Here's the preliminary art for the cover of the new dragon book. I'm super excited!!!! And here's a preview of a rough draft of the first chapter that I promised to post today.
Dragonbound: Blue Dragon
Heart pulsing, Kanvar pushed his way through the cloth door of the herbal shop out onto Daro's busy street. His left leg dragged behind him. It had been twisted and crippled since birth. His left arm hung at his side, half as big as a normal arm with only two fingers and a thumb. But he couldn't let his deformed body slow him down. His brother's life depended on him getting home quickly with the healing herbs.
The afternoon sun radiated from the clay brick buildings and beat against Kanvar's face. He ducked through the crowds of people in head coverings and long cotton robes. Raised voices filled the street as shoppers bartered with the shop owners. The scent of spices and herbs made the back of his throat itch.
He tied the pouch of herbs to a leather thong and hung it around his neck, tucking it deep under his robes, flat against his chest, where thieving hands in the crowd would be least likely to get at it. The herbs had not come cheap, but Kanvar's family was part of the elite dragon hunter jati. They could afford them. They had to, to save Devaj's life.
Limping down the street, Kanvar tried to hurry, he made slow progress through the crowd. He grew impatient with himself and tried to walk faster. Each step took thought and effort. Sweat soaked his skin, and the blowing sand caked against it. He kept moving, leaving behind the shops and stepping into a square where members of the farm jati sold fruits and vegetables in a maze of stands. Itchekins squawked from cages, clawing at the wooden bars and rubbing their scaly hides against the wires that held the cages together. Itchekins laid soft sweet eggs, and thoughts of cooked itchekin made Kanvar's mouth water. Of all the lesser dragons, Kanvar liked the taste of itchekin best.
A camdor and its rider barreled through the square, most likely carrying an urgent message across town for the All Council. The camdor's four massive legs propelled its lizard-like body through the press of people. Its tale snaked out behind it. Kanvar kept well away from the camdor and its rider. Though the camdors were tamed lesser dragons, their sharp claws could kill a child if one accidentally strayed in its path.
Kanvar kept moving. His mother feared Devaj would not survive the day without the herbs.
"Look what we have here?" an older boy saw Kanvar and followed him across the square to the street on the far side. "A cripple. Untouchable, pile of dung. What did you do in your past life, murder innocent children?" The boy spit into the dirt behind Kanvar.
Kanvar whirled to face him. "I belong to the dragon hunter jati. My grandfather was Kumar Raza, the greatest dragon hunter who ever lived."
"Raza?" the boy's eyes widened. "You lie. Besides, I heard Raza went in search of the Great White Dragon and never returned. He's probably dead, so that makes him the worst dragon hunter that ever lived."
Kanvar threw himself at the older boy, tackling him to the ground, and pummeling him with his good hand. The older boy tried to block Kanvar's blows, but he belonged to one of the farmer jatis and hadn't been trained in fighting like Kanvar had. "Never insult my grandfather again." Kanvar gave the pathetic boy a kick in the ribs for good measure then set out once more for home. He pressed his hand against his chest to be sure the herbs were still there.
He reached his home street and entered the building which stretched the entire length of the block. It had four floors. Since Kanvar's family was elite, they lived on the top floor. That meant they got fresher air and more sunlight and were free from many of the scaly ground vermin that raided food stores and carried disease. Kanvar kicked a kitrat off the stoop and pushed through the cloth doorway.
Devaj always made climbing the narrow stone staircase look easy. Kanvar gasped for breath as he hauled his body up each flight. Nothing physical came easy for Kanvar, but he didn't let his crippled leg and arm stop him from doing everything anyone else in his jati could do. Sometimes it just took him longer.
Kanvar pushed through the bright blue cloth with gold stitching that covered the doorway into his home. Inside he found a Unani doctor hovering over his brother. This doctor had gray hair and looked old enough to be the head of the Unani jati.
Kanvar's mother stood close by, her face puckered with worry, her hands clasped tightly in front of her. She acknowledged Kanvar's entrance with a questioning look. Had he gotten the herbs? Kanvar nodded and pressed his hand against the pouch he wore around his neck.
