It is winter; there should be no fruit on the trees, yet Ethes must have wanted her to have it. Perhaps she can plant it one day.
Yes, replied Jaax calmly, thatll do just fine.
Thenya tucked the fat acorn into the bundle that was Jahrra and patted it affectionately.
Take care of her Raejaaxorix. Dont let any harm come to her. Thenya whispered solemnly. My sister Thedhia awaits your arrival this very evening in the hills above Arlei. You do remember how to get there?
Jaax looked at the woman with his piercing eyes and nodded, Of course, I remember it well.
Thenya closed her own eyes and bowed her head as if finally letting go of her own heart.
With a last glance around and with a small grin that he hoped would bring peace of mind to the elves and their kin, Jaax lifted off the ground with one beat of his mighty wings and climbed into the living mist, the tiny, helpless Jahrra strapped securely to him.
The Legend of Oescienne - The Beginning
Book two in the Oescienne series now available from amazon.com
Also available on amazon Kindle
Twelve years have passed since Jahrra arrived in Oescienne and became the responsibility of the old Korli dragon Hroombra. Yet, much can happen in twelve years, especially when those years are filled with adventure, danger, friendship and even loss. Despite what she has learned in school and what she has learned from life, Jahrra has no idea that she is in fact human, a race that has been absent from the world of Ethöes for five long centuries.
But this fact must be kept secret, even from Jahrra herself, for if the Tyrant King of the East knew of her existence, all would be lost. And as time goes by those responsible for the young human girl grow anxious and cautious, for there is evidence of an unknown danger in their midst; a danger they cannot see or hear, but one they can feel.
As Jahrra continues to grow and learn about the world around her, facing personal dangers, challenges and enemies of her own, she will become aware of the prophecy that she is meant to fulfill and what she must sacrifice in order to survive what lies before her.
EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK OF
THE LEGEND OF OESCIENNE - THE BEGINNING
Shadows in the East
Gilded sunlight poured over the landscape and pushed through the trees, announcing the break of dawn or signaling the approach of evening. It was hard to tell in this strange, noiseless place. The colors here were bright, but fuzzy around the edges as if stained and blurred by water. Nothing stirred here; there were no deer, no foxes, no rabbits, not even a solitary bird to disrupt the foggy solitude. All around the trees stood silent, watching and waiting for something profound to happen. And then something did happen.
Far below the wooded hillside in the bare, spacious glen something finally moved. A fair-haired child, barely older than ten, danced into sight. She looked happy and carefree, her laughter alone breaking the unnatural, oppressive silence. She wasn’t dressed like a typical girl, wearing only a plain cotton shirt over a pair of leather pants. Her hair was loose, unbound and falling past her shoulders. It caught the eerie light and reflected it in golden shards that cut through the monotony of this world. She chased after butterflies, doing cartwheels and kicking up clouds of ladybugs with her bare feet.
It was obvious she felt safe here, even as the atmosphere slowly began to change. The slumbering trees grew more rigid and the pleasant scene dimmed, as if a black cloud had crept in front of the sun. Something sinister was approaching, but the girl was too caught up in her own antics to realize she was no longer alone. She was too busy dancing across the field and making merry, so she didn’t feel the change in the air; she didn’t notice the darkening sky.
And then it happened. Something like a dark flame appeared on the edge of the meadow where the dense wood began. It was a figure wearing a blood-red cloak, creeping between the shivering trees, stalking around like a predator hunting down its prey. The creature crawled from the edge of the tree line and drew closer to the girl. But the girl kept at her games, unaware of the menacing threat to her safety.
As the ominous figure moved ever closer, it threw open its arms like a great, blood-stained bat, its crimson cloak curling and flowing behind it as if pushed by an imperceptible wind. The creature began to grow, becoming larger and larger with each step. It was only a few yards from the girl now and had grown to twenty feet tall and twice as wide, engulfing the entire glen with the scarlet flowing fabric of its robes. It stood over the girl for a few seconds more and then, as quick as the blink of an eye, it wrapped its massive arms around her and vanished . . .
Raejaaxorix jolted awake, breathing heavily as his heart pumped the overly-heated dragon blood that pulsed through his veins. Instinctively, he grazed his surroundings with his sharp eyes, looking for the girl who had been swallowed up by the red demon. After a few moments, he breathed a sigh of relief, wisps of smoke curling from his nostrils. A dream, he consoled himself as his heartbeat calmed, just a dream.
