Authors: Jordan Baker
A Dragon Born
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and events contained herein are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Other than historical characters, any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright 2013 by Electrum Press and the Author.
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Nook Edition: May 2013
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Stavros walked through the whipping wind, his figure wavering and obscured by the sand that whirled through the air around him. The circles of Forsina were empty, the inhabitants of the town sheltering indoors, away from the violence of the storm. The mage felt the change in the air, in the very fabric of existence, as power flooded over the land like a flood of water, moving fast upon the earth. For those with the gift of magic, it was like a deafening sound, fearsome and terrible, with energy that washed over everything like a wave, while those without the gift felt only its physical effects, which were terrible enough. Fierce winds scoured the earth and black clouds filled the horizon as Stavros bent down and touched the stone circle embedded in the sand beneath his feet.
He had come here, following the faintest trace of magic, or more precisely the absence of magic. The few people he had found taking refuge in the taverns of Forsina, where drink remained available, told him of someone who might be the one he sought. A young man named Antal had recently fought in the circles and won, a fighter who was evenly matched with one of the favored Ansari champions. The match had caused quite a stir and the people were able to describe the young man with fair accuracy. Stavros walked over to the stone at the center of the circles and touched his hand to its rough surface. The names that had been scratched upon the stone were faded to little more than smudges, the sand of the storm threatening to erase them completely, but with a gentle nudge of his power, Stavros returned them to what they were only days ago. He found the name of the fighter that the people of Forsina had spoken about and he smiled when he saw what was written next to it. Ashford. He was getting closer.
The storm was growing worse and the mage thought about wrapping his power around himself to keep the sand from biting at him, but Stavros sensed a few others in the town who were magically gifted, who might sense him if he called forth his power too abruptly. Thankfully he kept his power obscured and, so as long as he did not use it carelessly, other mages would take little notice of him. The art of obscuration had always been one of his particular talents. There were other mages who were more powerful that he, but few knew the subtle flows of power as well as he did. It was how he was able to sense the one he was tracking, for Stavros knew the young man was hidden by a powerful ward, and he knew that by searching for something that was not there, the traces of absence that only he knew to look for, he could see what was. His search had been confounded further by the discovery of many things that were not. It appeared that there were others, things and possibly people, who were hidden in the desert. Forsina, it seemed, was a place with many secrets, and while he desired to look into those curiosities, further investigations would have to wait until after he had found his quarry.
The wind rose higher, the sand almost unbearable, choking the air, and Stavros pulled the cowl of his robe over his mouth so he could breathe more easily. One of the merchants had told him that the fighter, Antal of Ashford, was traveling on a small ship headed downriver toward the coast. In exchange for a few coins, the merchant had furnished him with the name of the captain, a man who was rumored to be a pirate. There were only a few destinations in that direction and Stavros hoped he would finally catch up to the young man who had eluded him, for their meeting was long overdue. He knew the ship would likely stop at the small port town where the river spilled into the sea, but it they would tarry long, for there was nought there but traders and thieves. He had visited the place once, long ago and, while he was reticent about using his power so near to others who had the gift, he had already lost the trail too many times, and time was running out. He thought of the port, the docks, the water, and, picturing it in his mind, he slowly gathered his power to him, using only the barest amount needed and focusing his energy on where he wanted to be.
Stavros was just about to release the magic that would take him to his destination when a wave of power rushed toward him, breaking his concentration and dispelling the energy he had so carefully gathered, and the physical force of it knocked him to the ground. He pushed himself up from the dirt, pulled his cowl back over his face and looked to the northeast whence the wave had come, in the direction of the Maramyrian capital, and he knew something had changed in the world. He was certain now that the mage priests had done something that affected the entire world. It was too much to hope that they would have failed, but whatever they had done, for a brief moment, the power they had released also allowed him to tell where the young man was headed. No longer caring who heard him, Stavros seized his power and, with a loud crack that shook the earth, he disappeared from the empty circles of Forsina.
Waves rose and crashed over the stones of the sea break that jutted out from the far point of the harbor and the roiling waters pulled at the ships moored at the docks of Meertown. Under the blackening skies, the men and women who made their lives on the sea, hurried about their tasks, dropping tightly bundled bales of grass over the sides of their ships and secured them against the rise and fall of the turbulent seas. The dark clouds thundered overhead and crackled with light then the rain began to fall. All at once it came, pouring down upon the already wet wood of the ships and the waterfront, making the work that much harder for the people of the sea.
Someone shouted from atop one of the few taller ships still at harbor and sailors began to clamber down from riggings. In the distance, a mighty wave rose up from the sea, towering above the others. The word spread quickly and the sailors ran from the docks, moving to the higher ground of the town. They heard the creaking moan of the heavy wooden ships straining at their moorings from the drastic rise and fall of the waters. They watched in fear as the wave rolled toward the island. They lamented their bad luck, being at harbor in such a storm that had risen without warning, and they knew their ships were doomed.
Above them, on a nearby street, the rickety wooden door of a tavern flew open and a disheveled man with long, sand colored hair and a beard that were both streaked with grey stumbled outside into the pouring rain. He glanced at the sky then took a swig from the round, glass bottle in his hand and walked down the cobbled street toward the waterfront, pushing his way through the people who had gathered in despair, watching the storm and the giant wave that had almost reached the harbor. The man stopped and stared at the wave for a moment then he took another drink from the bottle he carried and raised his other hand toward the sea.
