Victory is written in the blood of the brave. As the armies of the Tibran Empire continue to march across Maldobar, a path of scorched destruction and despair is left in their wake. Even with the formidable princess, Jenna Farrow, leading the charge, the strength of the dragonriders is waning. Tibran victory appears inevitable—especially after Princess Jenna and Prince Aubren are taken hostage by the infamous Lord Argonox. Separated from her brother and tortured for information, Princess Jenna refuses to bend to the iron will of Argonox. But her strength and resolve may only last so long. Held prisoner in his dark tower, it would take a miracle to set her free—or perhaps a pair of demigods and their dragons. With revived dragonrider legend, Jaevid Broadfeather, at his side, Reigh must now make a choice: face the truth about the origin of his dark powers, or turn his back on world in need. But throwing off a lifetime of shame and self-doubt is not so easily done—especially when the cost of failure means the destruction of the world. The long-awaited hero has awakened. The ancient spirits are stirring. The dark goddess has chosen her champion. But is he ready to embrace that rite and become the Harbinger Maldobar needs him to be?
About the Author
Nicole Conway is a former freelance graphic artist for promotional companies and is now a full-time writer. She enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She is the author of The Dragonrider Chronicles and the Dragonrider Legacy series. She lives in Valdosta, Georgia.
Read an Excerpt
I heard him before I saw him — which was nearly always the case with Phillip.
"Good morning, my love!"
I stole a quick glance over the top of the book I was studying, one centered on aerial battle techniques, as Duke Phillip Derrick swaggered into the parlor and leaned against the arm of the sofa beside me. He peered over my shoulder, invading my space to see what I was reading. Or maybe he just wanted to see what I would do if he let his cheek brush mine.
"I've asked you not to call me that," I muttered, fully aware of the futility of having this discussion again.
"I'll stop when it stops being true," he replied.
He probably thought he was being clever, using lines like that.
Calling him ridiculous would have been the understatement of the century. It was just a cruel, inconvenient coincidence that he also happened to be one of the better-looking men I knew. That hadn't always been the case, however. When we'd been children, which hadn't been all that long ago, he had been tall, gangly, and awkward. He'd had buck teeth, a face covered in freckles, and a regular riot of loose, black curls on his head that had stuck out all over the place.
Now, in his late twenties, he'd changed quite a bit. He didn't have the buck teeth anymore. In fact, his were obnoxiously perfect and straight now. I got a good look at them every time he flashed me one of those roguish, coy smiles he most likely thought were charming.
There were still a few freckles dusted across his cheeks and nose, almost invisible now because of his tanned skin. His hair, however, was no less a mess than it had been when we'd been little. It was still as black as pitch, wavy, and tended to poke up if it was even the least bit humid. He wore it a bit longer now, almost to his shoulders, so that those loose curls framed his squared jawline in a pleasing way. Something about how they shone in the light made you want to run your hands through them, just to see if they were as soft as they looked.
Not that I'd ever tried it myself. I had a firm no-touching policy with Phillip. The cheek brushing was a test, I knew. If he tried that again, I'd be forced to smack him to reinforce my rules.
"More battle plans?" he asked.
"We know the Tibrans will strike again soon," I replied. "Without Reigh here to help even the odds, we'll have to try some new techniques. I only have four riders at my disposal, counting myself. That doesn't leave us with much hope when the next attack comes. If the Tibrans have proven anything, it's that they bounce back quickly and fiercely. We can wager with confidence that their next assault on this city will be far more brutal."
"Ah." Phillip shifted and looked down at his boots. "Well, for what it's worth, I have the utmost faith in you."
So much for keeping the conversation light.
Truth be told, I was no good with that sort of thing. Social grace and appropriateness might as well have been foreign tongues. Being a princess didn't grant me an innate sense of grace; and when it came to interacting with other nobles, I had a long track record of embarrassing myself.
