Through Blood and Dragons by R.M. Schultz
Series: The Forged and the Fallen
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: 16+
Published: July 31, 2023
Publisher: Sky Sea and Sword Publishing (Self Published)
Steeped in blood. Ruled by those with dragons.
Cimeren is a world divided by a mysterious forest and the vast Lake on Fire. Suspicion brews on both sides, and the south has fallen into chaos as battles and quarrels rage between kingdoms.
In the border outpost of Nevergrace, Cyran Orendain is dealing with the loss of his brother and his lord as he strives to face the mounting challenges of a squire of the dragonguard.
But when Cyran’s guard-master is called to face the most powerful of the southern kings and bear witness to a secret stolen from the north, Cyran is dragged into a war that has been bubbling under the surface for centuries.
Dragons are not only weapons—they are engines of war. And even though Cyran is not trained in the ways of the dragonguard, he must adapt and learn to become one of them or his homeland and all of Cimeren will be destroyed.
But he was not born a champion.
He may break, and he will bleed.
Author Bio & Information
After reading Tolkien, R.M. Schultz wrote his first 100,000-word fantasy novel as a freshman in high school. When he’s not saving animals, he continues reading and writing fantasy and science fiction, and has done so for over two decades. R.M. founded and heads the North Seattle Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Group and has published over a dozen novels.
And more than anything, he wants to be knighted by George R.R. Martin.
Sirra’s muscles tensed as hard as stone as she stood, forcing herself to control her breathing and her anger. Murgare cannot respond fast enough to what has happened.
A member of the onyx guard clasped on her armor. The blackened dragonsteel and the spikes protruding at her elbows and shoulders, in addition to those running along her back, felt as if they pulsed with a rage all their own. Torchlight wavered around her and fell across her armor, creating a dance of shadow and orange light.
“Strike a swift blow,” Sir Trothen said as he stroked his gray beard and paced about, watching the onyx guard prepare Sirra for battle. “Free the king’s unavenged soul and reclaim the queen, but—”
“The war will come later,” Sirra finished for him. “Do not worry yourself, Sir Trothen. I will not attempt to destroy all of Belvenguard simply to gut their king in retaliation. At least not yet. I will save some of that for you.”
Trothen, the genturion of the dragonguard at Northsheeren, nodded. His hand ran down over his own dragonguard armor—plates of steel forged with dragon scales. “I fear for the queen’s safety.”
“I promise you that she will not have to remain with her captors long.”
“And which route shall you take?” Sir Trothen handed Sirra her longsword, sheathed in its black metal casing.
An unsettling sensation recurred in the back of Sirra’s mind. Someone had informed Belvenguard where her king would be on Breather’s Pass, and when. They must have. This person probably also passed along information about how many dragons and onyx guard would be escorting him.
“The legions can cross the Lake on Fire when the time comes, but I will not fly that way,” Sirra replied. “Galvenstone will long see us coming. And our dragons will not find adequate rest on the water.” Sirra grasped her sword’s hilt, and heat flowed through the dragonsteel and her gauntlet. She strapped the blade across her back.
“But you would not fly so far west as to pass through the spires,” Sir Trothen said. “Even if the mountains offer a place for rest, the route will not keep you hidden once you sweep east to Galvenstone.”
Sirra grabbed her barbed helm with its black visor from the guard and settled it over her head. Only her long brown hair would show beyond her armor, but no one needed that to recognize her, the Dragon Queen of Murgare.
“And passing over the marshes would hardly conceal you either,” Trothen continued.
Sirra turned and paced down a winding tunnel inside Northsheeren Castle. Torches guttered as she passed, and Trothen’s slapping footfalls trailed her.
“The spires and the marshes would be foolish routes for even the onyx guard, once they are assembled,” Sirra said. “It would either take months to bring war upon King Igare, or our legions would eventually become fossilized in the bogs.”
“Igare will be expecting retaliation. And swiftly. Belvenguard must already be preparing for war.”
“Then let them prepare. Nothing will stop my coming now. Nor the coming of the north. And they will not expect any of us so soon.”
Moonlight stole in through a crater of an opening in the mountain ahead and created a pool of silver light where others had gathered. A group of armored men and women and four dragons waited silently. But another beast lay hidden in the darkness, and that beast was almost too large to fit inside the cavern.
A man adorned in a silver robe hurried up to Sirra, holding out a hand for her to stop. “Dragon Queen, you must slow your—”
“Vördelth mrac ell duenvíe!” Sirra roared, using the voice of the dragon. A surge of power catapulted through her and streamed past her lips. Her words blasted through the cavern and hammered against its stone walls.
