Second excerpt from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's BONES OF THE DRAGON

A few weeks back I posted the first excerpt from Bones of the Dragon, the first volume in Weis and Hickman's new fantasy series from Tor Books, Dragonships of Vindras. The novel will be released right after the Holidays, but here's another sample chapter for you to enjoy! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.



Though Garn wanted to carry Skylan back to the village immediately, to have his wounds tended, Skylan refused to leave the boar, fearing it would be devoured by wolves.

“Bjorn and Erdmun will not be far away,” he said, sitting up, propping himself against the tree. “Summon them with your horn.”

Skylan drank water from his waterskin and pressed the remnants of his shirt over the wound in his thigh to stop the bleeding.

He was a quick healer—another blessing from Torval. The wound burned and throbbed, but he did his best to ignore the pain. He was helped by the golden haze of triumph that acted as sweet medicine and eased his hurts. He rested his hand possessively on the boar’s hairy, bloody flank.

Garn brought his ram’s horn to his lips and gave three blasts, two long and one short, indicating that he needed help. He paced about restlessly, not so confident as Skylan that their two friends would be in the vicinity.

Bjorn and Erdmun arrived far sooner than even Skylan had expected, bounding out of the woods with their spears raised. Both skidded to a halt and stared in astonishment to see their friends covered in blood, next to the gigantic carcass.

“That was fast,” said Garn.

“We heard the crashing and roaring, and it sounded like a battle,” said Bjorn, unable to take his awed gaze from the boar, “and—”

“—we came to see what was going on,” Erdmun said.

The brothers often finished each other’s sentences.

The two moved closer, staring curiously at the boar. Bjorn was Skylan’s age, eighteen. Erdmun was sixteen. Neither had ever seen such a beast before.

“Did the two of you slay it by yourselves?” Erdmun asked.

“Skylan killed it by himself,” Garn said, always honest, always quick to give praise.

“You stabbed it with your knife,” Skylan said, heaving himself to his feet.

Garn laughed. “I think I only annoyed it.”

Skylan stood up too quickly, staggered, and nearly went over backwards. He steadied himself against the tree until the dizziness passed, and then he made an attempt to walk. If he didn’t keep moving, his leg would stiffen up. Pain tore through his injured thigh, causing his breath to come fast and sweat to bead his forehead.

“We have to haul the carcass back to camp,” he announced through gritted teeth.

“Yours or the boar’s?” Garn asked, grinning at him.

“We should rename you Joabis the Jester,” Skylan grumbled, referring to the merry God of the Feast. “I am well enough. I just need a moment to rest, that’s all.”

Movement had caused the wound to bleed again. Garn tore up what was left of his ripped shirt, and Skylan used the strips of linen to further bind the gash.

Garn and Bjorn and Erdmun went to work. They had brought lengths of stout rope with them, hoping to use the rope to haul back a buck or a couple of fat does. They tied the rope around the boar’s thick neck and front legs, and with Bjorn and Garn pulling and Erdmun pushing from behind, they dragged the carcass across the ground, leaving a bloody trail behind.

The road from the forest to the seacoast was downhill, but the carcass was heavy and clumsy to haul. The three were exhausted before they had gone very far. Skylan limped after them, his wound paining him more than he would admit. Eventually all the young men conceded defeat and halted.

Garn suggested that Erdmun run to the village to bring back help, leaving the others to guard the boar. He returned with twenty men and an equal number of small children and dogs, bringing with them a large skid used to haul boulders and stones from the hills down to the village. The men were singing a song of praise as they came, praise for Skylan.

At the sight of the young hero mantled in the blood of conquest, the men gave a hearty shout, while the children clustered around Skylan, each boy proclaiming an intention to be him someday. Skylan’s heart swelled with pride, and he quickly touched the silver axe on his neck and loudly gave his own praise and thanks to Torval, lest the god feel his role in the battle was
being slighted.

Skylan brushed off the accolades of the warriors, telling them how Garn had attacked the fearsome beast first with spear and then with only his knife. Garn described the battle in gory detail. The men listened in appreciation, nodding and clapping and, at the end, slapping Skylan on the back.

Skylan’s young stepmother, Sonja, hearing of Skylan’s wounds, had sent along a pot of healing salve, made by boiling and then straining a mixture of tansy, fish oil, the oil of pine known as pitch, wax, resin, and the plant called adder’s tongue. Skylan was grateful to her, and he removed the bloody bandages and smeared the salve over his wounds, easing the pain almost immediately. The salve would also stop the flesh from putrefying.

While Skylan was treating his wounds, the men set to work wrestling and manhandling the heavy boar carcass onto the skid and lashing it securely so that it would not slide off. This took some time, and the sun was at its zenith, High Morn, before they were finished. Once the carcass was on the skid, the men hoisted Skylan onto the boar’s back. He rode in proud triumph as they hauled the skid along the trail.

The ride was bumpy, and it jarred his wound painfully. The stench of the dead beast was nauseating, and both he and the bloody carcass were swarmed by flies. Still, Skylan would not have traded places with the Chief of Chiefs of the Vindrasi people. He was basking in his victory and leading the men in a song of praise to Torval when shrill cries and shouts brought the singing to a sudden, startled halt.

A group of Torgun women and children came running up the trail. The women carried bundles in their arms, and at the sight of their menfolk, they called out in alarm. Skylan had no idea what was happening. The excited women were all talking at once, making it difficult to understand what was wrong.

Skylan said a sharp word, and silence fell. He pointed to one of the middle-aged older women, Brynhildr, who had been a friend of his mother’s. She was calm and sensible, about thirty years old, a leader among the Torgun women. He asked her what was happening.

“Three ships sailed into the bay at High Morn. Each ship has three sails that look like this”—Brynhildr formed a triangle with her fingers—“and hulls that sit on skids. The sails are striped, red and white.”

“Ogres,” said Bjorn.

Skylan’s stomach clenched. Triumph turned to wormwood in his mouth, making him physically sick. He would not jump to conclusions, however.

“It cannot be,” he stated. “We left the ogres far behind. I must see this with my own eyes.”

He slid down off the boar’s carcass and limped over to a point where the trees thinned and he could see Djvolk Bay. Garn and several of the warriors accompanied him. Standing on the ledge, they stared down in grim silence.

Three ships, each with striped triple sails and split- hull design, rode at anchor on the glittering waters of the placid bay.

“They followed us home,” said Garn.

Skylan glared at the ships in angry bafflement. “They could not have! I made sure of that.”

But he felt a twinge of unease as he spoke. Skylan believed, as did most Vindrasi, that ogres were loutish brutes, about as smart as your average rabbit. He had watched the triple- sailed ships dwindle to specks on the horizon and, having assumed that the ogres had given up the chase, had not kept careful watch on the way home or taken precautions against being followed or kept up the swift pace that would have left the slower ships far behind.

Instead, Skylan had stopped several times along the coast to lead his men in fruitless searches for plunder. They had fires at night, anchored their ship in plain sight by day. It had never occurred to Skylan that the ogres might sail after him.

“It must be Torval’s will,” Skylan announced, thereby absolving himself of blame. Now that the initial shock had worn off, he was eager to fight this formidable foe. “Our War God is with us. He sent the boar to me as a sign, and now the best and strongest warriors of the Torgun are here in the hills instead of being trapped by the ogres in the village. We will come fresh to the

“Fresh to what battle?” Garn asked.

“What battle?” Skylan stared at his friend and gestured to the three ships. “The battle against these sons of whores who dare—”

Garn shook his head. “I do not see a battle. I do not hear clashing steel or desperate horn calls or the beating of the war drums. I do not see our longhouses burning. Whereas I do see the smoke of a ceremonial fire rising from the Chief ’s Hall.”

Skylan scowled. Everything his friend said was true, though it made no sense. Why raid a village and not raid it?

“The ogres have come here to talk,” Garn continued, “not to plunder and kill. I find that odd, don’t you?”

Skylan did not. Such actions accorded with what he knew of ogres, who were not only stupid, but also lazy and would do anything to avoid a fight.

“Then we should attack them,” Skylan said.

“We should find out what is going on first,” Garn advised. “Remember, the parley is sacred to Torval. He would take it ill if we broke faith.”

“What he says is true,” Brynhildr agreed. “The ogres came bearing laurel leaves.”

Any enemy who came under truce to talk was protected by the gods. Skylan choked back his rage and tried to reflect calmly on what his friend was saying. Calm reflection was not easy for Skylan, who was impetuous, quick to take action and think later. He was proud of those traits in himself, considering them good qualities in a warrior. