No amount of training has prepared Jaevid Broadfeather for the frontlines of battle. Now facing the true horrors of war, with Luntharda looming on the horizon, Jaevid has begun to question everything he thought about his heritage. The only thing keeping him going is his oath to protect his dragonrider brothers. But in an instant, even that slips through Jaevid’s fingers as he steps from the safety of his dragon’s saddle into the depths of his mother’s wild homeland—the kingdom of the gray elves. Stranded in Luntharda with his partner Lieutenant Jace Rordin, Jaevid must finally confront the demons of his own past as he uncovers the truth about a war that began before he was ever born. Armed with a new appreciation for destiny, and flanked by his trusted friends, Jaevid moves to make the final strike against an enemy that has been hiding in plain sight for far too long. One kingdom’s traitor will become the world’s last hope.
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 Avian and Fledgling. She lives in Valdosta, Georgia.
Read an Excerpt
By Nicole Conway
Month9Books, LLCCopyright © 2016 Nicole Conway
All rights reserved.
The world had changed.
And so had I. Nothing was simple anymore. Nothing was as it seemed — or as I thought it would be. I always lived my life with one little shred of confidence. Even though I had no idea where I was going, be it to a prison camp or to the dragonrider academy, I at least knew exactly where I'd come from. My mother was a beautiful, gentle gray elf woman. My father was a cold, abusive, tyrannical human who made saddles for dragonriders. Those were facts I'd known I could rely on.
But as it turned out, not even that was true. Every passing night brought more dreams and more strangeness. Secrets were mocking me from the shadows of my past. I couldn't shut out the noise anymore. And it was beginning to wear away what little bit of sanity I had left.
When I had first set foot into Blybrig Academy for Dragonriders as a terrified child, I was the very last person you'd ever want to stick into a dragon saddle and send off into combat. But now, as I leaned into Mavrik's speed, feeling the strength of my dragon's wings as if they were my own ... I knew I wasn't that child anymore. I couldn't be.
I was a dragonrider — not only because I had been chosen, but also because Blybrig had made me one.
I'd fought through hell and back, been baptized in the inferno of combat and survival training to prove that I belonged here. Now I could stand and be counted among the men who called themselves the Dragonriders of Maldobar. I'd worked until I bled for every single step of progress. Was I terrified? Absolutely. Fear was a constant, but it paled in comparison to the sense of duty that burned in my gut now.
I wouldn't fail. I wouldn't falter. I would fight until my very last breath. Not for myself, or my own glory — I was fighting for the people I loved.
The battlefront was beckoning, and I couldn't ignore that call. No dragonrider could. But I'd seen what it had done to others of my kind, and that impending reality was frightening.
You see, the battlefield changes everyone. You can't get back what it takes from you, and you can't erase the marks it leaves behind. I could look at my instructors and tell that much. Not all of them had gruesome physical scars, but they all had the same dead look in their eyes. It was the look of a soldier — the somber sense that they had seen things they couldn't tell anyone about. They were living ghosts, mere specters of their former selves haunted by the things they'd done all for the sake of a blue banner bearing the king's seal.
I poured my thoughts into my dragon's mind. Our minds were melded together as one, so we exchanged wordless conversations as we darted through the steep, rocky canyons and soared over the sprawling, bowl-shaped desert valley. Blybrig was the only spot of civilization in sight. That stony fortress had been our home for so long now, and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
But our time was almost up. We had to join my new squadron at Northwatch soon. I was supposed to be partnered up with my former instructor, Seasoned Lieutenant Jace Rordin, and act as his wing end. Together with our dragons, we would fly in combat until the war ended, we retired, or one of us got killed. That was the dragonrider way.
Jace had already left to rejoin the forces at the citadel. He'd given me a few days to gather my stuff and say goodbye to my family — which would have been nice if I'd had any worth speaking of. I hadn't heard a word from my father, Ulric, since I'd started training. My half-brother, Roland, was the only one of my family members who had ever reached out to me. He was stationed with the infantry at Northwatch, too, and part of me was hoping I'd get to see him again.
