Dragonvein - Brian D. Anderson
(Lumnia – End of the Age of the Five Kingdoms)
THE MUFFLED ECHO of footfalls running at a desperate pace roused Jonas from his sleep. Moments later the door flew open to reveal Lorina, Lady Illyrian’s personal hand maiden. She remained there in the doorway, holding her sides and gasping for air. Jonas regarded her through bleary eyes. She was far too old and overweight to be chasing about in such a way.
He frowned. “Have you no manners, woman? I’m in my nightclothes.” He looked over to the window. It was still dark. “What time is it?”
Lorina held up a finger as she continued to catch her breath.
“Out with it,” he pressed. Still shaking away the lingering cobwebs of sleep, his eyes moved across the chamber to where his robe was folded neatly on a broken crate. “Well, if you’re not going to speak, you can at least fetch me my robe.”
The woman glared, then with surprising speed, took three steps to the crate and heaved the robe at Jonas. It hit him squarely in the face, further fueling his irritation.
By now she was sufficiently recovered to speak. “Get dressed. They have found us.”
In an instant he was out of bed. The bite of the cold, stone floor quickly encouraged him to put on his slippers. “Are you sure?” But the fear in her eyes told him the answer. “How long do we have?”
“Only minutes,” she replied. In spite of the hard emotionless expression perfected by many years of practice, tears streamed down her plump cheeks.
“Where is Lady Illyrian?”
“In the basement.” She turned to leave, then paused, looking over her shoulder. “Bring your sword.”
The door closed behind her with an ominous boom.
Jonas tore through his pack, hastily donning a shirt and trousers and nearly toppling over while pulling on his boots. His hands trembled as he attached his sword to his belt. He had used the weapon only once before, and even then, not very well. He clenched his fists, cursing himself for such a display of fear. He must be strong. The enemy was coming and his mistress needed him. He took a deep breath, steeled his wits, and left the room with even, deliberate strides.
The barren halls of the dilapidated fortress were cold and dimly lit, with the rotten doors and rusted fixtures along the walls making the gloom seem deeper and even more depressing. Once, long ago, it had been a mighty castle built for the defense of a kingdom that stretched for hundreds of miles in all directions. But that was another age, and the kingdom had long since fallen, its lords and ladies lost to time. The fortress was now a forgotten relic, unfit for human habitation and used only by bandits and smugglers.
He had argued that they could find more suitable accommodations; a place where his mistress could at least lie on a soft bed and have a hot meal. But he knew his objections were foolish. They had been fortunate enough already to have made it this far unmolested.
The smoke rising from Dragonvein Manor as they fled on that first fateful night was still etched in his memory. They had watched helplessly while the place he’d called home for most of his life burned to the ground. And he could see the tears in Lady Illyrian’s eyes as she looked back at the brightly glowing flames silhouetting the tall spires and proud walls that had housed a hundred generations of the Dragonvein family. The vivid recollections brought a lump to Jonas’ throat.
Upon nearing the stairs that led to the basement, he saw Lorina waiting for him. She was holding a brass lantern in her right hand and a small dagger in her left.
Jonas nodded curtly and waited for her to lead the way. Just as his foot touched the first step, a loud boom reverberated off the stone walls.
Lorina gasped. “They’re here. We must hurry.”
They moved down the stairs as quickly as they dared, but the wet stone was covered in slime, making the descent treacherous. Jonas frowned. Right now, neither of them could afford to injure themselves. Suddenly, he was keenly aware of the sword hanging from his side. It felt heavy and awkward and was pulling him off-balance.
A few steps from the bottom, his fears very nearly materialized. Lorina’s feet slipped from under her and she fell sharply backwards. Only by making a desperate grab forward was Jonas able to catch her just before her head struck stone.
Completely forgetting the etiquette of expressing