Book 6 in the Chronicles of the Dragon-Bound
In the World of the Dragon-Bound: The Brewer’s Guild killed Chaif Taibor’s father when he attempted to start a rival business. Chaif vows to make the Guild pay, but revenge is complicated. While carrying out a daring theft from a guild member, Chaif inadvertently bonds with a dragon’s egg. Now he is a thief who cannot lie. Captured by the Guild, Chaif discovers they are just the first layer of corruption. Instead of achieving justice, Chaif is condemned to die as a mindless slave in Arkady. However, the slave masters made a grave mistake. The dragon-bound are extremely hard to kill.
Start reading: Chapter 1
The nighttime rain drummed against the balcony windows of Asgath Eldin’s master bedroom—a lonely sound since Asgath Eldin was not there. But Chaif Taibor was. Chaif stood in the middle of the room and tried to orient himself by the faint light from the window. Eldin’s safe was in the wall behind the short bookcase off to the right. For the moment, the glowing end of the punk he held in his teeth distracted more than it illuminated. A lantern might have given more light, but he needed both hands free. The ember on the end of the soft wooden stick would give him light for close work in dark spaces.
He edged forward, hand outstretched, feeling for any wayward piece of furniture that might have been moved since his last visit. A flash of lightning dazzled his eyes with an abrupt picture of the room. Chaif captured the momentary image in his memory. Confident now, he took three steps forward and gripped the frame of the bookcase. It rolled easily out from the wall. He crouched down behind it. The faint glow from the punk showed the dim outline of the safe mounted in the wood-paneled wall. On his knees, he used the feeble luminescence as well as his sense of touch to explore the safe. Yes, it was just as he remembered from when he had worked on it six months ago.
He could have opened the safe’s lock easily, since he had installed it. However, when the theft was discovered—and he wanted it to be discovered—an unlocked safe would throw immediate suspicion onto Chaif. No, this robbery dare not appear to have been done by someone who knew about locks nor someone who knew where Eldin kept his money—his ill-gotten money.
Chaif took the short metal bar off the loop on his belt and put the blade end into the gap between the safe’s door and the frame. He pried down, bending the safe’s casing. He moved the bar a few inches along the frame and pried again. And again, scratching and marring the surface. He wanted it to look as if the burglar knew nothing about the safe except that it was closed.
After he had mauled the outside of the safe sufficiently, Chaif inserted the bar at the proper spot and angle. He hesitated. A sharp tug would break the locking rods, but that would make noise. Eldin’s housemaster would be the only one home this evening. He slept in the basement, and his poor old ears would probably never hear the noise. But Chaif could not be sure. He took the heavy, damp cape from around his shoulders, draped it over the bar and waited. The storm was not part of his plan, but he welcomed its help. It not only kept people off the streets, but also gave him cover for unusual noises. He waited with his pry bar in place. Lightning flashed again. A few seconds later, thunder rumbled across the city of Silverdale. The snap as Chaif broke the locking bar was lost in the echoes of the storm.
Inside the safe, stacks and stacks of coins reflected the faint light of the punk with the tawny glow of gold—an unexpected bounty. He gaped in disbelief at the neat towers of golden disks packed inside the safe. Not one silver in the lot. Why would Eldin have so much money in his safe? He blinked several times, but his surprise quickly faded. There was more gold than he had expected, but after what Eldin and the guild had done to his father, Chaif knew where the money had come from. Retribution was why Chaif had come.
Hastily, Chaif scooped coins into the leather pouch he had brought for the purpose. Once the pouch was full, he scattered a few about on the floor. Let them think the thief was in a clumsy hurry. Surveying the multiple stacks of coins still left in the safe, he had a thought—an idea to make his retaliation more complete. He went to the tall double windows that opened onto the balcony. With the next clap of thunder, he pulled inward sharply and snapped the lock. A gust of wind and rain pushed the windows open.
Chaif had come in through Eldin’s side door by picking the lock. He smiled, pleased with his own cleverness. He should have thought of this earlier. The forced window would lead the peace wardens to think the thief had entered that way. The balcony was well above the ground, and they would look for someone with the climbing skills of a monkey. Chaif was fit, small, and agile, but on a night like this, even he would not want to use that route.
Confusion would be a bonus, but for the moment Chaif had another use for the open window. He flipped his cape back over his shoulders and returned to the safe. He scooped up a handful of coins and carried them out onto the balcony, where he cast them to the street below. He would give the coins in his pouch back to the people of Silverdale through charity. There were too many coins in the safe to carry away, so he would use another method to distribute the remainder. Ruben’s Way was a busy street. The flock of morning beggars that traveled this route to Sharpmont Square in the middle of the Schloss district would have a fine and profitable start to their day, digging through the muddy ruts and squabbling over the coins. He flung six more handfuls off the balcony, throwing them as far up and down the street as he could.