As Mavrik and I reached the edge of the mountains that surrounded the valley, we soared higher and gazed out across the desert. The dark silhouettes of other dragons flickered against the blazing glare from the setting sun. The heat made the air ripple like water, and yet the mountains around us were crowned with snow. It was a beautiful contrast.
We flew until it was nearly dark, bolting through drills and running through every test of speed and aerial acrobatics we could. I pushed the limits of what I knew my body could take. It left us both exhausted when we landed back at the Roost. As I unbuckled from the saddle, Mavrik shook himself. He seemed glad to finally be free of my weight.
"Dinner?" I asked him as I took off my helmet.
He snorted in agreement.
I brought him up a bucket of cut meat scraps and refilled his water trough before I started taking off his saddle or my armor. It was a lot of work, and I had to make sure to check over every buckle and strap for possible damage. I stacked all our gear in the corner of his stall and sat down on the open ledge that overlooked the academy. My body ached from riding. My hands were sore and my palms were raw from gripping the saddle handles — even through my thick riding gauntlets. I was tired, filthy, and hungry. But this was my last time to watch the sun set over the academy. I didn't want to miss it.
When Mavrik finished eating, he strolled over to flop down beside me. He curled his tail around his body and tucked his wings in close to his sides, resting his huge snout right next to me. I heard him puff a loud, deep sigh.
"I know what you mean." I sighed, too. "I'll miss this place."
Mavrik's catlike yellow eyes looked up at me, and an image of Felix and his dragon, Nova, popped into my mind.
Felix Farrow had been my best friend basically since we first met, which had been in our fledgling year of training. We'd been through a lot together since then, and still didn't seem at all bothered by any of the bizarre things that were happening in my life. For that reason alone, I was determined to do everything I could to be as loyal to him as he had been to me.
"Yeah. We can't let them go alone. Somebody's got to keep that idiot from getting himself killed." I smirked as I scratched his snout. It made Mavrik purr and his eyes closed. "Besides, there's nothing left for us here."
Once he was calm and settled in his stall, I carried all our gear downstairs to the tack room and stored it. It was dark when I started for the dormitories, so I didn't think much of it when I passed people on my way. There were still plenty of students and instructors milling around, running last minute errands before they retired for the night. The few craftsmen that had come to make saddles and armor this year were already closing down their shops and dousing their forges.
I was looking forward to a hot meal and some sleep, maybe even a bath to soothe my aching shoulders, but someone suddenly grabbed my arm. I stopped, turning back to squint through the darkness.
At first, I barely recognized him.
It had been a year since I'd spoken to Bren, and he didn't look at all like he had the last time we'd parted ways. Last I had seen him, he had been smitten with my former childhood friend, Katalina Crookin. They had both been in an apprenticeship to become blacksmiths, and Bren had demonstrated a lot of talent when he fixed my scimitar. He was kind of a simpleton, but I had to give him some credit. He had a good heart, and a sunny disposition that sometimes made me want to choke him. Despite that, and Katty's fiery disapproval, we'd become friends after I had saved him from being mauled to death by a pack of wolves.
Seeing him now was sort of bittersweet, though. He still wasn't even close to being as tall as I was — not that many people were — but he looked older. Much, much older. He had the beginnings of a short beard on his chin and there were heavy, dark circles under his eyes. His hair was longer, and he looked a little thinner. When he smiled, it put crow's feet in the corners of his eyes.
"Jaevid Broadfeather? My, the Fates are kind. I was hoping I would see you. It's been a long time, dragonrider." He put out a hand toward me.
I smiled back at him and shook it firmly. "I'd say so. Glad to see you made it here without me this year."
He laughed at that, but it was a hollow, forced sound. "Barely, I'm afraid." I could see worry in his eyes as he turned away, nodding toward his forge. It was unsettling. "Could I get a hand?"