It was easy to play it off like I didn't care what they thought about me, most of the time. I think many people, even my own brother, believed that ruse — that it really didn't bother me not to be very refined when comporting myself in court. But there were moments when I wished I could come up with the right things to say; moments when I wished I had just a single ounce of social confidence. Half the time, whenever I opened my mouth, it was the soldier in me who spoke rather than the princess.
I managed to smile back at him slightly, which was a huge mistake.
Phillip grinned and leaned in closer like he was trying to dazzle me with his sharp, vibrant green eyes. "You're so lovely when you smile, Jenna."
I immediately scowled. "Stop that."
"Whatever it is you're trying to do." I raised my book up again and all but buried my nose in the crease of the pages. "Go away, please. I'm very busy."
He sighed. I felt his presence withdraw from looming over my shoulder. For an instant, I dared to hope he really had gone away.
I should be so lucky.
The couch where I sat minding my own business and hoping for a few minutes of quiet to read and plan suddenly lurched. Phillip flopped down onto the opposite end of it, reclining back and staring at me while he scrunched up his mouth and rubbed his chin.
"You'll fall for me one day, you know." He sounded so sure. "Maybe not tomorrow, or next month, or next year — but eventually. My love for you knows no limits. I'll wait forever, if that's what it takes."
I resisted the urge to hurl my book at him. One well-aimed shot and I was pretty sure I could break his nose with it. If I'd thought for even a second that might humble him a little, I might have tried it. "You're impossible."
"Impossibly handsome, maybe." I could hear the smirk in his voice without looking.
I rolled my eyes. Like I said — ridiculous.
His antics weren't a recent development, though. Phillip had been antagonizing me this way for years, baiting me for any response he could possibly get. I thought he honestly just liked getting me riled up and he'd discovered that flirting with me shamelessly was an easy way to do it.
This game of his had started when I'd turned thirteen. I'd grown from my own awkward childhood body into adolescence and finally become a figure of interest for young men in the court. Hooray for puberty, I suppose. Most girls would have been delighted to suddenly be regarded as beautiful. I was cautiously intimidated by those kinds of compliments, however, especially from the boys my age.
I wasn't sure how many of them actually saw me — or were just looking for an easy leverage point to get to the crown. Fortunately, my father, King Felix Farrow of Maldobar, was protective. He wouldn't allow most of the suitors who wanted to spend time with me to come anywhere near our family. I was grateful for that. It felt like I might be safe to make some of my own life choices, after all.
And then Phillip began professing his undying love for me.
He was older, the son of a longtime family friend, and I'd known him literally since birth. He and Aubren, my older brother, had been partners in crime for as long as I could remember. We'd all played together as children. He was already inside my father's barrier of family trust, so when he started to show interest in me, everyone just seemed amused by it. Perhaps they assumed we would be married eventually, anyway.
I found it completely annoying and humiliating — like he was making a joke out of me.
Now, more than ten years later, nothing had changed in that department. Phillip was one of the only men in my father's court that still didn't seem thrown by my determination to follow what I knew to be my destiny and become a dragonrider. It wasn't a womanly thing to do — hefting swords, smiting enemies, riding in a dragon's saddle. At least it wasn't in Maldobar. I was undeniably good at it, though, and that only seemed to make my father even more irate. He'd been staunchly against it from the very beginning. But when my dragon, Phevos, had chosen me — that had left no room for anyone's objection, not even the king's.
I was born to be a dragonrider — in body, in heart, and now in destiny.
"Would you go for a walk with me?" Phillip asked suddenly.
I lowered my book so I could glare at him. "Why?" He put on one of his rare, businesslike frowns. If he'd known I found that look slightly less annoying than any of his other expressions, he might have used it more often.
Of course, I would die before I ever told him that.
"I'm having the catacombs and undercrofts below city opened for anyone who wants to begin moving there in the event of another attack. I've encouraged those with young children, or any who might have difficulty moving quickly, to depart now. I've also opened two of the escape tunnels for anyone who may want to escape to the mountain passes. We know those paths are clear of Tibran forces — so far. They should be safe," he explained. "Like you said, we have to accept the reality that the Tibrans are going to come back. I'd like to go see how everything's progressing."
