Armies fight great battles, but individuals fight the greatest and most difficult campaigns within their own minds. These struggles do not involve the loss of men, equipment, or land; rather they revolve around the loss or attainment of character, integrity, and inner peace.
From the Manual of Discipline found in the library of Vindry--author unknown
Enter the world of The Brazen Serpent Chronicles, and discover Aelandra, a world where magic spans the universe of light and darkness. Powers rise and fall in consequence of choices made by individuals.
The Dragon Masters and Dragons are the ultimate authorities for the eternal realms of light and darkness. Humanity is caught in the crossfire between powers as old as creation. Weapons of magic and steel pale in comparison to the importance of honor, courage, and choice.
Join an adventure in a fascinating world filled with history and cultures. Delve into characters driven by pain, sorrow, love, and hope.
Balance. The key to a defensive posture is balance. The key to an offensive strike is balance. A warrior knows that if he can unbalance his opponent, he has won the battle. In the realm of general living, deviation from principles unbalances a man, and he is easily defeated because he can neither counter nor overcome forces that test and try him. He is blown like chaff in the wind.
From the Manual of Discipline found in the Library of Vindry--author unknown
Reading selection from The Talon of Light
“Emory, hold the line here at all costs.Benjamin, bring your horse and come with me,” Fyan shouted as he broke into a run toward the physicians and his wounded men.
He picked up a shield from the ground near the physicians area, and positioned himself between the wounded and the forest beyond.He scanned the road and tree line.Nothing moved, but he sensed seething malice among the silence of the trees.
A predator stalked prey.His resolve steeled, Fyan walked toward the forest followed by the scout on his horse.
A stone formed in the pit of his stomach when he saw the steaming carcass of the messenger and his horse not more than three hundred paces around the base of the cliff on the trail toward Falcon Ridge.The gleaming whiteness of the messenger’s shoulder bones and skull, and the bare bones of the horse’s haunches relayed a message of agonized death.Large globs of what looked like spittle still steamed and scorched the grass and body of the young man partially trapped beneath the horse.The fetid stench of a ruthless death caused Fyan to retch.
As he knelt in the grass beside the messenger, his peripheral vision caught slight movement among the trees.
“Benjamin, can you hear me?”
The young scout leaned forward in his saddle.
“Yes, sir, I hear you.”
“Move against the cliff.When I give the signal, put your heels into that horse and don’t look back until you find friends who can come to our aid.Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll find the reserve.”
Benjamin edged toward the cliff and Fyan backed away along the road toward the pass and his men.He struggled to comprehend what he knew to be in the foliage.Movement of a branch revealed an appendage, and the entire vision began to undulate.The shift among the tree trunks was a whip like tail of an immense sinuous creature covered with green scales.The slithering rush of the dragon’s movement sounded like water rushing down a gorge.The elongated body snaked through the tree trunks until the creature’s head emerged near the top of one of the trees near the road.
The dragon’s eyes assessed him as he stood blocking the path.In swift action the immense creature regurgitated a quantity of deadly spittle.The sword shocked Fyan.It responded with a like amount of energy striking the discharge with power that caused the secretion to evaporate before it hit the ground.
In a raspy voice the dragon spoke, “What mortal dares hold the Talon of Light in the face of Grene?I am the Lord of Marshkata fulfilling my oath to the ancient Dragon Master.Are you an Aelfene warrior raised from the past?” Fyan avoided the dragon’s eyes and tried to ignore the hypnotic sounds.He perceived internal grunting and subtle inhalation of air.Legend recalled that Grene spit acidic poison, and Fyan assumed the dragon’s conversation was a pretext to prepare to spit again or physically attack.As he stepped toward the ancient dragon with emerald scales, a shadow filled the sky and a beautiful creature plummeted hitting Grene from above like a silver thunderbolt.
“Ride, Benjamin, ride,” Fyan shouted.
The young scout plied his spurs, and the horse responded with a burst of movement.
A great dragon with silver scales sank its talons into the back of the lithe green dragon and clamped its teeth on the emerald neck from behind.The girth and weight of the silver dragon oppressively crushed the green coils of Grene, but supple loops of the Grene’s tail whipped around the neck of the silver behemoth as if to decollate the intruder.The longer length and superior experience of Grene compensated for the greater bulk and surprise attack of the silver dragon.As the two combatants separated, hissing bellows resounded through the pass.
Men from the thin reserve line rushed to aid Fyan.
“Stay back!” Fyan hollered, but the command was too late.
A tree uprooted by the concussive battle between the creatures crushed several men.Upheavals of earth and sod flew in every direction, pelting the injured and dying in the physicians’ area, while Grene and the silver dragon thundered in the violent conflict.Fyan’s thoughts turned to the wounded who tried to flee, limping and crawling as ripples from a stone thrown into a pond.The dragons leveled small trees.The scene sank beneath an angry sea of violent movement, as the surface splendor of nature transformed into a heated spectacle for survival.Fyan motioned his men to back away.
“Move the wounded.Get them out of here.”Men from the reserve assisted the wounded and pulled them as far as possible toward the forest.Many received additional scalding by acidic droplets spewed by Grene.Each drop caused excruciating pain.Agonizing screams pierced the air as men watched their flesh melt. A man running toward him screamed, “My arm, my arm.” As Fyan turned in his direction, a cone of light gushed from the tip of his sword and struck the man’s arm. “M’Lord Fyan, you’ve healed me.” Fyan stared in wonder at the pulsing traceries of light running like rivers through the blade of the sword.The power of the sword mitigated the effects of the acid. “Move the wounded.Get the men out of here.” “Yes, sir...Praise to Fyan, defender and healer!” he shouted. Men took up the cheer, but Fyan turned and strode toward the tangled mass of silver and green.He studied both creatures knotted in the violent death struggle.The power within the sword urged Fyan to attack, but the chaotic sweep of talons drove him back, keeping him at bay until he dodged the writhing emerald tail and severed it with a clean stroke.Bereft of balance Grene lost stability and folded under the weight of the silver mountain.The two creatures rolled twice.Powerful jaws again clamped on the sinuous green neck.All motion ceased.The only movement was the spasmodic twitch of the stump of the green tail.Then the resplendent silver dragon shook itself free.Towering over Fyan, it stared at him with large ice blue eyes.The midday winter sunlight danced on the scales throwing reflections in a myriad of directions. “Fyan, I am Veramag.Do you trust me?” Fyan simply nodded.Then a concussive blast knocked him from his feet.Waves of heat scorched his back.When he drew breath, his lungs filled with air that felt like hot irons stabbing his chest.Veramag pumped her wings and lifted into the air.On his knees Fyan turned to view a terrible spectacle.A furnace had been unleashed on his defensive V of carts and men.Men screamed in pain from the burns.Unscathed men tried to catch friends and pull them to the ground to douse the flames.Through the horror of smoke and fire stalked another dragon with burnished red scales interspersed with patterns of black.The initial blast of fire from the dragon exploded the reservoirs of oil in the carts flinging liquid fire in all directions. Behind the dragon, obdurate formations of men dressed in silver and black stood motionless like an insidious chorus to a tragic play.
Reading Selection from The Caduceus
Under the direction of Shelda, the queen mother, King Fyan began a rule beset with uneasy alliances and troubled city states to the south and west of the newly organized Confederation of Standel.The Representative Councils instituted by Fyan did much to further the young king’s dreams of equality throughout the realm, but they also engendered fear in the noble families that provided so much support for him.Veramag, the great dragon of light, disappeared from the casual conversations of the realm, but at night around the fires in many homes, parents told marvelous tales to young children about her and the wonders of hidden Dragada.Widseth vanished from northern tales of the war.Occasionally travelers seeking the New Aelfene Kingdom would walk the streets of Standel, inquiring about the road to Dragada or teaching simple truths they had been taught by a master teacher in the wilderness.No one knew of Widseth’s travels to the southern countries until much later. Early Years of the New Order by Winna—Master Historian of the court of Standel
Chapter 1. A Promise to Keep
Rin touched the bloody hair covering his father’s forehead with the tip of his finger.Tears stung his eyes, and the lump in his throat blocked his breath.Looking up, he glared at the overseer. “Ya kilt m’ Da.I’ll kill ya,” he said.
He flung himself at the man on the horse, but he could reach only the top of the high leather boots just below the big man’s knee.From the saddle, the overseer leaned toward the boy and backhanded him with his gauntleted hand.Rin fell hard beside his father.Struggling to breathe, he sucked air through his teeth in jagged gasps through pain and tears.Several other workers rushed to restrain him.
“Take him to the stocks.He’ll spend a few days in shackles,” the overseer said.He spat on the boy.
The servants pulled Rin to his feet and helped him toward the manor house.
“Be still, or he’ll kill ya too,” an old woman whispered in Rin’s ear, as she walked beside him.
“He kilt Da.”
“I know,” she said.“I saw, but there’s nothin’ ya can do.You’re only eleven, and a skinny piece o’ bone at that.I don’t wanna see yer head wi’ its curly red locks layin’ in a basket next ta the headman’s block.The overseer’s been livin’ the life of a lord since Count Fendry left.He’s strong and he’s got the horse and the whip and men who’ll back ‘im.Maybe he’ll be the new count.”
“Get outta here woman,” a man said. An armed guard shoved her to the ground and cuffed Rin along side the head.Blood oozed from above his ear where the metal gauntlet cut his scalp.Three men thrust the servants aside and hauled Rin from the field, dragging him toward the stocks outside the gates of the manor at the edge of the road.
A wave of nausea filled Rin.The old woman’s words faded in his memory.Barely conscious, he realized muscular men shackled his legs at the ankles and put his neck and wrists into the depressions of the wooden stocks.The locking bar pressed down across the back of his neck, and he heard the snap of the lock.
“He’s so scrawny, he could pull his hands through the holes,” a man said.
“Not now,” another replied.
Rin recognized the voice. The captain of the overseer’s guard tied ropes around his wrists.Rin had seen this before.He knew the other end of the rope would be tied to rings in the platform.He winced as the bonds cut into the boney flesh just above his hands.The men tore his shirt off.He wanted to scream, but he kept his eyes closed and swallowed anger.They left him to his ordeal, and after a couple of hours, the intense heat of the summer sun blistered his back.
As the sun slid toward the western horizon, the shadows of the trees across the road lengthened, and the afternoon heat gave way to a gentle evening breeze.People who passed on the road ridiculed and spat on him or threw things.A rock had hit him on his bowed head.He could smell the rotted fruit and vegetables that had splattered on the wooden platform.With his tongue swollen, he longed for water, and as he passed in and out of consciousness, piercing pain in his legs and back amplified his senses.When he relaxed his legs, the hole in the stock for his head pressed against his throat restricting air.Hallucinations plagued him as he envisioned a hooded man with a huge axe forcing his neck across a wooden block.
Another couple of hours passed.The people on the road were home now, safe and comfortable.Rin opened his eyes and looked at the sun just above the horizon.A hooded figure stood in the road, holding a staff in his right hand.He walked toward the stocks and stood before Rin.
“I can help you,” he said.
The setting sun backlit the hooded man.Through stinging sweat and tears in his eyes, Rin could distinguish only the shape.He tried to talk, but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he could not swallow.The man approached until he stood in front of the stocks and then studied the boy.Rin could see a dragon entwined about the top of the staff.The brass serpent was delicate and beautiful.
“What do you want more than anything?” the man asked.He reached the staff toward Rin and touched the tip of it to the boy’s throat.The hooded man kept his left hand tucked within his robe.
Rin coughed, but the touch of the staff soothed his tortured throat, allowing him to speak.“I wanna kill the overseer,” Rin said.
“Do you want that more than water?More than protection from the sun?More than freedom?”
“Yes,” Rin answered.
“Very well.I will come for you, and I will help you fulfill your dreams.Will you consent to serve me if I help you do this thing?”
“Yes, master.I’ll serve ya with all m’ heart,” Rin said with no hesitation.
“Remember your words Master Rin.I shall hold you to them.” He leaned on the staff, peering at Rin.After a few minutes he turned and walked away.
Rin ground his teeth.He would show the overseer.How did the hooded man know his name?As the sun slipped below the horizon, Rin ignored his pain and closed his eyes again.If he turned his head, he could rest his neck without restricting his breathing.He dozed off and on for several hours as the day faded to night, and nocturnal noises and smells filled the air.
Each time Rin awoke he broke into chills because the cool night air sucked heat from his blistered back.No matter, he had a friend who would help him kill the overseer.Was it a dream?Was his new friend real?
About an hour before sunrise Rin woke with a start.He had been dreaming of a time when he and his father had been boating on the river, fishing.He caught one, but then he was at a small stream, and he wanted to taste clear cold stream water more than anything.Tears formed when he thought of the experience with his father, and he wondered if his father was now with his mother, maybe fishing somewhere.Rin’s mother died giving birth to him, and he wondered if she liked fish.
He looked up.A man stood in the road, and in the dark twilight of early morning Rin was not sure if he saw with his eyes or if he dreamed again.The man wore a golden tunic that shimmered as if it radiated light of its own, and his skin was of a golden hue.Rin realized that behind the golden man two other figures stood, holding the reins to three horses.One of the individuals was a woman.The other was a man with his left hand tucked inside a dark robe.The golden man walked toward him.
“We are here to help you,” he said.His simple statement filled Rin with wonder as the man touched his head and chest.The pain vanished.The woman picked the lock on the stocks, and soon Rin heard a click and felt the weight of the upper bar lifted from his neck.The other man stood behind watching, and then he made a motion with his right hand and began a low chant.The beauty of the song filled Rin’s mind.He felt the scorching pain of his back evaporate.The man in the gold tunic untied the ropes, and the woman released him from the leg shackles.
Freed from the stocks, Rin collapsed into their arms.
“Put him here on the grass.I sense darkness in his mind,” the other man said.
“M’lord Widseth,” the golden man said, “shall I give him some water?”
“Yes, Gulth, give him water, and Annel inspect for any other wounds he might have.I’ll check the road,” Widseth said.He walked back to the middle of the road and studied the ground.
When the man named Gulth lifted a water flask to his lips, Rin tasted the cold water of his dream.The water filled him to the point that he thought he would never thirst again.He thought he saw his father holding the hand of a woman standing behind the golden man.
“Ya’ve come back to help me kill Aljezra.He’s the overseer.I’ll serve ya good sir,” Rin mumbled.
He couldn’t keep dream from reality.The woman caressed his brow.The golden man hoisted him into the saddle in front of the woman after she mounted. He felt safe as he slipped into peaceful sleep.
Reading Selection from Dragon Kiln
During the Age of Instruction, some of the Aelfen rebelled and fell away from the principles that protected their three great centers of power.These rebels lost standing in the kingdoms of light and gave birth to the kingdoms of men.Bereft of the Aelfene healing arts, their life spans decreased to brief flickering flames measured in years, rather than the steady glow of a principled Aelfene life, measured in centuries.Without the understanding and wisdom of the Aelfen, they did not realize that their fall had been preceded and precipitated by the dragons, fallen from the realms of light into the abyss of shadows.Common men became pawns in a struggle older than the world. Book of the Last Regent of Taina
Chapter 1. Eclipse
A concussive blast ended the vision and hurled the young woman backward against the marble wall.Dazed, she staggered back toward a dark shadow emanating from a small basin on a pedestal in the middle of the room.She waved her arms in front of her, as if lost and trying to find her way through an invasion of mosquitoes.
“What is it Meliandra?” Garrik shouted, as he ran into the room to his wife’s side.He pulled her back from the murky specter forming above the basin.With firm resolve, he uttered a power word and flooded the room with light.The burst of luminosity melted the sinister apparition.
“I . . . saw it,” she said.“It was . . . terrible.Darkness.Fear.How could . . . death?”
“What did you see?”Garrik could scarcely understand his wife’s jagged, almost incoherent mumbling.
Her dilated eyes stared at nothing.To shield them, Meliandra raised her hands, fingers quivering.Garrik cupped her face in his hands and caressed the long braids that framed her countenance.He began to hum a beautiful melody.A few bars into the song the magic of the tones eased Meliandra’s anxiety.He led her to a chair and helped her sit.Kneeling in front of her he took her hand in his.
“Taina’s in peril.Dearest, I fear our city’s lost,” she said.
Even as her breathing returned to a more normal cadence, she slumped forward and rested her head on his shoulder.The exertion she had made to use the scry basin had sapped all her strength.Garrik picked her up and carried her to her bed.
* * *
The roar of an immense creature shattered the late afternoon air.Arnor flattened himself into the mud behind a large boulder in the open meadow.The young man had hoped the heavy rain would be enough to cover his scent after he left the cave, but the dragon had returned too soon, and Arnor had managed a scarce five hundred paces from the entrance into its lair.He gripped the hilt of his sword until his knuckles whitened.It would find him.