The Tanaan dragon lifted his head and stretched out his legs, working the tension free of the stiff muscles. Though the dream wasn’t a new one, it continued to terrify him each time he woke from it. He knew it was only a result of the recent discovery of Cierryon’s soldiers setting up camps around the perimeter of Oescienne, but it felt too real to simply ignore. There was no denying that the girl in the dream was Jahrra and that the monster, the demon, was the Tyrant King himself, or at least those who worked for him. The corrupt soldiers of Ghorium, he reminded himself with a grimace.
Jaax shuddered and tried to convince the pounding ache in his head to go elsewhere. Jahrra was safe, he had to believe that. She would not be found by their enemy, at least not yet. He stood, stretched out his stiff joints and his great wings and waited for his scales to slowly change from the dull, dead gray of the granite crag he’d been sleeping on to his own natural colors of green, gold, bronze and turquoise. He yawned once, exposing all of his deadly teeth, and glanced around as he tried to judge the time of day.
Just after sunset, good. he thought, That gives me plenty of time to hunt before full dark. Jaax lifted his nose to the frigid breeze pouring over the mountain peaks. Mixed with the scent of fresh snow and crisp pine resin was the distinct odor of deer. The dragon smiled. It had been two weeks since he last ate and he hoped that whatever he caught tonight would be enough for another few weeks. He lumbered over to the edge of the cliff where he’d slept the day away. The drop was fearsome, over three thousand feet, but he had nothing to fear. He thrust out his great wings and leapt, allowing the biting winds to pull him away from the mountainside and towards the valley far below. Down there somewhere he would find his meal, grazing one last time before the night.
While he flew, Jaax thought about the nightmare that had been plaguing him nearly every night for the past few months. Ever since King Dhuruhn of the Creecemind dragons informed him of the suspicious activity around the border, Jaax had been haunted in his sleep. The first time he’d had the dream, he knew exactly what it had meant: the Crimson King knew about Jahrra, and he would do what it took to find her. And just like the Jahrra in his dream, the Jahrra in real life was oblivious to what was after her. Jaax shivered. He knew the time to tell her the truth was drawing near. But he feared telling her the truth, though he knew it was necessary. How would she react? Would she even believe him when he told her she was the only human being in the whole of Ethöes and that the fate of the world depended on her?
Jaax shuddered again, causing the rhythm of his wing beats to falter. He needed to stop analyzing his nightmares; it was getting him nowhere. Instead, he decided to reflect on the positive outcome of constant vigilance and hard work. For the past few months he and a handful of other dragons had been camped out in the far eastern rim of the Elornn Mountains where the southern boundary of Felldreim met with the borders of Torinn and Rhiim. The dragons had been studying the activities of the Tyrant’s troops, Ghorium soldiers, for half a year now. They’d watched them carefully, noting every movement, listening to every order, memorizing every camp schedule. After all they’d seen, Jaax and his colleagues had finally come to the conclusion that if the enemy were to enter Oescienne at all, their march would begin here, where the three provinces met.
The soldiers’ main camp was, gratefully, east of the Oribiy River, still well within the province of Rhiim. But once they crossed the Oribiy it wouldn’t be long before they continued west. Since it was located far on the outskirts of Felldreim, the southern Hrunahn Wilders contained little magic to ward off any unwelcome intruders. Once through the Wilders, the army would merely follow the southern shore of Lake Runess until they came to the Cornaith River. A week or two south along the river’s mountain valley and they would find the head waters of the Raenyan River, splitting from the Cornaith and leading directly into the heart of Oescienne.
Jaax winced at how easy it could be for them to trickle into the western province unnoticed. He only hoped that it proved as difficult as legend claimed. The valley that existed where the Elornn and Thorbet mountains met was notorious for claiming the lives of thousands of explorers and adventurers. If the Tyrant’s army followed the path Jaax imagined, then they’d find themselves in a treacherous river valley riddled with cliffs, disorienting canyons, weather that could change almost instantly, and ferocious wild animals. If this was their plan, Jaax could only hope they met with every obstacle imaginable along the way. Until they made their move, however, he was determined to delay them as long as possible.
The sudden overpowering scent of wild venison yanked Jaax’s awareness back to the present. He quickly glanced below, his eyes focused on the russet figures about fifty feet below. It would be an easy catch this time of day, for the deer were well fed and weren’t expecting an attack from above. All I need is one, Jaax thought, grateful that that would be enough. He set his sight on one of the adults and suddenly dropped from the sky.
