What do you think?
Please let me know.
I am considering turning the short storey from Amber Dragon into a novel.
From Amber Dragon (Copywrite Adam Boustead 2015)
“Do you think he is part of the circus or just some beggar lurking round trying to fleece the passing trade?” “Assim, do not be so cruel. Does it really matter whether he is or he is not? It cannot be easy being blind.” “If he is blind.” “That’s a horrid thing to say.” “Well it’s true. You must not be so naïve, Sarra. Some of these so-called needy are blind one day and crippled the next.” “So young and yet so cynical.” As they approached the tents of the circus, near them was what appeared to be a blind man. He was sitting on an upside down barrel. It was difficult to tell his height from his seated position. But judging by his broad frame he was built like one of Assim’s father’s dining hall doors. He was wearing a shirt and a pair of raggedy faded trousers that were too small for him. The trousers only went half way down his calves, showing bare feet. The sleeves of his shirt only reached above his elbows and hung open, showing a bare chest. His most notable features were the white blind man’s cane and his green hair and skin, proclaiming him to be from the southern jungles. Sarra knew it was rude to stare but she could not help herself. She had heard of the southlanders, the green men, with green skin that allowed them to blend in with the totally green trees. Just as they drew level with him a lady approached him. By her glittering sequinned full length high heeled boots and the whip in her hand, she was obviously a member of the circus. “Barrab, do up your shirt. People will think you are a beggar rather than one of us,” she purred to the big man, in a deep soft voice like some big cat. “Yes, mistress,” he answered in a scratchy voice, suggesting that he did not speak very often. They were now standing almost in front of these two. Sarra saw that as this exotic beauty spoke to the big man she had reached out and had gripped his forearm. While she was speaking to him his – 80 – Amber Dragon face had gained a strange expression. If you boiled it down, she thought, it would be a desire to please. That hurts. Please stop that, and – strangest of all – Please do that more. The woman turned away, her raven hair sweeping behind her, her sultry burning eyes and smile distracting Assim, and Sarra noticed something else, the reason why he had made that face. Plain to see on his forearm were the bright red bruises and scratches of her long red fingernails. The big man fumbled to do up the buttons on his shirt. He took two breaths and the buttons burst off, flying everywhere. As the two halves of the shirt flew apart Sarra saw four long scars running diagonally across his chest. “Now I have just made it worse,” he muttered to himself, running his fingers through his dark green hair distractedly. He undid the belt at his waist and tied it around his chest bandoleer style. It held some of the shirt shut. “That any better mistress?” “It will do for now. Now go help Muscles. Perhaps he will have something you can borrow, but help him first. It is near time for him to go on stage.” The big man stood up again, picked up his white stick and shuffled off. “Can I help you, nice people?” asked this beauty, casting her smouldering gaze over the two young people wearing expensive bright silks and cottons. Her eye was drawn to their clasped hands. “My betrothed does not think that man you were just speaking to is part of the circus. I think he is. Is he?” “He is, sweet lady.” “He is? What does he do?” asked Assim contemptuously. “Well, mostly he helps out around the circus. He helps look after the animals, he is very good with animals. He gives the performers massages and helps heal them. He tells stories and makes and tells poems. He also reads palms. He is big but gentle. Why, sir, do you want to buy him?” “No thank you.” Sarra was shocked at the question. “Oh good, because he is not for sale. Now, if you would like to explore the smaller tents and booths while we get the big top ready, I will look forward to seeing you later.” As she said this she – 81 – The Dragon Chronicles shot Assim a cheeky wink. As she turned away, her hair snapping like a living thing, Sarra could not help noticing Assim followed her stalking figure with perhaps more interest than he should. She would have liked to say something to him about this, some witty comment, but she could not think of anything. He had moaned at her about her being overly jealous. She did not want him to think even worse of her. So she said nothing. They looked at many strange and interesting things, cages full of strange creatures. There was a large and beautiful grey mare with a long spiral horn. Sarra was convinced this was a real unicorn and Assim was