Sweat drenched Devaj, soaking through the sheet that covered him, and plastering his golden hair to the sides of his face. He tossed and moaned and muttered about dying of emptiness and flying away.
The Unani lifted the sheets, revealing an angry red rash marked with scaly white skin sloughing off. The Unani's eyes flashed angry and hard. "Three weeks of this fever you say?"
"Yes. Kanvar has brought herbs from Stonefountain. I think they will help."
"I think not," the Unani said, letting the sheet drop back over Devaj.
"The rash is new," Mother said. "Surely there is some kind of treatment for it?"
"Yes, I have a treatment."
Kanvar didn't like the coldness in the Unani's voice. The Unani opened his outer robe to reach into one of the pouches he had secured around his waist. "Bring me some hot water, Mani," he ordered Kanvar's mother.
Mani retreated to the other side of the screen that separated the cooking area from the rest of the house.
While he waited for her to return with the water, the Unani elder paced to the wide open window that looked out across the city to the bay and the ocean beyond. The blazing gold sun looked down on the baked bricks. The Unani stared out into the empty blue sky as if looking for something until Mani returned with the water.
While the Unani mixed his medicines, he questioned Mani. "Can you recite your ancestral line?"
"Of course I can," Mani said. "It is the most renowned dragon hunter line in all of Varna." She started listing names until the Unani waved her to silence.
"Can you recite your husband's ancestral line?"
There was silence for a moment. Mani's face flushed. Kanvar realized with horror his father had never made him memorize the required ancestral line. All the other boys he knew could cite their ancestors back at least twenty generations.
"Amar isn't from Varna," Mani spluttered. "My father met him on a hunt in Kundalin. Amar has killed dozens of dragons. He's been in Kundalin hunting dragons this past month. He's well-known for his hunting abilities and an accepted member of our jati."
The Unani took the cup of medicine to Devaj's side. "Ah, but has he ever killed a Great dragon?"
Mani plucked up her courage and marched over nose to nose with the Unani. "Very few men have ever killed a Great dragon."
The Unani held out the cup to Mani. "Give this to your son."
Mani took it, sat down on the bed with its iron frame, and ran her fingertips across Devaj's sweat-soaked forehead. She started to lift his head up to drink, but she sniffed the medicine cup, and her eyes widened. "This smells like snakelily. That's poisonous. It could kill a grown man in minutes."
"Yes," the Unani said, rubbing his hands on his robes. "A quick and painless death. Your son is doomed one way or another. This is the most merciful way."
"No," Kanvar shouted. He would not sit by and let this merciless Unani elder kill his brother. He hobbled forward and threw himself across the bed, blocking his mother from administering the poison.
"I don't understand," Mani said. She held the cup away from her in horror.
"Do you not?" the Unani said. "Then I will be very clear. Your husband is a Naga. The boy has dragon sickness. He must bond with a Great dragon or he will die a slow painful death. His very existence is a curse to humanity. By our laws he must be killed before he gets a chance to bond with one of those monsters. If you do not give your son that drink, I'll take his case to the All Council. They will send men to hunt and kill him as well as your husband."
"It can't be." Mani's hands shook so the poisoned drink sloshed over the sides of the cup. "My husband is a dragon hunter, not one of the dragonbound, not a Naga."
"Suit yourself," the Unani said. He straightened his robes and headed for the door. "I'll be back with the Naga hunters to finish the job. If you have a singing stone, I suggest you get it ready to use against your husband when he returns. He is a Naga. He has controlled your mind and forced you to love him so he can breed more of his evil kind."
The Unani pushed his way past the door cover.
Kanvar eased himself off of his brother. Devaj moaned and blinked up at Kanvar. "So empty," he cried. "So alone."
"No," Kanvar said, gripping Devaj's hand. "You aren't alone. Mother and I are here with you."
Kanvar looked up at his mother. "What are we to do? The Unani must be wrong."
Mani set the cup down on the dragonhide-covered table beside the bed and went to a locked chest she kept in the corner. It was grandfather's chest. Kanvar had been allowed to look inside once or twice. It held grandfather Raza's dragon armor, his spear, sword and crossbow. And grandfather's singing stone. All his tools for hunting dragons.
"Your father's ship is back from Kundiland. It came into port a few minutes before you arrived. He could be home at any time." Mani lifted Grandfather's heavy crossbow out of the chest. Raza was a big man and had designed and built the double-firing crossbow himself.
Straining, Mani cranked the handle to cock the bow. One string first, and then the other. She fitted two of the steel bolts into the grooves. The crossbow bolts were sharp and strong and could pierce dragon scales.
Kanvar had spent many a pleasant afternoon practicing with the smaller crossbow his father had bought for him. But that was only a toy compared to Grandfather Raza's bow. Now Kanvar tensed as he watched his mother ready the crossbow. He couldn't understand why she would need it. If father had returned, he could recite his family lines and prove that he was not a Naga. The All Council's men would leave Devaj alone.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs, and a deep voice called out. "Mani, I'm back. You won't believe the hunt we had."
Mani winced and moved the crossbow behind her back while she reached into the chest and grabbed the little iron box that housed Grandfather's singing stone.
Kanvar's father pushed his way past the curtain into the room.
"Father." Kanvar limped over and wrapped his arms around his father.
"Greetings, little one," Father said, returning the embrace and then peeling himself free of Kanvar. He caught a look at Kanvar's frightened face. "Are you crying, boy?"
Kanvar wiped the moisture from his eyes and backed away.
Mani remained across the room where she stood stiff-backed in front of Raza's chest. "Amar, thank goodness you're home. Devaj has a fever. The Unani thinks he's going to die."
"A fever?" Amar's face lit with a bright smile. "Devaj? Are you sure?" He strode across the room to the bed where Devaj lay pale and sweat soaked.
"Why are you smiling?" Mani's voice shook. "I just told you our son is dying."
"No. Not dying." He stroked the hair back from Devaj's face.
Without a sound Mani moved the crossbow out from behind her back.
Amar whirled to face her.
"You read my mind," Mani said, flipping open the little iron box with her left hand. "Deceiver. You are a Naga." She aimed the crossbow at Father's chest.
Kanvar cried out in alarm. It seemed insanity had dug its sharp talons into his world.
"Now, Mani, put the bow away," Father said. "You don't need it. I'm your husband. I love you, and you love me."
"Don't try to use your mind control on me." Mani grabbed the singing stone from the box and let the box clatter to the floor. She held up the glowing blue stone.
A painful rush of singing voices filled Kanvar's mind.
Amar reeled against the bed, and Devaj cried out in pain.
Mani took aim and fired a crossbow bolt at Amar's chest. The weight of the bow and her shaking hands let the bolt go astray, and it sliced across Amar's right shoulder and buried itself in the wall behind the bed. Amar turned with the momentum of the shot and grabbed up Devaj from the bed. He raced for the open window.
Kanvar, run! Kanvar thought he heard his father's voice in his mind, like a faint echo behind the painful cut of the singing stone voices.
Mani's second bolt hit Amar in the back just as he reached the window. The bolt slammed him out the window. Carrying Devaj, he fell. A blinding flash of gold light brightened the sky beyond the window, and Kanvar heard the beat of heavy wings on the wind.
"Unbelievable, a Great Gold." Mani swore.
Kanvar stood frozen, staring in disbelief at the sky outside the window. His blood throbbed in his veins while his mind tried to process what he'd just seen, or hadn't seen. Grandfather Raza had told him the Great Gold dragons were nearly invisible in direct sunlight. Their golden scales wrapped the sunlight around their bodies, hiding them unless they moved. A trained dragon hunter would recognize the shimmering flash of gold from the dragon in flight, where other folk wouldn't. Kanvar had seen the flash, and surge of wonder went through him. The sheer amazement at seeing the dragon vanished quickly to the thought that his father had fallen out the window, shot twice with bolts that could kill a lesser dragon with one shot.
Shot by his own wife.
Because he was a Naga. A human bound by blood to a dragon—the Great Gold, most likely. The Nagas were human traitors who joined the dragons and used their power to fight against other humans. They had the power to talk to the dragons telepathically. The power to read human minds. The power to control human thought and actions and manipulate human emotions.
