Fledgling (The Dragonrider Chronicles)

BOOK: Fledgling (The Dragonrider Chronicles)
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub







to Sonia of
Studios, South Africa, on the winning entry of the pre-release coloring


the full color version on the back of the book, and more of Sonia’s beautiful
artwork on this webpage:






Text copyright 2013 Ashley Nicole Conway


First Edition



To Keith, who first
taught me how to






I had never seen my father before my twelfth
birthday. Not even once. Up until then, my mother had raised me all by herself in
the royal city of
. We lived like all the other
gray elves in Maldobar—separated from the rest of society in the heavily
guarded wartime ghettos. We had to follow a strict set of rules about where we
could go, what we could do, when we got food, and what we could own. If you
broke any of the rules, it was an immediate sentence to the prison camps, which
I always heard was a fate worse than death. We were supposed to be grateful.
After all, we were war refugees. Maldobar didn’t have to take us in, much less
provide us somewhere to live. This was their act of charity towards us.

Our house was not much more than a
tiny shack made of old recycled wood, and it only had one room. You’d expect a
place like that to smell terrible, but my mother was a genius when it came to
making anywhere feel like home. She could grow absolutely anything, and that
was how she made our living. She grew vegetables, flowers, tiny fruit trees,
and strange vines that climbed all over the walls and windows. It made the
inside of our house feel like a jungle, and it smelled earthy like fresh soil
and the fragrance of flowers. We couldn’t legally sell anything she grew since
gray elves weren’t allowed to have any money, but we could still trade. So
early in the mornings, my mother packed a sack full of peppers, fruit,
vegetables, and anything else ready for harvest, and sent me out to the shops
to trade for things we needed.

It was a lot harder than it sounds.
Not the trading itself, that part was easy, but I had to be very sneaky about
it. I was always on the watch for guards, or humans. Gray elf children were
rare, even in the ghettos. Any elf living in the kingdom of Maldobar as a
refugee was absolutely not allowed to have children. It was forbidden. Having
children was a great way to get thrown into a prison camp, or worse.

But I didn’t just have to worry about
that. It was bad enough to be a gray elf kid, hiding until you were old enough
to be overlooked. But I was a halfbreed. My father was a human from Maldobar.
So instead of looking at me with anger, everyone looked at me like I was a cockroach.
The humans didn’t like me touching their stuff because I was mixed with the
filthy, wild blood of a gray elf. If they hadn’t liked my mother’s produce so
much, they probably would have turned me in to the guards. The gray elves
didn’t like me, either. But there was a very strict code amongst them: you
didn’t betray your own kind no matter what. So they ignored me rather than
ratting me out to the city guards.

I really didn’t fit anywhere, except
with my mother. She loved me unconditionally. She was the most beautiful person
in the world. Her hair was long and silvery white, and her eyes were like
stars. All gray elves had eyes like that. When she smiled at me, her eyes would
shine like gemstones in the light, as white and pale as diamonds with faint
flecks of blue, yellow, and green in them.

When she died, I had just turned
twelve. I got the feeling right away that no one really knew what to do with
me. I didn’t fit into anyone’s plans. If I were a pure blooded elf, they would
have taken me straight to a prison camp. If I were a human, someone would have
adopted me. I wasn’t either, and yet I was both at the same time. I think the
guards were just baffled that my mother had done such a good job of hiding me
for so long, or that she’d somehow managed to have an affair with a human man.

Ulric Broadfeather was the only one
who would take me in, and I’m pretty sure he only did it because my mother had
left a letter behind naming him as my biological father. If it weren’t for the
public shame of disowning a child, he probably would have just let me go to a
prison camp anyway.

From the very beginning, my father was
the most frightening man I had ever known. He was hugely tall, like a knight,
and stronger than anyone else I had ever seen. Once, I saw him pick up pull
family wagon while it was loaded with bags of grain all by
He could have crushed my neck with one hand if he wanted to. His hair was
jet-black like mine, except it was cut short. My mom always insisted I wear my
hair long, like gray elves traditionally did. I also had his cold blue eyes
that were the same color as glacier water. There definitely wasn’t any doubt he
was my father. I looked too much like him for anyone to deny it.

