Caymin and Péist are the only ones who can thwart them but, in order to do so, they'll have to do the unthinkable-bring all of the dragons and their mages back to this realm. The dragons can only be summoned and controlled by one who holds the Méarógfola-the Bloodstone. The problem is, the Bloodstone hasn't been seen since it was stolen a thousand winters ago.
In a race through time, Caymin and Péist will have to go back through the Portal, back a thousand winters, back to set in motion everything that must unfold as it was meant to. Finding the Méarógfola is only the beginning of their challenges. Old factions among the dragons make them as difficult to control as the human clans. Destroying the Bloodstone is the only way to end this once and for all, but there are those who will do anything, anything, to get their hands on it.
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The Standing Stones
The Chronicles of Caymin
By Caren J. Werlinger
Corgyn Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Caren J. Werlinger
All rights reserved.
The night air was mild, filled with the scents of summer — trees full of leaf and growing fruit, mosses and ferns and other things that grow low to the ground, all full and lush with the frequent rains. The badger stopped to dig, her long claws raking the soil to unearth several grubs and worms. She ate and trundled on, her nose twitching busily as she hunted.
A shadow passed overhead. She looked up to see a dragon silhouetted against the stars.
"All is well, little one?" she called.
Another shadow leaned over the side of the dragon. "All is quiet, Broc. We have seen nothing amiss."
Reassured, the badger resumed her foraging. All had been quiet for the past moon, but Caymin and Péist insisted on flying nightly, patrolling the expanse of the protected forest, keeping watch for any sign of danger.
Broc stopped to sniff the air herself and realized it wasn't quiet at all. She heard mice and voles rustling through the underbrush. She saw smaller shadows pass overhead as owls glided by on silent wings. She had nothing to fear from them, but she heard small cries as sharp talons found their prey. She jumped as a fox trotted out of her den.
"Greetings, Sionnach," said Broc.
"Greetings, Broc." The vixen sat and tilted her head.
"Your young are healthy and growing?"
"Yes." The fox raised her nose and sniffed as a gentle breeze tickled the air. "The hunting will be good tonight."
She glanced to the sky. "The winged worm and your two-leg cub have seen nothing?"
"No. But we know danger is coming."
The fox looked at her again. "The entire forest knows it." She twisted her head and gave a small bark. Eight young foxes tumbled out of the den, playing and wrestling with one another.
Broc was grateful her own young were grown and hunting for themselves now. "Good hunting."
She waited until the foxes disappeared into the forest, and then she moved on. Sionnach was right. The forest was waiting. Every four-leg, every winged one knew something was coming. The two-legs who guarded the forest had done what they could to add protections. Whether they would be enough, and what the dangers might be, they could only wait and see. For now, she needed to find more grubs.
* * *
Péist glided down and landed within the circle of standing stones. Caymin unfastened the tethers that secured her to his saddle and climbed down. He crouched so that she could pull the saddle off, and he stretched out on his side.
"I think I might be tired enough to rest now," he said. "You need to sleep, as well, little one."
She laid a hand on his jaw. "I know. I will see you later."
She left him and walked through the forest, her limp a bit more pronounced than usual. Her leg ached, and the scars behind her knee pulled after spending half the night astride her dragon. As she walked, she listened, her head twisting this way and that, attuned to every sound, every rustle, every voice of the four-legs and birds around her. A sudden flapping of wings made her jump.
"I did not mean to startle you," said the white crow who landed on her shoulder.
Caymin took a deep breath. "It is not you, Beanna."
"I know. The worm is the same. He is ready to breathe fire at every bug that crawls out from under a leaf. You are both wary."
Caymin scoffed. "Wary. Yes, we are wary."
Beanna cocked her head. "I know it is more than that."
They walked on through the forest for a bit.
"You believe they will return?" Beanna asked. "The ones who hurt you?" "I know they will."
"The rest of us will help in any way we can. You are not alone." Beanna gave her ear a gentle nibble before taking off into the night.
Caymin was glad to see that the cottage was dark. She carefully opened the door, hoping to let herself in without waking Enat, but when she stepped inside, it was to find Enat sitting at the hearth.
Her silver hair glinted in the light thrown by the peat fire. She held out a cup. "Here. Drink this. It will help you to sleep."