Kanvar had grown up hating the Nagas above all else.
Yet, how powerful his father must be to trick Kumar Raza into thinking a Naga was a human dragon hunter and take Raza's daughter as his bride. A good bet Raza's disappearance had something to do with Kanvar's father. Kanvar was old enough to realize his grandfather wouldn't have gone after the Great White without all his gear. He'd questioned his mother about that before, but she hadn't been able to give Kanvar a reason. Until now.
His mother stood at the window, the empty crossbow in one hand and the singing stone in the other. She turned away from the empty air, and her eyes fell on Kanvar.
"Kanvar." She held up the stone and crossed the room toward him.
With each of her swift steps, the rush of song in Kanvar's head intensified. He cried out and pressed his hands to his ears, but it did nothing to stop the music.
"You too?" his mother said. "I should have known. Deformed as you are. Dragon blood runs in your veins."
She set the stone down on the table and lifted the cup of poison, holding it out to Kanvar. "Drink this now. Hurry, before the All Council's hunters get here."
Kanvar sucked in a pained breath. The mind-piercing song from the singing stone left no room in his brain for him to think clearly. Still, the truth settled over him and interwove with the music. His mother wanted him dead.
"Kanvar, now. Drink it!"
How could she? His own mother who had loved and cared for him all his life. Who had been so proud of Devaj's fighting skills. Who had hung on his father's arm and looked at Amar with adoration. In only a few moments she'd turned against them all.
I don't want to die, Kanvar thought. But he knew he should die. By all laws and all sense of right, he knew he must die. Better that than become a Naga. Better that than betray his own people. With a shaking hand he reached out and took the cup from his mother. It felt warm against his palm from the heated water the Unani had used to dissolve the poison. The sour scent of snakelily wafted from the drink.
Kanvar lifted it to his lips. But could not force himself to drink it. The cup slipped through his fingers and clattered to the floor. The poisoned drink splattered his robes and soaked into the clay bricks.
Mani rushed back to the chest and grabbed more crossbow bolts.
The faint message his father had put into his mind before vanishing with Devaj, finally melted its way past the singing stone's music into Kanvar's consciousness.
He turned and fled. Speed had never come easy for him. He counted the seconds it would take his mother to ready the crossbow while he hurtled down the stairs, not striving for any balance, just throwing himself downward and hoping, between his good arm on the wall and his good leg on the steps, to get to the bottom without breaking his neck.
When he reached the final flight of stairs he heard his mother start down after him.
He redoubled his efforts. Gasping for breath. Imagining the fire off the crossbow bolt as it took him in the back like it had his father. His father had gone. Left with Devaj and the dragon. Abandoned Kanvar to his mother's furry. The taste of betrayal mixed with fear on Kanvar's tongue as he brushed aside the door covering, limped into the dusty street, and turned toward the harbor.
But it wasn't his father's fault, was it? Mother had shot him. Shot him! He might not have gotten far with a crossbow bolt in his back. He could have died in flight with the gold dragon. Then the dragon would have died too. And Devaj would have fallen. Dead. They were likely all three dead. His father had pulled Mani's attention away from Kanvar and told him to run. Run while he had the chance. Kanvar cursed himself for waiting so long to act. If Mani caught him, it would not be his father's fault, but his own.
"Kanvar, you'll never get away," his mother called from behind.
Kanvar rushed headlong down the street, not caring that his lame foot dragged against the stones, scraping his skin along the side where his sandal couldn't protect it.
He heard the twang of the crossbow and tensed his shoulders.
The bolt hit the building beside him, sending splinters of brick into his face. He cried out in fear and twisted around the corner just as the second bolt whizzed past him.
She'd missed. Somehow she'd missed both shots, but then she was using Grandfather's crossbow, which was much too heavy for her.
Kanvar continued his run down the hill toward the port. She'd have to go back up and reload now. That meant he had time. Not much, but a little. Time to get to the water. Time to barter the herbs for passage across the channel to Maran where the All Council had no power. The Maranies were Varna's arch rivals. The two nations were at peace for the time being, but peace never lasted long between them. Kanvar could hide there. He hoped. As long as the Maranies never found out that his father was a Naga.