The man in silver fell onto his side and twitched, clutching his head and whimpering. Everyone else in the chamber clutched their ears and stumbled, wobbling about or leaning against the nearest object for support.
A scaled head shifted in the shadows, and a red eye nearly the size of a man flicked open to regard Sirra.
“Take this man to his quarters and revive him.” Sirra gestured to the man in silver. “Now is not the time for discussion. Nor the time to attempt to change my mind.”
Two onyx guards tentatively approached, their steps unsteady as they scooped up the man and dragged his limp body away.
Sir Vladden—his face hidden behind his black visor and only his ranking of three ice dragon scales on his left breast narrowing down the possibilities of whom he could be—nodded as he cautiously approached Sirra from the assembled dragonguard. His steps were slow, and he could only manage to shuffle along, a result of Sirra having to use the dragon voice in this chamber.
“Shadowmar is nearly ready,” Sir Vladden said.
“She is quiet.” Sirra approached the shadows along the side of the cavern.
The titanic dragon concealed itself there in the darkness, and Sirra ran a hand along her glistening black scales. Sirra’s palm tingled, and the feeling crept up her arm. She felt the beast’s soul nudge hers. Energy and knowledge and wisdom bloomed inside her. The dragon’s web within its nearly lost realm, the way these magnificent creatures saw the mortal world and how they interacted with it, crystalized in Sirra’s mind. All people other than the dragonmages and the dragonknights—who were only a rare few—considered such things magic. The vibrations of her speaking with the dragon voice still reverberated in the other realm.
“We fly this night,” Sirra said in her mind to Shadowmar.
The dragon did not reply. Only the sensation of seething rage answered Sirra.
“She is eager,” Sirra said to those around her. “Shadowmar knows what we seek.”
The colossal black dragon blew out a slow breath that rattled the air all around the chamber, and she lifted her head, one of her eyelids slipping open to reveal a blood-red eye with a slitted pupil. Shadowmar shifted her weight, and her scales rippled and rolled over muscle and around the base of ebony spikes that protruded near all the joints on her rear legs and wings as well as along the base of her head and back.
“Your steeds and archers are ready?” Sirra asked Vladden.
“Yes, Dragon Queen.”
“Have them mount up.”
Sirra tugged at the underside of Shadowmar’s harnesses, the ones that held the upper archer’s quarterdeck to her back, and she checked all its straps. Everything was bound tightly to Shadowmar’s torso. Three archers already stood behind their mounted crossbows on the dragon’s back—one crossbow on each side and one to the rear—all belted in and waiting. Yenthor, Sirra’s hulking archer, nodded to her and held a fist aloft, his black armor almost making him appear as another spine protruding from Shadowmar’s back.
Sirra strode past the frames of the lower turrets, which had not yet been belted into place. Zaldica and another archer waited beside their poled turrets, both armored in black, their excitement and yearning for revenge sheeting off them and threading into the dragon realm.
“We will avenge the king,” Zaldica said as Sirra passed. “And his soul will escape torment.”
Sirra examined the turrets and reached up and placed a palm on Shadowmar’s underbelly. “It is time to rise, my beast,” she said only to her mount.
Shadowmar shifted again, and a taloned foot snapped out from beneath her bulk and slapped onto the stone floor. The dragon groaned and heaved as her belly rose. The spines on her back jabbed into the ceiling.
“That is far enough,” Sirra said to Shadowmar. Then to Zaldica, she said, “Secure the turrets.”
Zaldica nodded, and she and the archer beside her quickly but smoothly passed several belts through loops in the harness for the upper quarterdeck. When they cinched everything down, the turrets were lifted off the ground and hung suspended from Shadowmar’s underbelly. The archers climbed inside the poled frames and strapped themselves in behind their mounted crossbows.
Sirra approached her saddle, which was positioned and fastened behind Shadowmar’s head. Her lance of shimmering black dragonsteel waited in its mount, the steel plate at the lance’s base flaring before the handle she’d held so many times.
“It has been too long,” Sirra whispered as she ran her fingers over the weapon’s shaft. “And yet not long enough.”
Sir Vladden mounted his ice dragon, whose scales shone as white as fresh snow under the torchlight. A hunched woman in a cloak climbed up the ice dragon’s neck and sat in the saddle behind the dragonguard. All of the woman, including her black cloak, disappeared behind Vladden’s shield, the crest of two rampant shadow dragons emblazoned on the shield’s face. Only the dragonmage’s twisted staff remained partially visible.
