Posted on January 22, 2010 by Flames
The blue dragon, Lazuli, lives to torment the villagers of Sandon’s hometown, Hartfall. He demands more and more riches until the Baron, Sandon’s father, has only one thing left to give: himself. Lazuli will arrive at midnight to take the Baron away. Sandon has only one hope left: the gold dragon that sits atop a ledge above the village, silently watching. In one legendary battle Lazuli magically petrified the gold dragon, once Hartfall’s sworn protector. But Sandon is sure he can find a way to awaken the beast. In the dead of night, he sneaks out onto the gold dragon’s ledge. And there he stumbles onto a secret that throws everything he thought he knew about his home and his family into question. Can Sandon unlock the secret of the gold dragon in time to save his village–and his dad?
This next installment of the series inspired by The New York Times best-seller A Practical Guide to Dragons shows just how much a young boy can do when he realizes that the strength of a gold dragon may lie inside himself.
Gold Dragon Codex
Sandon sighed and tried to keep his unruly horse from leaping ahead of the others. They’d ridden out from the keep under his father’s flag, the blue banners snapping all around them. His father rode at the front of the team, a grim look on his face beneath the upturned visor of his shining helm. All six of the keep’s guards, as well as their commander and Baron Camiel, thundered down the road with Sandon. They rode toward the village, the pounding of their horses’ hooves blending with the rattle of their heavy plate mail.
Beside Sandon, one of the men blew a hunting horn in a brisk military hom-hom-hom to announce their passage.
With lowered swords and charging steeds, the baronial guard plowed into the assembled bandits without mercy. Sandon raised his weapon as he’d been taught, slashing at a bandit who tried to duck beneath his charge. “Have at you!” he cried, the light timbre of his voice breaking high above the battle cries of his father’s more experienced soldiers. Sandon swallowed back another yell, aware that he sounded like a puppy in a pack of wolves. One bandit thrust at him with a long dagger, but Sandon turned aside the blade with a sideways flip of his sword. Sandon glowed with pride at his success and glanced to see if his father had noticed. The baron was, as always, surrounded by the brightest of his soldiers, issuing orders to his men even as the bandits broke and ran. Sandon’s smile faded.
“Well done, Sandon!” His uncle, Vilfrand, rode up next to him. His horse half reared in the excitement of battle, whinnying an echoing war cry as Vilfrand laughed. “Looks like we’ve got them on the run!”
The bandits weren’t interested in a fair fight— and definitely not one where they were outmatched by their opponents. They screamed and ducked as the guards attacked, diving for the shrubs and trees on both sides of the ill-used road. Some of them paused a little longer to exchange blows with the soldiers, but none could fight for long against the well-trained men.
A few blows got through, but rang out uselessly against the heavy plate mail.
“Keep at them, men!” the baron commanded. “Don’t stop until we teach these louts their place!”
“Aye, m’lord baron!” Vilfrand intercepted one, catching the fleeing bandit in the shoulder. His blow tore the man’s rough shirt, slicing through to the skin beneath and scraping through to the bone. The bandit screamed, dropping his dagger and fleeing into the woods with redoubled speed. “Ride with me, Sandon! They won’t stand for long!”
The baron turned his back again, shouting quick commands to the guards. “Michil, Jonas—into the woods after them. Don’t go far, just keep them running. Gart, Denton, keep an eye on this one.” The baron leveled his eye at the single man still standing in the center of the road.
“What about me, Dad?” Sandon pushed his horse forward into the circle of soldiers, straightening proudly.
Baron Camiel hardly glanced at him. “Stay back with your uncle.”
The lone man wore battered chain mail and a worn leather belt. His boots were scuffed and dusty. Despite his weary appearance, the man stood firmly—sword in his hand, backpack at his feet and a thin trickle of blood staining a long dagger tear through the leather of his pants leg. The two guardsmen that stayed behind took up combat positions to either side of him.
“They’ve fled, sir,” one of the soldiers reported.