After finishing his meal, Jaax took a few more minutes to analyze his surroundings before taking flight once again. It was dark enough now that he could leave this secluded valley in the mountains and take to the open sky. It was still a little early to meet the others, but Jaax wouldn’t mind some time alone before the night’s work began. He stretched his wings and lifted from the clearing, his full stomach protesting just a little. He soared above the tops of the Elornn Mountains, their white-capped peaks glowing eerily against the indigo sky.
Jaax passed by his campsite from the day before and kept going, looking for the final mountain on the eastern edge of the range. When he found it, he immediately located the high ledge where he would meet the others. Jaax made a rather quiet landing, his feet crunching delicately in the freezing snow. He pulled his wings tightly against his back and sat to wait, not noticing the biting ice that surrounded him. A half hour later he heard the familiar pulse of dragon’s wings.
Jaax turned his triangular head and acknowledged the other huge reptile that was now approaching, giving her a curt nod. She was a deep red color, dulled down by the evening dark. She was smaller than Jaax, but she resembled him in build and stature. Her head, angular like his, was narrower and she had fewer spikes adorning her features. Her gait was smooth and confident, and as she joined Jaax’s side, her mouth curved in a smile.
“Couldn’t sleep again?” she asked in a liquid voice.
Her light brown eyes glittered with amusement, but Jaax wasn’t paying attention.
“No Shiroxx. I slept, but not well.” Even Jaax thought his voice sounded tired.
“The nightmare again?” This time the dragon named Shiroxx sounded slightly concerned.
Jaax simply nodded. Shiroxx dropped her head and thought for a moment. “You’re not worried, are you? Do you think you should return to Oescienne, to make sure all is well?”
Before Jaax could answer, the sound of more wings intruded the quiet, stirring the frosty air of the snowy ledge. A pair of Korli dragons landed several feet away and started walking towards the two Tanaan before folding their wings. One looked to be dark gray in the pale light of the newly risen half moon. The other was a little lighter than Hroombra’s cobalt blue. Before they could say anything, Jaax spoke, “Sapheramin, Tollorias.”
The two new giant reptiles nodded at the other dragon’s greeting, then eyed Shiroxx jadedly.
“Where’s Tybys?” Tollorias, the darker, more wrinkled one, asked.
Jaax cringed. He’d forgotten about Tybys. “He had to return to his post, it was a last minute decision. It seems a few of the Tyrant’s men have decided to brave the temptation of the Dunes of Ehrann and have traveled down the Rhiimian Gorge. From the report we received earlier, they plan on following the Fuhrlas River south and then cross into Torinn. We needed him back at Telln Bahra in order to keep watch if this information proves true.”
“And you were going to inform us of this when?” Shiroxx’s voice was sharp, making plain her feelings of being left out of this decision.
“Tonight.” Jaax said, casting her a warning glance before looking back at Tollorias and Sapheramin. “Tybys received word only five hours ago, leaving as soon as he knew the details. He offered his apologies and promises to return as soon as the south is secure.”
Sapheramin and Tollorias nodded in acceptance, but Shiroxx huffed her frustration, “It was hard enough with five dragons, now we just have four . . .”
“We are plenty in number, Shiroxx. Remember, we are simply trying to spook the soldiers, not take on the entire army.” Jaax responded with his usual authority.
Shiroxx glared at him, but he simply took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It was almost like arguing with Jahrra, almost. Jaax allowed himself a minute grin at the memory. Even though arguing with Jahrra was much more exhausting than arguing with Shiroxx, it was somehow much more satisfying. He very nearly chuckled aloud when he pictured the stubborn girl refusing to let him intimidate her during their last encounter.
“And what is so amusing?” Shiroxx snapped.
“Nothing,” Jaax said, opening his eyes, “just recalling a more pleasant situation.”
“Well, I’m sure we’d all love to sit and reminisce on more pleasant times Raejaax, but we ought to get moving.” Tollorias interrupted, “It’ll take us three hours to fly to the camp and another hour to terrify those Ghorium parasites further into Rhiimian territory.”
“Alright then Tollorias, lead the way.” Jaax nodded to the larger, darker of the two Korli dragons. He then turned and gave Sapheramin a bright smile, “And how are you doing? Tollorias treating you well I hope?”
