Dragonworld, страница 1
About the Authors
In memory of my uncle,
who loved to make children laugh.
To my grandmother,
To my parents,
Pearl and Jack Zucker,
* * *
This twentieth anniversary edition of Dragonworld is special for many reasons. It is a reminder of an exciting time working collaboratively with two of the most talented people I have ever met: Michael Reaves, who has gone on to win a Writer’s Guild of America Award and Joe Zucker, who was a respected student of Maurice Sendak. This edition restores the book to its original trade paperback format, facilitating the reproduction of Joe’s delicate pencil illustrations.
At one point or another Michael, Joe and I all wound up sharing my apartment in Manhattan to complete work on this epic fantasy set far, far away from the noise and clutter of New York. . . It is a world I hoped to return to someday . . . a world filled with romantic heroes and dragons.
Dragonworld would not have been published without the help of some very important friends. Our acquiring editor Roger Cooper supported the work from the first day he saw it and nurtured us through the publishing process. Roger has gone on to an amazing career in publishing and remains a close friend. His early friendship toward the book and us is warmly remembered.
Ian and Betty Ballantine were early supporters of the renaissance of illustrated fantasy. Their achievements in publishing, including their conception of the illustrated trade paperback and the mass-market hardcover, will be with us for a long time. Michael and I were fortunate enough to have Betty as the manuscript editor for the book and her suggestions; friendship and good humor are a cherished memory. Ian Ballantine has since passed away, but his vision endures in so many ways.
My loving father, Edmund Preiss, now deceased, and mother, Pearl Preiss, were ardent supporters of the book and helped Michael, Joe and I through the day-to-day process of completing it. Other friends included Len Leone, the giant of paperback design, who consulted with us; Alex Jay, who designed the book so beautifully; Michael Deas, who has gone on to an extraordinary painting career; award-winning author Ted Sturgeon, Michael’s then neighbor and friend, also deceased; Michaelyn Bush and Shirley Feldman.
For all of these good family, friends and memories, we are grateful.
It was well after midmorning when Johan, son of Jondalrun, stood on the edge of the cliffs and looked out over the Strait of Balomar. He wiped damp blond curls from his forehead and shaded his eyes against the sunlight. Johan was tired; he had begun the climb in predawn darkness, carrying the Wing tenderly as he made his way across the bushy hills to the northern escarpment. Even with his care, the stretched leather surface and wooden frame of the Wing had been scratched by hookberry vines and sharp rocks. The last part of the climb had been the steepest, and the sea winds there had made the Wing jump and buck like a stallion. Yet Johan had persevered. He intended to fly this day, and he would settle for nothing less.
The boy now sat upon a huge rock, having carefully anchored the Wing behind it. He ate a nectarine from his father’s garden, and gazed up at the foamy clouds as the breeze dried the juice on his cheeks.
He was a farmer’s son, young but strong and limber. The friendly wind played with his hair, tickling strands against his face. Johan hugged himself, as much in delight at his daring as against the slight chill of the Fandoran spring. His father, Jondalrun, would be angry. Risking safety for pleasure was a silly, Simbalese thing to do, but Johan had seen Amsel one beautiful morning, drifting above these very clouds, soaring as free as a fabled dragon, and he knew that to fly was far more than pleasure and truly worth the risk.
Taking the Wing had been easy. The giant tree that formed part of Amsel’s house rose up next to Greenmeadow Mesa, and its massive upper branches grew flush with the cliff’s edge. Johan had simply walked onto the tree, descended to the limb where the Wing was kept, and left with it by the same route. He cautioned himself against falling into the easy habit of thievery. Just this once, and never again. He would apologize to Amsel when he returned it later.
He was rested now, and the nectarines were all eaten, and there would be no better time for flying. He carried the Wing with him to the cliff’s edge. A hawk sailed by far below him, close to the cliff’s face, wings motionless. Wait for me, Johan thought. Hawk, I’ll show you flying.
Standing at the edge, he carefully aimed the Wing into the wind. As the leather flapped and boomed in the updraft, he gripped the steering bar beneath the frame and slipped his feet into the thong loops, as Amsel had once shown him. That done, he stood facing the ocean, far below. For the first time he felt cold fear spreading under his heart. What if flying were not as easy as it looked? But it was too late now. The weight of the frame pulled him forward, and he could only push with his feet and turn a sudden descent into an awkward leap. Sea air slapped his cheeks, and he cried out in terror. He was falling! Amsel’s invention had failed, and Johan prayed that he would not die. Eyes squeezed shut, he twisted his body desperately, this way and that, and after an eternity felt air catch beneath the leather sail. Suddenly he was not falling, but rising. He opened his eyes: a cloud of indignant gulls exploded about him, protesting his invasion. He was flying!