sure it was a fake. He said the same of the panther with a scorpion tail. The label on the cage proclaimed it to be a manticor. In fact, he seemed to think all the creatures were fakes. They entered one of the smaller tents. As they stepped through the red tent flap a bell above it jingled. Inside there was a table and three chairs. Sitting in one of the chairs was the big blind man from before. Only now he was wearing a large red tunic that fitted him better. “Hello, can I help you?” “Hello again.” “Have we met before, miss?” “Oh, of course, you would not have seen us, would you? We were outside the big tent earlier. When you, err, burst your shirt buttons.” The big man blushed a deeper shade of green. “Wo would you like yo your palm r ea d ding?” he stuttered with embarrassment. “Oh yes, we really want to spend good money on a load of moonshine,” said Assim, still sounding sceptical. Sarra shot him an exasperated look. He just shrugged his broad shoulders. She did not understand, he was not usually like this. “I would like my palm read.” “Sarra, you cannot be serious?” “I am, I would like to know my future.” “He is a charlatan.” “You don’t know that.” “Perhaps I give reading, then you give what is worth?” asked the big man tentatively. – 82 – Amber Dragon Now he was talking she could hear a deep, gentle voice, but there was still a rasping quality to it, as if it hurt him to speak. She could not place his accent but his use of words was rough. With him missing words out made her think that the trade tongue was not his normal speech. “That sounds reasonable,” said Sarra before Assim could say anything. “Your hand, please, miss.” Sarra placed her small, delicate, smooth, hand in his big calloused one. His hand was warm. With surprising gentleness he turned it over and began to run a large clawlike nailed finger across the lines of her palm. His voice was slow and clumsy, giving the impression that he was dim witted. Sarra was not sure whether he was or if this was just an impression. As he spoke his voice seemed to drop even lower and scratchier. “You have strong heart and head lines. Means strong wild passionate.” “You got that right!” muttered Assim. Sarra elbowed him in the ribs. “A dark stranger cross your path.” Assim rolled his eyes. Sarra ignored him. “Are about to go on a great travels.” “No I do not think so,” Sarra disagreed, her pretty high brow furrowing in confusion. “Please let go, that is uncomfortable.” “Let go of her hand, you are hurting her,” snapped Assim, reaching out and slapping the man’s forearm. His large signet ring cut the flesh and green blood with spots of red in it trickled out. The big man slowly loosened his grip. Then he gently caressed her hand. Sarra understood he was trying to tell her without words that he was sorry for hurting her. He then let go of her hand. There was a look on his face that she didn’t like. “What is it? What did you read in my palm?” “Please leave. Please, beg you leave circus. Leave and never come back.” “Why?” “He in danger.” The blind man pointed in the general direction of Assim. “Me! You threaten me? Do you know who you are speaking to? – 83 – The Dragon Chronicles I am the Viscount Dabbacars. Son of the Count Dabbacars. Counsellor to the King.” “You are lots money. You should not have given gentle giant slip. He not able to stop you being hurt. If you stay he can help the sweet lady.” All this came out of the big man’s mouth and despite the fact that Sarra had not heard him speak much, it seemed a different voice. It seemed deeper, wiser and more confident. “Come on, Sarra, I am not listening to any more of this dribble.” So saying, he got up and stormed out. “Assim, wait!” called Sarra after him. “I sorry, I not mean to upset you. I not control reading.” “Were you telling the truth?” “Yes, it is trouble here. I am getting in trouble for telling you. Forget money, go after him. Don’t sight lose of him.” There was something in his voice and bulging sightless eyes that persuaded her this was not an act. She pulled out a gold piece from her purse, feeling that she should pay something. She dropped it on the table and rushed out. She looked for Assim but she could not see him anywhere. Where could he be? He would not have left the circus. Of that she was certain. He was too stubborn to leave because he had been told to do so. Suddenly, the big top caught her eye. He could have gone in there. She walked up to the entrance and spoke to the ticket taker, a large muscle-bound hunchback. Usually Sarra would have been intimidated by a man with such a deformity and with such long arms and bowlegs and most of all his grim demeanour, but today she was so worried for Assim. “Excuse me but have you seen a large handsome noble in the last few minutes?” “They are all handsome nobles, me lady, can you