The smaller Korli dragon returned Jaax’s greeting with a brilliant grin of her own. Unlike Shiroxx, Sapheramin exuded an aura of joy. Her crystal blue eyes flashed, adding their own light to the dark night, and she easily walked next to Jaax as they made their way to the edge of the mountain shelf.
“Oh, Tollorias! He’s taking this duty much more harshly than I. He feels guilty that I’ve been removed from Nimbronia, but I’ve tried to tell him I don’t mind.”
Jaax nodded grimly and set his focus on the ground ahead of him. Sapheramin and Tollorias were important delegates in the courts of Nimbronia, two of the many consulates living in that city and serving the king. Sapheramin’s position was considered more important than Tollorias’, and although she was regarded as very valuable to the king, she’d insisted on helping out in the cause to keep the human child protected.
“And how is our young Jahrra? Did she look well since you last saw her? Is my uncle taking good care of her?” a mischievous grin flashed across Sapheramin’s young, yet wrinkled face.
Jaax answered that with a light chuckle, “Oh, well, you know Hroombramantu. He’s spoiled her rotten, I assure you.”
“That sounds about right.” She sighed contentedly and Jaax felt his spirits lift.
“But how does she look? You must describe her for I have never seen her.” Sapheramin laughed.
Jaax furrowed his brow and narrowed his mouth, trying to get a clear picture of Jahrra in his mind. “She’s tall compared to her friends, but not thin and gangly or petite like the Resai. Her eyes are blue, but not as bright as yours though, and her hair is a deep blond color. And she’s strong for a girl, something that surprised me. The last time I saw her she dislodged one of my scales.”
Shiroxx cleared her throat behind them and Jaax turned to look at her. Her eyebrows were raised and she nodded her head towards Tollorias. He’d made it to the edge of the peak and was waiting for Jaax’s command to take flight. Jaax sighed and smiled at Sapheramin. He hoped that his description of Jahrra satisfied her curiosity.
Their job tonight was simple and was the same as it had been the last hundred nights: to fly to the large camp of the Tyrant’s soldiers in the East Crein Mountains and terrorize them until they retreated further into Rhiim. So far it had been somewhat successful, but it was only a matter of time before the men realized it was only a small group of dragons and not a huge colony that was trying to drive them away. That is why they always attacked at night, so the only thing the enemy could see were the streams of multi-colored fire raining down on them.
Jaax took a deep breath and sighed. “Is everyone ready?” he asked.
The other three dragons nodded and Jaax climbed to the edge of the precipice. This one was even steeper than the cliff top he’d slept on earlier that day.
“May Ethöes grant us another successful night.” he said solemnly. The four dragons quietly mumbled an ancient blessing in their own dialect of kruelt. On Jaax’s signal they launched themselves off of the mountain, their giant reptilian bodies invisible against the black of night.
Don’t worry Jahrra, Jaax thought as they crossed over the Oribiy River, the moonlight sparking off its surface far below, I’ll stop them, I won’t let them find you.
As the miles fled by, Jaax found his thoughts returning to his nightmare once again. He felt so helpless in that world, unable to move, unable to shout out a warning to Jahrra, unable to confront the demon who attacked her. But he wouldn’t let that world become reality; he wouldn’t allow his nightmare to take form in the world of the living. He would fight, fight to the death if he had to in order to keep Jahrra safe.
With a renewed vigor, Jaax set his teeth and felt the flames building deep in his chest as the weak firelight of a large camp came into view. Someday he would defeat the Crimson King, but tonight he would simply delay him.
Growing up is never easy, but for Jahrra, seventeen years has brought its own unique share of hardships. She’s made both friends and enemies; has felt both joy and sorrow. Yet she has persevered through it all and has finally learned to know and accept who she is. Unfortunately, her trials and tribulations are only just beginning . . .
An inconceivable tragedy and the revelation of a secret kept from her since birth has turned her perfect world on its end. Jahrra isn’t the poor Nesnan she thought she was, but human, one promised by Ethöes in a prophecy from long ago. Now, without her guardian, she must accept the help of the one she mistrusts the most as they flee Oescienne before the Tyrant’s minions have a chance to close in.
With her enemies at her heels and the terrifying truth looming before her, Jahrra will seek shelter with the dragon Raejaaxorix in the faraway city of Lidien, a place of hope and enlightenment. But when the City of Light proves to entertain its own dangers, Jahrra and Jaax find their safety threatened once again. But this time the threat may be coming from those they trust the most . . .
EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK OF
THE LEGEND OF OESCIENNE - THE AWAKENING
I was born in a time when the world was still recovering from Ciarrohn’s first attack. Though I had a fair mix of elvish and even dwarfish blood in my veins, I was mostly human. There wasn’t a word for our kind yet, but years later we would be called Nesnan or Resai. We were simply called people then, like all the other races.
I was raised in the place of my birth, in the hills near Dhonoara, and although I was considered a great beauty I sought no one out as a husband. Early on I proved to be talented, set apart from the others, so I was sent away to hone my skills and work towards becoming something greater. I never saw my family again, but my classmates and school teachers helped fill that void. I spent many years training, studying and developing my skills and I grew very close to one of my tutors in particular. I even imagined a future with him, a future that seemed as bright and wondrous as any I could imagine, but fate offered me another option.
Despite my years of study and knowledge, I was still very young among my peers and my mind was easily persuaded by anything bright and charming. And I had another vice then: the desire for power. The lingering evil of Ciarrohn had tainted many of us with its poison, but I was weak and I could not push it from my veins. It would have remained nothing more than a yearning if not for one thing.
An uprising in the north of our province, the province of Ghorium, brought forth a challenger to the elvin king. He was soon defeated by the human man, young and ambitious and from a far away province in the west. The people of Ghorium were shocked at this, for Ethöes had granted the kingdom of Ghorium to the elves, but the idea of a fresh new ruler, one who had usurped the throne of the harsh monarch before him, made us all forget that the world had been shifted off balance.
Our new ruler was touring his new kingdom when he came to my secluded valley and immediately I was overcome by his presence. He was charming, he was handsome, and he had just overthrown a cruel and mighty king. To our people and many more he was a hero, for the previous sovereign of Ghorium had grown harsh and bitter, corrupted by the lingering infection of Ciarrohn.
This new monarch was also powerful and for some reason or another he was interested in me and, fool that I was, I fell for his beguiling charms. I must admit, I was overtaken by the king’s fine looks and impeccable manners and he offered me a share in his power, that tantalizing position I had yearned for all my life. So I turned my back on my tutor, the one who had trained me with patience and kindness, the one who had been by my side through laughter and sorrow. I knew he loved me and I thought I had loved him, at least before my new suitor arrived. But that desire for power had a cruel hold on me and I took the offer the human king of Ghorium extended to me. We married and I traveled to the northern reaches of the province with him to begin what I thought was going to be the perfect life. A queen, married to a man I thought to be in love with. How could anything destroy that?
A year into our marriage I learned that I was pregnant. I had never hoped for such a blessing, for I was certain that the gift of motherhood was something Ethöes denied me; a choice I had made long before meeting my king. But I must have been wrong, for I was to be a mother after all. Oh, the joy I felt in those first few months! My husband, of course, was elated and started making plans for his new son.
“But if it is a princess we are expecting . . . ?” I had said, laughing a little.
“No,” he had answered me tersely, “it will be a son and he will be the most powerful king that ever lived.”
My smile lingered but soon faded as I saw something pass over my husband’s eyes. He didn’t look quite himself, as if someone else had spoken for him. I shrugged it off, thinking it might just be his own enthusiasm getting the better of him. But as the weeks passed he became more and more alien to me, as if he had been wearing a disguise all this time and it was just now falling apart all around him.
My king was no longer charming and kind but brusque and demanding. He never spoke to me, only to the child growing inside of me, as if I meant nothing to him. At first I hid my grief, thinking this was normal for a father who was expecting a son, but it finally wore me down. I spent less time outdoors, locked away in the icy castle in the north of Ghorium, wondering why my husband’s regard was vanishing, wondering if my child would love me when he finally arrived. Wondering, dreading, if my king would hate me if it was a daughter I gave him and not a son.
In time I learned to avoid my husband when he fell into one of his rages, something that occurred more often than not. He hadn’t been this way when we first married and I feared this was some hidden part of him that he’d kept from me. I dreaded even more that perhaps the land itself had ruined him just as it had destroyed our previous monarch, the elvin king everyone seemed to have forgotten. For it was upon this very soil that Ciarrohn stirred his malice once before; before the dragon Traagien could put an end to his corruption.
If the taint of the evil god was once again taking hold in the hearts of the people of Ghorium, would I too become bitter and hateful? Would my unborn child succumb as well? I could only hope and plead with Ethöes that such was not so and use what power and talents I had to protect those I still loved.