I arched a brow. "That's so ... responsible of you."
His brow puckered with a wounded expression. "I can do my job, you know. My love for you hasn't blinded me from all the things your father expects of me as duke. I mean to take care of the people here as best I can."
"And that's the only reason? Worry for their welfare?" Phillip made a snorting sound, as one side of his mouth curled up into a half smirk. "That and the remote chance you'll hold on to my arm or hand while we walk."
I closed the book and narrowed my eyes. "Don't count on it."
* * *
I told myself this had absolutely nothing to do with Phillip — I needed to get out of that stone fortress for a little while, breathe the free air, and think about the battle plan that was taking shape in my brain. So as soon as we stepped outside the front doors of the keep, I took a deep breath. The smell of smoke was still thick on the wind. The courtyard before us was crowded with soldiers working to refortify the walls, bolster the gates, and arm the catapults that had been lashed onto the ramparts.
We weren't going to win this fight. I knew that. One look at the somber, focused frown on Phillip's face and I suspected he was aware of that fact as well. Our forces had been all but devastated by the first Tibran attack. Barrowton had endured, but that was only because of Reigh.
Aubren had been right about him — he was a dangerous boy. Useful, maybe but dangerous nonetheless. He'd killed almost as many of our own troops as he had Tibrans with his demon magic. Having him in our midst was a risk.
I had no illusions of glorious victory here. I only had three riders, besides myself, to work with. They were good men and seasoned riders. But we were still going to lose, so the only question was how.
Phillip was right to invite his people to begin evacuating and taking safety measures now. The smart ones would accept and be long gone by the time the hammer fell. For the rest of us, who had no choice but to stay and fight it out to the bitter end, things looked grim.
I chewed on my bottom lip as I walked beside him, down the steps and through the gates, into the city beyond. Here, the cobblestone streets sloped steeply downward. Barrowton had been designed to be the stronghold of the north, a place of safety and refuge, and a great amount of care had gone into the design. The city itself sat on a manmade, cone-shaped hill with the keep at the very top. It was difficult for an invading enemy to move uphill, and it gave us a slight advantage on all sides. Archers could rain down arrows from any of the three sets of high stone walls that encompassed the city like rings around a bull's eye.
"The outer wall was severely damaged during the last attack," Phillip said as he stopped in the center of an intersection. Around us, four streets came to a large square where a fountain stood in the very center. "My men are doing their best to repair the damage, but I think it's safe to say that we will have to fall back behind the second wall next time. I've asked them to focus their efforts on making sure the second and third walls hold for as long as possible."
I nodded. Walking slowly around the huge fountain, my eyes were involuntarily drawn up to the all-too-familiar image of Jaevid Broadfeather engraved into the granite, high upon a pedestal. His statue stood tall and proud, dressed in dragonrider armor and holding a scimitar against his breastplate as he gazed toward the north — toward Luntharda. The lengths of his cloak had been cut to look as though they were blowing in the wind, and the detail on his face was so lifelike it was nearly haunting.
"Still hoping for him to return?" Phillip asked suddenly. He'd snuck up behind me again.
I quickly looked away. "No."
"He insists he's given up, but I think Aubren still believes Jaevid will come back."
"He's always believed it, even when we were little. That's just who he is — a believer." A bittersweet smile crept over my lips. I looked up at Jaevid's stony face again and tried desperately not to hope. "My father told us stories about him every night. He made it all seem so real."
Phillip sighed. He was standing right next to me, his arms crossed and those raven-black curls blowing around his face. His annoyingly perfect brows were furrowed ever so slightly.
"What about you? Do you believe?" I asked quietly.
He flicked me a look with those electric green eyes. It might have made any other girl swoon when he grinned like that. "I believe the universe always balances itself out. Every right, every wrong, in the end it will all even out. We may not live to see it happen. But it will."
