Frank Blackthorne's most recent heist did not end optimally. The sacrificial virgin survived, but the whole incident left Frank, a respectable career thief, on the run from a kingdom full of evil cultists eager to replace their sacrifice.
So, when the Court Wizard of Lendowyn, Elhared the Unwise, comes to him intending to hire someone to save Lendowyn’s princess from an evil dragon in return for riches, glory, and help with the bloodthirsty cultists problem, Frank is rightfully suspicious. Frank is also not in a position to refuse.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Frank’s rescue fails—in an explosion of spectacularly misapplied magic. When the dust settles, all parties involved find themselves body-swapped. Frank is left stranded in the Princess Lucille’s body, halfway across the kingdom. The understandably angry Princess Lucille finds herself inhabiting the body of the dragon. In order to set things right, they will have to team up and face down thugs, slavers, elvish bookies, knights in shining armor, an evil Queen, and the hordes of the Dark Lord Nâtalc.
|Product dimensions:||6.70(w) x 4.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My name is Frank Blackthorne, and I’m going to tell you a story.
While it is customary to delegate such duties to historians, scribes, poets, minstrels, and such, there are two primary reasons I’m taking on this duty myself. First, I’m not a person of historical note. My deeds have not been particularly heroic, and, generally speaking, epic ballads are not composed to honor mediocre thieves whose primary claim to fame is a run of particularly bad luck.
Second, those drunken bastards always get everything wrong.
So I will tell my tale myself, even if doing so may infringe on the rights of some storyteller’s guild. After what I’ve been through, the thought of an angry army of mandolin-wielding bards coming after my hide holds no terror for me. Besides which, it gives me the opportunity to skip the boring prologue where I’m supposed to tell you of the ten-thousand-year history of the world leading up to your less-than-noble hero’s birth.
I hate that.
So if you don’t know anything about the regional politics across my part of the world, the geography, or the local religions, you’ll just have to hang on and catch up.
The important part of this story begins in the Kingdom of Lendowyn. On any reasonable map it’s a tiny smudge on an unattractive stretch of southern coastline. It’s a boiled potato of a country; soft, bland, cheap, with a distinct absence of anything to recommend it beyond the minimum requirements of its own existence. Very few people choose to make a destination of Lendowyn. The majority of those within its borders are there only on their way to someplace else.
I had ventured within Lendowyn simply because it intersected the straight-line course I had taken south, away from the lost Ziggurat of the Dark Lord Nâtlac. Now, after staring at the water for an hour or so in frustration, I realized my month-long retreat from that fiasco had simultaneously run out of both land and money, and the far end of Lendowyn wasn’t nearly far enough from Grünwald for my comfort.
It really wasn’t fair that they put an ocean in my way.
The unfortunate geography didn’t give me many choices. I could follow the coast, which cost me little but time, but would painfully slow my retreat from the royal court of Grünwald. I could attempt to escape on an outbound ship, but I didn’t have the resources to buy passage. That left the unpleasant prospect of being pressed into service aboard one of those scows, and terminating such employment was a bit more difficult than obtaining it. I’ll not discuss the fate of stowaways. I wasn’t yet quite that desperate.
The day was still young.
My last option was to blow what was left of my funds getting drunk, and worry about my problems later. I polled myself, and that choice won by unanimous vote.
At midday, I wandered into a nameless dockside tavern to drown what sorrows I could manage with the copper I had left. Unfortunately, with two coppers to my name, drowning them wasn’t really an option. I had to settle for taking one sorrow out for a quick dip in rather shallow waters.
The cheapest drink in the place was called Mermaid’s Milk. Perhaps in the wider universe there is a beverage more misnamed, but I have yet to hear tell of it. Two coppers bought me a large flagon of the stuff. The liquid was gray-green with an opalescent sheen that did not seem natural. It smelled vile, and I asked the barkeep what was in it.
“Seaweed, goat’s milk, and fermented herring,” he said without looking up from wiping down the bar.
I turned and noticed glances and raised eyebrows from the scruffier denizens of this scruffy establishment. Their reaction told me that I was about to punish myself with something that was usually only consumed upon losing a bet.