be more specific?” he asked in a gravelly voice. Sarra got the impression he did not like her. Since she had never met him before and she would have remembered if she had, probably he did not like nobles full stop. Resentment of that kind was unfortunately common amongst the lower classes. “He is six feet tall. Broad shouldered, with blond hair and the – 84 – Amber Dragon deepest darkest eyes you have ever seen. He is wearing blue boots and trousers and a red shirt and cloak. He has a large flashy ring on his left hand. It is in the shape of a ring pierced by a cross.” “Sorry, I have not seen anyone by that description.” “Mowdow, please not be hard is important. Have you seen him?” It was the blind man speaking. How he had got behind her so quietly and quickly she did not know. The grim defiant look softened when he heard this. “She is with you, Barrab?” “Yes.” “Then yes, he went through a few minutes ago.” Sarra went to go through the tent entrance. A long, brown, hairy, powerful arm shot out, barring her path. “You have to pay to go in miss.” Sarra was in such a hurry that she did not even bother to look at the coins in her hand; she just grabbed some from her purse and dropped them into a large hand with unnaturally long fingers. Even in her haste she could not help noticing with revulsion that the short curly brown hair that covered his head, face and long arms even covered his large palm. She turned away and passed through the tent flap. She pushed through many different people wondering how she could possibly find him in all this. Then she spotted his red cloak. She struggled up beside him. “Assim, come, I want to leave.” “Then go, I am not stopping you.” “I would like you to escort me home, as any gentleman would.” Assim did not answer. Before they could say anything further, the next act came on. Two figures stalked onto the main ring. One was short and slim and dressed from head to toe in white. The other was about seven foot tall and almost as broad. The head to toe black cloth was stretched taut over its huge muscled frame. They took up fighting stances and proceeded to perform a long, deeply erotic combination of unarmed combat and striptease. Sarra glanced around and to her relief she could not see any children. Which was well because there was something deeply erotic and somehow corrupting just by watching it. She wanted to look away, but could not. As the clothes were slowly ripped off Sarra realised that the – 85 – The Dragon Chronicles figure in white was the seductress from before. The other was a huge muscle-bound man covered from head to foot in multi-coloured rippling tattoos. Sarra did not see much of the performance. Once she managed to pull her eyes away they focused on Assim’s falcon face. His eyes were only for the woman on stage. His face was flushed, his eyes full of lust and wanting. Sarra turned away and rushed out of the tent, brushing past the hunchback and blind man. “Miss, wait!” they cried, but she ignored them. The hunchback tried to catch up with her but she was young and fit; his limping shuffle was no match for someone who regularly ran and swam long distances to keep fit. She ran home and locked herself in her room, refusing to speak to anyone, crying her eyes out. Bang, bang came the heavy knocking on her door. “Lady Rassar, please open up, I must speak with you,” boomed a deep voice. Sarra knew that deep calm voice. It was Garmmrag, Assim’s personal bodyguard. “Go away Garmmrag. Tell Assim that the engagement is off. He shouldn’t send his underlings to apologise for him.” “He has not sent me. We have not seen him since he paid the guard on the gate to let you out without alerting me.” Sarra opened the door. Standing there, almost blocking out the light, almost filling the door, was a mountain of muscle. The huge black-skinned white-haired half giant was barefoot and wore nothing but a knee-length tunic in deep blue with the Count’s coat of arms on it. This was a very casual look for him. Usually he wore full silk armour. It looked like he had come straight from his sleeping chamber, which surprised Sarra since she doubted that he ever slept. “You are saying he never came home last night? He is missing? You swear this is not some trick to get me to come back to him? Because if it is you can tell him from me I am not.” “Lady, you know better than that.” He turned over his huge left hand showing her his palm. Branded there was a symbol of a mouth with a burning sword thrust through it, runes on the sword’s handle. – 86 – Amber Dragon It was the mark of the Order of The Truth Speakers, an order of knights sworn upon soul death to always speak the truth. “Do the Count or my father know about his absence?” “No, me lady. The Count is away counselling the King and I have not spoken to your father. I waited until