During this time, when my husband cast me aside and my worries overwhelmed me, I thought of the man who had cared for me those many years ago. Bitter tears would well up in my eyes when I thought of him, but I dashed them away. I had forsaken that gift when I allowed my desire for power to control me. I had given up love for the chance to be queen of a great province and now I walked alone, not even my ladies in waiting and the servants paying me much heed.
The birth of my son was a miracle in of itself, for when he finally came into this world he took all that he could from me. It was a surprise that I survived it, for he was strong and I was weak. He did not cry when he greeted this world and a sliver of fear cut through my heart, but I was told he was perfectly healthy. I fell asleep, wondering if I had been lied to, not expecting to wake up again.
The days blurred together and I saw my new son seldom. The king came to me once, holding up our child and grinning broadly, a hint of wickedness in his eyes. I was worried at first but then he spoke, “Behold, my son, Cierryon. For he will be as great as the god Ciarrohn and he will one day rule the world.”
I wondered then why Ethöes hadn’t been merciful and taken my life in childbirth. I saw the truth now; my husband had been poisoned, corrupted by the goddess’s youngest son, the one who never ceased to cause pandemonium in our world. I feared for myself then, but I feared for my son even more. My husband called him Cierryon, in honor of the god who had ensorcelled him, but I had my own name for him, a name I would call him when we were together, if we were ever permitted to be together again: Kalehm.
Slowly I healed and eventually I was allowed to see my son. He was a month old when I was finally well enough to leave my chambers, and he stole my heart immediately. His hair was fair like his father’s but his eyes were dark like my mother’s. The sudden memory of my family brought tears to my eyes but I quickly hid them, for my king no longer abided tears.
The first few years of my son’s life was a hard time for me, for as my husband fell further into his obsession with the god Ciarrohn, I found myself keeping apart from him as often as possible. His temper flared at the smallest inclination and he often took his rage out on me in order to spare our son. The castle became a miserable prison, for myself and those who served us. The king doted on his child, teaching him habits I would never have dreamed of, allowing him to be violent and giving him everything he desired.
Once I imagined myself taking my child and fleeing with him, running off to some far away province where the king of Ghorium could never find us. It was a simple trip into the country that changed my mind on the matter. I took my boy, Kalehm, the name I only used when his father was not around, without informing the king of our plans. He hunted us down and I was punished for my indiscretion, all in sight of our son. It wasn’t the pain my husband inflicted on me that wounded me so, but the look on Kalehm’s face. Indifference. Seeing his mother’s harsh punishment had no effect on him whatsoever. That is when I realized that my husband never wished to spare our son when he abused me; he wished to train him to accept such violence and to be immune to its awfulness.
I could have left, yes. I could have given it all up and gone on my own. My husband would not have cared one way or the other. But I could not leave my son to his imminent destruction, so I stayed, despite the cruelty, neglect and turmoil. I tried to teach my son what I could, when his father was not around, to instill some good in him. But it seemed impossible.
I should have left that first year, but some inborn maternal instinct wouldn’t let me go. It wasn’t until my boy’s tenth year that I realized the child I had clung to and tried to save was no longer there. He had been completely transformed, turned into something spiteful and evil, and when I looked carefully I could see glimpses of Ciarrohn in his eyes. My Kalehm was no longer in control; he no longer thought or felt, his mind and soul had been completely dominated by whatever sliver remained of the evil god in this world. Traagien had done his best, but that great dragon had not destroyed Ciarrohn completely those many years ago and now the evil god had found a young, strong host, one I was certain he would never relent.
My heart broke the day I realized my son was lost and I wandered the castle halls, sobbing silently and wishing for an end to my torment. But such a blessing would not come to me because of a vow I made years before. I would suffer for my misdeeds, for choosing the desire for power over love. This was to be my fate and punishment.
I stayed in the castle for a month after my discovery but it was time for me to leave, to strike out into the world and try to forget my mistakes and my failures. I was correct in thinking my husband would not care about my whereabouts, as long as he had our son at his side. I left with only the clothes on my back. Briefly, I thought of returning to my homeland, of seeking out the man I had once admired and rejected but I knew he could no longer love me, if love me he did before I married the king. As comforting as it seemed to go back to that life I knew I could not. I had forsaken it long ago.
