Dragon King The by R. A. Salvatore




  A Time Warner Company

  THE DRAGON KING. Copyright © 1996 by R. A. Salvatore. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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  A Time Warner Company

  ISBN: 978-0-7595-2423-1

  A hardcover edition of this book was published in 1996 by Warner Books.

  The “Warner Books” name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  First eBook edition: June 2001

  Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Epilogue

  BOOKS BY R.A. SALVATORE

  The Crystal Shard

  Streams of Silver

  The Halfling’s Gem

  Homeland

  Echoes of the Fourth Magic

  Exile

  Sojourn

  Canticle

  The Witch’s Daughter

  In Sylvan Shadows

  Night Mask

  The Legacy

  The Fallen Fortress

  Starless Night

  The Woods Out Back

  The Dragon’s Dagger

  The Chaos Curse

  Siege of Darkness

  Sword of Bedwyr*

  Dragonslayer’s Return

  Luthien’s Gamble*

  Passage to Dawn

  The Dragon King*

  Tarzan: The Epic Adventures

  The Demon Awakens

  *The Crimson Shadow Series

  *Published by

  WARNER BOOKS

  To Diane, and to Bryan, Geno, and Caitlin

  PROLOGUE

  The Avonsea Islands knew peace, but it was a tentative thing, founded on a truce that neither kingdom, Avon or Eriador, truly desired, a truce signed only because continuing the war would have been too costly for the outlaw king of Avon and too desperate for the ill-equipped and outmanned fledgling kingdom of Eriador.

  In that northern land, the wizard Brind’Amour was crowned, and the excitement of the common people, an independent and rugged breed, was rightly high. But King Brind’Amour, grown wise by the passage of centuries, tempered his own hopes in the sobering understanding that, in mighty Avon, evil Greensparrow remained as king. For twenty years Greensparrow had held Eriador in his hand, giving him dominance of all the islands, and Brind’Amour understood that he would not so easily let go, whatever the truce might say. And Greensparrow, too, was a wizard, with powerful demonic allies, and a court that included four wizard-dukes and a duchess of considerable sorcerous power.

  But though he was the only wizard in all of Eriador, alone in magical power against Greensparrow’s court, Brind’Amour took comfort that he, too, had powerful allies. Most prominent among them was Luthien Bedwyr, the Crimson Shadow, who had become the hero of the nation and the symbol of Eriador free. It was Luthien who slew Duke Morkney, Luthien who led the revolt in Montfort, taking back the city and restoring its true Eriadoran name of Caer MacDonald.

  For now at least, Eriador was free, and all the people of the land—the sailors of Port Charley and the three northern islands, the fierce Riders of Eradoch, the sturdy dwarfs of the Iron Cross, the Fairborn elves, and all the farmers and fishermen—were solidly aligned behind their king and their land.

  If Greensparrow wanted Eriador back in his unlawful grasp, he would have to fight them, all of them, for every inch of ground.

  ENEMY OLD, ENEMY NEW

  A simple spell brought him unnoticed past the guards, out from the main gates of the greatest city in all of Avonsea, mighty Carlisle on Stratton. Under cover of a moonless night, the man rushed along, fighting the rebellion, the inner turmoil, of his other self, the impatience of a being too long imprisoned.

  “Now!” implored a silent call within him, the willpower of Dansallignatious. “Now.”

  Greensparrow growled. “Not yet, you fool,” he warned, for he knew the risks of this journey, knew that to reveal himself to the Avonese populace, to show his subjects who and what he truly was, would surely overwhelm them. Dansallignatious, the other half of this man who was king, didn’t agree, had never agreed, through all the years of Greensparrow’s reign, through all the centuries before that since the time when the two, wizard and familiar being, had become one. To Dansallignatious, the revelation would only make them grovel all the more, would make Greensparrow greater in their eyes, would even cow the kings of neighboring countries into paying homage to the ultimate power that was Avon.

  But then, Greensparrow reasoned, Dansallignatious would think that way; it was the way of his kind!

  Through the fields the king ran, his feet hastened by a simple enchantment. Past the outlying farms, past the small huts where single candles behind windows showed that the folk were still awake. He felt a tug on his spine, an itch across his powdered skin.

  “Not yet,” Greensparrow implored Dansallignatious, but it was too late. The beast could no longer be contained. Greensparrow tried to run on, but a painful crack in his leg sent him sprawling in the thick grass. Then he was crawling, inching his way over a ridge, to roll down into the shelter of a grassy hollow.

  His screams brought the farmers of three nearby cottages to their windows, peering out cautiously into the dark night. One man took up his ancient family sword, a rusted old thing, and dared to go out, moving slowly toward the continuing sound.

  He had never heard such torment, such agony! It came from ahead, on the other side of a grassy bluff.

  But then it quieted, suddenly, and the farmer thought that the man must have been killed.

  Only then did he realize his own foolishness. Something behind that hill had apparently just murdered a man. What made him, a simple farmer with no experience or training with the sword, think that he would fare any better? Slowly, he began to back away.

  Then he stopped, stricken.

  A huge horned head lifted out of the shallow, rising, rising, ten feet, twenty feet above him. Lamplight orbs, yellow-green in color, reptilian in appearance, locked on to the man, showed him his doom.

  The farmer’s breath came in labored gasps. He wanted desperately to turn and run, but the sheer magnificence of the beast held him fast. Up came the dragon to the top of the bluff, great claws rending the earth as it moved, its wide-spread wings and tremendous bulk, eighty feet from horned head to swishing tail, blotting out the night sky.

  “It feels good, Greensparrow,” the beast said suddenly.

  “Do not speak that name!” the beast then
said, in the same thunderous voice, but with a different tone altogether.

  “Greensparrow?” the farmer managed to whisper, confused, overwhelmed.

  “Greensparrow!” insisted the dragon. “Do you not know your king? On your knees!”

  The sheer power of the voice knocked the trembling farmer over. He scrambled to his knees, bowing his head before this most awful of creatures.

  “You see?” asked the part that was Dansallignatious. “They fear me, worship me!”

  The words were barely out before the dragon’s face twisted weirdly. The voice that signified Dansallignatious started to protest, but the words were blasted away as a huge gout of fire burst forth from the dragon’s mouth.

  The blackened corpse beside the melted sword was not recognizable.

  Dansallignatious shrieked, outraged that his fun with the peasant had been cut short, but Greensparrow willed himself into flight then and the sheer freedom of the cool night air flowing over leathery wings brought such joy and exhilaration to the dragon king that all arguments seemed petty.

  A crowd of farmers gathered about the side of the bluff the next day, staring at the scorched grass and the blackened corpse. The Praetorian Guards were called in, but, as was usually the case where the brutish, unsympathetic cyclopians were involved, they were of little help. Reports of the incident would go back to Carlisle, they promised, snickering as they watched the dead man’s grieving family.

  More than one of the folk gathered claimed to have seen a great winged beast flying about on the previous night; that, too, would be told in Carlisle.

  Greensparrow, comfortably back in the slender, almost effeminate form that his subjects had come to know so well, the dark side of him that was Dansallignatious appeased by the night of freedom, dismissed the reports as the overactive imaginations of simple peasants.

  “To be sure, even the fishing is better these days!” howled an exuberant Shamus McConroy, first hand on The Skipper, a fishing boat out of the village of Gybi, the north port of Bae Colthwyn on Eriador’s windswept northeastern shore. So named for its tendency to leap headlong through the high breakers, half-clear of the water, The Skipper was among the most highly regarded vessels of Bae Colthwyn’s considerable fishing fleet. She was a thirty-footer, wide and with one square sail, and a crew of eight, salty old seadogs all, with not a hair among them that wasn’t turning to gray.

  Old Captain Aran Toomes liked it that way, and steadfastly refused to train a younger replacement crew. “Got no time for puppies,” the crusty captain grumbled whenever someone remarked that his boat was a doomed thing—“mortal as a man” was the saying. Toomes always accepted the ribbing with a knowing snarl. In Bae Colthwyn, on the Dorsal Sea, where the great killer whales roamed in huge packs and the weather turned ugly without warning, fishermen left widows behind, and more “puppies” drowned than reached manhood. Thus, the crew of The Skipper was a reckless bunch of bachelors, hard drinkers and hard riders, challenging the mighty Dorsal Sea as though God above had put the waves in their path as a personal challenge. Day after day, she went out further and faster than any other boat in the fishing fleet.

  So it was this midsummer day, The Skipper running the breakers, sails full and straining. The weather seemed to shift every hour, from sunny bright to overcast, that curious mixture on the open water where a body was never quite comfortable, was always too hot or too cold. Younger, less experienced sailors would have spent a fair amount of time at the rail, bidding farewell to their morning meal, but The Skipper’s crew, more at home on the water than on land, took the dramatic changes in bowlegged stride.

  And their spirits were higher than normal this fine day, for their land, beloved Eriador, was free once more. Prodded by a rebel army that had pushed all the way to the Avon city of Princetown, King Greensparrow of Avon had let Eriador out of his grasp, relinquishing the land to the people of Eriador. The old wizard Brind’Amour, a man of Eriadoran stock, had been crowned king in Caer MacDonald as the season had turned to summer. Not that life would be much different for the fisherfolk of Bae Colthwyn—except of course that they would no longer have to deal with cyclopian tax bands. King Greensparrow’s influence had never really carried that much weight in the rugged land of northeastern Eriador, and not one in fifty of the people along the bay had ever gone further south than Mennichen Dee on the northern edges of the Fields of Eradoch.