the early morning and then when the Viscount did not return I decided to come here to see if he was ill and had been forced to stay here overnight and had not been able to send a message to us.” Sarra blushed. She understood he was being diplomatic. He must have considered this possibility because he could not lie. But he must have thought it, that despite the fact they were not married, they were sleeping together. “He is not here.” “I can see that, me lady. Do you know where he is?” “I don’t know where he is but I can guess. How did you get in here?” “I came over in the closed carriage and came up the servants’ stairs.” “Did anyone see you?” “No, I used this.” He picked something off the floor. It was a large heavy-looking helmet made from black metal with a complicated eye within a cloud design traced in grey. “Where did you get a mind’s eye? They are rare.” “It was a gift from a pilgrim whose life I saved. It stops people from seeing me. It does not make me invisible, it just stops people from noticing me. I parked the carriage in the wood not far from here. Pretend you are going for your normal run and meet me by the ancient white oak. Do you know the one I mean?” “The one that is as tall as the palace temple spire?” “That’s the one. Meet me there.” The door shut and Sarra went to change into her running tunic. It was black and fell to her knees but was slashed up to the hips to allow her to run. As she slid it over her head she considered whether this might be a trick to kidnap her either by Assim or by one of her father’s political opponents. But that was just Wassaw, her war master’s paranoid teaching kicking in. Garmmrag would not, could – 87 – The Dragon Chronicles not lie to her. If he said Assim was missing then Assim was missing. And she could guess where. He was with that circus slut. She was a noble lady of the high order. She was not going to put up with this kind of behaviour. “Assim, let me in, I know you’re there,” Sarra shouted, hammering on the door of the largest most garish circus caravan in the circle of many colourful caravans. She did not know how she knew he was still here, she just did. The door opened. Facing her was the big blind man from before. Only now he was completely bare-chested. Despite her anger and worry about where Assim was she could not help noticing that running around his chest there was a large ring of black bruising, as if he had been attacked and squeezed very, very hard. He placed a finger to his lips and gestured inside the caravan. Sarra caught a glimpse of the hunchback wearing nothing but a loincloth lying face down on a couch, the thick mat of brown hair on his back glistening with oil. In the light coming out of the room she could see oil shining on the blind man’s hands. “Please be quiet, I have just got him off to sleep. He doesn’t sleep well, suffers from pain his back. There should be bench behind you, sit there and be out.” So saying he closed the door on her. She turned to see a few feet away the embers of a dying fire. Placed around it were a number of light but sturdy looking benches. She could smell the greasy smell of old food and something else. A sweet bitter smell that both attracted and repelled her. “What is that smell?” “I am pleased to hear you ask that, me lady. I would be worried if you knew what it was. You are fortunate that you do not go to court.” “What does that have to do with it?” “Because then you might have attended some of the less respectable parties. If you did you, would know the smell of moonshine.” “They have been smoking moonshine? Yuck.” She had never smoked the silver tobacco. No one knew what it was made of or where it came from. It was rumoured that it was made from either – 88 – Amber Dragon dragon or demons’ blood. Or that it came from the vast spider webs of the spider hive minds to control who ever smoked it. But what she did know was that it gave you very realistic and highly addictive hallucinations. “I am afraid, me lady, it is looking more and more like my master has fallen into very bad hands. I tried to tell him but he wouldn’t listen.” The voice was directly behind her. She started and quickly turned. The blind man was leaning over the back of the bench Sarra was sitting on. He was now wrapped in an old tattered ankle length grey cloak. Through the gap in the cloak she could see that he was still bare-chested. Garmmrag moving quicker than Sarra would have believed, slammed the blind man up against an empty cage. One hand was gripped tightly, but not too tightly that he could not speak. The other hand reached under the cloak and squeezed him in a place Sarra did not want to think about. “Tell me what you have done with my master or I will cause you more pain than you can believe!” Rather than cry out in pain, he seemed to squirm with pleasure. “Can hurt all like, I not hurt master.” Suddenly there was the hiss of a serpent’s tongue. A serpent’s tongue of steel. A wipsteel sword was placed against Garmmrag’s throat. “Let him go, big boy, or I will slit your throat before you can blink.” Sarra did not know how she had got between her and Garmmrag but she had. She was tall and thin but with long sinuous limbs. Her hair was tied in a long braid and was grey – in fact, the whole of the woman resembled the wipsteel blade she held. Sarra became aware of someone behind her. She turned to find standing there, wearing a battle robe, weapons poking out of its pockets and clinging to its sticky grips, was the tattooed giant. “Garmmrag, let him go,” whispered Sarra, realising that he would probably keep his grip despite the risks unless she ordered him to. He slowly let go. “Thank you,” he rasped to Garmmrag. Sarra could not tell if he was thanking him for letting him go or hurting him. – 89 – The Dragon Chronicles “Thank you, Whip Muscles, it is kind to help but I need not help.” “Is this a new boyfriend, Fingers? Mowdow will not be pleased if he is.” “No, he is a new friend, boyfriend not. Mistake only I need not help thanks.” “Actually, we were not asking. I am afraid our Lady has requested we escort your new friends to her presence.” A look of fear crossed Fingers’ face. He did his best to hide it but failed. “That’s not needed.” “I am afraid Mistress insists,” the big man behind Sarra rumbled. The blind man slumped against the cage. “Gileas gedo genothing gif geou gefollow gy glead gand geyou gight geget gout gof ghis galive,” spoke the blind man to Garmmrag in what Sarra thought might be Giant. She couldn’t be certain since it had never been heard outside the Giant land. Even the half giants never used it outside the Giant lands. Garrmrrag looked surprised to hear it spoken by a non Giant, but whatever he said Garmmrag seemed to slowly relax. “Are you going to behave, big boy?” asked the whip lady. “Yes, I will,” Garmmrag spat, obviously not happy about this. They were shepherded towards the back of the circus tents. Sheltered by the trees of the beginning of the great forest was a small, almost unassuming caravan, compared to the others. The whip woman knocked on the door that was painted black with a complicated pattern scored into the paint, exposing the white wood beneath. “Yes, what is it?” Although Sarra had only heard that sultry commanding voice once, she would know it anywhere. It was the voice of her rival. “Forgive me, Mistress, it is Whip. We have brought the strangers as you requested.” “Bring them in.” They were pushed through the door. Inside, by the light of a lantern, Sarra saw a cluttered single cabin. There were exotic dry herbs hanging from the ceiling. The walls were covered in padded cabinets with all kinds of strange objects. – 90 – Amber Dragon Sarra spotted what looked like a dragon’s skull, a helmet like the one Garmmrag had, and in one of the cabinets something glittered and reflected the lamplight in a constant change of colours. Lying on a large low bed under a colourful patchwork quilt lay the seductress. She sat up, letting the quilt fall to pool in her lap, showing no shame at allowing all in the room to get an eyeful of her faultless white skin and impressive cleavage. What upset Sarra more was seeing Assim next to her, in the middle of the effort of pulling on his trousers. “Sarra! Garmmrag! What are you doing here?” “I could ask you the same thing, Assim,” snapped Sarra more angry than she could believe. Assim walked up to her and slapped her. “Do not take that tone with me, Sarra. The last time I looked I could go where I want and spend time with whom I like. You are my betrothed, not my keeper.” Sarra was speechless. All she could do was to stop herself from crying. “Garmmrag, what are you doing here, spying on me?” “No, my Lord. When you did not return and I received no word from you I worried for your safety. I went to me ladies to see if you were there, ill. Me lady told me that she knew where you were. So I followed her here.” “Do you serve her, or me?” “You, of course, Lord.” Garmmrag answered, but the way he said it and the flash in his eyes implied that he did not approve of what his master had just done. “Good, then escort the lady Sarra back to her father’s house. Then you will ride to the court and inform the Count that I have decided to go on a tour of our lands. When I return we will discuss my future.” “My Lord, I should be at your side.” “Are you not sworn to obey me to the death?” “Yes my lord.” “Do you wish to question that oath?” “My Lord!” Garmmrag protested. – 91 – The Dragon Chronicles “Then do as I say,” snapped Assim. “My Lord.” Garmmrag kneeled and on receiving a casual tap on the shoulder rose, took Sarra by an unresisting hand