“Well, there is nothing for it now,” he muttered.
He rose to his feet and stepped from behind the boulder.Mud caked his face and arms, and his armor clung to his lanky frame.Holding his sword in his right hand, he used his left hand to wipe his wet hair out of his eyes.Arnor had apprenticed with an old metal smith in Adisabala, and before his death, the old man had given him the armor.The steady rain drummed on the metal spaulders, attached to the shoulders of his breastplate harness.He glanced down on his breastplate and remembered the words of the old smith.Made from the scale of a dragon.Arnor hoped it would be impervious to damage like the tales recounted.He worried a little about his impulse to test it just now, because he could see the shape of a huge creature moving through the trees toward him.
He tensed and took a step forward, thinking to attack the creature just as it cleared the trees and before it entered the open meadow.
“What do you think you are doing?” a voice from behind him shouted.
Before he could move or turn completely around, a tall elegant woman grabbed him by the collar and swung him around to face her.She handled him like a rag doll.
“I asked you a question,” she said.
“Koparr, a dragon’s coming.You can help me kill it.”
Relief flooded Arnor.He and the woman named Koparr had been close friends for as long as he could remember.She was a dragon of light, and in an instant she could assume her true form and help him slay any of these mud crawling dragons that had never experienced the world of light.They were but creatures spawned by the darkness.Koparr had come from outside the physical world with the first dragons.
“Kill it?Kill it?What is wrong with you, boy?”
“When I saw you, I thought you had come to help me.I mean; I’ve never actually faced a dragon before.Well, you know, other than you, and in combat.”
“Help you?I did not even know you were here.And by the way, the dragon coming toward you is not an ‘it’.She is my sister, Coepor.I was not coming to save you.I was coming to visit her.Maybe she and I should share you for dinner.What have you stolen from her?”
Arnor stammered.The woman’s eyes blazed like burnished copper.She twitched and stretched her neck.Shaking her head, particles of light scattered in every direction, as her snout elongated.Thorny protrusions replaced her hair and ringed the crown of her head like a regal tiara.Stretching her wings, and shaking the rain from them, she towered over him.In the gloom of the darkening afternoon, Arnor gazed at her in awe.
“I do not like repeating myself.What did you take?” she rumbled.Her voice remained high and mellow, but echoed as if it started in a deep well.
“Well, there wasn’t much there to be honest.Mostly just star charts on parchment and a few scrolls detailing movements of the planets in the night sky.Then I saw this old book.It….”
“A book.A book, you say.You stole my book?”The new voice came from behind Arnor.As he turned, he realized that Coepor had been behind him listening.She looked so much like Koparr that Arnor doubted he could tell the sisters apart except for the nasty scar on the left side of Coepor’s visage.
“I didn’t think it was worth much,” Arnor said, “but I hoped I could get a couple of silver pieces for it in Eventop.”
“A couple of silver pieces?A couple of silver pieces?He would sell the Manuel of Discipline for a couple of silver pieces.The combined wisdom of the three kingdoms would be sold for a couple of silver pieces.Of course, it makes sense to me.”Coepor lifted her head and bellowed a raucous clamor toward the rain-swollen clouds.
“Sister, calm yourself.He is under my protection.” Koparr said.“This is the son of Granor.The boy survived the downfall of Misdara. Before the battle at the gate, I swore an oath to his father to protect him.He is unacquainted with his Aelfene heritage.”
Arnor stepped back so he could see both dragons.The underground city of Misdara was a distant memory to him.He could remember his father’s smile, but that was about all.He recalled nothing about his mother.Koparr had taught him many things about the Aelfen, but he did not feel akin to the Aelfene world, or the world of men for that matter.For years he wandered the wilderness.Solitude had become his friend in a world turned askew by the treachery of the dragons that had fallen into darkness.He remembered almost nothing of his young life when dragons of light and the Aelfen shared mutual service one to another.
