Excerpt: Stealing the Dragon

“Did you hear?” a woman’s voice asked excitedly from the direction of the bar.

“Hear what, Melda?” Jerney’s mother’s voice replied tiredly but with her own touch of excitement. Even after a long day working to serve customers in their little inn, his mother still had the energy to hear some gossip.

“A dragon visited the castle this morning!” Melda said with a gasp. “All golden.”

“Yes, yes,” Jerney’s mother said. “We all saw him fly over.”

Jerney nodded his head in agreement. It had been a magnificent sight, seeing the huge golden dragon swoop overhead as it flew to the castle.

“But you didn’t see him land!” Melda gasped. “Well,” she amended, “I didn’t either, but my sister-in-law did, and she told me all about it! The dragon landed and Prince Leon dismounted.”

“So the prince was visiting his family and his dragon came with him,” another woman interjected dryly. “That’s not a big deal.”

“Oh, but it was!” Melda snapped, awe still heavy in her voice. “See, the prince was carrying something. Well, someone, to be more specific. He brought a baby to the castle!”

“What were the dragons doing with a baby?” Jerney’s mother gasped.

“It wasn’t a human baby,” Melda answered. “Sure, it looked human at first, but my sister-in-law said that the blanket slipped and she could see scales all up his back. The baby was a dragon!”

“How peculiar!” Jerney’s mother replied, her mind firmly on the gossip rather than on her duties at the inn. “But why would the dragons bring a dragon child to the castle?”

“The prince summoned his brother, Prince Bast. Said he was calling in the favor owed. The baby’s mother couldn’t take care of him properly, and it was decided that to avoid being squished, the baby would be raised at the castle!”

“Oh!” Jerney’s mother squealed. “How wonderful.”

“I think it’s preposterous,” the third woman growled. “A dragon with our human children? King Felix’s children will get trampled!”

“I’m sure they’ll make provisions for that,” Jerney’s mother said dryly.

The conversation broke up a few moments later as Jerney’s mother was finally called away.

That was the first important conversation Jerney overheard from his little workroom in the back of the inn, bent over his spell books. He had been six, his brother Lyr only two and still healthy, and his father hadn’t yet caught the black cough that would eventually kill him.

A year later, Jerney’s father was dead and his Uncle Harold, his father’s younger brother, had moved into the inn and into his mother’s bed. Since his uncle was a witch, the profession Jerney was studying, Jerney didn’t mind so much. It meant he had more spell books to copy.

A witch’s training included copying his mentor’s spell books so that the trainee had his own books to take with him when he moved on. Once the copying was done, a witch would then use his new spell book and attempt every spell in the book. It was tradition, and it was effective. At six years of age, Jerney could already dip spells.

When Lyr was three, he began his own witch training. Jerney was excited because having two witches in the family was an honor. Then something went wrong with a spell. At three years old, Lyr could barely see over the spell pot and was, therefore, only assisting their Uncle Harold, who was actually dipping the spell. When the smoke cleared, Jerney knew Lyr would never become a witch. A witch needed all his senses to properly make spells, and Lyr had been left mostly blind.

When Jerney was eight and Lyr four, a year after the accident, their mother passed away in childbirth. A healthy baby girl was born.

An hour after the funeral, Jerney overheard the second important conversation that would change his life forever. Jerney had retreated to his little workroom in the back and was studiously copying a new spell book in order to avoid having to remember anything from the past few days. Lyr, red eyed and exhausted from crying, was curled up in the second chair. The baby was sleeping in a carry basket at Jerney’s feet.

“So, what are you going to do with the kids, Harold?” one of Uncle Harold’s friends asked.

Uncle Harold laughed. “Well, the two boys aren’t mine. The oldest—what’s his name, Jerney—has his uses to dip spells and to take care of the other two brats, but the younger boy, Lyr, is useless. And my girl is a baby, so who knows if she’ll be good for anything, yet.”

“You gonna sell them?” the first man asked. Jerney flinched. He knew Uncle Harold resented his brother’s children, but he had never been cruel before.

“Probably. Lyr can’t work and can’t spell. He will do for an elderly gentleman’s bed. Jerney can probably stir spells by now, so I have to get rid of him before he gets too powerful. I’m sure I can find someone who wants a pet witch.”

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