Once the safe was satisfactorily empty, Chaif set about making the scene look like the confused mess an ordinary burglar would make. At the bookcase, he removed stacks of books and silently scattered them about the floor. When the case was mostly empty, he lowered it noiselessly on top of the books. He quietly tipped over the reading chair by the window. At the bed, he carelessly stripped the elaborate linens and pulled the frame away from the wall. The bed itself was a monstrous thing with a canopy and did not move easily. As soon as the bed was far enough from the wall to allow someone to see behind it, he stopped. He tipped and tilted the paintings in their gilt frames on the walls. A flash from the storm revealed that one of the pictures was a nude portrait of a very voluptuous young lady. Perhaps Eldin’s wife in her younger days? He shook his head. The rich indulge themselves in many ways, he thought.
He waited until the next flash of lightning for a last look around. The jumbled mess in the room made it seem as if the thief had searched to find the safe.
This was Chaif’s second break-in. He had a list. His targets were the four men who led the Brewers’ Guild: Gammal, Eldin, Mellingham, and Onnoh. He would take revenge on each of the unholy quartet in turn. The four controlled the highly profitable spirits business for Silverdale and the surrounding area, all the way up the coast to Bington. Only the great merchant houses of Tazzelton had kept them out of that city. Silverdale had been built with riches from mining operations up the Silver River. The miners were always willing to spend their wages on the guild’s spirits after a hard day’s work. Silverdale’s silver had made the guild’s gold, but the guild was jealous of Chaif’s father’s success. Their goons had killed him and put his brewery out of business.
Chaif focused his mind back on the night’s last task: escape. He checked one more time to make sure he had everything he had brought with him. Eldin and the other guild members had riches he could not steal, but the coins were a start. Maybe they would have to sell something to replace the money. Maybe it would interfere with one of their villainous plans. The important thing was to make them pay for what they had done to his family.
A burst of laughter from outside the house froze him in place. The heavy front door two stories below slammed open, and he heard raucous laughter again. This time it was from inside the house.
Eldin was home. But he should be at the Bayshore! Chaif’s fright threatened to bubble over into panic. Eldin’s wife, Offa, was visiting her sister in Bington. She would not be back for two weeks. When his wife was home, Eldin went out many nights to his private club. When his wife was not at home, he went every night to eat. He always stayed late. The Bayshore Association welcomed the city’s privileged elite for dining, entertainment, gambling, and whatever other pleasures their money would buy. The building itself overlooked the harbor, but the Bayshore’s landscaped grounds sat on a bluff, far enough above the noise, confusion, and smells of the docks to make the view picturesque rather than squalid.
The door downstairs thumped as it closed, jarring Chaif out of his fetters of fear and into action. Eldin should not be home—but he was! Footfalls, uncoordinated and uneven, thumped and bumbled on the stairs. Another burst of laughter came up from below. He heard a female voice. Old Eldin had come home early because he had found a companion for the night with. Chaif was in serious danger. They had to be heading for Eldin’s bedroom—the room where he stood. Worse, they were stumbling up the stairs, his path to safety. He looked at the open window. That path looked much more desirable than it had a moment before.
He was about to step out onto the balcony into the rain when he had a thought. He felt the curtains. The inner edges were damp from the blowing rain, but away from the opening, they were still dry. He took the punk from his mouth. The glowing coal on the end was hot, useful for starting fires in his shop. Now he held it against the richly embroidered fabric and blew gently. The punk gleamed hotly, and the material started to smoke. He blew again, and a flame flickered into life. The fine gold wires woven into the fabric separated and curled back from the dancing glow of burning fabric. Gently, he blew twice more. The small flame stretched out and started licking up the outside of the curtain. Eldin and his friend would arrive in moments, but even a small fire would require immediate attention—the distraction he needed.
Chaif stepped out onto the balcony. He could not go down. The straight brick walls below were smooth, with no protrusions. It prevented thieves from climbing up, but it was just as effective at preventing him from climbing down. The drop to the street below was too great. No, he had to climb higher yet. The roof line outside the bedroom lay just above the window. It was part of a dormer extension, but it would take him to the main roof.
He shrugged the cloak back from his shoulders and felt for a handhold in the carved stone trim around the window. Although wet from the rain, there were edges deep enough to provide a grip. He put his right foot on the slim edge of the balcony’s railing and found a second grip around the corner of the dormer.
Climbing in the wet was treacherous, but his foot did not slip as he put his weight on it. The bricks around the window alternated between three bricks laid vertically and three laid horizontally. The horizontal courses were inset slightly from the verticals to emphasize the decorative pattern, but the real benefit was Chaif’s. He had a series of edges to support his boots. He scraped his foot along the wall until he found the next one and pushed himself up.