and led her to the carriage. Sarra sat in the carriage, crying. She had managed to keep the tears back until she was alone. She could not believe what had just happened. Despite the fact that her cheek still stung she wanted to wake up. This is just a bad dream and in a moment I will wake up. That was what she kept saying to herself. She could not understand what had just happened. Assim had never been like that before. He had always been so gentle and attentive. The Assim who had just mistreated her was not the man she knew. She could tell even Garmmrag had not liked what had been done by the gentle way he had handled her. What was she going to do? She could not marry a man who treated her like that. And yet the marriage was a done deal. Their fathers had sorted it when they were still babes in the cradle. Could she appeal to the King? No, that would not work. Assim’s father was a lifelong friend and adviser, he would listen to him. What was she thinking? She loved Assim and he loved her. But her cheek still throbbed. Suddenly, without any warning, the cabin slammed onto one side and rolled head over heels several times. Before Sarra could take stock the door was ripped off its hinges and thrown aside. Framed in the door was the tattooed giant. Every muscle and sinew in his body seemed to be bigger as if somehow, he had swollen. His eyes were dark and enlarged as if he was on some kind of drug. He slammed his fist into the wood panelling, just missing her head. Without thinking about it her training kicked in. She drew one of the daggers in her boots and slammed it into his chest between the ribs, just like she had been taught. He stood there staring at her. She had heard that sometimes this happened. That sometimes it took time for the brain and the body to realise they were dead. But then to her shock, after a grimace he smiled. Then Garmmrag slammed into him and they disappeared from her sight. She clambered out of the carriage. Only then did she – 92 – Amber Dragon realise she had damaged her leg. It hurt like hell but she could stand on it. Garmmrag and the tattooed man were going at it hammer and tongs. But Garmmrag was fighting with a broken arm. Despite the blood pouring out of the place where Sarra had stabbed the giant, she could tell Garmmrag could not win. She stabbed the giant in the back with the second dagger. He whirled around and backhanded her, sending her flying. The world spun and started to go grey. Do not black out, she said to herself, slamming her hand down on the hard, stony ground. The pain coursed up her arm nearly causing her to black out anyway. When she sat back up the attacker had wrestled Garmmrag to the ground and had him in a death-dealing, crushing grip. She could hear his ribs cracking. How was this happening? Until now she would have thought no one was strong enough to beat Garmmrag. Then she heard a new noise. It sounded like the thudding of feet but somehow softened as if they were running through snow – which of course was impossible, as it was high summer. Then something burst into the clearing. It was the blind man running besides the panther that had been in the cage. It leapt at the two fighters. Blood and fur flew. After a while the cat got up and padded over to Sarra. She stared past the huge muzzle dripping with gore into a pair of glowing green eyes. The intelligence in them was greater than an animal’s. It slowly, gracefully, bent its head and a large rough red tongue licked out. With surprising gentleness it started to lick at her hurt leg. She shuddered. She wanted to pull away. Its mouth was full of blood and now it was not only getting that blood on her but it was nuzzling her as if it was deciding which part of her it wanted to eat. She wanted to pull away but she didn’t dare move. The tongue was rough and should have been uncomfortable but it was strangely comforting. After a while she felt much better. She uncertainly reached out and pulled herself up using this dangerous beast that was acting just like a big tabby cat as a support. It slowly padded beside her as she limped over to where Garmmrag was. The blind man was crouched over Garmmrag. – 93 – The Dragon Chronicles “Are you alright?” “Yes, me lady, I do not know what he is doing to me but it does not hurt. I guess that is a good thing, is it not?” he asked. “It is.” Sarra could not see any bandages or salve. All she could see was the blind man’s big hands resting on Garmmrag’s damaged arm. His eyes were closed, a frown of concentration on his face. As Sarra watched the wounds began to heal all by themselves. “How are you doing that?” “Magic.” Sarra was about to protest that magic did not work like that. But before she could the manticore, if that was what it was, let out a deep growl. She turned to see something she would never