The wilderness became my home and I thanked the goddess for giving me a curiosity about the earth and its growing things when I was a child, for I was able to care for myself well enough by taking advantage of its bounty. I stayed close for several years, within the province of Ghorium, all to hear news of my dear Kalehm, my son. I knew he was lost to me, but a mother never forgets her children, and as the years flew by word of the young prince became more and more common. I heard tales of his cruelty and ambition, of his poor treatment of those who were less fortunate than himself. His father had already begun a new reign of terror and it only seemed to be worsening as he taught his own twisted values to his heir. I should not have sought out news of the king and the prince, for it shattered my heart anew each time. But something drove me to seek it, and I paid dearly for my curiosity.
When my son reached his twentieth year a distant king, the brother to my husband, traveled from the far province of Oescienne in the west. With him he brought his sons and allies; a massive army to defeat my husband and put an end to his reign of terror. We rallied behind him, myself and the common folk of Ghorium. Only, our king and his son had been planning, building up their own armies and breeding dragons capable of destroying whole villages.
Though the king of Oescienne had dragons to fight by his side as well, they were defeated and slaughtered. It was amid all this horror that I realized my Kalehm had wielded a power no man, elf or dwarf could ever control. Ciarrohn had grown strong within him and had helped him obliterate his enemies.
My husband, the king, died in the great battle as well, but all evidence proved that he had been murdered by his own son, the new king of Ghorium. I did not think my punishment could get any worse. I did not grieve my husband, for he had been a stranger to me for so long. What I mourned was that final thread of hope to save my son snapping when he killed his father and all those who opposed him.
The days and months flew by after the defeat of the king of Oescienne, and my child grew in power, his soul no longer present. He became known as the Crimson King, or the Great Tyrant, because that is what he had become. He took the symbol of the blood rose, our benevolent goddess’s emblem, and adopted it, claiming it to be his own. When the blood of his enemies had spilled upon the great plain below our province, where he had fought his uncle from the west, the roses had grown and he had taken this as a sign. But we, the people of Ethöes, would always know. We would always keep the blood rose sacred, for it was first and foremost the gift from our goddess and not the symbol of violence and death that the Tyrant King had claimed it to be.
After that first war I decided to go into hiding again, living off of the forest in the east and wondering if my son even remembered me. I visited villages seldom, only to prove that there were still people in the world and to pick up a few supplies I could not gather from the forest. My son continued to grow in power, threatening to make war upon the neighboring provinces.
There was a rumor circulating as well, one that turned my blood colder than the day I learned who had overtaken my child. A rumor so horrifying that my dreams became saturated with it. It was whispered among the people of Ghorium that their tyrant king had plans to destroy what remained of the human race, the Tanaan from the west, those who had so readily allowed their sovereign and his seven sons to leave their kingdom and come to die in Ghorium. Ciarrohn was ready to take the next step in eradicating the bond Ethöes had struck between the peoples of her world and their land. He would put an end to the human race once and for all, and leave Oescienne free for his taking. Never mind that it was on the other side of the world, for the humans were weak and they would be easiest to defeat.
I waited in agony as the weeks passed and the rumors became more frequent. The very air was vibrating with the essence of doom and many reports from the castle to the far north only confirmed my fears. My son was creating more of his battle dragons. He was planning a campaign to the west.
We would never see the Crimson King march with his great armies, however, for one month before he was to leave on his great conquering mission, a small band of warriors arrived in Ghorium, led by a young, vibrant man full of passion and vengeance. I later learned that this young man was the eighth son of the king of Oescienne and he had spent the past several years planning a mission of revenge. The poor young fool. But I understood his pain; his need for vengeance. I could only imagine that the love between a son and his father was just as strong, if not stronger, than the love between a mother and a son. Though I yearned for him to return to his homeland where he might be safe for a little bit longer, I could not blame him for what he had chosen to do.
I remember the day the Tanaan fell as if it happened only yesterday. I had left my forest retreat behind and had joined the masses of people who had marched across the plains of Ghorium to witness what they hoped would be the end of my son’s reign. I longed for an end to this tyranny; for an end to the slavery my child was enduring under the control of Ciarrohn, but at the same time I anguished at the thought of his demise. I prayed for the release of his soul while at the same time I longed he would be forgiven. Yet, deep down in the depths of my heart I feared, I knew, that this battle would end in tragedy for all.
I remember it well. The trees were gilded in flame and gold and the autumn air held a chill that always seemed to linger in the province of Ghorium, no matter the time of year. We huddled together, the peasants and common folk, alongside those who had once owned grand houses and titles. We gathered along the edge of the plain like rats awaiting their turn at a carcass freshly caught by wolves. Silence was our cloak, and fear was the shoes we wore. The Tanaan prince led his soldiers and even from our great distance, I could tell that he was propelled by pure fury and purpose. He resembled my husband in his looks and his father who had come and died before him. But he also reminded me of my son, or of who my son could have been had he not been corrupted by the god.