The baron nodded sharply, swinging down from his chomping war steed. His shining black boots puffed up twin clouds of dust from the road as he faced the last of the bandits. “I see we have a brave one,” snarled Baron Camiel. “You’ll swing for this. Banditry’s a crime in these lands, as in most of Solamnia. Captain, take him into custody.”
“As you wish, Baron Camiel,” Sandon’s uncle replied, shoving back the guard of his helmet. He was a black-haired, mustached man with sharp blue eyes.
He leveled his thick sword at the man standing within the ring of horses, ready to spit him as if he were a chicken. “Surrender, bandit, or we’ll sentence you where you stand.”
“I’m no bandit,” the man spat. He tossed his head, throwing back dirty blond hair. “I’m a soldier, like you.”
With a quick flick of his wrist, he blocked Vilfrand’s sword, tossing the sharp end of it aside and snapping back into a fighting crouch. “Or, maybe better.” The soldier grinned as Vilfrand’s weapon clattered to the ground.
Captain Vilfrand reddened. “Soldier?” he snapped.
“Half of these bandits were soldiers before they turned to thieving after the war. That’s no assurance you’re anything other than a black-hearted scoundrel. And don’t give me any lies about ‘heroism’ and ‘hard times.’ We’ve all got hard times, especially the people in Hartfall—you’ve no right to mercy.”
“I didn’t ask for any,” the soldier grunted, keeping his short blade raised. The man was breathing heavily, perspiration trickling down his cheeks, but his cold hazel eyes never blinked. Sandon could see that he was an unpleasant-looking fellow, with high cheekbones and thin lips clenched in a pained grimace. His hands were still and well trained, calloused where they grasped the hilt of his weapon. His eyes met the captain’s squarely, never blinking. Whatever else he was, Sandon thought, the man was brave.
The baron reached up to pull off his helm. He was a thick, square man, shorter than the others, burly through the shoulders where his brother, Vilfrand, was lean. His armor, like that of the guardsmen, was old and dented in places, but well cared for. Blue eyes gleamed at the man on the ground. “Who are you?”
The soldier didn’t lower his weapon, nor did he take his eyes off the soldiers’ swords. “Just a traveler, passing through.”
“Passing through?” Baron Camiel snarled. “The Solamnic road ends here. They stopped building it hundreds of years ago when they couldn’t get through the mountains. Hartfall is a dead end. People come here to trade for our harvests, and then they take them back to Solamnia. Only the bounty of our fields,” he said with cruel regret, “ensured that we saw travelers every season. Now that the fields are gone… so, too, are the many visitors we once welcomed.”
A soldier? “Were you in the War of the Lance? Did you serve with the Golden General or the Knights of Solamnia?” Sandon’s voice broke as he asked the question, but he was too excited to care.
“Your commander’s got six men with swords pointed at me, kid. I’m alone, wounded, and weary to the bone.
I’ll say I was in any war you want and served wherever you think is interesting,” rumbled the weary soldier, “as long as you get these idiots to let me go.”
“Watch your tongue before the baron of Hartfall!”
The captain’s eyes flashed.
“Father”—Sandon pointed at the insignia on the hilt of the soldier’s sword—“look at his weapon. That’s the sigil of the Knights of Solamnia!” Sandon jerked off his helm and slid to the ground beside his father.
At fourteen, he was lanky and gangly but starting to fill out into his father’s squareness. He squinted at the heraldry on the soldier’s sword eagerly, marking every symbol in his mind. “I’ve seen it before in the history books—that’s the mark of a knight. I never thought I’d see a real one,” he said wonderingly. He blinked, taking
the soldier in again. Sandon noted the rigid stance, the man’s courage in the face of overwhelming odds.
Could it be?
“That is the sigil.” The baron looked at the soldier more sternly. “But he’s no knight.”
“Suit yourself.” The man shrugged and lowered his stance, ready to renew the battle.
“Did one of you men give him that wound?” Sandon pointed at the soldier’s leg. When the soldiers shook their heads, glancing around at one another, he reached to grip his father’s arm. “We didn’t give it to him. Uncle Vilfrand can attest that he’s no slouch with a sword, so he didn’t give it to himself. If that’s true, then the bandits must have given it to him. That wound’s too fresh to be more than a few minutes old. If he was fighting the bandits, then he’s not one of them.”