forget, no matter how much she would like to. The bloody piece of flesh that had been their attacker was writhing. “I thought he was dead!” “He should be, Mannam severed the life lines in his neck,” said the blind man. As they looked on something writhed its way out of the body. Four tentacles ending in vicious barbed hooks, followed by a thicker tail ending in a cluster of similar hooks, and finally a long neck with a serpent-like head filled with fangs. There were no eyes in its head. They, along with other organs and secondary mouths, covered its grey skin. “It cannot be,” exclaimed Sarra in shock. “It cannot be … parasite dragons are extinct.” “Keep telling yourself that,” said the blind man. The creature writhed towards them. “Mannam, if I not stop it you get these two safe. You understand?” The blind man was talking to the cat. It growled in response. To Sarra’s surprise, the blind man reached up and ripped off the cloak and trousers and strode naked towards the monster. As he did so a ray of early morning sunlight speared through the canopy highlighting many looping spiral scars running across his back. “What does he think he is doing?” “I do not know, me lady, but I do think we should get out of here.” – 94 – Amber Dragon “We cannot just leave him.” “Oh, I do not know, he seems to be doing okay.” The blind man had stabbed his white stick deep into the obscenity. It drove one of its hooked tentacles into his thigh and another into his shoulder. He cried out in pain. “You just cannot get enough of me hurting you, can you?” hissed the beast. To Barrab’s horror, apart from the hiss it was Muscles’ familiar voice he heard. “It was you all that time?” “Yes, what’s wrong? Are you wishing I had done this to you a long time ago?” “I let you your twisted sex games on me I not know any better. Does not mean I like.” “Oh yes, so why did you keep coming back?” “Damn you, the dark part of me, the part you were making not get enough of it. You know you did something,” gasped the blind man as he sank to his knees, obviously weakening. “Oh yes, and what was that?” it hissed in triumph. “You awoke magic in me.” As he spoke, long glistening foot length talons of energy grew on each finger. Before the parasite dragon could react he had slashed at the limbs embedded in him so hard that they were nearly severed. Grey, foul smelling ichor leaked out. The beast hissed in what Sarra hoped was agony. “Can he kill it?” she asked Garmmrag. “I do not know, perhaps if he gets some help. I take it, me lady, you have received a noble’s education?” Sarra understood. “Tell me, Garmmrag, do you know Likins Lee Jon?” “Why, me lady, I was thinking of a simple offensive spell but that one will do indeed. I will do what I can to help but you will have to maintain the chant.” Sarra nodded her understanding. She began to weave her hands in the complicated gestures and speak the words that would harness – 95 – The Dragon Chronicles the magic. “Sy swaires spon sy ouls stat sis srant sy trens so she sones sho sis seeffending sme.” Completing the incantation in the language of magic she pointed at the blind man. This was, in fact, the easy part. Now came the hard part. She had to reach out with her soul, which the spell helped her to do, and grant the blind man her strength. She could feel the huge, strong, reassuring presence of Garmmrag backing her up. She could sense the ancient malignant strength of the abomination. Then she touched the soul of the blind man. She gasped. His soul was strong and sad but running through it like lightning gold was an incredible strand of magic. She gasped again and opened her eyes, drained of strength. The spell had obviously worked. He was slashing huge holes into its flesh. If it had had a chance to attack him at long range it would have won but it had not had the chance for that. It slammed its hooked tail into the blind man’s other thigh and bit deep into his other shoulder. The blind man screamed in agony. “Now you will succumb to my venom,” it hissed in triumph. The blind man did not answer, just gritted his teeth but Sarra could feel through their spell connection that he was weakening. “You know not what you have done in me.” Sarra suddenly felt a huge surge of magic come from him. He opened his mouth and a gout of magic blasted out and began to burn the creature quicker than a forest fire. Sarra would never forget those screams or the smell of cooking flesh. As it burnt to a cinder she felt the spell end and what was left of her strength returned to her. The blind man collapsed on the ground, face down. “We have to scatter the ashes. If we do not it can resurrect itself,” explained Garmmrag, reaching out for her hand so she could help him up. “Forgive me, me lady.” “Forgive you for what?” “My master charged me with your safety and a blind