I walked back to an empty corner table with my purchase. I could smell the fish now, and the sheen seemed to be oils floating on the grayish milk. Lactating mermaid my ass, I thought. This looks more like something from an ogre’s backside.
My eyes watered, and I wasn’t sure if it was the fish smell or the alcohol.
I chalked it up to the latest in a long line of bad decisions. Put in those terms, it was barely even perceptible when aligned against my last epic failure of judgment. In hindsight, the hideous concoction I was seriously contemplating drinking was only the penultimate consequence of my last bad idea . . .
I raised my flagon to the other patrons and said, “A toast to the Royal Court of Grünwald. May all their prayers be answered, at length and in person.”
No one paid attention to me. I slammed back as much of the Mermaid’s Milk as quickly as I could before I started tasting the stuff.
Now, the aforesaid bad idea—the one that led to me being broke, on the run, and toasting my enemies with the vilest beverage that could be consumed by a man who wished to continue breathing—had, like most bad ideas, seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.
I had accumulated a debt to the Thieves’ Guild of Grünwald in the amount of six months’ worth of dues. Not that I hadn’t paid them, you understand. But when the rat-faced individual to whom I had been giving a cut of my take disappeared to parts unknown along with a substantial amount of the guild’s money, it became my responsibility to make up my portion of the shortfall.
That’s what’s known as honor among thieves.
When presented the choice of doing some contract work, or losing the middle two fingers on my right hand. . . . Well, like I said, it seemed reasonable to me.
A gentleman with far more money than good sense had hired the guild’s services to retrieve a sacred scroll from an abandoned temple. The guild gave the job to me as a means to even up my sudden debt. I suspected that they had taken an advance payment considerably more than what they said I owed, but I didn’t argue. Fingers are rather important in my line of work.
Besides, it should have been a rather simple job for a thief such as myself.
As long as I ignored the fact that the temple was dedicated to the Dark Lord Nâtlac. That’s the kind of name you don’t bring up too often unless you want to risk earthquakes, crop failures, or livestock birthing young with one head too many. That was probably the primary reason the guild elders decided to ship the job my way.
I told myself, a little foolishly, that it wasn’t that big a deal. I’d just wear gloves, and try to not look at the scroll too closely.
It’ll be fine, I had thought, in, out, no problem.
Which brings me to the other serious problem with the job. Everyone had overstated the abandonment of the temple. “Overstated,” as in, bald-faced lied.
Turns out there are worse people to have after you than the Thieves’ Guild of Grünwald.
I discovered the hard way that the whole Royal Court of the Kingdom of Grünwald had taken up the worship of the Dark Lord Nâtlac. And, as with all courtly fads, they all took it way too seriously.
They didn’t take kindly to me falling from the shadows above and disrupting their sacrifice. I really shouldn’t have done it, but there are few enough virgins in the world and I really couldn’t stand by and watch them waste one. So I grabbed the naked young woman, kicked urns of goat entrails onto the queen and prince regent—at least, I really hope they had been goat entrails—and escaped in the ensuing confusion.
I managed to deliver her safely to her father’s farm. Unfortunately, while she was very grateful, her dad took issue with me assisting her in the avoidance of any virgin-hunting cultists in the future. So I retreated, leaving one less virgin in the world, but at least one who was still around to enjoy it.
I’d been on the run from Grünwald ever since.
I set the half-empty flagon on the table in front of me. The other half of my beverage sat in my gut like a large rotten fish that had been soaked in oil and set on fire. When I let go of the flagon to cover my mouth, I felt somewhat surprised when the flagon did not slide back on the table toward me, since everything seemed canted at a rather steep angle.
I tried to sit up and my chair started tilting backward.
That shouldn’t happen.
The back of the chair and the back of my head hit the wall behind me simultaneously. I heard the thud about three seconds before it registered on me that it was my skull that had bounced off of the timber framing. By then I was leaning up against the wall, as if that had been my plan all along.
“Ouch,” I said quietly.
This was a record drunk for me. The Mermaid’s Milk had slammed what was left of my good sense so hard that I didn’t even care about my throbbing head or the fact that my mouth tasted like I’d chewed out the lining from a fishmonger’s boots. My stomach screamed in rebellion, but my brain wasn’t really listening.
