With the dragons believed dead, the kingdom had no more need for dragonslayers.
Drunk, disgraced, and all but forgotten, Guillot has long since left his days of heroism behind him.
As forgotten places are disturbed in the quest for power, and things long dormant awaken, the kingdom finds itself in need of a dragonslayer once again, and Guillot is the only one left...
"Charming [and] entertaining. Recommended for fans of dragons and medieval settings.”Library Journal
The Dragonslayer Trilogy:
2. Knight of the Silver Circle
3. Servant of the Crown
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Brother Poncet crouched on the scree-covered mountain slope clutching his cream robe about himself, and watched his comrade, Brother Ambrose inch into the pitch dark cavern before them. He remained a few paces behind, still out in the sunlight, although at that altitude it did little to warm him. Up that high, it was always cold, even in the summer.
Brother Ambrose lifted his small magelamp up to the darkness. The glowing sphere was caged in a mirrored housing, so all of its power was directed into the blackness before him. The light reached in, but not far enough to fall on any surface.
"See anything?" Poncet said, his breath misting on the air before him.
"Nothing," Ambrose said, scratching his thick black hair. "Just darkness. Hellloooooooo!"
The sound of his voice bounced around in the abyss, repeated time after time.
"You shouldn't do that," Poncet said. It was his first mission, and he was determined not to see it go wrong through foolishness. Ambrose didn't seem to have the same concern.
"You never know what's in there."
Ambrose laughed. "Afraid we'll get savaged by a mountain goat?"
"No." He thought for a moment, realising his comment was born from a fear of the dark, the unknown. Something children were supposed to be afraid of — not a brother of the Order of the Golden Spur. Finally, he came up with something worthy. "A belek, perhaps."
"It's summer. Even up this high, it isn't cold enough for them. They stay where the snow is. Commander Leverre told us so."
Poncet noticed that all the mirth had left Ambrose's voice, even if he did still sound confident. Only a fool took belek for granted. "Ever seen one?"
"Once, when I was young," Ambrose said. "The Duke of Trelain used to hunt them every winter. Sometimes the King would travel west to join him. They rarely found any, but I remember one year they did, and killed it. Not before it had killed half a dozen huntsmen and the Count of Dreville, though. They paraded its body through the streets of Trelain. Like a cat, it was, but the size of a bear. Fur the colour of steel and fangs as long as your forearm."
Even with all of his training, Poncet didn't like the idea of meeting one. He wondered if it made him a coward, or if experience would ease his fear of such things — if each mission he did would bring him closer to the calm confidence of Commander Leverre.
"We'll have to go in for a closer look," Poncet said.
"It's probably just another dead end."
"Probably, but Brother-Commander Leverre said it's close. We need to search every corner."
Ambrose sighed. "We could search these mountains for a lifetime, and not find anything. We don't even know what we're looking for."
"The Commander does. It's not for us to question our superiors. We simply do what we're told. I want to be back by the fire as much as you do."
"What we're told," Ambrose said. "We'll need more light for starters. The cavern looks big, we'll be quicker if we send back to camp for the others."
"Should we bother them?"
"You said yourself that Commander Leverre thinks we're close. Every hole we look into now might be the spot. Need to be thorough."
Poncet nodded. "I suppose I have to go?"
"It's your turn."
Poncet bundled his robe up around his knees and started down the rocky slope, careful not to get his sword tangled between his legs. As hard a scramble up and down the mountainside to the cave as it was, he was glad they would have strength in numbers for the search. Gladder still that Brother-Commander Leverre would be taking charge.
* * *
Brother-Commander Leverre stared into the cavern's pitch black maw, giving his eyes time to adjust. However, the darkness was complete, and did not allow him a glimpse of what lay within. Darkness such as that in a remote, wild place was always unsettling, but there was something he could do about that.
He closed his useless eyes and held out his hand. He ignored the shuffling and muttering of his subordinates, instead focussing his mind entirely on his task. He could feel a tingle start on the skin of his hand which spread over his entire body. He smiled at the familiar and welcome sensation, then felt something else — a dense concentration of magical energy. The Fount, and far more intense than he had ever encountered before. It was just as the Prince Bishop had described. This had to be what he was looking for. When he opened his eyes, he could see the bare skin of his hand glow with an ethereal blue light for a moment before it disappeared. He wondered if the feeling of exhilaration he experienced every time he used magic would ever leave him. Considering how long he had been at it, he doubted it.
"I don't know if we've found it," he said, "but there's definitely something here." He could see the look of relief in the faces of his people. They had been searching the mountains for weeks, and it had taken its toll on them all. The thought that their search might be over excited even him — not just at the prospect of going home, but in what success at this task would mean for his career.
