Authors: Anne Leonard
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Elisabeth Anne Leonard
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Leonard, Anne, 1968–
Moth and spark : a novel / Anne Leonard.
1. Fantasy fiction. I. Title.
Map by Rachel S. Smith
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental
At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
—W. B. Yeats, “Byzantium”
The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for
approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike
Pride and Prejudice
Riding, riding, he had been riding when the dragon appeared overhead and came slowly, inevitably, down. It was a cloudy day and he was in the Fells. The air still had plenty of winter in it here, high up. There were two men with him from the garrison. There had been no purpose to the ride besides itself; he had been sick of the dirt and smells and noise and press of soldiers in the hold and needed to clear his head with exercise and open air. Then the dragon’s cry, sharp and compelling as a hunting hawk’s, but longer, fiercer, more dreadful. He had heard it a hundred times and it still made the hair on the back of his neck rise and his skin prickle. He was prey, and his body knew it.
The horses knew it too and reared and neighed in terror. Corin was nearly thrown, and one of the soldiers was. The dragon descended. It folded its shimmering blue wings with a rush of hot air that smelled like sulfur. Long ivory claws gouged the earth. It was huge, its snout at least the length of a tall man’s arm. Silver scales on its sides glistened even under the grey sky. It crouched, tail switching back and forth, nostrils steaming.
By the time Corin had his own horse under control, the second soldier was kneeling beside the first, whose leg was clearly broken. One horse had not gone far, but the other one was out of sight. “Go back for help,” Corin said. “There’s nothing you can do about a dragon.” He did not even touch the hilt of his sword. It was useless.
The dragonrider came off the dragon in a smooth and graceful slide. Corin’s horse trembled and sweated but did not move. He would stay mounted as long as he could. When he glanced over his shoulder he saw that the soldier was obeying him and returning.
The dragonrider had dark skin and black hair, and when he spoke it was a different accent from the Mycenean Corin was used to. “Lord Prince.” The tone was hard, mocking.
“Rider.” He felt the dragon looking at him, and he was careful to keep his eyes on the man and not the beast. One who stared too long into a dragon’s eyes would go mad.
“I have for you a message.”
“The Firekeepers have chosen you to free them from their slavery. Already you walk in Hadon’s dreams. He fears you, so he will bring down war. He makes alliances with your enemies and turns your friends against you. This is your task, this and no other: to free the Firekeepers from the Empire. They will lend you their power, so that you will be as them though still a man, until you have done this. They will do what magic they can for you.
Corin’s legs moved of their own accord. He walked stiffly toward the rider. The rider held out a small golden flask.
Faster than anyone could move, the dragonrider had hold of him and forced the liquid down his throat. It was sweet and thin and it burned. He struggled, but it was no good. One swallow, two swallows, three. His mouth had the taste of iron.
The dragonrider stepped back. Corin staggered. He felt feverish.
The rider said, “You will forget this until the change is complete. When you remember it, then it will be time for you to begin your labor. The Firekeepers will watch, do not shirk it.”
Darkness closed in on him, and when it lifted he remembered nothing of the dragon or the rider. He was sitting on the stony track beside the man with a broken leg, waiting, while his horse nuzzled among the rocks to see what thin new grass it could find.
The canyon walls were black. Sharp glasslike chips of stone and rough dark cinders lay on the ground. When she looked up the towering walls to the top, all she could see was the deep blue of sky. No trees, no grasses, nothing but stone and sky.
She walked. The ground was ashy. She heard the wind.
Then she walked among men, and they did not see her, and she knew
she was a shade, a phantom. There were dozens of them, dark-haired, strong. Soldiers, she thought. They had rigged ropes down the sheer cliffs, with harnesses. More and more came down slowly, like spiders dropping in jerks and starts. They had baskets with them, baskets lined with firecloth and coals. The dragons’ bodies were stiff and dark. Men walked heedlessly by them, as though they were nothing more than rock, and gathered the eggs.
Smooth round eggs with a mother-of-pearl sheen. The eggs reflected the black walls. The men carried them gently.
She came to the end of the canyon. A tall crack in the rock breathed icy air at her. She slipped through, untroubled by sharp edges. She could see in the dark. Inside was a large cavern, with a long crevice running across the center. Cold air rose from it, steaming and curling like smoke. Beside the crevice lay the body of a man.
She knelt beside him while the cold air coiled around them. His skin was the waxy white of death. His lips and fingernails were blue. There was no mark on him. With a gentle touch she opened his eyes and saw that they were as black and hard as the canyon walls. She placed her hand upon his cheek and wished him peace.
Featherlike, she drifted down the crevice. It was a long way. Ice crystals clung to the walls. The air grew colder and clearer. The stone was the pocked and circled roughness of lava gone cold. At the bottom another body lay. This one had been burned. It disintegrated into ash at her touch.
There were ashes everywhere. Many dead, she realized. There had been a conflagration. And then it had gone out.
The seeing twisted, and she spun further and further back.
The crevice glowed with heat. Flames shot up as though from a furnace. On the roof of the cavern was the shadow of a dragon. It writhed in pain. It screamed, and fire jetted to the cavern roof in a white-blue glow. A man with eyes that flashed silver stood on the edge of the crevice and drew the fire to him. He breathed it in. His skin shimmered. He became a puff of ashes that fell softly down.
And another man came, and another, eyes flashing silver, then turning to stone. They breathed in the flame and became ash, and the fire faded. The dragon’s shadow dimmed. Its writhing slowed.
One more spin, and she stood in the canyon. The sky was a blackness that breathed fire and had wings of smoke. It was made of coal. Red
sparks showered from its body. Its claws had the shiny brightness of fresh blood.
It reached down and ripped her open.
She faded into darkness.
Which became the darkness of sleep and waking in her own soft bed, and there was grey at the window. She heard dawn birds and kitchen noises and the rattle of a wagon along the street. By the time she had washed and dressed, the dream had so vanished from her mind that she did not even remember she had dreamed. She had not a single thought of dragons.