The Blood of a Dragon
A Legend of Ethshar
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
|The Wildside Press edition|
Cover art by Dalmazio Frau
|The Del Rey edition|
Cover art by Darrell K. Sweet
|The Cosmos Books edition|
Cover design by Stephen H. Segal
|The AST Russian edition|
Cover art by Anatoliy Dubovik.
(This is an omnibus with
The Unwilling Warlord.)
The rakes themselves were the same perfectly ordinary wooden rakes that had been dragged back and forth across the sand by perfectly ordinary people before each race. Now, however, the rakes were moving by themselves, as if held in invisible hands, and the slaves, or servants, or whoever the people were who were responsible for the Arena's maintenance, were nowhere to be seen.
Dumery wondered whether the rakes had been animated somehow, or whether they were being wielded by sylphs or sprites or demons, or whether the servants had been turned invisible. Magic could do so many amazing things!
The rakes were all painted bright blue, and he wondered if that was important. Did the magic in use here only work on blue things? He knew that magic could have peculiar requirements. Or were he rakes blue because the Lord of the Arena had taken blue and gold as his colors?
Or perhaps, had he taken his colors from the golden sand, and the blue rakes and other fittings?
Or was there some other reason entirely?
There were so many things that he didn't know! He had read everything he could find about magic, but that wasn't much; he had asked questions of everyone he knew, but he knew no wizards, nor witches or warlocks or sorcerers or any other sort of wonder-worker. He had occasionally met a magician or two, and had always asked questions, but he hadn't always gotten answers.
The rest of the time he just asked whoever was handy, even though they weren't magicians. Sometimes they had answers anyway, sometimes they didn't, so he just kept trying.
"Dad," he asked, "why are the rakes blue?"
Startled out of a contemplative half-doze, Doran of Shiphaven let the front legs of his chair drop heavily to the floor of the family box, rattling the gold chain that draped across his velvet-clad chest. Rings clicked against wood as he gripped the arm of the chair and turned to stare at his son.
"What?" he asked.
"Those rakes out there," Dumery said, pointing. "Why are they all painted blue?"
On his left, Dumery's sister Dessa, a year older than he, giggled into her hands. Their two older brothers, noticing the noise, peered over from their father's right side to see what the fuss was about.
"So they won't rot, I suppose," Doran said, puzzled. "Or to keep down the splinters."
"But why blue?" Dumery persisted. "Why not red, or green? Brown wouldn't show the dirt as much, or if they want to see the dirt then white would be better. Why blue?"
After a baffled pause, his father admitted, "I don't have the faintest idea."
Derath leaned over, smirking, and said, "It's to match your eyes, Dumery!"
"My eyes are green, stupid!" Dumery retorted. "Maybe you'd better have an herbalist check your eyes if you don't know that!"
"Oh, I know that," Derath said sweetly, "But the Lord of the Arena doesn't!" He turned and grinned triumphantly at the eldest brother, Doran the Younger, who snorted derisively.
Dessa giggled harder than ever.
Dumery felt his cheeks redden slightly, and he turned his attention back to the Arena floor, pointedly ignoring his siblings. He didn't think Derath's joke was funny, since it didn't really even make any sense, but he knew from long experience that if Derath and Doran and Dessa once got started mocking him it would last for hours. Retorting wouldn't stop it; ignoring them might.
The raking was finished, Dumery saw, and the arena sands gleamed smooth and golden in the afternoon sun. The crowd quieted in anticipation.
The silence grew, and a certain tension grew with it, until suddenly a cloud of thick yellow smoke appeared, swirling out of one of the many gateways that opened into the arena from the labyrinth below. The smoke did not dissipate, like any natural smoke or vapor, but instead hung together in a spinning globe, something like a miniature whirlwind but far denser, and ball-shaped rather than the tapering cylinder of a normal whirlwind.
Dumery caught his breath and stared, and beside him Dessa stopped giggling. On the other side of the box Doran the Younger and Derath fell silent, as well.
The seething ball of smoke drifted out into the arena, moving across the sand at about the speed of a brisk walk, until it stood in the exact center, its base just barely disturbing the neatly-raked lines.
The smoke was a paler yellow than the deep gold of the sands, a sickly, ugly color, like the belly of a snake. Dumery stared at it, utterly fascinated.
