Skip to content

More Free Content From “The One Rider” Chpts 1&2

March 19, 2012

Here is another free preview of The One Rider: Ashandor Chronicles – Book 1.  Enjoy Chapters 1 & 2.

CHAPTER 1

“A dragon’s breath is strong and hot.

A dragon’s breath is sweet.

The one who smells a dragons’ breath

will soon his maker meet.”

-Children’s Rhyme

Valaron rummaged through his pack. Inside the leather shoulder bag was everything he needed for the hunt. He checked the contents of his firestarter tin and made sure the pot and plate were clean. A separate leather pouch held extra arrowheads, sinew, and fletchings. A small work-knife was lashed to its side.

He strapped a wool blanket to his pack and another to the side of his quiver. A water-skin hung from the bag’s leather strap. Valaron put his bone-handled hunting knife on his belt, slung the quiver of arrows over his shoulder, and took the longbow down from over his bed. Leather bindings creaked softly when he pulled the bowstring to full draw, so he took out a jar of tallow and oiled the leather to silence it for the hunt.

Valaron raided the kitchen. He wrapped food and loose tea into leather bundles that he stuffed into his bag. Cortain was in the village buying dry goods, and Valaron knew that his uncle would not return from Frensville until late in the evening. A note on the table told Cortain of the young hunter’s plans. Once outside, he filled his water-skin and trotted across the meadow toward the mountains. The foothills of the Grands stood in front of him.

Valaron came out of the meadow behind the barn and climbed the path that led to the top of the ridge. Smells of the farm quickly gave way to the clean air of the forest. The musty odor of dirt was replaced with fresh scents of new leaves and budding flowers.

The young hunter increased his pace up the rising trail, turned south at the top of the ridge, and made his way across the angled peak. Two large stones flanked the path that led down into a small glade. Valaron passed between the granite markers and trotted down the winding trail.

He crossed the glade and began watching for deer sign. His keen, blue eyes swept the ground and quickly found tracks from a small herd of deer that led into the forest across from the trailhead. Valaron began the slow process of the hunt.

He followed the tracks for several hours over rough terrain through towering hardwoods and pockets of underbrush. Valaron worked to stay downwind. His shoulder-length blond hair twisted in the light breeze that would so easily give away his presence. He stalked the herd up the mountain until the shadows grew long.

Tired and hungry, Valaron found a small clearing to set up camp for the evening. Behind the clearing was a spring that bubbled from a low rock outcropping before disappearing back into the soft ground. Valaron drank from the spring and filled his water-skin with the sweet water.

He struck a small fire and laid out his blankets. The mountain air was already cooling. He would be glad to have his wool blankets when morning came. Digging in his bag, he took out strips of dried meat and flat bread. Water boiled for tea, and darkness settled into the clearing.

Valaron spent a long time watching the night sky. An occasional shooting star lit the air and flashed overhead. Green and white tendrils lingered for several seconds before finally fading away. His thoughts slowly gave way to the realization that he was singing the Dragon’s Parting Song that the old storyteller, Skarson, had taught him. He stopped in the middle of the chorus yet he could still hear the song coming from up on the mountainside. At first he thought it was an echo, but the melody carried on in a deep, baritone voice.

Valaron held his breath. He listened closely, but the song faded away into the night. Breathless and confused, he lay still for a long time straining to listen past the night sounds of the forest. “I must be hearing things,” he finally said to himself. “All the dragons are gone.” Valaron turned over on his side and passed into a fitful sleep.

He was up and packed at first light. Before moving on, he stared up the mountain and thought about the sounds he had heard in the darkness. He shook his head. The young hunter put his mind to the task of stalking his prey up the mountainside.

The game trail narrowed, and the hunt turned slow and tedious. Briarweed forced Valaron to move in a low crouch. He quickly grew weary of fighting through the undergrowth. It was early in the afternoon when he decided to circle around and make his way up the mountain in hopes of rejoining the trail above the thickets. He broke out of the brambles and sprinted up the mountainside. Valaron’s legs pumped in a tireless rhythm. Trees flashed past in a blur. He was faster and stronger than anyone in the village, winning foot-races by ridiculous margins. The others eventually refused to compete if Valaron was running.

He located the tracks in a stand of pines just as twilight began to fall, so he picked a spot to make camp for the evening. This time the dried meat and bread were accompanied by cheese that he had bought in the village. He admired the blue streaks that ran like small veins across the yellowish-white cheese. Its pungent odor and sharp flavor added well to his fare. Even though he ate a simple meal, it always tasted better beside an open fire.

Valaron lay in his blankets and watched the night sky come alive with twinkling stars. Cool air carried the familiar smell of pine mixed with the musty odor of nearby mushrooms. Sounds of the night grew louder in the deepening darkness. A spring frog bellowed his manliness, and the rustle of leaves announced a small visitor just outside the firelight. It was a little early in the season for brown snakes, but he made sure not to camp too close to rock outcroppings. His body heat would be enough to entice one from its lair, and the bite of a brown snake meant certain death. Another rustle of leaves caught Valaron’s attention. He focused his eyes in the direction of the sound and caught sight of two small eyes glowing in the firelight. The tiny creature darted out of sight. Valaron chuckled. “I saw you,” he said. “You will need to be more careful or you’ll be someone’s meal.”