  Only the folk of southern Eriador, along the foothills of the Iron Cross mountain range, where Greensparrow’s tyranny was felt in force, would likely see any dramatic difference in their day-to-day existence, but that wasn’t the point of it all. Eriador was free, and that cry of independence echoed throughout the land, from the Iron Cross to Glen Albyn, to the pinelands of the northeast and the splashing, rocky shoreline of Bae Colthwyn, to the three northern isles, Marvis, Caryth, and giant Bedwydrin. Simple hope, that most necessary ingredient of happiness, had come to the wild land, personified by a king that few north of MacDonald’s Swath would ever glimpse, and by a legend come to life called the Crimson Shadow.

  When the news of their freedom had come to the bay, the fleet had put out, the fishermen singing and dancing on the decks as though they honestly expected the waters to be fuller with fish, as though they expected the dorsal whales to turn and flee at the mere sight of a boat flying under the flag of Eriador old, as though they expected the storms to blow less fierce, as though Nature herself should bow down to the new king of Eriador.

  What a wonderful thing is hope, and to all who saw her this season, and especially to the men who crewed her, it seemed as if The Skipper leaped a little higher and ran the dark waters a little faster.

  Early that morning, Shamus McConroy spotted the first whale, its black dorsal fin standing higher than a tall man, cutting the water barely fifty feet off their starboard bow. With typical abandon, the eight seadogs hurled taunts and whisky bottles the great whale’s way, challenging and cursing, and when that fin slipped under the dark water, moving away from the boat, they gave a hearty cheer and paid it no more heed. The least experienced of them had spent thirty years on the water, and their fear of the whales was long since gone. They could read the dangerous animals, knew when to taunt and when to turn, when to dump a haul of fish into the water as a diversion, and when, as a final stance, to take up their long, pointed gaff hooks.

  Soon after, all signs of land long gone, Aran Toomes put the morning sun over his right shoulder, running The Skipper southeast toward the mouth of the straits between Eriador and the Five Sentinels, a line of brooding islands, more stone than turf. Toomes meant to keep his boat out for the better part of a week, putting a hundred miles a day behind him. His course would take him out to the north of Colonsey, the largest and northernmost of the Five Sentinels, and then back again to the bay. The water was colder out there, the old captain knew, just the way the cod and mackerel liked it. The other boats of Bae Colthwyn’s fleet knew it, too, but few had the daring of The Skipper, or the confidence and sea knowhow of Aran Toomes.

  Toomes kept his course true for three days, until the tips of Colonsey’s steep mountains were in sight. Then he began his long, slow turn, a hundred-and-eighty-degree arc, bringing her around to the northwest. Behind him, working furiously, drinking furiously, and howling with glee, his seven crewmen hauled in side-nets and long lines loaded with fish: beautiful, shiny, smelly, flopping cod and mack, and even blues, nasty little predators who did nothing more than swim and bite, swim and bite, never stopping long enough to finish devouring whatever unfortunate fish had given them the mouthful. Shamus McConroy worked a belaying pin wildly, thunking blues on the head until those tooth-filled mouths stopped their incessant snapping. He got a nasty bite on the ankle, cutting him right through his hard boots, and responded by hoisting the ten-pound blue by the tail and whacking it repeatedly against the rail, to the hoots and cheers of the others.

  For the seadogs, this was heaven.

  The Skipper was lower in the water halfway through
the turn, her hold nearly full. The crew went down to one line, two men working it, while the other five sorted through the load, pulling out smaller fish that were still alive and tossing them over, wanting to replace them with bigger specimens. It was all a game at this point, a challenge for fun, for a dozen smaller fish were just as valuable as the eight bigger ones that would fill their space in the hold, but the old sailors knew that the long days went faster when the hands were moving. Here they were, full of fish three hundred miles from port, with little to do but keep the sail in shape and steer the damned boat.

  “Ah, so we’re not the only boat with the gumption and heads to come out for a full hold,” Shamus remarked to Aran. Grinning at old Aran’s skeptical look, Shamus pointed to the northern horizon, where a darker speck had become evident within the line of bluish-gray.

  “A pity we’ve not a bigger hold,” Aran replied lightheartedly. “We could have fished the waters clean before ever they arrived!” The crusty captain finished the statement by clapping the crewman hard on the back.

  That brought a chuckle from Shamus.

  The Skipper continued along its merry way, the weather crisp and clear, the sea high, but not choppy, and the fishing more for sport now than for business. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that Aran Toomes began to grow concerned. That speck on the horizon was much larger now, and, to the captain’s surprise, it showed no sail on its single, square-rigged mast; thus it was no fishing boat from Bae Colthwyn. It was moving, though, and swiftly, and it seemed to be angling to intercept The Skipper.

  Toomes brought the fishing boat harder to port, turning more westerly.

  A few moments later, the other boat corrected its course accordingly.

  “What do you know?” Shamus asked as he came forward to join Toomes at the wheel.

  “I don’t know,” Aran Toomes replied grimly. “That’s what’s got me to thinking.”

  By now, the crew of The Skipper could see the froth at the side of the approaching vessel, a turbulence that could only mean a bank of great oars, pulling hard. In all the Dorsal Sea, only one race normally used boats that could be so oared, as well as sailed.

 
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