Dragonfriend - Marc Secchia

Chapter 1: Flying

TWISTING FREE FROM her manacles, Lia surged to her feet. She rapidly gathered a six-foot length of chain between her hands.

At her sudden movement, startled oaths burst from two young soldiers assigned to their cabin. Clad in the midnight-blue of Fra’anior’s Royal Guard, the soldiers watched over Lia and Fyria, her royal sister, as a Dragonship bore them into exile–likely, to a place of execution.

“What’re you doing?” squeaked Fyria.

“Escaping,” said Lia.

Eyes bulging, the soldiers whipped out their swords. One snarled, “Not by the fires of this caldera, you aren’t!”

“Here,” said the other, crooking his finger in a crude gesture. “Little girl want to play–urk!”

Lia lashed out with the chain as he spoke. The metal links snaked around the man’s neck. She sprang sideways, up against the Dragonship’s cabin wall. Using her captive as a counterbalance, Lia stepped briefly along the lightweight wall to avoid the first soldier’s lunge, before dropping nimbly behind him. A swift kick of her slipper-clad foot propelled the man into the corner where her Royal Highness the Princess Fyria’aliola of Fra’anior–Fyria, for short–lay in chains.

Planting both of her feet, Lia used her full weight to spin the chained soldier about. His forehead struck a metal stanchion with a meaty smack. The soldier slumped. Unholy windrocs, that crazy manoeuvre had worked? No time to exult.

“Aye, I’m little,” she snapped, relieving the man of his sword. “Want to play some more?”

“Mutiny!” yelled the first soldier. “Help!”

Lia swayed away from his flickering blade. She pirouetted into her parry with the poise of a skilled dancer. A cut appeared on her arm as if by magic. She flung her elbow upward, catching the soldier in the throat. As he choked, Lia finished him with a sharp rap of her sword pommel to the base of his skull.

The cabin door crashed open. Half a dozen soldiers boiled into the room, led by the hard-bitten Captain of the Royal Guard, Ra’aba. “You,” he growled. “Ever the troublemaker!”

“Traitor!” Lia spat in return. She raised her blade.

Captain Ra’aba, called ‘the Roc’ after the windroc, a ferocious avian predator with a wingspan of up to eighteen feet, stilled his men with a gesture. “Hualiama,” he said, his scarred face twisting into a grin as he mangled her full name with great force, “Little Lia. I trained you myself. How can you possibly hope to best me?”

She said, “I can’t. But I will protect my family–”

“Your family?” he snorted. “You’re a royal ward–about as much a Princess as I am.” When she only raised her elfin chin as if wishing to skewer him upon its point, he added, “Everyone knows you’re an unwanted, bastard whelp of a cliff-fox the Queen took pity on.”

Hualiama flushed hotly. “At least I’m not a worm who betrayed the people who gave him everything. Go cast yourself into a Cloudlands volcano–”

Ra’aba drew himself up with a sneer. “You forget you’re speaking to the future King of Fra’anior, girl. Now, kneel and swear fealty, or it is I who will be casting you off this Dragonship.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Oh, little Lia, who’d stop me? A Dragon?”

Relish twisted his lips; the harshness of his scorn unnerved her. Little Lia. The nickname she hated more than any other.

Staring up into his flat, fulvous eyes, Hualiama realised why she had never trusted this man. Her sword-point wavered; the Roc still had not drawn his weapon. She knew how fast he was with a sword. Ra’aba had never been beaten. If the legends spoke true, no weapon had ever touched him, neither in training nor in battle.

“Last chance,” he said. His stance bespoke nothing but absolute command and confidence. Lia tried to summon her courage back up from her boots, as the Isles saying went. “Girl, you’re fifteen summers of age. You’re a foot shorter than I am, hopelessly clumsy with a blade, and if I’m not mistaken, today’s your birthday. Choose wisely. Choose life.”

“Just as you’re promising life to my family?”

“Banishment,” he shrugged. “Uncomfortable and permanent, aye, but hardly deadly. After all, which Fra’aniorian Islander would accept me if I had royal blood on my hands? King Chalcion will abdicate; I shall ascend the Onyx Throne in his stead.”

He rolled his muscular shoulders, a silent threat. “Now, haven’t you fomented enough grief for one day, Hualiama? Join me, and I’ll promise you a place in my kingdom.”

Her family! Her little brothers! She did not care greatly for haughty, vain Fyria, but she loved her brothers and her mother, Queen Shyana, to distraction. Just that morning,