Thunder boomed from nowhere, and lightning flashed, almost blinding him; he looked up, startled, but the sky was still clear and blue, the sunlight still sweeping across the stands.
When he looked back, the yellow smoke was gone save for a few fading wisps, and in its place stood the wizard.
Dumery leaned forward eagerly.
The wizard was a plump fellow of medium height, wearing a gleaming ankle-length robe of fine red silk. Dumery was no good at guessing ages, but this man was clearly no longer young -- his face was weathered and his jowls sagged. His hair was still a glossy black, though, without a trace of grey.
The wizard thrust his hands up in the air, fingers spread, and cried, "Behold!"
The vastness of the Arena swallowed his voice, and it was obvious that only those in the best seats could hear what he had said. Dumery felt a twinge of disappointment at that. Surely, a wizard's voice should have enough magic in it to overcome such inconveniences.
Then he forgot about the voice as streams of colored smoke poured forth from the ten spread fingers. Each spouting plume was a different color -- crimson, violet, ochre, lizard green, and pale blue spewed from the left hand, while magenta, indigo, copper, forest green, and midnight blue streamed from the right.
The wizard waved his hands, crossing them above his head, and the rising bands of smoke braided themselves in intricate patterns, each remaining pure and discrete.
Then, abruptly, the smoke stopped, and the wizard dropped his hands. He took a step forward, and then another, and with the third step Dumery realized that his feet had left the ground. He was climbing up into thin air as if it were solid stone steps!
When he had ascended to a height of about eight feet above the ground the wizard stopped, and stood calmly unsupported in mid-air. He waved a hand again, and a trail of golden sparks glittered behind it.
"Behold!" he cried again.
Behind him, the sands of the Arena rose up into a column, sweeping away the last traces of the colored smoke. The column rose to a height of perhaps fifteen feet, then burst apart into a flock of white doves that flew quickly away, scattering in all directions and fluttering up out of the Arena. A single snowy feather fell from one bird's wing, unnoticed until the wizard turned and pointed at it.
The feather grew, and changed, and became a white cat that fell to the sand, landing, catlike, on all fours. It did not run away or wash itself as an ordinary cat would have, but instead began chasing its tail, spinning faster and faster until Dumery could no longer make out anything but a blur.
When it suddenly stopped, the cat was black, from its whiskers to the tip of its tail.
It sat back on its haunches, and the wizard waved at it.
It grew, and became a panther.
The wizard waved again and the panther was gone, leaving only a cloud of smoke that rolled up the sky and dissipated.
Dumery stared, enthralled, as the performance continued.
To his right, Dessa was somewhat less impressed. Dumery could hear her humming quietly to herself.
When the wizard conjured a naked man out of a seashell Dessa giggled; Dumery ignored her.
To his left his father was dozing off in the bright sunlight. Beyond him Derath and Doran were loudly whispering crude jokes to each other.
Dumery's lips tightened.
How could they fail to appreciate such marvels? How had he ever been born into such a family of clods?
Finally, the wizard finished his performance, bowed, and then began climbing up that invisible staircase in the sky again. He mounted higher, and higher, and higher, while behind him the blue rakes emerged again -- guided, this time, by merely human hands.
Dumery paid no attention to the rakes, nor the servants wielding them, nor the scenery being hastily erected for the play that would conclude the day's show. He watched the wizard as he climbed upward into the sky, out over the side of the arena, passing fifty or sixty feet above the family of Grondar the Wainwright two boxes over, eighty feet above the outer wall of the Arena, and on into the distance until he vanished.
Once the wizard was really, truly gone Dumery waited impatiently for the play to be over, paying no attention to the clever dialogue -- after all, even when he could make out the words, half the time he didn't understand the jokes, which usually seemed to involve sex. His knowledge of sex was still very limited and entirely theoretical.
The sun was scarcely above the western rim of the Arena when the actors finally took their bows and the crowd called out polite applause.
As they were marching down through the stone corridors, on their way back to the street, the elder Doran remarked, "Well, Dumery, I hope you enjoyed that. Seemed like a good way to mark your birthday."
Dumery nodded, not really listening, and totally unaware of the annoyed look his lack of enthusiasm received.
