A clamor of rooks exploded through the trees, nearly drowning out the woman’s scream.
Morgan straightened in the saddle. Trouble, at last. The patrol had been boring up ‘til now. He set his heels to Arnicus’ flanks and the big gray gelding quickened his pace along the narrow trail. The birds flapped off, their raucous calls fading in the distance. A watchful silence overtook the woods, broken only by the thud of Arnicus’ hooves on the summer-dry earth.
Morgan peered through the trees, searching for the source of the cry. He knew no good reason why a woman, screaming or otherwise, should be in the middle of the King’s forest. But no matter the reason, he had to find her. Help her, if possible. He’d never been one to shy away from trouble. No soldier was, or he didn’t remain a soldier for long. He loosened his sword in its well-worn sheath.
Another shriek split the air. Arnicus leapt forward, nostrils flared and ears laid back. Morgan bent low over the horse’s neck, scanning ahead for danger. It might be a trap. The trees thinned slightly, the mottled light of the forest replaced by brighter sunshine that heralded a clearing. Suddenly Morgan jerked hard on the reins, causing Arnicus to toss his head in equine complaint. He paid little heed.
Just ahead, the trail opened out onto a serene sun-dappled clearing. The little meadow, dotted with bright patches of wildflowers, would have been charming if not for the hulking blue dragon crouched in its center.
“My God!” Morgan whispered, half curse and half prayer. Arnicus pawed the ground nervously, suggesting a strategic retreat might not be such a bad idea. Morgan didn’t blame him in the least. “Steady on, fellow,” he whispered, as much to himself as to the horse.
Despite the generally accepted notion that dragons had been extinct for centuries, this one looked pretty damned corporeal. Iridescent azure scales covered the creature’s enormous body. Huge green eyes gleamed with an alien intelligence from beneath bony brow-like ridges. Vast leathery wings rested on the creature’s back, twitching slightly as if eager to lift off into flight. Curls of steam vented from its snout, forming delicate patterns in the air.
Blast! The standard-issue dragons had been bad enough. This was one of the fire-breathing ones. And he didn’t have time to call up reinforcements from the Legion garrison at Caerfaen. This was his problem.
The dragon held a dark-haired girl in its talons, and its attention was focused exclusively on her. Which was both good and bad. Good, in that it hadn’t noticed him yet, giving Morgan a brief moment to reclaim his scattered wits. Bad, in that its attention was focused on the girl in its talons. He was going to have to act at once to have any hope of saving her.
Morgan swung down from the saddle and drew his sword. The steaming nightmare inspected the girl much as a cook might a particularly savory delicacy. She strained to free herself, wriggling and even managing to land a fierce kick on its snout. The dragon didn’t deign to notice.A surge of adrenaline fizzed through Morgan, familiar as the hilt of the sword in his hand. Well, he’d been looking for excitement, and he was about to get it. Likely a lot more than he could handle.
“Unhand that maiden!” he shouted, storming towards the monster and probable death. “Release her and prepare to meet your doom!”
The dragon, hissing like a brace of tea kettles, turned to face this interruption of its mid-morning snack of maiden flambée. Ominous rumblings sounded in the beast’s superstructure. The girl struggled harder now, a wild hope lighting her eyes.
If nothing else, perhaps he could force the dragon to drop her. Then she might have a chance to escape while Morgan kept it occupied with killing him. He heard the deep rumbling again, herald of his own doom. With a wild yell he darted forward to strike the first blow.
The sword ricocheted back off the protective scales, nearly cleaving Morgan’s head in two. His hand throbbed as if he’d just launched an attack at an anvil. Curse it, that just wasn’t fair! Fire and armor, against his insignificant sword and a worse than useless shield. Definitely not fair. He stubbornly hacked again with roughly the same effect as the girl’s kick.
The dragon tracked his progress, taking careful aim like an archer sighting on a target. Well, if he had to die, Morgan thought, it might as well be in combat with a dragon. Perhaps after he went up in flames he might go down in song. Assuming anyone found enough in the charred remains to tell who he had been. But without a doubt his death was going to be more quick and messy than it was glorious. From what he’d seen on battlefields over the years, death usually was.
The dragon opened its mouth to flame. Like a fighter desperate to get inside his opponent’s reach, Morgan flung himself directly towards the beast, clutching at its haunch. He scrabbled one-handed for purchase on the smooth scales, using the dragon’s body as a shelter against the fiery death intended for him. A roar like a thousand forges being lit at once nearly deafened him. Then the flames came, passing just overhead. The heat slammed into him like a blow from a giant, sending him reeling.
Quitting his refuge before the dragon decided to squash him, Morgan dodged around the massive hindquarters. He spared a glance up at the girl. At least the fire hadn’t harmed her. Yet. She was still trying to break free. He made another quick foray with the sword, but it was like trying to drive a butter knife into a boulder. Then a huge clawed foot lashed out, catching him in the chest. Morgan went flying.
He hit the ground with a wrenching thud, skidding on his back until he crashed against a large rock. He fumbled around for the sword. It lay halfway between him and a very smug-looking dragon. When he reached for the weapon, blinding pain shot up his arm, exploding in his scrambled brain. It didn’t seem to really matter. He was going to die, with or without the sword. Morgan swore like the Legion soldier he was.
He spared a quick glance at the girl. She watched his imminent demise with an air of resignation. Her expression almost seemed aggrieved, as if she resented having her hopes raised only to see them dashed again so quickly. The dragon took careful aim once more, opening its jaws to deliver the coup de grace. Morgan struggled to his feet and raised his shield. It was pointless, he knew, but instinct was driving him now. He stared into the gaping maw and waited for death to overtake him.
But instead of deadly fire, what emerged was a little plume of steam and a loud “Urp!”
Morgan stared. The dragon stared back, as if daring him to snicker. It took another sulphur-laden breath and gave forth what was probably intended to be a mighty roar. The effort was punctuated with another series of hiccoughs and a large wisp of acrid blue smoke.
The dragon tossed its head in a gesture of what Morgan could only interpret as frustration. It made a final effort to produce a flame, but more spasms shook the massive body. Shaking off his trancelike state, Morgan made a dash for the sword. Not that it was going to do him any good, but at least he’d have made the effort.
Looking rather sheepish, the dragon hiccoughed twice more, dropped the girl, and unfolded its wings. With two flaps it began to rise, the ascent marred by its ongoing hiccoughs. Morgan grabbed his sword in his left hand—his right still felt useless—and slashed savagely at the dragon as it gained altitude. The blade bounced off its scales again, and Morgan growled in frustration.
The spiked tail lashed almost idly in his direction. Another shudder spoiled the dragon’s aim, and what should have been a killing blow flashed harmlessly by. Morgan stood captivated as the dragon winged drunkenly away over the treetops. One final “Urp!” echoed back to him.
“Good God,” he thought, “I’m still alive!” And still had all the important bits attached.
A feminine voice broke in on his reverie. “Don’t just stand there gawking,” it commanded. “Help me up!”
WELCOME TO KILBOURNE
The world in which Kilbourne exists bears some small similarities to the Europe of the High Middle Ages. But in this world magic still exists, and other races besides man walk the lands: Dwarves, giants, and oldest of all, dragons.
The capital city of Kilbourne is Caerfaen, hereditary seat of the Kings of Kilbourne. Caerfaen is populated by knights and their ladies, bishops and barmen, courtiers and spies. It teems with court pageantry and politics, intrigue, and romance.
The city is a bustling metropolis of homes and shops, churches and monasteries, docks and bawdy houses, inns and taverns. All this is overlooked by the imposing towers of Kilbourne Palace, where King Rhys holds court, and by the lofty spires of the Cathedral of St. Brendan.
One tavern in particular draws its customers primarily from the ranks of the King’s Legion: the Sword and Crown. Located on Montrose Street not far from the Abbey of St. Jerome,the Sword and Crown is owned and run by Rajan Turksa, a former Legion solider who was mustered out after almost losing a leg in battle during the Rhuddlani invasion. Rajan, a barrel-chested man with a ready laugh and a voice that sounds like the bottom of a well, maintains his tavern with the soldiers in mind. It is a comfortable place, filled with heavy oaken tables and chairs, a huge bar, and a hearth in which a boar or pig is normally roasting. It’s a place where a man can come to drink and converse. And sometimes brawl--- Rajan keeps a sturdy club behind the bar for patrons who get a bit too unruly.
I like a bit of buckle with my swash, and a dollop of wit in the conversation of my characters. Add a tinge of mystery and intrigue, a healthy dash of romance and you have Traitor Knight and its sequels. You can check out the first chapter ofTraitor Knight below.
When Morgan McRobbie rescues a damsel-in-distress from a dragon, he expects she’ll swoon, murmuring “My hero!” Instead, Marissa has only loathing for the man everyone believes will betray Kilbourne. That’s fine with Morgan. A woman in his life would just complicate things.
A high-level informer threatens the kingdom’s security, and Morgan is out to stop him. Posing as a turncoat himself, he’s walking a fine line between honor and betrayal. A single misstep could result in disaster, and his mission is fraught with distractions: the pesky dragon, a pair of conniving courtiers, and the disillusioned damsel who’s certain Morgan can’t be trusted.
If Morgan’s going to save the kingdom, win the girl, and manage to stay alive, he’ll need to step up his game. Because the traitor is lurking in the shadows, and his scheme calls not just for the betrayal of Kilbourne, but also the destruction of Morgan McRobbie.