The results of voting are in and once again Dragon Stones is the readers’ choice for a scene of the month! Taking the book off the shelf and flipping to a random page got me this scene, which is quite near the beginning and, once again, involves some misfortune befalling poor Adaran. There really is a dragon in this book, honest — in fact, in this scene, Adaran and his companions have just returned from a raid on her lair. I just haven’t pulled any scenes yet in which the dragon actually appears. But if Dragon Stones keeps winning the polls, I’m sure she will turn up here eventually.
Someone shook Adaran awake. He opened his eyes and found a small, slim shadow beside his bed, its hand on his shoulder. “Redshen?” he murmured.
She shushed him, then whispered: “Get dressed.”
“We’re stealing the payroll, remember?”
Adaran sat up and looked at his partner. She was ready to go, her black cloak cinched tight, hood up over her head. He shook his head. “No,” he said. “I remember that we are not doing that.”
She grinned. “If it were up to you, we would be long since retired, living a dull existence in some drab slum.”
Adaran snorted. “It would be a coastal village, and we would lay by the ocean eating figs all day,” he said. Then: “You really think Dosen has something worthwhile in his tent?”
“Of course. He’s the steward. The steward always has the silver and gold.”
“Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to look.” He got out of bed and dressed, aware that Redshen was watching him appraisingly. They had slept together once, a long time ago, after consuming a great quantity of wine in celebration of a particularly successful job; it had been a fumbling, embarrassing experience, and he had actually fallen asleep during it. Now she was more like a sister than a potential lover; but still, she was only like a sister, not really one.
As he slipped into his black cloak, he said: “And after we rob Dosen, how do you propose we escape?”
“Oh,” Redshen said off-handedly, “We’ll steal eagles.”
Adaran stopped, his belt untied, his cloak unfastened, and stared at her. “We will not.”
“Of course we will.” She made flapping motions with her arms, then laughed. “We certainly won’t get away on foot. Now close your mouth and finish getting dressed.”
He tied up his belt, reached for his black leather gloves. “But we don’t know how to fly them.”
“I do,” Redshen said. “I didn’t have my face buried in feathers the whole ride; I was watching how our fearless guide controlled his bird. They’re not so different from horses. You kick them to start, you pull the reins to stop, you squeeze with your knees to go up and down—”
“I’m starting to think this whole plan is just a pretext for you to steal an eagle,” Adaran said.
She grinned at him, and winked, but said nothing.
“Fine. We’ll steal one eagle, then, and you can fly it.”
“Of course I will,” she said, as if that were the most obvious thing in the world. “You would run us into the mountain, flying around with your eyes closed.”
Adaran made a face at her, then pulled on his gloves and slipped into his boots. He pulled up his black hood—his cloak matched Redshen’s almost exactly, having been made by the same tailor—and cinched it tight. The two of them looked like versions of the same shadow, one short, one tall. Redshen looked him over. “Ready?” she said. Adaran nodded. She gave him an everything will be fine wink, then turned and ducked out of the tent; he followed close behind.
As he emerged into the crisp night air, hands grabbed him from behind, pinning his arms behind his back. He couldn’t see who had him. He felt himself lifted off the ground, spun around in a half-circle. There was Redshen, struggling with one of Dosen’s men. He had her in a headlock, his other arm around her waist.
What was going on? Had someone overheard them plotting to raid Dosen’s tent? Perhaps; but too many men were about, their shapes grey in the wan moonlight, for this to be a response to Redshen’s little plan. They had fanned out among the tents, weapons drawn; and now he could hear a commotion from Jenune’s tent, the clash of steel and wood.
Suddenly the wizard’s tent exploded in a burst of smoke and noise and white light. Two of Dosen’s thugs tumbled away from the blast, rolling along the stone face of the mountain before coming to a stop, twitching and smoldering. Taking advantage of the distraction, Adaran wrenched his shoulders up, dislocating both of them and slipping away from the henchman who held him. The thug cursed and lunged, trying to regain his grip, but Adaran spun away, cartwheeling to the side and delivering a solid kick to the side of his head. The man grunted and went down. Adaran landed in front of Redshen, dagger drawn and ready, but before he could do more than aim the weapon, a shower of hot, sticky liquid sprayed him, spattering his face and neck.
“Redshen!” Adaran cried. Dosen’s minion had cut her throat, and now he tossed her aside like a piece of garbage, lunging at Adaran, stabbing with his short, fat sword. He was too slow by far; Adaran easily sidestepped the thrust, grabbing the man’s arm and using his own momentum to pull him off balance. He thrust his dagger into the thug’s abdomen, slicing through the thin fabric of his shirt, opening up the flesh beneath.
As the wounded guard moaned and clutched at his belly, Adaran raced to Redshen’s side. He knew at once that he could do nothing to help her; the gash in her neck was long and ragged, blood spurting out with the weakening pulses of her heart. She looked up at him, eyes unfocused and blinking rapidly; she tried to speak, but the words whistled through her severed windpipe. Her lips told him to run.
He looked to the right. Three more retainers were coming at him from the direction of Jenune’s tent. Their weapons were drawn and bloodied, their faces bruised and pummeled. Even caught asleep and unarmed, Jenune must have put up a ferocious struggle. But there was no more use in fighting now; he was outnumbered at least five to one, with more killers on the way. He took a last look at Redshen, but she lay still now, her slashed throat steaming in the cool air.
Cursing, Adaran turned and ran for the edge of the ridge, racing along the rugged stone. He could hear Dosen’s men break into pursuit behind him but didn’t spare a look back, concentrating on his keeping his feet amid the rocks and rubble. If he slipped or fell, they would be on him in a moment.
Something clattered against the stone nearby, bounced away in front of him. A crossbow bolt. He cast a dire glance at the moon, which had chosen this moment to emerge from the dark clouds that had obscured it earlier, and began to zigzag as more arrows came skittering across the rocky spine of the mountain.
He had almost reached the edge now, where the ridge dropped away to the trees below. He needed to find a way down. Off to his right he spotted a cleft in the stone, like a chute leading into the forest. He darted that way and vaulted into it, but it was steeper than he’d expected, its damp floor strewn with loose rocks and years of accumulated dirt, foliage, pine cones. He lost his footing, fell, and started to slide, shooting over the edge of the ridge into open space, falling, the ground rushing up to meet him. He let his legs take the brunt of the landing, bending at the knees to absorb the shock, going into a roll that took him under the trees and out of sight of his pursuers. He dug his feet into the loam, checking his tumble, and came to rest just shy of the trunk of a massive pine.
He stood, brushed himself off, listening to the debris pattering to the ground and the distant voices of the men trying to figure out where he had gone. He doubted they would be able to climb the sheer cliff to reach him, but come the morning they could search for him from the air. He had to think of these pursuers as hawks, not as men.
He started down the slope, moving away from the ridge, darting quickly from one tree trunk to another, not stopping until he came to an abyss. This precipice appeared much higher than the last; the ground dropped away into a vast, howling darkness, as if he had run to the edge of the world.
Well, he had known all along that escaping from Dosen’s camp would not be a matter of walking down a slope, into a valley, and out of the mountains. He was going to have to climb, with little knowledge of what he’d be climbing into; he had not watched the terrain during their flight from the dragon’s lair, and so he had no idea where exactly they had landed. He remembered that Orioke had said they’d flown west. If the wizard were correct, that would have put them deeper into the mountains, perhaps even past the Salt Flats.
Well, in the morning he would be able to see into the gulf at his feet, and have a better idea of what he faced.
For now, he moved back under the shelter of the trees, curled up beneath the concealing spread of a thick pine, and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Obviously Adaran makes it off the mountain, as he can later be found in the walled city of Flaurent, down in the Salt Flats. But how he gets there is a scene for another month. For now, the poll results have been reset. Remember, vote early, vote often!
Thanks for reading!