Caymin sat on a stool next to Enat. "Then you should be drinking some."
Enat smiled and poured hot water into a second cup. "I am."
For many heartbeats, they sat side by side watching the flames as they sipped their tea.
"The forest is safe?" Enat asked pointlessly.
"Yes," Caymin replied, just as pointlessly. They both knew that if anything were wrong, they would not be sitting there drinking tea.
Sleep didn't come easily to either of them these nights. Caymin often heard Enat whimpering in her sleep. She knew Enat's spiritwalks must be filled with the horrors of the torture she had endured at the hands of Angus when she'd been his captive. As bad as Enat's spiritwalks might have been, Caymin suspected her own were worse. Every night, she relived the battles she and Péist had fought against Scolaí and Tuala in the otherworld — losing battles against a mage and dragon much older and larger and battle-hardened than they.
She felt herself falling to the earth while Tuala's huge claws grabbed Péist. Through her link with Péist, she saw the fire building in Tuala's maw, the flames erupting from his throat as Scolaí uttered a spell to keep Péist from protecting his eyes just before all went dark. And every night, she lunged up in bed, certain she was fireblind. But when her hands flew to her face, her eyes, all she felt was her own old scars from the fire when she was a baby.
She knew Péist revisited those horrors himself, though they never spoke of it.
She started at the sound of Enat's voice and the touch of her hand on her shoulder. Words were unnecessary as they looked into each other's eyes.
Caymin tore her gaze away and focused once more on the fire. "Where do you think Timmin is now?"
Though they had had this conversation many times since Bealtaine, they were no closer to an answer.
"I wish I knew," Enat said.
"If he has the tether to finding the realm Scolaí and Tuala were banished to in the otherworld, what is he waiting for?" Caymin shoved up from her stool and paced. "It has been over a moon since we were told the tether was stolen. If he is going to release them and bring them back to this world, I would rather he just do it."
"I have been thinking on it." Enat leaned forward to prod the flames with an iron poker. "When he does bring them back, my guess is they won't attack this forest first."
Caymin paused her pacing. "Where then?"
Enat used the poker to draw a shape in the ashes. Caymin recognized the outline of Éire.
"Even a dragonmage and dragon would have a difficult time penetrating our protections."
Caymin sat back down. "Yes. Péist and I could not get through when we returned. We needed your staff. I do not think Scolaí has one, but Timmin does. He can let them in."
"But Timmin, ultimately, wants to protect places of magic. I don't think he has any wish to destroy or attack this forest. He wants to drive the Christians from Éire." Enat frowned at her rough map. "If I were them, I think I would begin by terrorizing those in far-flung parts of Éire, forcing them to cower and swear fealty to us, to those with magic."
"You say 'us' as if we are with them."
Enat smiled grimly. "Do you not think the believers of the Christ, like the ones who followed Angus, will believe that we are allied with them? In their ignorance, they will put all who practice magic, who keep the old ways, together. They will not distinguish between us, and Timmin and Scolaí. And if Scolaí and Tuala begin by burning and destroying, as they did in the past, there will be outright war."
Caymin stared at her, knowing she spoke the truth. Her brief interactions with Angus's warriors after their skirmish in the mountains had taught her how narrow their views were.
"I wish Garvan were here," she said. "A monk who believes in magic and knows that we are not evil could help us to reach out to them."
"But he isn't," said Enat. "I've been thinking on this, as well. Angus and his warriors are not a threat to this forest for now. If I'm right, and Timmin and Scolaí begin their attacks elsewhere, we are wasting our time sitting here waiting for an attack that is unlikely. I believe we should send a few mages out to warn the people and try to win their support now, while you and Péist begin your search for the Méarógfola."
Caymin gaped at her. "But we do not know where to look."
Enat met her gaze and held it for long heartbeats, until Caymin looked away. "Is that the only reason you hesitate to leave here?"
Caymin didn't respond.
Enat reached out to grasp her arm. "'Tis natural to be afraid, after what you both went through, Caymin. If I could wish it different, I would, but I believe you and Péist are destined to battle them again. As you search, you should attempt to make allies of your own, before Timmin unleashes Scolaí and Tuala on the rest of Éire."
