Merlin's Blade - By Robert Treskillard Page 0,1

stronger. Hairs rose on Arvel’s neck, and a chill slid down his tunic like a cold snake. Someone was watching him.

He turned, surprised to see he’d made so much progress. On his right stood the tip of Inis Avallow, the largest island in the marsh, and far down its length he spied the old, crumbling tower. As he rowed, the shadowy ruins and scattered descendants of an ancient apple orchard slid past him. But he felt no malice there.

He turned the other way and scrutinized the waters along the shore. The dark mass of a mountain, the Meneth Gellik, rose to his left. Soon he’d be at Bosventor’s familiar docks and the safety of home. No need to worry.

Then he beheld the Dragon Star.

Arvel stared in awe. Across the southwestern sky floated a ball of blue flame with two tails, one straight and the other curving upward. Though these tails had inspired the star’s draconian name, Arvel liked to think of the shape as an arrowhead. The star had appeared near the end of summer, and, fixed there in the sky each night, the mysterious blaze slowly moved westward toward the setting sun as the season changed.

He shook his head. It couldn’t be. And yet the instant he looked away and back again, he knew the Dragon Star watched him like some bulbous blue eye. Was he going mad, like his grandfather?

Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling. His throat closed up, and he wanted to leap out of the boat and swim for shore. But he forced himself to sit still, because a hunter mustn’t give in to such panic. Certainly not the best hunter on the moor.

As he’d trained himself to do when hunting the tusk-boar with his father, he bent his fear and strung tight his courage. Picking up his bow, Arvel slowly readied an arrow. When he could wait no longer, he aimed right at the Dragon Star and let the arrow fly with a satisfying zip.

As the arrow splashed into a distant part of the marsh, Arvel smiled in triumph and turned away from the star to grip the oars.

But when his gaze met the horizon, he saw something unexpected.

The marsh lit up as if the full moon had burst into flame. Bright and brighter, an orange light flickered along the boat’s rim.

A tremendous roaring filled the air, and a ferocious mass of living fire shot over his head. It descended with deadly power just beyond the marsh and struck a low hill. Chunks of earth and a white-hot blaze exploded outward.

He shrieked as his hair ignited and his eyebrows singed away. His clothing and skin smoldered, and within moments the boat’s wood and leather caught fire like kindling.

The marsh and open water churned in liquid convulsion. The boat spun and was thrown into the air, just as a crushing wind shattered all the trees and sucked Arvel’s lungs empty. The aged boat ruptured beneath him, and he fell into the watery chaos.

His hands flailed at the venison as the waves roared over his head. He saw the beloved face of his mother and the face of his missing father.

But they faded, and a shadowed vision arose in their place.

Arvel beheld the clans and peoples of Britain gathered together. And each one — young and old, farmer, craftsman, warrior, chieftain, and king alike — worshiped the Dragon Star. Yet even as the people bowed, the Dragon Star betrayed them and blazed forth blue flames of destruction. All through the land it raged, along with swarming invaders who slaughtered, enslaved, and pillaged.

Death. Death and destruction.

The souls of many wept, and above all a woman’s voice called:

Woe! Woe to Britain!

For the Dragon Star has come,

and who will save us?

PART ONE

GUILE’S DUST

BIRTHED AS FLAME, THE DRAGON STAR FALLING;

WRAPPED IN WATER, THE DEAF ONE CALLING;

CIRCLED IN SHADOW, THE BOUND ONE WEEPING;

MALICED EVIL THE BANKS ENTOMBING;

HIDDEN ON HILL, THERE THE DEEP LAKE LIES.

CHAPTER 1

AN ERRAND GONE ASTRAY

THE VILLAGE OF BOSVENTOR

SPRING, IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 477

Merlin frowned. He didn’t know what he wanted more: to talk with Natalenya or to hide. After all, how many young men walked past the house of the girl they admired while pushing an overstuffed wheelbarrow? And how many were accompanied by a boy wearing a too-big monk’s robe who insisted on playing bagpipe?

Wasn’t the rope, wooden tub, bundle of herbs, and sack of oats quite enough to fill the barrow? Did Garth really have to add a squawking hen and a young goat too?

Merlin

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