I wish I could say that he welcomed me
with open arms into his home; eager to make up for lost time he hadn’t gotten
to spend with me. But he already had a family, living on the outskirts of a
small city called Mithangol, and he wasn’t interested in adding me to it. I was
an unwanted guest right away.

He had a human wife named
who made it perfectly clear she didn’t want me in her
house at all.
absolutely hated me. She glared
whenever she looked at me, accused me of being responsible for anything that
went wrong, and refused to let me sleep in her house because I gave her a “bad

So I slept on a cot in the
instead. As bad as it sounds, I actually preferred it. It was quiet there, and
even though it was cold in the winter, I liked the smell of the old hay and the
leather that was stored up there.

Ulric also had another son, Roland,
who was four years older than me. Roland chose to ignore my existence
completely. I got the feeling that he was in survival mode, trying to be as
aloof and uninvolved with the family as he possibly could until he was old
enough to move out. I couldn’t really blame him for that. Like me, he favored
our father. He was really tall, muscular, and had the same ice-blue eyes that
looked like they belonged to a powerful bird of prey. I was a little afraid of
him, even though he never said more than two words to me at a time. I could
sense a lot of anger coming from him, and I was always paranoid I’d be standing
too close when he finally snapped.

Ulric had two more children, a pair of
twin daughters named
and Lin. They were six
years younger than me, but they were meaner than a pair of hungry jackals.
Every day, they tried to get me in as much trouble as possible. Of course,
believed every word they said. They would break
things, let the chickens and goats out, or steal jewelry from their mother’s
room, and blame it all on me. Once,
of the sewing scissors and chopped up Lin’s hair.
found out,
blamed it all on me and told her I had done it.
believed it, and I got a beating from Ulric as soon as he came in the house.
Inventing new ways to get me into trouble was their favorite pastime, and there
was nothing I could do about it. They were sneaky and smart, a lot smarter than
me I guess, because they never got caught.

The only good thing about living with
my father was watching him work. Ulric was a tackmaster—he made saddles
for the dragonriders from Blybrig Academy. But he didn’t just make saddles; he
made the very best saddles in Maldobar. I watched him through the slats and
gaps in the floor of the
, shaping leather
and stitching intricate pieces together. He did it all by hand, and it took him
several weeks to craft one saddle. But when it was finished, each one was the
most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It made me envy him, even if he probably
wished I had never been born.

That’s why I almost keeled over when
Ulric growled my name, calling me down from my room into his shop. He’d been
working for two weeks solid on a new saddle, one more beautiful than ever, and
it was finally finished.

“Wrap it up,” he barked at me in his
gruff, gravely tone, and threw a few old quilts at me.

I was stunned. Ulric had never asked
me to do anything before, especially nothing to do with his work. This was my
chance, I thought. If I could be useful, maybe he wouldn’t hate me so much. He
might even teach me to make saddles someday.

Ulric left me alone in his shop, and I
walked over to the saddle that was set up on one of the big sawhorses. I ran my
fingers over the freshly oiled leather. It was as red as blood, engraved with
intricate designs and images of mountains and vines. All the buckles were made
of silver-plated iron. I couldn’t even imagine what it would look like when the
dragon it had been made for would finally put it on. A powerful beast, bound
for the skies with a snarl and a flash of fire. It made my skin prickle, and
every hair stand on end.

I was small for my age. I’d always
been small, unfortunately.
stature apparently
hadn’t been passed on to me. To make matters worse, I was so skinny that I
pretty much looked like a scarecrow.
and Lin
like to call me “stick boy” because they knew it bothered me. If I were as big
as Roland, no one would have tried to push me around.

It took all my strength to wrap the
saddle up in the quilts so it wouldn’t get scratched or damaged, and then lug
it outside. The weight of it made my arms and lungs ache. I could feel myself
wobble dangerously if I leaned too far in any direction. I didn’t want to
imagine what Ulric would do to me if I dropped this saddle.

The knights who rode on dragons just
about never came to pick up their saddles personally. Most of them came from
rich, powerful noble families, and had plenty of servants to do those kinds of
errands for them. So when I saw Ulric standing outside talking to a man in
formal battle armor with a sweeping cape of royal blue brushing at his heels, I
stopped dead in my tracks. The saddle weighed more than I did, and I almost
dropped it in surprise.

It was a muggy, overcast day. The
clouds were so low and thick you couldn’t see the mountains that hunched over
our small city. Even so, the knight’s armor still managed to gleam like liquid
silver. He had his helmet under one arm, the white-feathered crest on it tipped
in black, and the king’s eagle engraved upon his breastplate.

They both turned to look at me as I
stood there, my arms shaking under the weight of the saddle, staring at the
dragonrider. Ulric scowled darkly, and stomped over to take it from me. He slung
it over his shoulder like it weighed nothing at all, growling curses under his
breath at me as he went to tie it down to the knight’s horse.

The knight, however, was still staring
right at me. He gave me a strange look, narrowing his eyes some and tilting his
head to the side slightly like he was sizing me up. It made me blush from head
to toe, the tips of my pointed ears burning like torches under my long hair.
This was a warrior who had probably fought against gray elves for years, and I
knew what I looked like.

He curled a finger at me, calling me
toward him. It made me cringe as I obeyed. I hedged toward him, my shoulders
hunched up because I half-expected him to hit me just out of pure resentment
for what I was. But he didn’t.

When I got close enough, he grabbed my
chin in one of his gloved hands, cranking my head around so I had to look up at
him. I was shaking all over, wondering if this was it for me. Maybe he’d crush
my head like a grape in his hand. Or maybe he’d throttle me to death. Either way,
I was pretty sure Ulric wouldn’t go out of his way to save me. He might have
even thanked the knight afterwards for saving him the trouble.

“What’s your name, boy?” The knight
asked me. His voice was deep, but not angry or resentful. He was turning my
head this way and that, pulling back my hair to see my pointed ears, and
looking me over like he was inspecting livestock.

“J-Jaevid.” I told him through
clattering teeth.

He frowned, looking back into my eyes
before he finally let me go. His own eyes seemed dead to me. Dead—like
someone who had seen many years in battle and knew what it meant to kill
without mercy.

“How old are you?” he asked again.

“Fifteen, sir.” I took a few steps
back away from him. If he came after me suddenly, at least I had some hope of
outrunning him. I was small, but I was fast.

Ulric was finished tying the saddle
down, and came over with a growl meant to shoo me away. I took the hint and
retreated back into the workshop, up to my
where I had a wooden cot piled with old, holey quilts. I went to the small
window along the far wall. It was a good place peek at them through the cracks
in the boards that had been nailed over it. I could hear them talking, and it
made my heart jump into my throat.

“You didn’t tell me you had a
halfbreed son,” the knight chuckled, like it was a bad joke. “Looks just like a
half-starved, miniature version of you, except for the ears.”

Ulric just shook his head and kept
growling rumbling words, glaring at the ground. “
wants him gone.” I heard him say.

“Can’t blame her for that.” The knight
seemed to sympathize. “You thinking of taking him on as an apprentice?”

Ulric just snorted like it was a
ridiculous idea.

“Ah, my mistake then. I figured since
your older boy had chosen to join the infantry you’d pass your skill set onto
someone else in your family. I doubt your girls would be interested.” The
knight rambled on, beginning to stroll back to where his horse was waiting. The
new saddle was bundled up and ready for transport. “A shame he’s such a small,
sickly-looking thing.”

BOOK: Fledgling (The Dragonrider Chronicles)
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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