Above the balcony rail, rough nibs of brick scraped and pulled at his leather outer jacket each time he moved. After another step, he finally caught the edge of the roof gutter with his hand. He eased the weight off his feet for a moment and took a deep breath. His next step took his feet as high as the top of the window. He bent forward and put his chest on the roof for a moment’s rest. The tiles were wet and cold.
A commotion started in the bedroom below. A woman screamed, and a man cursed. Chaif ignored the sounds. He had to move. Although he had reached the roof, he was still visible from the balcony.
A pulse of lightning showed a dragon gargoyle just to his right in the junction between the two roof lines. A decorative element, the stone figure also functioned to split and control the flow of rainwater down the valley between the roof lines. It was tall enough to give him a grip that would allow him to swing his foot up onto the gutter. But was the dragon mounted only to the surface of the roof deck, or was it fastened more solidly into the bones of the house itself?
A crash echoed through the window below. Chaif paid no attention to the noise. He reached for the gargoyle with his right hand. The stone was slippery and wet, but the wings projecting from its shoulders were stout and had an edge to grip. Before he released his hold with his other hand, Chaif gave the figure a hard jerk. It felt solid, but he had to trust it with his life. Flexing his fingers, he took a careful grip. There was no way back.
He stretched for a foothold in the angle where the main wall intersected the dormer. The brick ledges were a fraction less deep here. The grip of his boot’s sole on the little ledge felt tentative. He did not trust it. He flexed his fingers before he took more weight onto his hands. He slid his right foot forward a little futher until more of the lip of brick was under his foot. Now his boot’s purchase felt more certain. He took a deep breath and let go of the gutter with his left hand. He had both hands around the stone carving, and now his face was only inches from the gargoyle’s fanged snout. A flicker of distant lightning illuminated the snarling face of a dragon. He took a deep breath. It was only a stone carving. He had no desire to ever be this close to a real dragon.
The dragon gargoyle held his weight. Chaif took some time to let his heart rate slow while he planned his next move. The edge of the roof was below his waist. He swung his right foot up, aiming for the gutter. He missed. His foot skittered back down the wall. His hands pulled harder on the gargoyle, but it held. Once he had steadied himself, he tried for the gutter again. This time his heel caught it firmly. In another moment he sat breathing deeply, safe behind the stone figure in the valley between the two rooflines.
Chaif caught his breath and listened to the noises in the room below. A man cursed from outside on the balcony. Resting on the dark roof, Chaif relaxed and tried to warm his cold, wet fingers. For the moment he was secure and, more importantly, out of sight. The balcony windows slammed shut. He heard shouting from inside the room, but the words were muffled. After another crash, a woman screamed.
There was no sound for several minutes. Chaif lay quiet and listened intently, but the pattering of the rain covered whatever small sounds there might have been. A heavy outside door slammed far below. A woman screamed an epithet and ran up the street, sobbing. Was she a lady of the evening? If so, it was a shame she could not see the gold coins under her feet. She would have no doubt put them to better use than Eldin. Chaif smiled with additional gratification. He had not only robbed Eldin, but also he had spoiled his evening dalliance.
The rain continued to fall. The lightning was more distant now, but the dark night still flared with intermittent flashes. And he had not yet escaped. He had scouted the roofs of Silverdale as part of the preparation for this theft. They were treacherous at the best of times, and tonight it was raining.
Chaif edged up the slope to the very peak of the house. Sitting astride the ridge, his balance was secure, but the height made his heart pound. His legs trembled. He did not have the nerve to stand upright. Slowly, he scooched his way along the peak. The upper levels at the back of Eldin’s grand home butted out over the narrow alleyway. The neighbors had impressive houses in their own right. Everyone in the Schloss district of Silverdale had money. Eldin’s home was more imposing than most. And it was taller.
Flickers of lightning in the sky illuminated a sea of rain-slicked roofs below him. The houses were sumptuous, and in this neighborhood, most were built nearly side by side. Flat waves of slate, tile, and wooden shakes slanted this way and that, stretching away toward safety.
The gap between buildings was not wide, but he was too high. He took a deep breath and looked down into the alley behind Eldin’s house. A roofline stuck out below and sloped toward the gap between the homes. His escape route lay on the other side of that alley. Chaif pretended he did not see the height. Before he lost his nerve, he crawled down from his airy perch and dropped to the new level below. He did not hit hard, but he had no traction on the rain-slicked tiles. He flattened himself against the roof, but he skidded slowly down the slope. His fingers slipped and scrabbled across the tiles. At the very edge, his left foot caught in the gutter and stopped his slide.