"So Reigh appearing instead of Jaevid is the universe balancing itself out?" I snorted and turned to continue walking down the sidewalk.
He shrugged as he fell in step beside me. "Maybe so."
I wasn't so sure I agreed. I still didn't know what to make of Reigh. My brother had dredged him up from the depths of the jungle when he'd gone on that desperate and futile errand to try to get help from the gray elves. I knew they wouldn't help us — not that I blamed them. Ours was becoming more of a lost cause every day.
Still, finding Reigh had seemed like it might be a brush of fate. He was a human teenager who had apparently been raised with the gray elves since infancy. Odd? Yes. I'd never heard of such a thing. Not that gray elves were incapable of that kind of compassion, but the one who had raised him was a man I knew well from my own childhood. Kiran had been an ambassador in my father's court for years. He'd taught me to fight, to meditate, and to appreciate the value of nature's balance. But Kiran taking in an orphaned infant was ... shocking. He'd never been married, as far as I knew. I couldn't even picture him changing diapers and handling a baby — especially on his own.
Perhaps that was why Reigh was strange, too. That boy couldn't even speak the human tongue without an elven accent. That and his wild red hair, cute childlike face, and somewhat cocky demeanor all hid a powerful darkness I'd now witnessed lurking inside of him. Aubren had brought him here hoping he would fight for us, but you only had to gaze out beyond Barrowton's outermost wall to see exactly what kind of devastation that boy was capable of.
I didn't dare say it, many might not agree, but to me his mysterious disappearance seemed like a blessing in disguise. That is, so long as he didn't show up fighting for the Tibrans. If that happened — Gods and Fates — I shuddered to think of what that would mean for us.
When at last we reached the outermost wall, Phillip led the way up into one of the turrets, so we could stroll along the high ramparts, examining the work being done to repair it. Outside, beyond the wall, was a scene of utter desolation beyond words. That was Reigh's handiwork. The smell of the smoke was intense, tinged with the sharp flavor of smoldering dragon venom and singed flesh. It made my eyes water.
Phillip covered his nose and mouth with his hand. He didn't look out across the battlefield for long, and he gagged as his face went a bit pale. He wasn't used to these things. He'd never seen death like this.
Until recently, I hadn't either. Now I was beginning to learn that this sight — endless burning fields of death and despair — was what the Tibrans always left in their wake. And if they had their way, all Maldobar would be this way.
I couldn't allow that to happen.CHAPTER 2
"You're suggesting that we just leave you behind?" Aubren had gone stiff. Sitting across from me at the dinner table, I could see an angry little vein standing out against his forehead.
"I'm suggesting that the only chance the citizens who still remained in the city have of safely making it to the mountain passes is if the dragonriders hold the Tibrans back and then destroy the tunnels on this end, so they cannot pursue you," I replied. "That includes me."
My brother's mouth scrunched up and his nose wrinkled. "I won't do that. I won't just run away while you and your men stay here and —"
"This is what we are meant for, Aubren," I snapped. "And we will do our job with pride. It is an honor to die protecting the people of Maldobar."
Phillip interrupted. "Guys, please, let's take this down a notch. I've known you both long enough to know that your arguing will never solve anything. You're like two angry cats in a bag." He cleared his throat and took a moment to rub his hand across his forehead. "Based on what we saw today, I think Jenna and I can agree that a good number of Barrowton's citizens have taken my advice and are already either evacuating or taking refuge in the catacombs under the city. I'll issue a decree in the morning warning those who remain to be ready to fall back behind the third wall at the sound of the warning horns. We'll save as many as we can. But should the third wall fall, this keep will be the only safe place left. We'll have to evacuate as well."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Harbinger"
Copyright © 2018 Nicole Conway.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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.
Table of Contents
Part One: Jenna,
Part Two: Reigh,
Part Three: Jenna,
Part One: Reigh,
Part Two: Jenna,
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