Leverre pointed his finger into the cavern, and focussed. A stone's throw in front of him, a glowing orb formed, casting light on rock that had likely never felt its touch before. He repeated the process a half dozen times until all parts of the cavern in view were illuminated. He admired his handiwork and enjoyed the impressed sounds his people made. Creating a magical light was a simple enough thing, but to cast it at a distance, and so many times in a row, spoke to the great skill of the caster. None of them were nearly powerful enough to achieve such a feat. Nonetheless, he could feel the strain it had placed on his body and knew he would need a few moments to recuperate.
"Begin the search," he said, concealing his fatigue so as to maintain the aura of power his subordinates believed he possessed. He remained still as the dozen sergeants, corporals, brothers and sisters made their way past him and into the cavern.
Only the two sergeants were able to wield magic with any worthwhile power. The rest would be able to detect the object they were looking for if they got close enough, but most would need another five or six years of training and experience before they would be able to do anything useful. Despite that, they were among the best the Order had. They would improve, but it was the next generation from whom the true rewards would be reaped. Such a slow process was frustrating, but even if the progress was slow, the gains were always worthwhile.
* * *
Alpheratz opened one of his eyes and shut it immediately. The light cut through him like a lance and startled his already befuddled mind. It took him a moment to regain control of his thoughts. He tried to open both eyes, slowly this time, cautiously accustoming himself to the light.
Throughout the process, which seemed to take an age, he was careful to remain perfectly still. The part of his mind that sought survival over all else was still in control and it screamed danger. When Alpheratz finally opened his eyes completely, he could see there was something odd about the light. It was not how he remembered light to be — an intricate tapestry woven of infinite colours. This was flatter, less interesting. There was no depth or beauty to it. It was then he realised he was not alone. He took a deep breath and listened. Somewhere, the sound of water dripping into a pool echoed through the chambers of the cave. It was joined by scratching, shuffling, and another sound — the voices of men.
That caused his heart to quicken. How long had he slept? What had woken him? He fought through his confusion, trying to remember what had been happening before he slept. There had been men then, too. Might these be the same ones? There was energy in the cavern, energy spilling from clumsy, unskilled magic, enough to invigorate his stiff muscles. He took another deep breath and stretched his limbs. His sinews popped with each movement and he feared that he would be heard. He paused and listened once more. There did not seem to be any reaction.
He stood, wavering. The magic in the cavern could only do so much to restore him; Alpheratz felt weak, weaker than he had ever known. If the men were here for him, he feared they might be able to best him. The thought of hiding in the hope that they might not notice him was tempting, but an orb of light appeared in his alcove and he knew his decision had been forced. He shook his head in distaste at the clumsiness of the magic used to make the light, but was grateful all the same — the person who cast it was not powerful and was unlikely to trouble him too much. The orb was close enough to liberally spill energy into its surrounds. Enough that Alpheratz was able to heat his flame glands.
* * *
Brother Ambrose carefully navigated the rocky outcrop. Its edges were sharp, the cavern floor uneven, and everything was damp and cold. A slip and fall could easily result in a cracked skull, and not even Commander Leverre had the power to mend that. He reached out with his mind to survey the area before him for the object. He felt frustrated by how little he had been told about it — an object, magical, you'll know it when you find it. How does one find something without knowing what it is? However, as he was constantly told by his instructors, it was not his to question why. Accept, have faith, open your mind — these were the only answers they ever gave him.
His heart jumped when he felt something unlike anything he had felt before — different even to the first time he had managed to open his mind to the Fount, and felt its boundless energy all around him. He was filled with excitement at the prospect that he might have found what they were looking for, what the Prince Bishop so desperately wanted.
He stumbled toward it, toward the edge of the light provided by Commander Leverre's magic. Two great, glassy orbs appeared before him, their brilliant emerald green reflecting the meagre light. It took Ambrose a moment to realise that this could not be what he sought, and another to realise that the orbs were far too large to be a belek's eyes. By the time he screamed, the first tendrils of flame were already rushing toward him.
* * *
There was little left of the man by the time Alpheratz drew back his breath, but still enough to momentarily quell the rumbling in his stomach. Unlike some of the others, he had never developed a taste for humankind. Too stringy, too bitter, but in a bind it would do, and Alpheratz could not remember having ever been so hungry. He could feel the effect of the warm meal immediately as some of his strength returned. He needed a proper feed if he was to fully restore himself, and unless his ears deceived him, there were several more people in the cave. They would have to do until he was able to reach something he would actually like.