The people of the town felt their ears tighten as the pressure of the air around them abruptly changed and they heard a rushing sound that was followed by a low rumble, like the beat of a drum, only louder and deeper than any drum could make. From the northeast, a giant wave stepped over the island's sea break as though it were not even there and as the water dropped before it, it appeared to rise even higher, towering over the harbor and the sailing ships, sure to dash them to pieces. The man spread out his hand and the muscles in his fingers tensed. The rumbling sound became almost unbearably loud but the giant wave stopped in place, poised over the town, somehow frozen yet still liquid and the man grunted and his upper lip twitched as the cobbles beneath his feet cracked. The people who stood nearest him turned to stare at him in wonderment as he took a deep breath then, with another grunt he pushed with his hand and, in the same motion, the wave crashed back out to sea with a thunderous sound.
The oceans frothed and churned and the people in the streets above the harbor cheered that their ships had been saved. Those who had seen what the man had done and felt some measure of the power around him were speechless when he simply shrugged, took another drink from his bottle then turned and walked away, leaving two marks in the broken stones of the street where he had been standing. The man pulled open the wooden door of the tavern, paused for a moment and stared at the sea with a frown then he glanced briefly at one particular man on the street. He was a large fellow with a barrel chest and a stiff, black beard that jutted out from his chin, and he stood stared back at him, saying nothing. With an expression that wavered somewhere between melancholy, tired and drunk, the man at the tavern door took another swig from his bottle then, with a shrug, he went back inside, letting the door clatter shut behind him.
The man with the black beard shook his head and headed down to toward the docks, following the other sailors, who were returning to their ships to see what damage the storm might have wrought. As the leader, the ruler of Meer Island, Lanos-Meer was grateful to the man who had saved the harbor and the ships that had been trapped within it by the storm. Many people who might also have been killed or injured had the storm wave not been stopped. He was grateful, but it irritated him, for the two men did not like one another, and it chafed at Lanos to think that he might now be indebted to him. No doubt, he would hear about it some day when they came to loggerheads over some issue.
The storm retreated as quickly as it had come, leaving only heavy rainfall in its wake as the dark clouds emptied themselves. The seas had calmed Lanos arrived at the docks to find a small ship sailing into the harbor. It was a ship he recognized and not only was he surprised to see it at Meer Island, but he was amazed that it would have survived the storm, though he knew the man who sailed it and, if anyone could ride out a storm, it was Malek. Lanos walked out on the quay as the small ship bumped roughly against it. As was the custom, sailors who happened to be nearby lent a hand, catching lines and securing them as Malek and his one crewmember tossed them from the ship's rail. When Lanos saw the face of the person who was traveling with Malek, his already irritable mood darkened further.
"It would figure you'd bring bad weather and worse company, Malek," Lanos called.
"Lanos," Malek greeted him as he slid the gangplank down from the side of his ship to the dock. "Mark this day as one of the very few times in my long life I am glad to be ashore. There was nothing natural about that storm."
"The last swell nearly wrecked every ship in the harbor," Lanos told him. "We count ourselves as lucky as you."
Malek looked around at the other ships, none of which seemed particularly worse for wear.
"Looks like you had the luck of the Lady, hereabouts," he commented as he walked down and grasped his friend's hand.
"Something akin to it," Lanos replied then glanced up at the woman who was still aboard. "I see you've a passenger."
"I have two passengers," Malek told him, "and I'll be glad to be rid of them both."
"That might prove easier said than done. She isn't welcome here. It could bring trouble for you if folks know you brought her."
"She paid her fare," Malek said, his eyes staring hard at the other man. "As for the rest, that's your business, not mine."
"We will see about that," Lanos muttered. "What of the other? You said there were two aboard."
"Aye, there's a young man, a sword fighter, traveling with her. Good with a blade too, which he proved at Forsina. Could make a fine addition to a crew, but he's taken ill."
"We don't need sick men at sea. We need strong arms and stout hearts." Lanos folded his heavily muscled arms.
"That I know," Malek agreed. "I'm just telling you what is. What will be is for the gods to know."
Finished tying off the last of the mooring lines, Carly walked down the gangplank to where Malek and Lanos were standing.
"Lanos-Meer," she said. "I see you've kept good care of my island."
"Your island?" Lanos scoffed. "You haven't lost one bit of nerve these last years."
"I might have gained some," Carly said. "Are you going to greet me proper or just stand there scowling?"
Lanos let out a deep breath, unfolded his arms and reached out a hand to the woman who too it with her own firm grip. Lanos had forgotten how strong Carly was, underneath her delicate appearance and he could swear she had not aged a day over the years since she had left Meer Island.
"That wasn't so hard," she said.
"What are you doing here? You were banished."
"Until I paid," she said. "I paid. It's done. My debts are cleared and none have rights over me."
"We'll see what the Council says about it."
"Will there be a meeting?" Carly asked. "I would welcome it, if it's to happen. By my reckoning, I should have enough on account for a ship, at least a small one." She glanced at Malek, who did not appreciate the implication.
"Your business is none of my concern," he told her. "You want a ship, you can get your own. Our business is done."
"Almost. You'll help me get Aaron up to the inn. Offloading cargo is part of any shipment."
"Aye, then you're buying me a bottle of sweetwater," he told her.
"I'll do you one better. I'll get you a room and a bath, though I'd recommend the bath first, lest you give the bed fleas"
"This passenger of yours," Lanos said. "He's not ill with a plague or something catching, is he?"
"No," Malek said. "I believe he's got something of a mage about him. Took ill when the storm rolled in and was struck by lightning. It was a damned unnatural thing to see, and should have killed him, but he yet lives."
"See that you keep the peace on the island," Lanos told them both.