by Alianne Donnelly
Dragonblood Book One
The kingdom of Wilderheim stands bastion between the world of humans and the Otherlands. It is ruled as much by people as it is by creatures Other and as such, it must always have a wizard at the right hand of its king. Nico has seen three generations of rulers sit the throne; he knows he will not see the fourth. Desperate to find a worthy apprentice, when Nia appears like a godsend in his path he wastes no time taking her under his wing as his last sworn duty to the young king Saeran.
But Nia and Saeran have many trials ahead of them. With destinies converging toward an inevitable battle for power, countless lives hang in the balance, including theirs. As love brings them together, so strife tears them apart and as the balance between justice and magic shifts, the royal wizard and her king get caught in a maelstrom of colliding forces. Nothing is ever as it seems with a trickster hiding in the shadows. When the gods begin to play, mortals tremble…
Nico’s old shoulders slumped as he realized what he had to do. For the good of Wilderheim, its king and his only heir, he would have to betray Manfred’s trust and place in harm’s way the very boy he hoped to save. He would have to send the child prince into war. “Forgive me,” he whispered, as he would many times again until Prince Saeran returned to his father’s side.
But there! The prince and his following already riding out to Lyria, even as the Aegiran armies gathered to march from the south. May your horses be swift and your will strong, the old wizard thought in blessing. He knew what was to come. Saeran’s guard would see Aegiran arrows fly before they reached King Halden’s keep. Nico sent a prayer to the gods that the prince would pass safely through his uncle’s gates.
Woden caught the prayer in his fist and flipped it across his fingers like a coin, sensing through it the prayer’s truth. The wizard was old. His body could no longer carry the weight of his mind and soul. Nico had seen three generations of rulers sit the throne of Wilderheim, and he knew he would not see the fourth. But how could the wizard dare leave him without counsel?
He needed to school an apprentice, but not just anyone would do. It had to be someone strong of magic and pure of heart, with a quick mind and wise soul. Someone who would one day stand at the young prince’s side and guide his hand to be just and fair. But years, decades of searching for the right person, have yielded nothing, and he was losing hope.
Muninn cawed, shifting the vision sideways, and Woden spotted a familiar face. Perhaps the old wizard’s hope was closer at hand than he realized. With a thought, Woden bent the flow of destiny. The snarl of lives groaned beneath the weight of his command, pulling tighter, resisting, until it gave way and a shining thread of power sprang free, aligning the others alongside itself.
A pot broke in the kitchen. The cook screamed and chased the thief outside, but the wily youth escaped with a loaf of bread to fill a painfully empty belly. The wizard noticed and Woden smiled, savoring his reaction. There again, the girl who’d mourned an old woman’s death. She was the one. She would change everything. If only the wizard and his king could accept the counsel of a woman.
Another shift and there was the young prince, barely thirteen years old, strapping on armor and climbing the stairs to the battlements. He gravely surveyed the armies before him and directed the archers in their assault. A shout went up too late. Saeran’s faithful general grabbed the boy, shielding him with his body as a massive boulder struck the wall. The two of them fell off the battlements into the courtyard while pieces of the castle wall rained down on them. The boy lived. The general did not. Seeing his friend and protector take his last breath, Saeran closed the general’s eyes, and mounted those same stairs back again, calling for the archers to light their arrows.
Years passed in a blink. Lyria had won the war brought to its portals and young prince Saeran stood at king Halden’s side, rebuilding what had been destroyed, healing what had been hurt. People looked to him and saw their savior, for it was because of the young prince that his father, King Manfred had sent his armies to aid Lyria. To protect his only son, he had sent Saeran the means to save a kingdom.
And as the prince laid down to rest in Lyria, in a candle-lit chamber deep beneath King Manfred’s hall, the wizard’s new apprentice cast a spell. There was more than magic in Nia. Like all things Other, she held power in her soul and so an illusion became real and a stone wall shivered into being, locking her in the dark. “Nico!” she called.
With a gentle chuckle, her mentor appeared beside her. “Easy, child. There is nothing to fear.” Waving a hand, he uttered an ancient word and the wall disappeared.
Nia allowed Nico to pull her to her feet. “You couldn’t have warned me?”
“I thought I was teaching you an illusion.” He led her to the table and pressed a chalice into her hands. “Drink.”
She coughed as the watered wine slid down her throat. “That was not an illusion.”
“The wall should have been nothing but mist, an image to fool others,” he said by way of apology. “But you made it real.” He beckoned to his chair, and it slid over to him so he could sit next to her. Taking her hands in his, the wizard waited until she was calm enough to meet his gaze.
“I don’t know how much time we have left, child,” he said, “no one knows that. The gods will do as they will. But this you must remember always. Words hold power. Far more than you will them to, more than you would ever expect. Do not use them foolishly. A word can save a life or destroy it. It can cut as well as any blade. Never underestimate the power you hold. Never give voice to an angry thought. You must learn that all actions have consequences and, once spoken, words can never be taken back.”
Nia nodded, wide eyed. Nico would never say so, he knew better, but there was more behind his simple lesson. Something that made Nia feel again like the starving, abandoned child she’d been ten years ago. He was saying good-bye.
Woden sighed and let the vision go. Three futures now lay before the kingdom of Wilderheim, all waiting for two people to make a choice. The All-Father resettled Muninn on the arm of his seat and stroked his beard, deep in thought. What would become of this land where humans mixed with beings Other? What would an Other do, given the power to rule humans?
So engrossed in his musings was he that he almost missed the shadow slip away.
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