He sat proudly upon his horse, commanding his great army of men and dragons. From looks alone I would have said he had a great chance of defeating my Kalehm, but the Korli dragons did not stand a chance against the army of Morlis, their size and pure brutality no match for the more peaceful kruel of their brethren. As the day turned from dawn, to noon, to dusk, we watched and listened in horror as the great battle dragons burned entire legions and tore to pieces the Korlis charged to aid the Tanaan race of humans. Slowly, those around me crept back towards the forests, their numb terror nearly keeping them from their escape.
I could not leave. I stood there, watching as my child destroyed an entire army of men, dragons and elves. I witnessed the carnage, tasted the metallic tint of blood in the air and smelled the acrid scent of burning flesh on the wind. I forced myself to observe the tragedy, for it was my sentence. Someone had to witness what occurred here; someone had to write it down, to remember it. I was the most appropriate candidate. After all, it was I who had brought this about. Had I not been selfish, had I not fallen for the king’s charms, had I been braver and taken my son and fled, then this would never have happened.
The air was rife with emotion; pain, anger, sheer terror. By sundown I was sure everyone was dead, for the carrion crows were circling and the Morli were backing down, retreating to the north. But I was wrong. As the sun dipped behind the distant mountains, a piercing flash of light rent the air. Blinded, I blinked and sucked in a deep breath. When I regained my sight, I fell to my knees and felt the blood drain from my body. My senses were so numb that, for several moments, I could only feel the pebbles beneath my knees and dirt gathering beneath my fingernails. It felt as if I had fallen into the sea while in a deep sleep and I was struggling to reach the surface.
When my hearing returned to me I gazed off into the distance. There were more dragons than I had seen before, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of them, but they were not Morli, nor were they Korli. They resembled Traagien, that great savior from so long ago. I felt my consciousness slipping away, but all I could hear was screaming, a screaming like no other sound I had ever heard before. It was the sound of a soul being torn from a body, the sound of a mother holding the broken body of her child. I could not bear it. I curled into a ball and rocked myself back and forth, trying desperately to cleanse my ears of that horrible sound. But it was no use, the wails and shrieks of pure hopelessness tore down my barriers, and I fell . . .
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Thenya slowly approached the towering dragon and pulled back a violet-blue cloth revealing a tiny face, two bright blue eyes and quite a lot of golden-blond hair. Jaax’s heart caught in his throat: blue eyes.
“When was this child found exactly?” he asked, perhaps a little too harshly.
“A few days after the Solsticetide, about a week ago.” Aydehn’s response from beside him was both startled and automatic.
“And you’re positive she was newborn the day you found her?”
Jaax was finding it hard to wait for his friend’s answers. His mind was beginning to hum, mingling with the buzzing of the curious voices of the onlookers.
“Oh yes, absolutely sure, only a few hours or so.”
Jaax’s head was no longer humming but spinning. Blue eyes!
“Your children Aydehn, they’re born with eyes white except the pupils, is this not true?” he continued in that rough voice.
“Why of course, any race containing elf blood or dwarf blood is born with white eyes and then the color comes in later. In fact, the only known race to be born with blue eyes is . . .”
“Human.” Jaax cut him off. “And not just part human, full-blooded human. A pure-blooded human, unbelievable! Impossible!”
His voice was now a hiss, almost inaudible over the growing clamor of the shifting and murmuring throng. Jaax was astounded. He knew he’d hoped for this, for centuries he had, but he’d never expected this day to come after so many long years of disappointment. How could a human, a race that’s been extinct for five hundred years, end up inside an oak tree in a tiny village in northern Oescienne? Could the Oracles, then, be telling the truth? Had Ethöes not forsaken them after all? Jaax took in a deep breath and released it on a long, heated sigh.
“Well Aydehn, I’ll definitely be taking this child off your hands.” His words carried over the crowd, suddenly hushed by the return of the dragon’s strong voice. “Don’t worry, she’ll be well protected.” he added after seeing Thenya’s tearful eyes, “I’ll take her to the Korli dragon Hroombramantu in Oescienne. She’ll be well secluded and protected there, so Ethöes willing, the Crimson King will never find her.”
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