Alpheratz stood, legs protesting, and started forward. His cavern looked to be in a sad state of neglect and he too, looked worse for wear. His once lustrous scales were covered in moss, mildew, and grime. It worried him to think of how long he must have slept, and wondered what the others must think of his long absence.
Rounding an outcrop that led out to the front chamber, he found a man standing before him, staring, frozen in terror. Men had always feared dragons, but Alpheratz had never seen a reaction so pronounced. He chuckled as he squirted a jet of flame at the man, turning him into a pillar of fire long enough to burn off the cream robes he wore before swallowing him whole.
There were more dotted around the cavern, shuffling about in the dark spots as though they were looking for something. Vicious little pests; Alpheratz didn't hesitate in slaughtering them. Their frailty came as a surprise, however. The last humans he had faced had been formidable indeed. He now remembered returning to his cavern, badly wounded. He'd crawled to the back of the cavern and collapsed, exhausted, needing time to recuperate. The question of how long still bothered him.
He killed the last of the humans and forced them down, his stomach now protesting at the excess of food, rather than the lack of it. He walked to the cavern mouth and lay down, looking out over the land before him. Farther down the slope, he could see one of the little cream-robed vermin running and tumbling downhill in his effort to get away as fast as he could. Alpheratz considered going after him, but didn't think it worth the effort. He had cleared the vermin from his home, and had eaten more than enough. He needed to rest, and digest, then he would visit the other peaks and find his kin.
He rested his head on the cavern lip and surveyed what was once his domain and wondered if a young dragon had come and claimed it during Alpheratz's slumber. It looked little different but felt a great deal so. He could taste the magic on the air as he breathed. It was so strong — stronger than he had ever experienced. Mankind had sucked so much magic out of the world with their brutish efforts to use it, but now it was returned in full blossom. As he drifted off to sleep, he dwelled on that comforting thought, pushing away the disturbing ones that threatened to keep him awake.CHAPTER 2
Guillot sat at his usual spot at the end of the small bar in the only tavern in Villerauvais. It was quiet at that time of the day — he was the only patron. Everyone else from the village and the surrounds was still at work, either in the fields or one of the town's few small businesses.
His spot afforded him the succour of the back wall of the pokey little room when he became too drunk to sit upright any longer, which occurred at some point most evenings. Usually the tavern keeper, Jeanne — former wife of the long deceased previous owner — left him be, only interacting with Guillot when it came time to refill his glass. Today, however, she seemed to be reluctant to do so, and had remained absent from the bar since his arrival.
He cleared his throat and rapped a knuckle on the bar. He was without doubt her best customer — often her only customer — and seeing as he always paid his way, he expected more. That was not even taking into account that he was seigneur of the village and the lands surrounding. Surely that had to count for something too.
He heard approaching footsteps, then the creak of the door behind the bar.
"What do you want?" Jeanne said.
Guillot shrugged. Was the answer not obvious? Nonetheless, her tone bothered him.
She looked at his empty glass. "We're out of wine."
Guillot chuckled, but when the stern expression on her face didn't change, he stopped.
"How can you be out of wine?" he said. "We make it in the village?"
"Tax, Gill. Tax."
He wondered if he would ever be referred to as "my Lord". He supposed his father had been the last "Lord Villerauvais". He had always been "Gill", and it seemed he always would be. "Tax?" he said. "I don't collect taxes."
Jeanne continued to glare at him as though he had done something bad. Had he? He searched back through the cloud of booze and hangovers that shrouded his memory, but could come up with nothing.
"Lord Montpareil," she said.
"What of him?"
"He's collecting taxes here now."
Guillot's mind was too dulled by his hangover to muster much anger. Insulting though it was to have a neighbouring lord exert authority in his demesne, he felt greater concern over how he was going to get his glass filled. He shrugged again.
"It all ends up with the King," Guillot said. "It's as well Montpareil collects it as I do. Which I don't."
The look of contempt on Jeanne's face was likewise of less concern to him than getting his glass filled. He gave her his most charming smile, but she was unmoved.
"Five years, Gill. We were all happy to have you home, but you've been rotting here for five years. The village and all the lands are rotting with you. You'd have broken your poor mother's heart if she still lived, gods bless her soul. Don't think for a second that Lord Montpareil has authority to collect taxes here, or that a single penny of it's getting to the king. Anyhow, some of that tax money should have been spent here in the village. In case you haven't noticed, we need it. Him collecting them is an insult to you, and an injury to us."
Gill spreads his hands in a beseeching gesture. He'd never expected to hear a complaint about him not collecting taxes.
"Something needs to change, Gill. You're dragging us all down with you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dragonslayer"
Copyright © 2019 Duncan M. Hamilton.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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