"Of course." I followed him to his temporary shop. I half expected to see Katty there, unloading the wagon or closing down the forge for the night. After all, they were supposed to be partners. But there was no one else with him.
"I just need to get these last few crates stacked up," he explained as he climbed up into the back of his wagon.
I joined him and started helping move the heavy wooden crates, one by one, into his work area. It brought back memories of helping my father when he'd brought me here to be his apprentice.
"Are you alone this year?" I dared to ask.
He swallowed stiffly. "Yes. It couldn't be helped. Mr. Crookin retired. I guess last year's run-in with the wolves and mountain cat was all he could take. And it's too dangerous to bring Katty through the mountain pass right now. I left her at home with the baby."
Through the gloom, I spotted the metallic glint of a wedding band on his left hand. It gave me a weird feeling. Not jealousy, though. Definitely not. I was actually wondering if he really was happy with Katty. He'd aged a good ten years in such a short time. Did that usually happen to newlyweds? "Congratulations. If I'd known I would have sent you a gift or something."
Bren just shook his head dismissively. "There wasn't really a ceremony to speak of. And Katty was calling all the shots. I tried to talk her down, but she insisted she didn't want you to know about any of it."
"It's okay. I understand." I hefted the last crate out of the wagon myself, carrying it over one shoulder and stacking it up with the others. "Maybe it's not my place to ask, but is everything okay? You look ... tired." I tried to phrase it gently.
With the last crate out of the wagon, Bren started unhitching his team of horses. He hadn't asked for my help with that, but I decided to give it anyway. He looked like he might drop from exhaustion at any moment.
"I wasn't counting on being the sole provider this soon," he admitted quietly. "I'm barely out of my apprenticeship, I've no funds built up, and I'm already here working the spring orders alone. Katty didn't want to stay behind. The baby, well, that wasn't exactly planned. We rushed the marriage because of it. As much as I need her here to help, I couldn't risk hauling them both over the mountains right now. Not with the way things are."
I nodded. "I've heard the animals are getting worse."
"That's putting it mildly. This madness — it's spreading like a sickness all over the kingdom. There's too many animals infected for it just to be a coincidence now. Every day we hear new stories of villages and cities being overrun. Creatures no one has seen in hundreds of years are suddenly stirring. It's like the whole world is going mad." Bren glanced sideways at me, like he wasn't sure how I would take this. "People are saying it's coming from the elven forest. That it's something they sent to be a plague among us."
"I hope so."
His eyes got wide.
"Because if it is, then there might be a way to stop it," I clarified.
"I suppose that makes sense," he agreed. "Mithangol hasn't been hit hard yet. Just a few cases of cattle and dogs. We've been waiting and hoping for orders to come down from the king, that soldiers or dragonriders would come to help us. But the king doesn't seem to care about any of this. He only has eyes for Luntharda. Crushing the elven armies is all that matters to him. Meanwhile his own people are being stamped out like cockroaches."
I put a hand on Bren's shoulder. I understood now why he looked the way he did. I could sympathize — but only to a degree. I'd never been married, and I'd never been a father. The weight of being both, and then being forced to leave them behind so he could provide, regardless of what was happening in the world, must have been incredibly hard on him. No wonder he'd aged so much.
"Don't give up." I tried to sound reassuring. "As long as there's even one dragonrider left to fight, then there's still hope."
Bren gave me another tired smile. "I know," he said. "That's why I came."
* * *
I left Bren to finish his work and started back for the dormitory. The stars were out and the air was so clear I could make out the dusty, milky smear of dust painted through the night sky. It mixed with the glittering of the stars, like they were swimming in a thin cloud of white ash. The breeze felt cool on my skin, like a breath of relief from the hot desert daylight.
As I made my way through the compound, I heard voices whispering near the large, dome-shaped building where morning briefs were held. I could barely see a group of students huddled near the doorway, talking like they didn't want to get caught. I knew they were fledglings because of their uniforms. They were wearing those trademark blue tunics with the golden eagle of the king stitched across the chest.
