This is my picture of Marick, the main character of Dragon Pawn, my new dragon book. I made it on ArtBreeder, a great site where you can create art with the help of an AI that mixes and manipulates images.
Dragon Pawn is the third book in the Cloud Lands Beginnings series. It’s taken me a while to get a grip on the story and in fact, this is the second time I tackled his tale set in that particular world.
It’s almost done by now, and – cover designer willing – I hope to get it all set up and published around the end of June.
Which is why I want to give you a preview of the whole tale.
Make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter so you want miss the release day of Dragon Pawn!
Sneak Preview of Dragon Pawn
Marick sat back on his heels, resting for a moment. Digging a hole with just his knife and a flat piece of wood was hard work. He rubbed the dirt from his hands absentmindedly, ignoring the way his stomach rumbled. Food was not important right now.
He took a deep breath and bent forward again. It wasn’t easy to dig here underneath the trees, but he couldn’t risk stepping out of the forest.
The sun had set when he decided the hole was big enough. He climbed to his feet, swaying a little from exhaustion and hunger. But he couldn’t give in just yet.
He was shocked how light the bundle was. True, Jendrie had only turned seven this spring, but he had expected her body to be heavier. After all, she had been his only reason to continue struggling.
He gently lowered the bundle into the hole, added a few soft pine branches and then scooped the dirt back on top. No skybeast would eat this precious child.
Finally, he gathered a few rocks and laid them in a small circle, just above her little head, marking that grave. Not that anyone would ever see it.
When he was done, he sat back again, trembling from head to toe. Mechanically, he reached for the water skin and took a few sips from it. That skin and a bundle of useless clothes were all he had left after Dancer had galloped off in panic with their meager supplies several days ago.
He waited for tears, but they wouldn’t come.
When it got too dark to see, he wrapped his threadbare cloak around himself and lay down, on top of the grave, hoping that he wouldn’t wake again.
Cold. He was so cold.
Shivering, Marick opened his eyes and realized that the sun had risen. The clear sky indicated a cold night, maybe even frost. No wonder he was cold.
The damp from the fresh dirt had seeped into his worn clothes, he realized. How stupid to sleep on a grave.
As he climbed to his feet, feeling stiff and wobbly, he was hit by a train of thoughts that changed everything.
Dancer was gone.
Jendrie didn’t need him anymore.
He felt something inside him relax.
He was free now.
And he still had his knife. He could make this almost painless.
And yet… he wanted to see the sun once more. And maybe one more sunset. And then he’d find a comfortable hollow below a tree and end his misery.
Yes, he liked that plan.
He took a sip from his almost empty water skin and felt the liquid revive him. He would need a bit more water for the day.
Food no longer interested him. Searching for it would be a waste of time.
He pushed the hair back out of his face and looked around. Trees were growing thick and close. It actually had almost been a miracle to find this spot where he could dig a grave.
He knelt and patted the dirt.
“Good bye, Jendrie. I hope we’ll see each other again soon.”
A moment later, he made his way among the trees without looking back. The sun was beckoning him, luring him to the edge of the forest, dazzling him with its rays, promising warmth.
He stepped out from under the low-hanging branches, glanced up at a brilliant blue sky and took a deep breath. And suddenly, he felt alive, more alive than he had in years.
Years filled with hiding. Filled with loss, one after the other. Filled with scrounging for food, eating maggots, or chewing pine needles. Today, he was done with all that.
He closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun on his eyelids, caressing his cheeks. How he had missed simply being able to sit in the sun!
Soon, nothing would be left of his Tribe. The skybeasts had won, they were now the rulers over this land.
And somehow, not even that mattered anymore.
Marick sank to his knees, allowed his hands to fall to the grass, while keeping his face turned to the sun and his eyes closed.
That warmth. It was all the love he had left.
His mind drifted away, to memories of laughter. Of gentle touches, of joy and sadness and lovemaking. To the wiggle of a puppy and the wobbling stance of a newborn foal. Only now could he truly appreciate it.
Life had been good.
And ending the struggle also felt good.
He lay back into the grass, feeling content. A little later he slipped into sleep.
Wake up, human.
In his dreams, Marick was walking home with his friend, carrying a deer over his shoulders.
He didn’t want to leave the dream. It was so comforting, so familiar, so wonderful. He could almost taste the venison.
Reluctantly, Marick swam back to the surface of reality, not wanting to leave his friends behind.
Good. Now don’t be afraid.
What was that voice? And what was it talking about?
He came back to awareness, to hunger, to his miserable life, to the lingering warmth on his face.
You are safe, the voice said in his mind, and he realized it hadn’t been part of the dream. He wrenched open his eyes.
And barely managed to suppress a scream.
A red skybeast was crouching next to him, its maw just an arm length from his face.
You are safe, the voice repeated.
“Safe?” Marick’s voice broke.
Yes, you are safe. I rescue humans.
Marick blinked and then rubbed his eyes.
No, you’re not dreaming. I have come to take you to a safe place. With food and other humans.
“But… but you eat humans.”
The skybeast laughed. Only stupid dragons eat humans.
He was utterly confused. “Your kind hunted down everyone I know. Why should I trust you?”
Ah. I understand. That is a problem indeed. But you will die if I leave you here. You can live if you come with me.
“I don’t really want to live,” Marick said slowly. “There is nothing to live for, anymore.”
You are wrong. You could do much good.
Marick shook his head. “There is nobody left.”
There are humans who live with me.
People who would touch him.
Talk to him.
Marick swallowed. “How… how many?”
Oh, many. They are under my protection.
He sat up and looked around. The skybeast didn’t move.
“What if you’re lying?”
I’m not. Look. This is where I would take you.
Images filled Marick’s mind, of a valley where people were herding animals, building fences and actually breaking the soil for a garden. A skybeast was sitting up on a rocky outcrop, scanning the sky, obviously a guard.
His breath caught.
The world of Dragon Pawn
Dragon Pawn is part of The Cloud Lands Beginnings, a fantasy world where dragons have recently invaded the continent where humans live – and started to decimate them.
In this series, I show how humans deal with the threat, how they react to the dragons and how the first dragonriders came to exist.
If you enjoyed this little peek at Dragon Pawn and want to get into this particular fantasy world, start with the first book in the series: Dragon Prey.
That’s the story of Sidren, a healer who does the unthinkable when confronted with a firebeast close up and personal. (And even though it’s me saying that, I think it’s one of my best books so far.)
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