stranger has done more than I.” In the excitement and danger Sarra had forgotten about Assim and his treatment of her. Due to this and the fatigue of spell casting she sank onto a nearby tree stump, watching Garmmrag limping – 96 – Amber Dragon about scattering the ashes and checking on the blind man, then right the cart and find and harness the horses. He bent down and spoke to the blind man who was now sitting up. After a long talk Garmmrag wrapped the blind man in his raggedy cloak and helped him to his feet. And to her surprise Garmmrag and the blind man had their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders and limped over to her. “I suppose we have to go home now?” asked Sarra sadly, staring at the ground. “No, me lady,” said Garmmrag, his voice angry. She looked into his face. It had darkened with a grim anger. “We are not? But I thought Assim ordered you to.” “I obey my Master’s orders, not the orders of a treacherous enchantress.” “What do you mean?” “This one will explain on the way back to the circus.” So saying, he lifted the blind man with gentleness and care into the carriage. Then he did the same for Sarra. “What is he talking about?” “Do you love him?” “What sort of question is that? Of course I love him.” “You are sure?” “Yes, I am sure.” “Then sorry I am. He knew not what him do.” “What do you mean? He seemed to be very certain of what he was doing.” “The mistress, the lady him with. Powerful enchantress she is. Under spell him is.” “I and Assim had one of the most powerful wizards as our mentor. Not only did he teach us almost everything he knew but he placed unbreakable defences against such things.” “Master Jammaj is one bests,” he agreed, surprising Sarra that he knew who she was talking about. “But afraid there is better. The enchantress is older and better. She has your mate in her web. Sorry I am but know I do. Got me under spell. She get him under thumb – 97 – The Dragon Chronicles then use him to get to King.” “It cannot be so, I tell you.” “So he treats you like that all time?” “No, of course not.” “Do you know web spell?” “The spell that makes you know what magic is present.” “Yes. Then cast when get back circus. Then will know if he under spell he is.” As he spoke he pulled his cloak around him. As he did so Sarra caught a glimpse of one of the wounds on his shoulder. As she watched, it began to slowly heal before her eyes. A white scar formed over the exotic amber skin. “How are you doing that?” “Doing what?” “How are you healing yourself ?” “Magic.” “That cannot be, you have not cast a spell.” “Are more ways of magic than spells.” “What do you mean?” “Is no time now. We are slowing. Must be here.” Garmmrag helped them down. Sarra looked around in bewilderment. “Garmmrag, are you sure you have the right place?” “This is the right place, me Lady. Look, the embers of the fire are still here. You cannot mistake the scent of moonshine that still lingers.” The cat creature must have followed them for now it padded forward, growled and pawed at the ground. The blind man stepped forward and clutching the side of the cat crouched down. “Mannam says you can see their tracks, they must have left.” “Left where?” moaned Sarra. “Probably back to the enchantress’ lair in the witch wood,” replied the blind man grimly. Sarra’s blood went cold just on hearing the name. Everyone had heard of the witch wood. It was a huge jungle in the south. It was so full of enchantment that anyone who lived near it became enchanted. It was so powerful that the great technocracy could not destroy it as they had much of the rest of the great jungle. – 98 – Amber Dragon “If they reach there we will never catch up with them.” “You want to? You will go after him?” asked the blind man. “Yes, if he is in as much danger as you say he is.” “Me Lady, you cannot mean that.” “I love him. He might be an idiot but I love him very, very much.” “So be it. We will do all we can help.” “If we need to hurry we cannot be slowed down by a blind man,” said Garmmrag practically but not unkindly. “I can run faster longer than you. I can use magic to fight when we get there. I can talk with birds and tree. I help you in wild better than you can.” A growl came from the big cat. “Mannam will not help if I not. You will not catch them without help.” “It seems we don’t have any choice. Garmmrag, unhook the horses.” “Yes me, lady.” As Sarra mounted the horse bareback she realised something. “Was your palm reading for real?” “Yes, me lady, why?” “It seems you were right about me going on a long journey.” He just smiled, turned, and with his hand resting on the big cat they rushed together into the woods. As she followed, Sarra thought that there was indeed a long and hard journey in front of her. She had no idea of the epic world shattering events that lay ahead of her.