Held aloft by the laughing wind, Johan experimented with his body weight, learning the rules of flight. Mastery came swiftly as he flew over the water. The sheer beauty of it! Johan had known little more in his eight years of life than plowing and sowing, harrow and harvest. This was totally new, this was wonderful! Air burned sweetly in his lungs, then exploded from his lips in a shout of delight as he swooped and circled.
As the first euphoria faded, Johan began to study the scenery below. He was hovering in a steady updraft just over the vertical cliffs. The Strait of Balomar separated his land, Fandora, from the dim purple shoreline to the east. Through the mists above this shore was Simbala, home of the mysterious and distrusted Riders of the Wind.
On his rare days of play, Johan would often come to the cliffs with his friends Doley and Marl, and they would sit for hours, staring eastward, hoping to see the magnificent slow-moving windships of Simbala. It was well known that the Sim were magicians and sorcerers, and that even the smallest of them could shrivel cornstalks with a glance. Though Johan and his friends knew they should not be fascinated by the crafts of the sorcerers, still they came, hoping to glimpse the sails of the distant windships in the clouds.
No Fandoran had ever seen a windsh
Johan sailed dizzyingly in a wide arc over the water. The Sim, the couriers had said, must be magicians. How else could they make boats fly? Yet, Johan thought, here I am, flying as swiftly as any Sim, and I am not a magician. He had seen Amsel build the Wing himself, without sorcery. What if the Sim had built their windships just as Amsel had built his Wing?
Many folk, his father included, were worried about the possibility of another attack by the magicians of Simbala. What if they were not magicians, but humans like Amsel and Johan himself? Perhaps the Sim were not people to be feared, after all. Perhaps Amsel was right when he said that the unknown should not be feared just because it was unknown.
Filled with the joy of flight, Johan was sure that he could convince his father, and everyone else, that Amsel was a man of vision. Johan’s dreams soared higher than the Wing he rode, and in them his friend Amsel, that shy and strange man, would teach the Fandorans marvelous things. And he, Johan, would become his apprentice, and be privy to all the wonderful secrets and inventions that filled Amsel’s forest home. . . .
Johan flew through the bright day, happier than he had ever been. He flew, and dreamed, and, occupied by his dreams, was blind to the nightmare coming until far too late.
The sight and sound of terror came simultaneously: as Johan swooped over a white sickle of beach two hundred feet below, heading inland, he saw his small shadow overtaken by a vast bat-winged blackness. There was a deafening screech, and then a hurricane hit him, born of giant wings. Then swiftly the dreams fell to darkness, and the dreamer to death. Johan had hardly time to comprehend the casual shattering of his life; the torn leather and broken frame fell and he fell with it, screaming and grasping at the mocking wind. As he fell, he caught a single glimpse of the dragon, its mouth open, blotting out the world. The pain was mercifully brief.
* * *
The lad was late. The day was falling toward evening, and Johan had not returned to lead the plowhorse through the north field, or to wring the yithe fiber dry. His dinner of bannock leaves and fish had grown cold on the table. He was late, as he had been late before, and Jondalrun, his father, was angry.
Jondalrun was a gray and dusty man, a farmer of Fandora. He owned two small fields, a cottage and a barn, and he worked from dawn to darkness tilling soil and tending livestock. In summer he carted his produce daily to market in Tamberly Town, a mile from his farm. He was an Elder of the village, one of the three who sat in occasional council on the problems and grievances that are a part of any small community.
Jondalrun seldom smiled; he seldom had cause. The skin about his eyes was as furrowed and brown as the fields about his house, and his hair and beard flowed almost to his waist. He carried a sturdy oaken staff, and so gnarled were his hands that it was hard to tell where human limb ended and tree limb began. He was a man who felt that he had no quarrel with his lot in life. Yet there were times when he would ram his plow through the rocky soil, wielding it like a sword in battle, or thresh the harvested grain as though he were using a whip. He had been a farmer for thirty years and a father for twenty. He thought of his first son, Dayon, who had left home four years ago, and scowled, shaking his head. Was Johan turning out to be a vagabond, as his brother had become? Why didn’t the boy understand that there was always work to be completed? Life was hard, as it should be. People were not meant to live like the Simbalese—the wealthy, decadent, perfumed Simbalese.
Jondalrun climbed slowly up the winding trail toward the cliffs. He had raised Johan as best he knew how, as he would have raised a crop of millet or barley, with methodical care and devotion. The devotion was seldom shown, though always there. It had been enough for him as a child—it should be enough for any child. Evidently it had not been enough for Dayon, and did not seem to be enough for Johan. . . .
Worried, he shook his head. The fault did not lie with him. Johan had no business playing when there was work to be done. Jondalrun tapped his staff grimly against his hand. He did not carry it solely to aid his trek to the seaside cliffs, for though he was old, the decades of farming under the hot sun had baked him brown and hard. He carried it also because Johan had a lesson to learn. Like his brother before him, he was too play-minded. It was time he grew up.
Jondalrun knew that his son’s mischief had to be connected with that madman Amsel, the wrong-thinker, the fool who constantly filled his son’s head with dangerous notions. He recalled Johan once saying that, according to Amsel, everything was alive—the rocks, the air, the wattle and mud-daub of Jondalrun’s barn—everything. The only difference was the amount of life in something—“consciousness,” Amsel had called it. Johan had balked at breaking up dirt clods in the furrows after that, for fear of killing them. Jondalrun shook his head grimly. Amsel was dangerous, no question about that. The hermit had to be Simbalese. Jondalrun was sure that Amsel had something to do with the Sim attack on Gordain Town.
He topped the final rise in the trail and stood on a precipice overlooking the sea. He blinked at the sheer blueness of the ocean and the grandeur of the spires and natural towers of the cliffs. The iron-rich earth was banded in shades of brown and red, which merged with the white sand far below. Jondalrun watched the waves comb themselves free of seaweed on the rocks, and listened to the gulls’ sharp cries. He took a deep breath, and reluctantly let himself savor the salty air. When he had been a lad, many a happy time had he spent exploring the caves and crannies of these cliffs. It gave him an odd feeling of comfort to know that they were still here, unchanged from his youth. He stood for a long, quiet moment, contemplating the beauty of it, feeling guilty for letting himself enjoy it. Then he suddenly remembered something his wife had told him years ago about Dayon. “A pair of young legs cannot constantly tread the same beaten path from barn to cottage,” she had said. “They must be able to climb hills and run through the surf as well.” Jondalrun stared at the sea. His wife was dead now, and Dayon was long gone. Johan did do his chores, albeit late at times. Jondalrun remembered evenings of his own youth spent watching the cliff fishermen cranking laden nets up the sheer rock walls, listening agape to their legends of giant seaworms and dragons. Jondalrun stood there, quietly musing, lost in the memories of his childhood. Then he remembered the reason for his trip. He frowned again, seeking to recapture the anger he had somehow lost. He tried to rekindle it by thinking of Amsel, but even that did not make him feel sternly toward Johan. His son was a good boy. Well, Jondalrun thought, perhaps the lad’s shoulders would not sting quite so hard this time. Perhaps they would not sting at all. He did not want to lose another son. . . .
It was then that the old man saw the twisted wreckage on the beach below him, pushed gently by the waves, and the silent body whose clothes he knew.
There followed a gray time of rocks and pain. Jondalrun hung from crumbling ledges, slid down steep slopes of talus, and twice he fell, jarring the breath from him for some time. Afterward, as he crouched moaning, holding Johan’s broken form in his arms, he looked up once at the cliff and wondered fleetingly how he had managed the impossible descent. But there was no room for thought of that, no room for anything but the grim, wordless sorrow. He remained on the beach for a long, unnoticed time, until the moon had risen and the advancing tide soaked his legs. Then he pulled Johan gently up the beach. The boy’s broken legs were tangled in rawhide ropes, and for the first time Jondalrun examined the wreckage.
It belonged to Amsel, the hermit—he would have known that even if he had not seen the distinctive rune branded into the
Jondalrun stared at it, trembling. Slowly he raised his staff; it gleamed, struck by moonlight, a cold fire of rage. “My son is dead,” he said. “My son is dead!” he shouted. “For that I’ll see your trees burn! I’ll see blood run your rivers and stain the sea! Warlocks or no, you’ll fear my coming! My son is dead, and he will be avenged!”
It was nearly suppertime in Tamberly Town, and the evening air was made pleasant by stews simmering and bread baking. Dogs sat beneath unshuttered windows, licking their jowls and whining for scraps. The white-limed walls of the houses were crowded together along the narrow streets, along which a few peddlers and knife sharpeners still walked, calling their wares. From the Graywood Tavern came the sounds of ale mugs clinking as Waymen boasted of various bounties collected.
In the small town square, a Courier had just left his thirsty horse at the watering trough and was posting on the town-house wall a notice of a grain and livestock sale in Cape Bage. Tired women in long, kitchen-stained skirts chased laughing children into the houses for supper. Lanterns hanging from rusty sluiceways or rafter ends were lit, throwing light onto the streets. It was a happy, relaxed time of day, and yet, in the midst of it, there came a gradual lessening of the street sounds. The wheels of a peddler’s cart ceased to squeak and trundle on the cobblestones; street musicians stopped playing in mid-note; the happy cries of the children faltered into silence. Walking slowly, painfully, into the main square of Tamberly Town was the Elder Jondalrun, his stare fixed and stony, tears glistening in the wrinkles of his cheeks, and in his arms the broken body of his son Johan.