The Rise and Fall of a Dragonking - By Lynn Abbey

Chapter One

Nameless stars sparkled in the sky above the ancient city of Urik, casting a pale light on its black velvet fields, silver silk waterways, and the firelight jewels of its encircling market villages. On the towering walls of the mile-square city, a score of bas-relief sculptures stood guard in shadow grays and black, each an image of Sorcerer-King Hamanu, the Lion of Urik. With a sword in one hand and a scepter in the other, he kept watch over his domain.

A score of bright, sulphurous eyes looked out from the walls of Urik, bright motes of singular, unmistakable color in the chill, midnight air. Their light could be seen a day’s journey beyond the irrigated fields. The eyes were beacons for honest travelers who journeyed during the cooler nighttime hours and warnings to covetous adventurers: The Lion of Urik never sleeps, never closes his eyes. King Hamanu’s city could not be taken by surprise or pried from his pitiless grasp.

Within the city’s walls, where the gemstone eyes did not shine, men and women wearing tunics of a similar sulphur color kept their king’s laws, their king’s peace, which should have been a simple enough task. Urik did not have many laws and they rarely, if ever, changed. King Hamanu’s curfew had not changed since it was decreed a thousand years ago: Between the appearance of the tenth star after sundown and the start of the next day, no citizen—man or woman, child or slave—was allowed to set foot on the king’s streets. By starlight, there should have been nothing for the king’s templars to watch except each other.

But since the dawn of time—long before the Lion-King bestrode Urik’s walls—the laws kings made applied only to the law-abiding folk of their domains. Wise kings made laws that wise folk willingly obeyed. Wiser kings learned that no net of laws could govern everyone beneath them, nor should they strive to do so. King Hamanu let the pots of Urik simmer nightly, and in a thousand years, they had boiled over no more than a handful of times.

* * *

“Halt!” the yellow-robed templar commanded as he separated himself from a clot of similarly clad men and women. Here, within spitting distance of Urik’s Elven Market, King Hamanu’s minions coagulated for their own safety, traveling in threes and fours, rarely in pairs, never alone—especially at night.

The pair of mul slaves bearing a pole-slung sedan chair came to an easy-gaited halt that did not jostle their passenger. Four slave torchbearers arranged themselves in a diamond pattern around them. The muls set the chair gently on the cobblestones. They slipped the hardwood poles out of the carriage braces, then stood at attention, each resting a pole against his massively muscled left-side shoulder.

“Who breaks the king’s curfew?” the templar demanded. The severity of his tone was belied by the continuing conversation of his peers beside him.

The lead torchbearer, a half-elf of singularly unpleasant appearance, looked down on the human templar with fourth-rank hemstitching in his left sleeve. “O Mighty One, we bear my lord Ursos,” she answered confidently.

She had had no accent, save for the common accent of Urik, until she spoke her master’s name with the distinctive drawl of far-off Draj. It beggared imagination that a Drajan lord would travel the curfewed streets of Urik—especially these anarchic times since the Dragon’s demise and the simultaneous disappearance of King Hamanu’s Drajan counterpart, Tectuktitlay.

The templar scowled. Whoever rode in the sedan chair, his name—or her name—wasn’t likely Ursos.

“By whose leave does Lord Ursos break curfew?” he continued.

The half-elf shifted her torch to her left hand. She was unarmed, as were her five companions: slaves were, by Hamanu’s law, unarmed. By law, all citizens, including lords who traveled in sedan chairs, were unarmed. Weapons were the templars’ prerogative. The fourth-rank templar carried a staff not quite half as long as the muls’ hardwood poles, and the half-elf’s torch bore an uncanny resemblance to a gladiator’s club, down to the leather wrapping on its haft and the egg-shaped killing stone lashed to its base.

He repeated himself, “By whose leave does your lord break curfew?” loudly and somewhat anxiously.

His wall-leaning peers at last abandoned their conversation. The slave’s right arm disappeared in folds of her funnel-shaped sleeve. There was a moment of thick tension in the moonlight until it reappeared with a small leather pouch, which the templar passed to one of his companions for examination.

“By your leave, O Mighty One.”

“It’s all here,” the inspecting templar announced, extracting two metallic pieces

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