Caymin bit her lip. "When do we tell the others there may be another dragon and mage loosed on this world?"
"Soon," Enat said with a sigh. She took Caymin's cup. "I think we should both try and get some sleep."
* * *
A soft rain fell as Caymin made her way to the village housing the only other two-legs in this mystical forest. There were no signs of anyone stirring in the boys' or girls' cottages. Ivar and Neela were living together in his cottage now that Neela was four or five moons away from giving birth. That left Neela's cottage for Méav and Séana. Smoke was rising from the chimneys of both, and their doors were open, the windows unshuttered.
She peeked into the first to see Ivar kneeling at the hearth, stirring a pot. He glanced up as her shadow darkened the door.
"Greetings," she said. She glanced around. "Where is Neela?"
He waved an irritated hand vaguely in the direction of the latrine. "She's up six times a night. Which means I'm up six times a night."
Caymin watched him for a moment, his huge body and shaggy black hair and beard reminding her, as he always did, of a bear.
"Well, good morning to you."
Caymin turned as Neela came up behind her. She took Caymin's hand and pulled her into the cottage, out of the rain. Ivar jumped up and guided Neela to the table.
"Sit," he said. "I've nearly got the porridge ready."
Neela gave Caymin a knowing smile, letting Ivar fuss. "Have you broken your fast?"
"I have," Caymin said. "I am going to the meetinghouse."
"We'll meet you there in a bit," Neela said. "We're going into the forest to work on the elements today."
Caymin frowned. "But that was the first thing we learned."
"And therefore the first neglected."
A short while later, Neela paced among the apprentices as they practiced: Caymin with water, Daina with earth, Cíana with fire, and Una with air.
"All of you can now easily manipulate the elements when they're lying in front of you," Neela was saying. "It's not so easy when you're trying to call them up from wherever they may be around you."
The rain had stopped, but the skies were still heavy with it. Sunlight burst in scant rays through the clouds as Caymin struggled to summon water.
Neela stepped close. "Find it," she murmured in Caymin's ear. "Bring it to you."
Caymin raised her hands and twisted them in the air, as if she were grabbing something solid. Water trickled from her fists into a clay pot lying at her feet.
"Good," said Neela. "More."
She walked on to Cíana, who was having a more difficult time drawing fire from the wet air. Over and over again, she was able to conjure balls of flame to sit in her palms, but when she tried to pull larger fire from around her, nothing happened.
"When there's fire in the sky, it's easy," Neela said, moving over to stand behind her. "You can call it to you, aim it, direct it — if you're strong enough. But remember, lightning can kill you if you're not careful. This ..." She reached over Cíana's shoulder to guide her two hands. "This is more like coaxing the fire forth."
She merged the balls of fire floating in Cíana's hands, molding them with her own, adding to them until the flames shot up into the sky.
"Take it," she breathed, handing the tower of fire to Cíana, who took it, moved it, twisted it into a knot.
Daina stood off to the side, on a small island of earth, while all around her, she had moved the dirt to form a rampart encircling her.
Una called the air, forming a small whirlwind that danced around her, picking up small sticks and stones and leaves from the ground. With a sweep of her hands, she flung her wind at Daina's wall of earth, toppling it, and encrusting Daina in dirt.
Daina stood, sputtering, as she looked down at herself. "Why did you do that?"
Una gave a tight-lipped smile. "You're the one who hasn't mastered air. If you're going to play in the dirt, you need to make your walls more solid, else anyone can breach them."
Caymin watched, a fountain of water frozen in midair. She knew Una resented having to practice with them.
Neela deftly stepped in between them. "I think that's enough for today. Your next lessons will be to learn the names and movements of the stars. Your days and nights will be mixed up for a bit, so try and get some sleep the next two days." She looked Daina over. "Since you've a need for a bath now anyhow, it might be a good day for you all to visit the bathhouse."
Una turned on her heel. "I already know the names of the stars, and I don't need a bath."
Daina's face, under the dirt spattered across it, was a furious pink. "Why must she take her anger out on us? It's not our fault Niall got to take his trials last Samhain and she didn't."
"I know," Cíana said sympathetically as the three girls made their way toward the bathhouse. "It rankles her more that after we all got sent away, Angus and his warriors never even threatened this forest. But it doesn't help that Niall is here. Seeing him walking around with his staff every day is like salt in a wound."
"That is my fault," Caymin said.
They entered the bathhouse and stripped out of their clothing. Even in summer, the spring water that fed the bath was icy. Caymin dipped a toe in and shivered before jumping in to join the others.
Daina rose from under the water looking much cleaner already. "Why do you feel guilty?" she asked.
"It was Péist and I who brought Niall here to take his trials last Samhain," Caymin said as she scrubbed Daina's back.
Daina turned to look over her shoulder. "But Niall was here. Una wasn't. It was Méav who helped him prepare. That isn't your fault."
As the girls took turns scrubbing each other's backs, they compared the changes in their bodies. Cíana and Daina both had small breasts beginning to form, while Caymin's body lagged behind.
Daina shook her head. "You'll always look like a boy."
"Not a boy," said Cíana. "Just a tough girl most wouldn't want to take on when she's angry. Ask Ivar."
They giggled, remembering how Caymin's magic had thrown Ivar across the sparring yard when she lost control.
Caymin could feel Cíana's fingers gently working over the old scars covering most of the right side of her body. Cíana undid the thin braids in Caymin's hair so she could wash it. "What are Niall and Ronan doing anyway?"
Conversation halted for a moment as all three went underwater to rinse their hair.
"They're probably at the sparring yard," said Daina when they emerged.
They pulled their clothing into the water and washed it while they were there.
"That's all we can do," Cíana said. "Spar and practice and wait."
"But what are we waiting for?" Daina asked. "No one will tell us."
Cíana glanced at Caymin, and then stared harder. Caymin felt her cheeks burn.
"I told you," Daina said triumphantly. "She does know something."
They each took Caymin by a shoulder and turned her to face them. She looked from one to the other.
"Enat says it is time to tell all of you," she began. "But do not say anything to the others until we tell them all together."
Daina and Cíana exchanged worried glances at Caymin's cautious tone.
"This doesn't sound good," Cíana said.
* * *
Péist flew down to the village. He felt the sun's warmth disappear when he dropped below the shadow line of the trees. The two-legs were gathered around a fire burning in the pit in the center of the dwellings. He could see the heat of their bodies encircling the warmth of the fire. Their conversation ceased upon his arrival.
"Greetings to you," he said, speaking so that all could hear.
"Thank you for coming, Péist," Enat said.
He settled next to Caymin and, a moment later, heard the flapping of Beanna's wings as she flew to perch on his back. He twisted his neck around to sniff her as she settled with a soft rustling of her wings.
"Over a moon ago," Enat began, "when Caymin and Péist returned from the otherworld, you knew that they had gone back a thousand winters in time to the last dragon war. Some of you guessed that Péist had been blinded by another dragon. It's true. Caymin and Péist fought Scolaí and Tuala, and then other dragons and mages returned to join in the fighting. It has always been known that the others were victorious, but it was never written what happened to Scolaí and Tuala. Our young friends were both injured in the battle, and we know now that Scolaí and Tuala were banished to another realm in the otherworld where they have been exiled all this time."
Excerpted from The Standing Stones by Caren J. Werlinger. Copyright © 2017 Caren J. Werlinger. Excerpted by permission of Corgyn Publishing, LLC.
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
ContentsPROLOGUE: OF DRAGONS AND DEMONS,
3: PAST IMPERFECT,
4: THE ISLAND OF NEED,
5: KNOWER OF ALL,
6: IT BEGINS AGAIN,
8: NEW FRIENDS, OLD ENEMIES,
9: RETURN OF THE DRAGONS,
10: CURSE OF THE BLOODSTONE,
12: BITTER CONSEQUENCES,
13: FROM DEATH, LIFE,
14: A CLASH OF DRAGONS,
15: DARKNESS DESCENDS,
16: CHASING THE PAST,
17: THE BATTLE BEGINS,
18: FIGHTING BACK,
19: FLIGHT OF THE BLOODSTONE,
21: REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING,
EPILOGUE: FULL CIRCLE,
CHARACTER AND PRONUNCIATION GUIDE,
EXCERPT: RISING FROM THE ASHES,