Paul Cook: Brother of the Dragon

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Paul Cook Brother of the Dragon
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    Brother of the Dragon
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Paul Cook, Tonya C. Cook

Brother of the Dragon

Chapter 1

Flames roared into the chill blue sky. Jetting from every fissure in the stone wall, they combined in the open air into a great eruption of fire. Loose rocks and a few unfortunate men were hurled skyward, and a loud boom, deeper than thunder, reverberated off the walls of the valley. The fireball blossomed like a monstrous flower and quickly burned out. In its wake came a column of gray smoke, then nothing.

Amero opened his eyes. For a moment he was dazed, seeing blue sky above him instead of the foundry roof. His ears rang. Lifting his head, he saw he lay on the ground six paces from the foundry door. Inside the shattered building, all was smoke and flickering flames. His workmen staggered to and fro, stamping on smoldering embers.

“Arkuden! Your arm!”

Dully Amero looked down and saw his left sleeve was on fire. The little flame was creeping up his arm. Daran, the apprentice who’d warned him, slapped at the burning material, extinguishing the fire.

“Are you well, Arkuden? Say something!” The boy’s eyes were ringed with heavy smudges of black soot.

The pain in his arm brought Amero to his senses. “I’m all right,” he said hoarsely.

“What happened? I was carrying wood for the firebox, but before I could unload it — whuff! And I was out here!”

“Sounds like the journey I made. Go see if anyone else is hurt.” The apprentice got up and headed to the workshop door. Amero pulled himself to his feet and called, “Count heads, Daran! I want to know if anyone’s missing!”

“Aye, Arkuden!”

Dusting soot from his hide trews, Amero followed the boy inside.

The foundry was a shambles. Through the swirling smoke, Amero saw his new fire-feeder was wrecked. The wood-and-leather fan, powered by the legs of six sturdy apprentices, had been too successful. Too much air had been forced into the firebox, causing it to burst.

He found a man sprawled on the floor, out cold. It was Huru, his shopmaster. Hauling the unconscious man to his feet, Amero draped Huru’s arm over his own shoulders. He was heading to the door when the timbers in the roof gave way, sending a shower of burning splinters to the floor.

“Everyone out!” Amero shouted. “Get outside now!”

The stony beach below the foundry quickly filled with coughing, bleeding, smoke-blackened men. The early morning air was cold, and they shivered in the short kilts that were the usual attire inside the sweltering workshop. A few sat on the damp, sandy ground and nursed burns or bruises.

Amero called for water. The first dipper he gave to Huru, and the cold liquid brought the shopmaster’s dark eyes fluttering open.

“Arkuden… who threw the thunderbolt?” he grunted.

“I guess I did,” Amero said ruefully. “The furnace blew back in our faces.”

A head count showed everyone had made it out. One of the copper pourers, Unar by name, had the most severe injury. Hit in the eye by a flying stone chip, half his face was bloodied. Amero sent him to a healer with an apprentice to lead him by the hand. The rest of the workers were in reasonably good shape, though shaken by the blast.

Passersby stopped and stared at the sooty crew and the shattered remains of the foundry. The people of Yala-tene were accustomed to their chiefs odd ways, but this was a novel sight.

Once he was sure his men were all right, Amero went inside again. The foundry roof was completely wrecked. Sunlight pierced the drifting dust and smoke in a hundred narrow beams. Shards of gray roofing slate littered the floor. Charred wood, still smoking, lay everywhere.

Amero went to the crucible — a great stone pot cut from a single block of granite. Rough ingots of copper and tin were visible inside. Though the heat had fused them in numerous spots, they were not melted together. After all the fire and fury, his dream of making bronze was still unfulfilled.

“It’s a wonder we weren’t all killed.” Amero turned to see

Huru standing in the doorway. The shopmaster added, “What do we do now?”

Amero kicked a still-glowing ember with his bark sandals. “Start again,” he said. “Bronze won’t make itself. We’ll have to fix the workshop first, then build another fire-feeder.” He grimaced. “A smaller one, this time.”

Back outside, they found the workmen being tended by a dozen young men and women dressed in white doeskin robes. The well-scrubbed youths moved among the sooty men, administering cool water and dabbing their cuts and burns with pads of soft, boiled moss.

Amero frowned. He knew he ought to be grateful for the help, but he wasn’t. This help came with an unpleasant price.

“Greetings, Arkuden! Praise the dragon you are well,” said Mara, one of the white-robed youths.

“Why are you here?” he said. “I didn’t ask for help.”

“I sent them.”

Standing on the gravel path was Tiphan, son of Konza, leader of the Sensarku, the Servers of the Dragon. Not yet thirty, Tiphan was tall and sharp-faced, with shoulder-length blond hair and a beardless chin. The young people were his followers. Amero clenched his hands into fists then forced himself to relax.

“Greetings, young Tiphan,” he said, brushing stone chips from his short brown beard. “What brings you to my humble workshop?”

“I was on my way to the Offertory when I saw a column of fire in the sky,” Tiphan said. Though young, he had a deep, resonant voice. “My first thought was that the Great Protector was paying us a visit.”

“Duranix isn’t here,” Amero said bluntly.

Tiphan looked over the chaotic scene and dusted his hands lightly together. “I see that now. The fire was your doing, Arkuden?”

“An accident,” Amero said. “We have a lot of repairs to do, so if you would take your people away…”

“As you wish, Arkuden.” Tiphan clapped his hands, and the Sensarku ceased their ministrations and fell into line behind their leader. Huru cajoled his men to their feet, and the foundry workers filed back to the ruined workshop.

“Your efforts to make bronze have not yielded much success,” Tiphan said. “How long have you been trying, Arkuden? Ten years?”


“Perhaps men weren’t meant to make bronze. It is, after all, the hide of our Protector.”

“The elves have been making bronze for generations,” Amero observed.

“Elves are not men,” Tiphan countered.

Amero bit back a sarcastic reply, saying mildly, “You’ll excuse me, Tiphan. I have much to do, and I don’t want to keep you from your own work.”

“The fields, Tosen…?” said Mara, standing close behind Tiphan. Tosen was a term of respect meaning “First Servant.”

The young Sensarku leader nodded. “My father and I are going to view the planting of new seedlings in the orchard. The dragon has given us word that winter is over.”

Amero folded his scratched and bruised arms. “Planting, now? It’s too early. The seedlings will perish in the cold.”

“It is the Protector’s word.”

“Duranix is not a weather seer.”

“What the Protector says must be so,” said Mara. Tiphan nodded approvingly.

Amero looked at the proud, serene faces behind Tiphan. How firmly they believed their leader’s words! He envied the haughty Sensarku chief. It must be pleasant to have such unshakable confidence, to inspire such unquestioning loyalty.

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