Henrietta and the Dragon Stone is a new story of young adult epic fantasy adventure by award-winning author, Beth Barany. Book 2 in The Five Kingdoms series of the continuing adventures of Henrietta The Dragon Slayer. What if everyone you loved was threatened by a force you couldn’t see or fight? Henrietta the legendary dragon slayer wants to return to her village for a heroes’ welcome. But an unknown sorcerer rides after her and her Dragon Stone and aims to destroy everyone she cares about. Can she claim her newfound powers sparked by the Dragon Stone and keep her loved ones safe, or will the sorcerer destroy everyone and everything she loves?
Chapter One: In His Grasp
The Dracontias, dra-con-ti-as, emphasis on the second syllable, is the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms, and more powerful than all the other so-called Kingdom Stones. This one and only Dragon Stone unifies the kingdoms and empowers its user. But beware its one fatal flaw.
—from the Fire Wizards Compendium
Early Winter New Moon (Mitte Moon), Oro Islands, One of the Five Kingdoms
King Singfan sucked in a breath, stretched the crossbow, and held it steady, tracking the beast.
Time was of the essence. If he didn’t kill this dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone on the great dragon’s forehead, he’d have to start all over again. Unthinkable. Impossible.
He had to renew this king’s body during this night, while the stars were aligned just so, and the moon hung below the horizon.
The girl Dragon Slayer, that Henrietta, was performing exactly as he’d expected. She’d taken the proffered reward and given him the secret dragon lore, confirming what he needed to know. She crouched nearby, ready to do his bidding.
King Singfan breathed out, steadying his aim, and smiled.
Inside of him, Bjirn Eyvindir smiled, too, at Singfan’s glee. Hidden to everyone, Eyvindir had occupied the body of King Singfan for seventy-five years, a long king’s rule—longer than anyone on the Oro Islands could remember. If they did remember the length of King Singfan’s reign, Eyvindir by King Singfan’s hand had made sure they didn’t remember for long, and didn’t remember anything ever again.
King Singfan had given him free reign to run his magic through the man and control his every move. The man was his best and most perfect servant. Eyvindir wasn’t going to end the arrangement anytime soon. He’d planned this renewal too long for the moment to go awry.
The dragon hovered above the enormous cave floor about to settle, its scales flickering and iridescent in the torchlight. King Singfan held his breath, steadying his strong stance and perfect aim. He readied the powerful crossbow.
Before he could loose the arrow, Henrietta yelled “You can’t!” and shoved him to the hard-packed ground.
The dragon slayer pinned his arms against his torso with her legs, heavy on his chest. He struggled beneath her weight.
“How dare you!” he snarled. “We had an agreement.”
How had she slipped past his guard?
With every second that ticked by, he felt his power draining from him like water down the drain, no doubt shifting his appearance. But his voice held strong and loud. He gathered courage in that. There was still time to kill the dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone.
“I can’t let you!” she shouted, glaring down at him.
Suddenly, her friends appeared at her side.
“Who’s this?” the injured bard, Jaxter, asked.
“The king,” Henrietta growled.
Little did she know who she was truly up against.
“How dare you!” Eyvindir protested again.
But his voice sounded strange. Gurgles, high-pitched clicks and garbled words were all that he could manage.
How did the dragon slayer’s friends arrive at the cave? He’d left them under guard at the castle.
“Magics! I don’t trust my eyes. Franc?” the dragon slayer shouted, as if she were yelling right into his ear.
“I have not ever seen this old man before, but I have heard whispered tales,” Franc, the knight, said. “What is he saying?” The knight he’d sent to retrieve the dragon slayer, crossed his arms, and frowned down at him. The betrayer.
“I don’t know, but we have no time for tales.” Henrietta bound the king’s wrists and ankles together with a rough rope.
He wriggled, but to no avail. Something sharp stabbed his back.
“Don’t move!” Henrietta barked.
Eyvindir glared at her, through King Singfan’s eyes, furious and unable to move his body, his faculty for speech gone. How dare she! He’d miscalculated the girl slayer. He’d waited too long to act. Frantic, he reached in his mind for his power, but it was too late.
The moment when the moon was just so, right below the horizon, was gone. The shine of the rising moon grew brighter.
The dragon spun to settle, flapping its wings. He’d missed his moment. Torches lay on the ground where his cowardly men had fled. The dragon slayer’s friends had had a hand in that, no doubt, yet he’d dismissed them as weak. Another mistake. How could he have so miscalculated? He brushed the thought aside. He didn’t make mistakes. He drew strength from that knowledge.
“You won’t get away with this!” the king hissed and spat, his voice fully recovered. “The dragon must die, or the Five Kingdoms die. The Oro Islands Kingdom is the first kingdom and must be renewed!”
The dragon slayer frowned, confusion and panic written on her face. Good. He drew more strength from her fear and uncertainty. He may be still tied up, but that state couldn’t last long.
She turned to her friends. “Franc, Jaxter, is this true?”
“Whispers only,” the knight said.
“I don’t know,” the bard said. He leaned on his staff for support.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” the dragon slayer said and clenched her fists. Her heart revved up a notch.
Her panic rippled off her in delicious waves. Excellent.
“I didn’t ask for this responsibility! I don’t want this responsibility!” the dragon slayer cried.
The bard coughed and struggled for breath, leaning heavily on his staff. Most excellent.
Eyvindir pulled power from the skinny young bard’s weakness and from the dragon slayer’s doubts.
The weakened bard managed to speak. “It’s been so long, the story’s been told many different ways, but one of the legends says that the dragon must pass every peak of the wave, at the emptiness of the moon, in the year of the waning ruler, by the hand of a dual heart awakened, bounded on all four points.”
“But what does that mean?” the dragon slayer yelled over a loud hum, her panic at a near-fever pitch.
“I don’t know!” the bard shouted.
“Why didn’t you tell me all this before?” the dragon slayer said, her voice high-pitched, frantic.
“You never asked,” the bard replied.
“But you knew who I was facing.”
“The legend doesn’t say the name of the dragon. I just realized who it meant.” The bard hung on to his staff.
“But still you should have told me! You know all the tales.”
The dragon slayer sounded at wits end. She was weakening. Perfect. He sucked in more of her fear as sustenance to rebuild his strength.
“You should have asked!” the bard said again. “Besides I thought you knew them as well as I did! What is wrong with you? This is what you do, save people and kingdoms from dragons!” Jaxter coughed.
Eyvindir reveled in the bard’s increasing weakness and in the argument brewing.
“Stop! We don’t have the time to argue!” the fire girl, Paulette, yelled. The sneak somehow saw through his facade back at the castle. She would not last a day under his new reign.
“What?” the dragon slayer said.
“The dragon is changing,” the knight said.
The beast’s crystal scales shifted through the primary color spectrum. A second dragon arose from the first, consisting only of a matrix of rainbow light.
Eyvindir would regain the upper hand. He drew ever more strength from everyone’s confusion and fear. Clarity blossomed anew. The moon wouldn’t rise for another hour. He still had time. The dragon slayer’s surprise betrayal would delay him no more.
“You have to kill it before it disappears for another millennia!” Eyvindir yelled, his strength growing from their pain. He could wriggle in the ropes. Soon his power would reawaken and then he would easily break his flimsy bonds. “You must! I command it!” But his last words were drowned out of his own hearing by a roar from the beast.
“Shut up!” the dragon slayer managed to shout over the din.
How was she able to do that when he couldn’t even hear himself? He yanked the ropes.
“He’s right, or something like it has to happen every millennia so the dragon can come back,” the bard said.
“I can’t,” the dragon slayer said, her voice hoarse.
“What do you mean ‘you can’t’?” the bard asked. “You are the Dragon Slayer!”
“I can’t.” The dragon slayer’s cheeks were wet. Splendid! Her life force was depleting.
Any moment now he’d be renewed and free. He used all his years of experience to yank her life force from her. She had to obey him. All his plans rested on her demise, now that he’d taken what he needed from her.
The dragon nudged the dragon slayer with its large head. The dragon slayer stumbled back. She was weakening. The beast nodded slowly, its Dragon Stone glowing green then red on its forehead.
Was the beast communicating with the dragon slayer? Couldn’t be. The beast was for him only. Power flooded through him hot and molten, anger strengthening him.
“Dragon slayer, you must kill it,” Eyvindir shouted. “The fate of the island is in your hands. The fate of the whole Five Kingdoms!”
“Jaxter?” the dragon slayer turned to the bard as if to confirm his words.
“He may be right. Do you trust me?”
“What kind of question is that?” the dragon slayer asked.
“A question that demands an answer,” the bard said in a voice so soft Eyvindir wasn’t sure he heard correctly.
He glared at the stupid dragon slayer. How could he have miscalculated? He’d planned for every contingency. Nowhere had he predicted that the dragon slayer would be strengthened by the new web of connections around her, her pesky friends. She was a loner. That was to be her downfall. He’d made sure of it.
“What do I need to do?” the dragon slayer asked. Her friends must have answered because after a pause she said, “I need your help.”
Damn the old gods and all the lore of his people.
The dragon slayer barked an order cutting through his curse. “Paulette, get to the dragon’s tail. You’re fire. On my mark!”
“What?” The fire girl shouted too close. She hovered over him. “And leave him?”
“He can’t do anything. Go! Time fades, and so does he,” the dragon slayer ordered.
“You must not! The Dragon Stone is mine!” But his words croaked out in sputter. He felt more than saw the new moon rising and his life-force, his prana, ebbing out of this body.
The King Singfan identity, his soul, had been quiet, letting him take command. Eyvindir rallied King Singfan’s soul to lend him strength.
The dragon’s hum deepened and filled the cavern with a low vibrato. It flapped higher and brightened, both the dragon of light and the real dragon. Its scales shot sparks, which exploded against the cavern walls. Two dragons melded into light, too bright to peer at directly. Fire and wind swirled into a funnel and exploded into a white light and blinding bang.
“No!” He shouted, but he couldn’t hear his own voice.
“Don’t stop!” the dragon slayer yelled above the storm.
From all directions, explosions like a fireworks hammered him. Bound as he was, he managed to bend double to guard against the pain, but his efforts were useless. His skin crawled as if ants wriggled under his skin. Pain pierced all layers of his being—both the body and the magics layers.
“Stop!” Eyvindir tried to yell, but it came out like a series of croaks. No, it couldn’t be. He couldn’t move his body.
Then in breath, he lost all sense of feeling. Impossible.
He was able to sense his life force being jettisoned out of his body and into the night sky, on its way back to where his actual body rested inert in his fortress far to the north and east. Through his cloud of shock, from his vantage point in the sky far above, he spied his body, actually the body of King Singfan who had ruled the Oro Islands for over seventy-five years, burst into flames. He felt nothing. He was frozen in shock. The male body that had been the Oro king’s was now cinders, a miniscule pile of ash.
Panic almost scattered his prana into a million trillion irretrievable bits. Only his mighty skill as the oldest living sorcerer saved him. He’d heard rumors of such things. But no, he could not die. Unacceptable. He mustered his focus. His actual ancient body existed within reach.
He focused on his prana, a faint thread of light, a line leading in a northeasterly direction, through the clouds, across the sea, to his obsidian mountain enclave. He didn’t follow the thread to nestle in his sleeping form in that cold room. Not just yet. To do that would admit defeat. He would not let an upstart dragon slayer ruin his plans.
But she had. He had wits enough to admit that.
For a moment he burned white hot with rage and felt an unbearable pain sear his energy body. His anger, intricate and quite useful, connected to his identity, his soul. But now his anger was burning his life force, his prana connection, to the only body he now had.
He brought his attention back to the island city of Plumaria and hovered over it. He quickly allowed dirty white cloud particulates to drench his rage. He had to focus. He had to retrieve the remnants of power from that flimsy old pile of dust that had been the Oro king. He had to find another body to use and fast. Before she got away with the Dracontias, the precious one and only Dragon Stone.
The search for and habitation of a suitable body only took him an entire day, but he finally accomplished his task. Withdrawing his powers from the dust pile, he spied the body he needed in the Plumaria castle’s sick room. His low simmering fury and tenacity built up over three centuries of scheming had made him strong. With his powerful focus, he propped up the dying soul, revived it, and pushed his will and identity into the young man’s heart.
In a breath, he healed the youngling’s body to temporary vibrancy. The body wouldn’t last, so he had to hurry. There was not the time to pick a more robust body. That took preparation, study, and careful calculations. He didn’t have the time for that. He had to get back what was rightfully his.
Once more in control of a vibrant body and pliable identity, he followed the rumors of the slayer’s departure all the way to the piers. That she-slayer was supposed to do his bidding. Failure hadn’t been an option. Perhaps seventy-five years in the Oro king’s body had made him sloppy and dulled his normally exceptionally high acuity and brilliance.
His complacency must have been how she had tricked him, how she’d deceived and betrayed him. He hadn’t been blindsided by a female since his sister had stolen the royal crown from him over a century ago.
Never mind the mistakes of the past. This dragon slayer, this Henrietta, had destroyed his ambition to rule over the Oro Islands for the next one hundred years and beyond. In that time he had planned to seize control of the other four kingdoms using the might of the Dragon Stone, combined with the other four kingdom’s crystals and stones he’d meticulously collected over the centuries. His life’s calling entailed ruling over all the Five Kingdoms. No one was going to come between him and his destiny again.
She would pay for ruining his plans.
He’d end this before she ever left the city of Plumaria. The child-woman, Henri Etta, was no match for him. He couldn’t be destroyed that easily.
He directed his new body through the marketplace, causing havoc. Then he rushed up the pier and delighted in the feel of youth in his limbs. A crazy thought flitted through his mind—that of the faraway and long ago carefree youth he once was who’d loved the freedom of birds and spent hours watching them in flight.
Then he saw her, waving and nodding to the peons who thought she’d liberated them. He swatted away memories of his flimsy faraway past. His pace quickened. She could not take his dream away. No one could, especially no woman. He was to have complete control of all the Five Kingdoms.
Once he had the last object of power, his plans would click into place.
She’d taken the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms from him, and she would pay. With her life.