"When I turned twelve," his father continued a moment later, "I didn't get any trip to the Arena, let me tell you! I spent the day in the hold of a ship, cleaning up the mess where a storm at sea had broken open a dozen crates of pottery and herbs."
Dumery nodded. "You own that ship now," he pointed out. He had heard the story before -- several times, in fact.
"Damn right I do!" Doran replied, "I was lucky, and I worked hard for it, and the gods blessed me -- I own that ship. And if she's still afloat when I die, she'll go to your brother Doran, because he was lucky, and was born into the right household. You boys don't appreciate what you've got, because you've always had it, you didn't have to work for it."
"I appreciate it, Dad," Derath interrupted.
"No, you don't," the elder Doran snapped. "Maybe you think you do, but you don't really, because you've never been poor. Your mother and I saw to that!"
Derath and Doran the Younger exchanged glances.
"You've never had to work for anything in your lives," their father continued, and Dumery wondered whether he was complaining, or boasting, or both.
They reached the street and turned north in the golden twilight, joining the loose-packed throng that was strolling up Arena Street, a hundred sandals slapping the hard-packed dirt in a patter like falling rain. Shopkeepers were lighting their storefront torches, and the familiar, friendly scent of burning oil reached Dumery's nose. As a rule he never noticed the city's ubiquitous odor, which had been a constant in his life since the day he was born, but the smoky smell of the torches seemed to emphasize that distinctive mingling of spices and ordure that always flavored Ethshar's air. As he remembered the wizard's performance, the fading light and that complex odor suddenly seemed magical, transforming the familiar avenue into something exotic and wonderful.
"Never worked a day, any of you," his father muttered suddenly, breaking the spell cast by the sunset and smoke.
"And they never will!" Dumery said, annoyed, jerking a thumb at his brothers.
Doran of Shiphaven looked at him, startled, then back at Doran and Derath, and then at Dumery again.
"No, they won't," he agreed. "And I don't suppose Dessa will, either, if she's careful."
Dessa threw him a startled glance, but then went back to watching the shops as they passed, ignoring the rest of the conversation.
"Just me," Dumery said, trying to sound flippant, rather than resentful.
"Well," his father said, "I don't know. We could find you a way out of working, I'm sure."
"Oh? Like what?" Dumery replied, making less of an effort to hide his bitterness. "Doran's getting the ships, and Derath's getting the money, and Dessa's getting the house -- what do I get, if not an apprenticeship fee? What else is left? And every apprentice I ever heard of works hard enough!"
"Maybe we could dower you..," Doran began.
Dumery made a rude noise.
"As far as I know," he said, ignoring his father's annoyance at the interruption, "I don't want to get married, let alone like that!"
Doran said, "You'll want to get married when you're older..."
"Oh, I suppose I will," Dumery interrupted, "but I don't want some fancy arranged marriage where I don't have any say about who or when or what we'll do afterward."
Doran nodded. "I can see that," he said. He kept his eyes straight ahead, not looking at Dumery.
They walked on in silence for a few moments. Doran and Derath dropped back a bit, slowed by their horseplay, and Dessa dawdled as well, looking in the shop windows, so that Dumery and his father were able to talk in relative privacy, without being overheard by the rest of the family.
"Maybe," Doran suggested, "we could arrange for you to stay with the family business -- not as an owner, of course, because we've already settled it all on Dorie, but as a manager, perhaps. Something that would pay well."
"And wouldn't have me hauling on ropes? Thanks, Dad, but I don't think so. It's bad enough being the younger brother now; I don't think I want to spend the rest of my life being Dorie's kid brother, and having to do what he tells me or starve."
"You always were stubborn," Doran said. "And too damn proud to take orders from anyone."
They walked on, and a block later Doran shrugged and said, "Then I can't think of anything except an apprenticeship."
"I know," Dumery said. "I've been thinking about it for weeks myself, and I couldn't think of anything else. And I don't really mind that much. I'm still lucky, just as you said -- it's just Dorie and Derath and Dessa were luckier."
Doran could think of no reply to that.
After a moment, Dumery added, "I'm not afraid of work, anyway."
"Well, that's good," Doran said, in a satisfied tone. "Have you given much thought to what sort of an apprenticeship you want? I'm sure we could get you aboard any ship you like, if you'd care to be a pilot, or to work toward a captaincy."
"Thanks, but I don't think so," Dumery replied. "I'm not that interested in going to sea."
"Well, there's bookkeeping, or chandlery, or we could apprentice you to a merchant of some sort. Had you thought about any of those?"
"I've thought about them all, Dad," Dumery said, stating what he considered to be the obvious. "I know what I want to do."
"Oh?" Doran was slightly amused by his son's certitude. It was a trait the boy had had since infancy, always knowing what he wanted and being determined to get it, no matter what it took. "And what's that?"
Dumery looked up at his father and said, quite seriously, "I want to be a wizard."
Doran stared at his son in shocked disbelief.
When I first began the Ethshar series I had fairly complete outlines for five novels, and rough ideas for a few more.
Three of those five became The Misenchanted Sword, With A Single Spell, and The Unwilling Warlord, though none of those are the original titles and all of them had changed as I wrote them and no longer exactly followed the original outlines.
A fourth one, The Epic Adventures of Arl Arl's Son, was no longer possible, as it contradicted The Misenchanted Sword. Besides, I'd lost interest in it.
That left Taking Flight. (It had a different title then -- The Young Must Try Their Wings -- but it was the same story.) I was eager to write it.
Only thing is, Lester del Rey hated the outline for Taking Flight. And he was the one who signed the contracts.
He wanted me to come up with something else. He liked the partial outline for The Spell of the Black Dagger, and suggested I write that; only thing is, I had no idea how, as I hadn't yet figured out most of the plot, so I declined.
(Lester didn't see not knowing most of the plot as a major problem, since he assumed I could figure it out. He was right, I could -- but I didn't want to at that point.)
He suggested other possibilities, stories that weren't written until many years later (such as Night of Madness) or that still aren't written, but we couldn't find one we both liked. The closest we could come was Dragon's Blood, as it was then known.
At this point I had no real plot for this story; I had the premise of a boy setting out to make money by collecting and selling dragon's blood, and that was about it. I'd come up with that much just because hey, all those wizards must get their supplies somewhere, right? And I knew enough about Ethsharitic dragons to know that he was in for a few surprises.
So I put together a quick outline of the obvious plot using these elements and sent it off and Lester bought it.
Which was stupid. Lester had previously rejected several proposals (including The Rebirth of Wonder, a novel-length version of what became "Portrait of a Hero", and Taking Flight) as not having enough plot to be novels (he was right about "Portrait," and sort of about Rebirth, which is a very short novel). This one he bought -- but when I actually wrote it I discovered that there wasn't anywhere near enough plot. The complete first draft was way too short to be any use.
So I went back through, looking for ways to complicate the plot, and there really weren't any obvious ones as long as I followed Dumery on his quest. It did eventually sink in, though, that I could add other characters. Such as Teneria, who became the real hero of the story, as far as I'm concerned.
Even so, I'm not terribly satisfied with this; I think it's the weakest of the Ethshar novels, and it made me determined to never again write what Lester wanted instead of what I wanted.
- Copyright 1991 by Lawrence Watt Evans
- First published in mass-market paperback November 1991 by Del Rey Books, ISBN 0-345-36410-4, with cover art by Darrell K. Sweet
- Published in trade paperback January 2001 by Wildside Press, ISBN 1-58715-357-2, with "Portrait of a Hero" included as a bonus, and cover art by Dalmazio Frau .
- Published in mass-market paperback by Cosmos Books January 2009, ISBN 978-0-8439-5924-6, cover design by Stephen H. Segal.
- The first ebook version, a Fictionwise edition, was released by Wildside Press in March 2003. Fictionwise no longer exists.
- The Kindle edition from Wildside Press was released November 2010.
- The present Nook Press and Kobo editions were released in February 2015.
- The Russian edition is an omnibus with The Unwilling Warlord and was first published in 1996 by AST (Moscow) and Terra Fantastica (St. Petersburg) under the title Krov' Drakona as part of their "Vek Drakona" series, ISBN 5-88196-609-0. Cover art is by Anatoly Dubovik (thanks to Nikolay S. Simkin for providing this information). The translator was Viktor A. Veber.