His chest heaved as he gasped for breath. He lay on the cold, wet tiles, waiting for his heart to stop hammering. Three stories above the alley, he slowly rolled onto his back, keeping his foot wedged in the gutter. Slowly he sat up—front leg straight out to the gutter. He pulled his back leg underneath himself with his foot on the roof.
Lightning flashed in the distance. The dance of light let him study his target on other side of the dark gap. The ridgeline of the other house was a little below him and not that far away. He had an easy jump to reach it. Once across with a grip on the peak, he would not slide off. If he did not make it—
Don’t think. Do it! He pulled his foot out of the gutter. No longer sliding, he had enough traction to crab walk back up the slope. He took a deep breath and cautiously rose to his feet. Once erect, he did not hesitate. He took two steps down the roof and leaped out over the black space below. As he pushed off, his right foot slipped. His body turned the wrong direction as he soared out across the alley. Desperate, he twisted, reaching for a handhold. Any handhold.
His right hand caught the peak of the opposite roof. He had a grip, but his left knee smashed heavily onto the wooden shakes, breaking through the decking. His left leg fell into emptiness, but he kept a death grip with his hand. His right leg, sprawled out across the unbroken shakes, kept him from falling through into the attic below.
Stunned, Chaif lay against the roof until he had gathered his thoughts back together. His right hand was hooked over the ridge, but all he could do was hang on. He pushed himself upright with his free hand. Once steady, he tried to pull his leg out of the broken section. A bolt of raw pain shot up his leg and made him gasp.
After a couple of deep breaths, he could think again. His leg was caught. With his left hand, he explored. No, he was not caught. A splinter of the wooden decking lath had impaled his leg. A picture of the bloody injury flashed into his mind. His memory conjured a gory image of how he had sliced his thumb to the bone the first time he had used a grinding disk. His stomach knotted and threatened to spew its contents onto the roof.
He sat still and forced every thought out of his head. Acid bile was in the back of his mouth. He swallowed carefully. Slow, deep breaths, he coaxed himself. Calm. He tried to ignore the pain. Heroes did it all the time in the wonderful sagas the minstrels told. One story about old King Dax said he had ignored the pain of dragon fire when he had killed the drakon. Chaif had to be like King Dax. A tear leaked out the corner of his eye, but a raindrop washed it away.
Once he was rational, he cautiously investigated his injury. His first touch on the wood splinter brought the pain rushing back. Bright little stars of agony floated in his vision. Once again he waited for it to subside. After he was steady, he cautiously felt back down his leg until he came to the splinter. More pain flared, but he was ready this time.
Chaif took more deep breaths. He was calm. The fingers of his right hand were still locked to the roof’s ridge like a vise. His right hand was strong. He would not fall. He relaxed. The pain in his leg pulsed with his heart. Pain. It was only pain. He could not let it control him.
He probed the wound gingerly. The splinter was not as large as he had first thought, but it was lodged firmly in his flesh. It stuck out scarcely an inch. The hole he had punched into the roof was larger than his leg. Carefully, he eased himself out of the opening. He did not think about the pain. He thought about his breathing. He thought about his anger at what Eldin had done to his father. He thought about the pain the guild had caused his mother. He kept his focus until his leg was out of the hole.
Once free, Chaif pushed and worked himself sideways along the wooden roofing until he was in a valley with another gable end. Safe for a moment, he relaxed and caught his breath. He listened to the waves of pain in his leg—listened, but did not need to answer. He flexed the cramped stiffness out of his fingers that had been clamped over the edge of the roof.
Abruptly, he remembered his pouch. He had not thought about the gold he carried at his waist while he had struggled to extract himself from the hole in the roof. He slapped at his side, but found nothing there. The cord was still tied but—Ah. The bag had been pushed around behind his back. He still had it. He sighed deeply and calmed his racing heart.
His tension eased, but the pain in his leg remained. By now the throbbing was familiar. Expected. He took a deep breath and looked around. This roof was not nearly as steep. He knew the route. His thoughts wandered away to his first theft. That night, after he had left Gammal’s house with a smaller pouch of looted coins, he had climbed up from the street to the roof of Gammal’s neighbor. Exhilarated with success, he had fled across the roofs—
“Stop,” he corrected himself aloud. He dare not think about anything but getting away. He could not continue his revenge if he did not get himself to safety. Luri’s. He had to get back to Luri’s room at the Black Cat Tavern. She was waiting there because he had paid the tavern’s room keeper for the whole night.
Carefully, he raised himself up and tested his left leg.
Burning agony growled and snapped at him. His leg almost buckled, but he stood upright. He tested it to be sure it would support his weight. Chaif took a cautious step up the slope of the roof with his good leg. He pulled his wounded leg up to join it. He tottered, trying to adjust to the torment. When he was steady, he took another step. Then another. It was a long, aching road to Luri’s, but he would do it. He had to.