It was in the Court of Kings that Thom Morley first heard about the dragon. He was a small boy, short and scrawny with skinny legs, and curly black hair and black eyes. He was going on his eighth winter, and the season had been terribly cold-so cold, in fact, that half of the Elders in the Guild had died from pneumonia-their Healer, Ravinn, had said their hearts froze stiff from inside out. The Huntsmen in the Guild were afraid, and they were never afraid. It was the cold that made them afraid, not the snow. They had been out hunting the wildebeest in the High Forest, killing foxes, wolves, and badgers. Nothing too noble, but the Gray Castle needed more food, and that was what they got.
Thom would have liked to go on a Hunt like that himself, but he was still too young to travel that far and he didn't know how to will a bow and arrow or throw a sword. His godfather, Horace the Tall, had promised to teach him-but even now he was dead from frostbite. He had been almost two hundred years old before he died, which was middle-age for his time.
Horace had gone into the High Forest and had come out stiff as a corpse, and dead as a doornail.
Thom had been without a mother and father for four years, living with his godfather and uncle, Terrance Nightdancer, a knight in the Court of Kings. It was a great honor to be a knight and he took it seriously. Then, Terrance had died. Ravinn had done a Welling, and the warm water had told her that Terrance had been imprisoned by the Mad Witch, taking his soul for all Eternity.
Eternity was a long time, Thom thought.
Horace was supposed to teach him to be a blacksmith before he died. It looked like that wasn't going to happen.
Thom was living alone in his godfather's house when the messenger came to call. He was making lunch in the small, dusty kitchen, and a knock sounded at the door. Surprised, Thom put down his fork, and hurried to answer it.
A man wearing a brown poncho stood on the porch.
"What do you want?" Thom demanded, trying to sound like his godfather.
"Are you Thomas De le Morley?" he asked in a pleasant voice, undisturbed by the boy's rude behavior.