Somewhere, back in the land of the sober, someone called my name.
I heard the words, “Are you Frank Blackthorne?” and it took a few more seconds to realize that the speaker was referring to me.
Normally it would be axiomatic that a stranger calling my name in an unfamiliar location spelled no uncertain trouble. The Thieves’ Guild and the Court of Grünwald were just the latest in a long series of people who wanted to physically arbitrate some disagreement with me. Sober me would have already noted possible exits and be a half step toward them. The current me, post Mermaid’s Milk, narrowed his eyes at the approaching stranger and folded his arms across his chest.
The intent of the pose might have seemed intimidating, but really I was just afraid of accidentally rolling off the chair, and the daylight from outside had just become unaccountably more intense. I swallowed a belch that was equal parts bile and swamp gas and asked, “Who wants to know?”
At first I thought the old man approaching me was swaying, but I think that was just a side effect of the whole tavern rocking. He was of that indeterminate age between threescore and dead, and wore rich robes that were so out of place in the tavern that even in my impaired state they made me wonder what was keeping the less savory denizens of the tavern from liberating this man of his purse. I mean, I knew my excuse; it sat on the table smelling of fish oil, seaweed, and sour goat’s milk.
He slid into a chair across from me, his back to a dozen lowly thugs more sober than I, and I realized that the locals knew this guy.
My visitor lowered his hood, wrinkled his nose at my beverage, and told me, “My name is Elhared,” as if that should mean something.
It probably should have, and I fumbled with a dangling thread of familiarity in my booze-sodden memories.
When in doubt, or drunk, stall.
“And?” I said quietly, somewhat impressed at my sudden eloquence.
“And I am the court wizard of Lendowyn, here on behalf of the crown.”
Had I been drinking at that moment, Wizard Elhared would have been the recipient of an instant shower of fermented herring. Instead, I leaned forward, and the front of my chair was reintroduced to the floor with a bone-jarring impact. I splayed my arms before me to prevent myself from flopping face first into the table. I said, again drawing on unplumbed depths of erudite reserve, “You’re Elhared the Unwise?”
That was the point I realized that the other denizens of the bar had been slowly and quietly taking their leave of the establishment. At my outburst, the remaining population dispensed with the “slowly and quietly” part.
Elhared frowned slightly at me. The way the skin on his face wrinkled, it seemed a habitual expression. His skin had that corpselike pallor associated with wizards, goblins, and other underground denizens. He had a close-trimmed beard that was so translucent that it seemed to blend seamlessly into his skin. “Few people have the temerity to use that name to my face.”
“Yes, but I’m drunk,” I responded. So drunk, in fact, that I was only at that moment connecting the evacuation of the bar with Elhared’s arrival and my big mouth.
“You certainly are,” Elhared said. His mouth twitched into a smile that seemed so alien on his face I briefly feared that I was beginning to hallucinate. “But I still need to talk to you.”
“Of course you do.” In my head I had finally managed to dig up a belated paranoia. Here was an official of the Royal Court of Lendowyn, and I was forced to consider what kind of relationship Lendowyn might have with Grünwald. Any official contact by someone at that level could not bode well. I tried pushing myself to my feet and surprised myself by succeeding. However, I still had a death grip on the table holding myself upright, spoiling my chance at stalking out of the tavern. “I don’t have to talk to you.”
“No,” Elhared said. “You don’t have to. But I have a proposition.”
“A proposition?” After a slight hesitation, I slid back into my chair, never letting go of the table.
“Yes. How would you feel about saving a princess?”
Excerpted from "Dragon Princess"
Copyright © 2014 S. Andrew Swann.
Excerpted by permission of DAW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"It's a provocative world of deadly enchantment in which the dirty game of politics remains the biggest threat of all."—Locus
"Smart ideas and fun action scenes."—iO9
"A very well done contemporary fantasy."—SF Chronicle
"It's a good energetic mystery, with a complicated plot and lots of chasing-down-the-leads fun."—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A splendidly constructed space opera."—SF Signal
"I'm happy to catch up on the rest of his long list of published works."—SFRevu