The steady rain drummed on his armor.The dragons appeared oblivious to the downpour.Arnor looked up and studied the two magnificent creatures, as they communed with one another.They looked as if their forms had been chiseled from giant crystals.Arnor knew their communication had risen to a level above vocal speech.Koparr had explained it once, but it was years ago, and Arnor had been too impatient to heed her instruction.At times he fancied that he could hear her words within his head before she spoke to him, but he supposed those instances were idle musings.He tried to imagine what the two sisters were saying to one another.For an instant, he saw a flash of light and angry faces in a sea of confusion.The flash reflected off of armor and swords darkened with blood.When he saw that, he did not want to look into their thoughts anymore.
“Boy, how long are you going to stand looking at the rain as it pummels your face?” Coepor asked.“Follow me.You can replace the book you have stolen.”
In a more kindly tone, Koparr said, “Come with us, Arnor.”
He sheathed his sword, slung his shield onto his back, and hoisted his traveling pack onto his shoulder.He took a deep breath and fell into step behind the two dragons.He swallowed hard as he apprehensively reentered the cavern. When he had first entered the cave earlier in the afternoon, he had used a torch to illuminate the dark hole, but this time Coepor extended her talon and touched previously unseen crystals along the roof of the cavern.Gems spilled brilliant light along the passage until it opened into the large chamber where he had discovered the book among a pile of leather scrolls, but the dank chamber of Arnor’s memory faded into the radiance of a beautiful multifaceted cavern with adjoining rooms and magnificent furnishings.Arnor could see a room filled with gold and gems, and another with engravings on the walls and a ceiling inlaid with platinum that seemed to flow like rivers of liquid metal.The configurations shifted in motions that replicated the passage of the stars and planets in the night sky.
“Come.Remove your armor and warm yourself by the hearthstone.You must be cold from the rain.”
Coepor’s kind words surprised him.He watched the two dragons as they transformed into human shape.Within moments two stately women stood before Arnor.They were indistinguishable except for the scar on the left of Coepor’s face.Only her mannerisms and commanding presence revealed to Arnor that she was the elder sister.
“We thought it might be more comfortable for you if we assumed a human form.Is this agreeable to you?” Koparr asked.
“Yes, m’lady,” he said.
He looked toward Coepor. “I . . . I’m sorry I stole your book.”
He reached into his rucksack and pulled the book out.With great care he handed it to Coepor. “It’s very valuable, isn’t it?” he asked.
“I cannot measure the value unless I see the results it produces in one who reads it, but the book is safe now.You did not realize . . .” Coepor said.
“No.Don’t make excuses for me,” he said.“It was wrong.I’ve been instructed well.Your sister’s a good teacher.I don’t want you to think she’s failed in her trust.”
Coepor smiled and extended her hand to him with a rough cloth.
“Use this to dry yourself, and your armor.You must make sure you take care of your equipment.I have some fine oil you can use to treat the metal and leather.”
Arnor took the cloth and wiped his face.The dragon then pointed to a blank section in the cavern wall and the rock facade dissolved like a mist in the morning sun.
“In that room you will find a table and suitable sleeping quarters.This afternoon you were a thief; tonight you will be my guest.Koparr and I have many things to discuss.”
She looked at Arnor with a stern eye.“We do not wish to be interrupted.”
Arnor looked around the grotto, wondering what other marvels the dragon had hidden with her magic.He crossed the open space and entered the smaller passage into the room that Coepor had exposed to his view.To his amazement he spied the book he had just handed to the dragon laying open on a table in the middle of the room.As he approached the table, a curious looking gem in a candlestick holder began to radiate a soft white light.
He unbuckled his armor.With reverence he dried every piece and rubbed the fine oil Coepor had provided into the leather and coated the metal.In the muted light the polished alloy gleamed, and the scales of the breastplate glistened like burnished bronze.When he completed the task, he mounted it on a wooden rack that stood along the cave wall near the bed.After hanging the armor on the rack, he sat at the table and began to leaf through the book.The adages sparked interest, but the long day began to take its toll.
He could hear the low drone of the sister dragons in the other room.The cave had seemed dank and cold earlier in the day, but now he felt comfortable and safe.A feeling of warmth permeated his chest.He once watched a mother cradling her child along the side of a road.The child laughed and giggled in its mother’s arms.Arnor felt safe like that, but his eyelids soon grew heavy, and he crawled into bed under the blankets.He drifted off to sleep, warm and comfortable, but his dreams soon darkened the night, as nightmares from the past shredded his security.