They all went silent as I walked past, staring at me like they hoped I hadn't noticed them. It was strange to be looked at like that, not because I was a halfbreed — because I was the same age as they were. Most dragonriders were seventeen or eighteen when they started training. But I was a sworn-in lieutenant already. I had started my training when I was only fifteen, and now I was almost eighteen ... even if I didn't look it. We were the same age, but I outranked them.
Of course, they probably couldn't tell that. Felix still teased me about looking like I was in my twenties. That was part of the reason I didn't raise as many brows now when the older riders saw me standing in the lineup. At least I looked old enough to be there.
Wearing my fur-collared cloak, given to me when I took my oath as an official dragonrider for king and country, and sporting a scar from a shrike's claw across my cheek, I probably looked like a seasoned rider. Especially to a bunch of fledgling students who didn't know any better. I guess that was why they all went stiff when I stopped and faced them.
"Get back to your dorms," I growled, trying my best to sound like Sile or Jace whenever they barked orders at me. "It's past curfew."
They scattered at the sound of my voice. Some even apologized as they scrambled back to their dormitory. Something about it made me smile. Sure, it was a little fun to order them around, but that wasn't the main reason I liked it. I remembered being like that, scared to death of anyone who even looked like an instructor, and seeing it from the other side made me nostalgic.
The dining hall was lit and filled with the sounds of voices. Students sat at the long tables that stretched the length of the room, while instructors shared a table at the head of the room. That was where I sat down. A few of the other newly sworn lieutenants from my class sat around me, and we struck up a conversation. We started reminiscing, telling stories and recalling good memories about our own training.
I had my face down in a mug of spiced ale to take a few sips when I felt someone grab my long ponytail and yank it. It made me choke and sputter. I didn't even have to look to see who had done it — he muscled his way into our group and slumped down into the seat beside me.
"What are you girls clucking about? You sound like a bunch of old hens over here." Felix Farrow chuckled as he leaned his elbows on the table. He had been my best friend since the beginning of training, despite the fact that he was now a duke. Normally, his social standing would have forbidden us to be acquaintances, let alone friends. But apparently no amount of wealth or social prestige prevented him from teasing me like a ruthless big brother every chance he got.
I rolled my eyes at him and wiped the ale off my face. "Where have you been?"
"Finding out who my partner is. My orders are official now. I'm headed for Northwatch, with you, Jaevid." It didn't take him two minutes to start stealing food off my plate. He swiped a few slices of bread and stuffed them into his cheek.
Hearing that we'd be stationed at the same citadel made me exhale deeply. I was relieved. We'd assumed that's where he would go, after all, top graduates were usually sent to the hottest points of conflict on the battlefront, and Northwatch was by far the most dangerous since it sat on the border with the enemy kingdom of the gray elves, but nothing was guaranteed.
"So who is it? Your partner?" I was dying to know. Everyone else was already paired up with a senior rider; someone they would shadow in combat until they achieved enough experience to be called a Seasoned Lieutenant. It was called being a "wing end" and while it sounded like an easy gig, it came with its own share of challenges.
Excerpted from Traitor by Nicole Conway. Copyright © 2016 Nicole Conway. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books, LLC.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My Thoughts - 5 out of 5 Unicorns - I loved it!!! ***Received the ebook for an honest review The cover is pretty cool! Her eyes and hair are beautiful!! This is the 3rd book in the series. It is a young adult fantasy series with elves and dragons. I highly recommend reading the whole series in order. This book was just as awesome as the rest of the series. Jae is definitely an awesome hero with tons of courage, but sometimes he is naïve. There were definitely plenty of surprises and times I was yelling “no” when things happened I didn’t want to. Nicole has a way of making the story come alive. I was so gripped in the story when it ended I was dumbfounded and not expecting it so soon. It definitely leaves you hanging and wanting for the next book. I highly recommend this adventure to any adventurous soul who loves dragons, elves, mysterious creatures, and surprises all over the place. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
I love this series! Its as good as The Dragonriders of Pern, and Eragon series! Definitely a must read!