Relaxing a bit, Captain Vilfrand nodded and looked the man over again. “It would explain his competence,” he said through gritted teeth.
“The bandits could have turned on each other after they took the merchants’ goods.” The baron wasn’t willing to back down. “Wolves eating wolves.”
“But, Father, he has the right to ask for succor,” prompted the boy, turning large brown eyes toward the soldier. “A soldier of Solamnia, in our homeland, bearing the sword of a knight—”
“A stolen sword, likely,” growled the baron.
“He can ask to stay. If he does, we have to give him room and board for three nights.”
“Sandon!” The baron gripped his sword hilt, exasperated. “We can’t trust this man!”
Sandon sheathed his sword and stepped out past the row of horsemen’s blades. He lowered his voice and spoke to the soldier. “We don’t have much, but you’d get a few square meals, a bath, and a roof over your head. It’s got to be better than camping on the road with an open wound.
Just ask for succor, and by law, he has to provide it.” The gruff-looking soldier glanced back and forth among the captain and his men, the baron, and the boy.
In a much louder tone of voice than Sandon’s, he said, “What makes you think I’d be willing to sleep under a dishonorable man’s roof?” With a scowl, he jerked his thumb at Baron Camiel.
“How dare you!” shouted Captain Vilfrand, leaping off his horse and striding forward. “No man insults the baron of Hartfall!” He moved protectively toward his brother, scooping up his sword from the dusty ground.
“Just say the word, Camiel, and I’ll silence this wretch once and for all.”
The baron’s blue eyes shone darkly. and he clenched the hilt of his still-sheathed sword. The heavily armored guards had snapped to attention again, armor rattling as they raised their weapons aggressively. Captain Vilfrand stepped between his family and the wounded soldier, pushing forward to cross blades with the traveler, his ice blue eyes snapping with cold fire.
The soldier’s word took them all by surprise.
Frozen midattack, the horsemen glanced at the baron in confusion. Sandon spoke first. He jumped on the word, repeating it as loudly as his cracking voice allowed.
“Succor—he asked for succor! Stand down!” Sandon ordered, glancing at his father to see if it was all right.
Red tinging his cheeks from the insult, the baron pulled his clenched fist away from his sword.
“Dad.” Sandon met his father’s fierce stare. “You promised.”
There was a long pause before Baron Camiel nodded sharply to his son. He shot a bitter glance at the soldier and replied, “Granted.”
The captain did a double take, eyes wide and angry. “Sir?”
“You heard the boy, Vilfrand. Stand down.” The baron reached for his reins and tugged on them a bit more roughly than necessary as he swung back into the saddle. He fixed the traveling soldier with an icy stare.
“Because I can’t prove you’re guilty of banditry—or anything other than rudeness—I’ll grant your request. But you should know that I’m not doing this because the law requires me to aid the soldiers of my homeland because I’ve nothing to prove you are what you claim to be. You’re on very thin ice, brigand,” the baron snarled.
“Watch your step.”
“And I, for my part”—the rough soldier gritted his teeth and said the formal phrases—“swear to do no harm and aid in all ways while I am your guest . . . even if you are an idiot.”
Ignoring the black looks from everyone involved, Sandon beamed.
The baron growled orders through clenched teeth, barely keeping his temper in check. He jerked his horse around viciously and the animal grunted in surprise.
“Escort this soldier back to the castle,” he snarled. “Make him a bunk in one of the empty barracks.”
Shoving his broadsword back into its sheath, Captain Vilfrand remounted and barked orders to his men. “Form up!” He spurred his beast forward and joined the baron on the road back toward the keep. The others milled about a bit, readying themselves for the slow pace of the soldier’s limping walk. Not one horseman offered to give him a ride.
Sandon tried to give the traveler a small smile. “They’re not always this bad. Trust me.”
The soldier pressed his sword slowly into the scabbard at his waist, fingering the sigil on its hilt as he tucked it away.
* * *
Gold Dragon Codex is available now at Amazon.com.
This preview for was provided and published with express permission from Wizards of the Coast.