“But Dragon Queen, you cannot hope to fly through the Evenmeres.” Sir Trothen finally caught up with Sirra after her use of the dragon voice, his armor rattling in his wake. “There is no safe route through the cursed woods. And no path is wide enough to allow your dragons to safely pass through.”
Sirra remained silent as she considered her options. Much of the trees of the Evenmeres rose half a league into the sky, into the clouds, and their crowns neared the sky sea. Attempting to pass over them would force their dragons into too high of an altitude, where the air was too thin for most dragons. It would also be an unduly long journey. That forest was the size of an entire kingdom. There would be no safe place to rest during the crossing or before initiating their attack. This had all happened suddenly, which did not allow adequate time for planning, and Galvenstone was well fortified. Belvenguard’s capital city would be prepared by the time the Dragon Queen’s small legion arrived.
Sirra dismissed her doubts. She would discover her path as she went, as always. “I will return with the queen.” Sirra climbed into her saddle and settled into her seat.
The four dragonguard and their four mages waited silently for her command.
“Then you must go over the lake,” Trothen said. “Once you reach our shores, if you wait and depart at nightfall and fly swiftly, you may cross much of the distance before daybreak. Then, during the light hours, you can skim low over the waters or rest upon them for as many days as you need while you time your assault.”
“The watchtowers at Galvenstone will still be able to spot dragons as large as these filling the moonlit skies,” a voice said, and a man in a mauve cloak strode forward, using his staff to aid him. His face was hidden within the shadows of his draping hood. A cone of purple flame rose from his palm and lit the caverns in a deep shade hardly brighter than the darkness.
Luminsteir. The conjuror and sorcerer of Northsheeren. His power was not from the dragon realm. His bone and earth magic flowed from somewhere else. Another man walked behind the conjuror, a man as tall as Restebarge, the former king. Oomaren, the king’s brother.
“She means to go by way none would expect.” Oomaren folded his arms across his chest. His scarred cheek and eye formed a permanent snarl on his face.
“But even flying farther out over the Eventide Sea and sweeping back inland would provide no more benefit than taking the spires,” Trothen said as he scrutinized Sirra.
“I meant she will travel by way everyone assumes would be too obvious of a route to actually take,” Oomaren said. “She will have to pass many sentinels and soldiers.”
Trothen ran a hand over his gray beard, and the hairs rasped against his gauntlet. He studied Oomaren.
Sirra remained silent as she glanced about. The feeling that someone who shouldn’t be listening but was rattled the bars of some cage in the back of her mind. She’d assumed it had been Astenor, the king’s orator and man in the silver robes, but now she doubted her prior suspicions. Either way, this traitor would be found, and the onyx guard would have their way with them. Her attention settled on the cavern opening.
“Avenge my brother,” Oomaren said to Sirra.
“I will,” Sirra replied. “For you as well as for your niece, who shall become the new Queen of Murgare if anything should befall our current queen before I am able to save her.”
The unscarred half of Oomaren’s lips lifted in a grin.
I have never failed Murgare or the throne, and I will not fail them now. Sirra commanded Shadowmar to stride forward, and the beast heeded her call, the dragon’s massive feet pounding and rumbling the roots of the mountain with each footfall.
“But the rest of the legion must know where you mean to travel and how your assault fares.” Trothen paced beside her, his tone demanding authority and respect. “Elsewise we will gain little advantage from this… incursion.”
“Then send a storm dragon.” Sirra nodded to the genturion of the dragonguard of Northsheeren and nudged Shadowmar forward to the lip of the cavern.
The shadow dragon roared, belting out a deep and sonorous cry that rolled away over the surrounding cliffs and mountains. Her wings snapped out but collided with both walls before having extended even half their length.
“Travel well, Dragon Queen,” Luminsteir said before muttering an incantation behind Sirra. Purple light flared.
“Fly,” Sirra said to Shadowmar.
Her dragon lunged out from the cavern, leaping into the air as her wings unfurled like all the sails upon the mainmast of a galley. The massive weight of the beast sent them plummeting downward along the cliff faces. But within a moment, Shadowmar’s leathery wings snapped and billowed with air. The shadow dragon flapped once and then twice, and they rose into the night. Four dragons swooped out of the cavern behind her.
They soared out over snowcapped mountains and valleys and forests far, far below, headed south. To Belvenguard.