The young hunter lay relaxed in that state where sleep has not yet come. His thoughts focused on a distant sound, and his eyes snapped open. Valaron was instantly alert. Once again, a song came floating down the mountain. The music was distant and faint, but there was no mistake. Someone was singing a wordless version of the Dragon’s Death Song.

This time, hearing it more clearly, Valaron did his best to determine the direction of the sound. He resolved that at first light he would try to find the source of the singing. The song finally faded away. Valaron lay awake long into the night wondering and listening. All thoughts of the hunt had vanished.

CHAPTER 2

“None compares to a treasure

found where once it had been hidden.”

 -Poem “Simple Things”

Valaron was on the move long before dawn. He had always been able to see well in the dark, and he had no trouble working his way through the forest. He moved up the mountain until he came to a sheer rock face that towered into the morning sky. The singing had come from somewhere above.

“Oh, great,” sighed Valaron. High places were his one lifelong fear. He searched the face of the cliff, but there was no path that would lead him up. He would have to climb if he was going to get answers to his questions. If he skirted the cliff and made his way to the top, he would be climbing down. That was much worse. He chose to climb from the bottom so he would not be forced to look down.

Valaron paced at the base of the cliff trying to muster the courage to take that first handhold. Finally, curiosity won out over fear. He cached his pack and began to pick his way up the rock face. The going was slow and strenuous. Several times he was forced to back down and try a new route. Valaron fought back his fear and forced himself to the task at hand. He came to a small rock ledge with just enough room to rest, and placing his back to the cliff, he drank half of his water as he looked out over the flatlands, careful not to look straight down.

Below and to the right lay the sprawl of Frensville. He couldn’t make out any of the structures, but he could see general outlines. The dark, circular area at the center of the village held the Town Hall. Skarson’s house was to the right. The storyteller lived among mounds of books. Every surface was covered in ancient texts and yellowed scrolls, and Valaron always had to move stacks of books to make a place to sit. He enjoyed the time he spent learning the Dragon Songs of old and hearing Skarson’s stories and history lessons. Valaron’s eyes scanned to the left of the village where square patches of brown marked his uncle’s farm. The beehives would soon be producing, and Cortain would settle into the rhythm of making his famous mead. “Bees make the honey,” he would say, “but I make it better.”

He continued the climb. The rock face turned smooth and glassy, and handholds were becoming hard to find. He reached another ledge and scoured the cliff for signs of a trail. Just to the left and another seventy-five feet higher was a large dark spot that looked different from the surrounding rock. It was mid-afternoon when Valaron turned his efforts to reach that point on the cliff. After climbing higher, he could see that the shadow was deeper than it appeared. It was the entrance to a large cave.

He had to stop and rest more frequently, clinging to the cliff face like a fly on a wall. Valaron took a quick look down. Fear caused his heart to race. He closed his eyes and took long, slow breaths to fight the vertigo. Fearless in every other area of his life, heights made him dizzy and light-headed.

The climb was taking its toll. At sixteen years old, hard work had built strong arms and a wide back, but his muscles ached from the continuous strain. Sweat streamed down his face, stinging his eyes. Valaron ran out of handholds just below the cave entrance. The sun was setting, and he had reached another dead end.

The weary hunter was no more than two feet from being able to reach the lip of the cave. Frustration quickly turned to anger. Valaron searched the rock wall for one more handhold. He spied a piece of rock jutting out only eight to ten inches above his reach. A sudden fear seized Valaron at the prospect of spending the night feeling his way down to safety. In a fit of desperation, he gathered his courage and jumped. He grabbed at the protruding rock with his right hand. His fingers closed in a death-grip.

Valaron hung three-hundred feet in the air. His boots scrabbled and scratched uselessly against the cliff face knocking loose bits of rock. The strain pulled at his shoulder. Just above and to the left was a patch of dirt packed in a hollow. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and kicked up. With all of his remaining strength, he thrust the shaft into the dirt. Valaron applied some of his weight to the arrow. The point pulled loose, and the sudden shift in weight broke his handhold. For an instant, he clawed at the smooth rock wall, desperate to save himself. His left foot jammed against a small rock, and he slowly began to tip away from the cliff. The young boy was overcome by the paralyzing terror of certain death. Valaron began the long fall.

A hand suddenly clamped around his wrist. He cried out in surprise and looked up. Growing darkness made it impossible to make out anything except a black silhouette. The dark shape pulled, and desperate to reach safety, Valaron swung a leg onto the ledge. He rolled onto the cave floor and collapsed. Exhausted, the terrified boy lay face down on the cold rock. His heart pounded in his chest, and he fought to control his breathing. Each breath blew little clouds of dirt from the cool cave floor. He worked to fight down his fear and calm his mind. Valaron’s breathing finally slowed to long, heavy sighs. In the failing light, Valaron slowly recovered his nerve.

Crawling up on his hands and knees, he raised his head and looked up to thank his mysterious savior. A large, black eye the size of his own head was inches from his face. Valaron yelled and sprang back, almost tumbling over the edge. He caught himself and scrambled backwards on all fours until his back slammed into the side of the cave.

He strained to see what belonged to that massive eye. Stretched out before him was a monster. Valaron was in the dark and face-to-face with a dragon.

Advertisements

From → Fantasy

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: