Dragon Bones - By Patricia Briggs

Chapter 1
To Mike Briggs, Kaye Roberson, Anne Sowards, Nanci McCloskey, and the Wordos of Eugene, who read through the rough stuff and gave me good advice. To Virginia Kidd, Jim Allen, Linn Prentis, and the rest of the folks at the Virginia Kidd Agency for their patience and wisdom. To Big Cesar (Engine #9), Sirocco, Scratch, Skipper W, Teddy, Hussan, MonAmi, Meekum, and the rest of the Terra Verde Crowd, to Gazania, and my own Nahero, who allow me to make characters of my fictional horses. As always, the mistakes are mine, but there are fewer of them because of these folks.


Hurog means dragon.

Breathing heavily from the climb, I sat upon the ancient bronze doors some long-distant ancestor had placed flat into the highest face of the mountain. The doors were huge, each as wide as I was tall and twice that in length. Because the ground was angled, the tops of the doors were higher by several feet than the bottoms. On each door, worn by years of harsh northern weather, a bas-relief bronze dragon kept watch over the valley below.

Below me, Hurog Keep perched on its man-made eyrie. The ancient fortress's dark stone walls rose protectively around the keep, formidable still, though there was little chance of enemy attack now. By the standards of the Five Kingdoms, Hurog was only a small keep, barely able to support itself from the meager harvest the north climate and rocky soils allowed. But from the sea harbor visible in the east to the bald-topped mountain in the west, the land belonged to Hurog. Like most keeps in Shavig, northernmost of the Five Kingdoms of the Tallvenish High King, Hurog was greater in land than wealth.

It was my legacy, passed father to son, like my blond hair and large size.

In the old tongue, Hurog meant dragon.

Impulsively, I rose to my feet and opened my crippled mind so I could feel Hurog's magic gathered around me, pulsing through my veins as I roared out the Hurog battle cry.


Mine, if my father didn't kill me first.

"He'll kill us." My cousin Erdrick's voice, though hushed, came from the river side of the trail.

The willows were so thick between the trail I followed and the river, he couldn't see me any more than I could see him. I was tempted to walk on. My cousin and I were not friendly, but the nagging certainty that I was the "he" to whom my cousin referred gave me pause.

"It's not my fault, Erdrick." Beckram, Erdrick's twin, spoke soothingly. "You saw her. She took off like a startled rabbit."

They'd been teasing my sister again. Erdrick might be right; I might just kill them this time.

"Next time, don't tease a girl whose brother's the size of an ox."

"Good thing he's got the brains to match," Beckram said serenely. "Come on, let's get out of here. She'll show up safe and sound."

"He'll know it was us," predicted Erdrick with his customary gloom.

"How? She can't tell him."

My sister was mute from birth.

"She can point, can't she? I tell you, he'll kill us!"

Time to catch them and find out what they'd done. I took a deep breath and concentrated on looking like a stupid ox instead of a vengeful brother before I crashed through the brush to the riverbank where the keep sewer emptied into the river. With my size and features, no one expected me to be intelligent. I'd taken that and played on it. Stupid Wardwick was no threat to his father's position.

They might be twenty to my nineteen, but I was a head taller than either and three stone heavier. I'd been out hunting, so my crossbow hung over my shoulder, and my hunting knife was in my belt. They were unarmed. Not that I intended to use a weapon on them. Really.

My hands worked just fine.

"Who will kill you?" I asked, untangling myself from a branch that had caught my shirt as I'd plowed through the bushes.

Struck dumb, Erdrick just stared at me in mute horror. Beckram was made of sterner stuff. His mobile face curved in a charming smile as if he were glad to see me there.

"Ward. Good morning, cousin. You've been out hunting? Any luck?"

"No," I replied.

From their light-chestnut hair, handsome features, and dark complexions to their peculiar purple blue (Hurog blue) eyes, they were virtually identical in appearance, though not in spirit. Beckram was bold and charismatic, leaving Erdrick forever Beckram's hand-wringing shadow.

I looked at the river, the trees, the keep's sewer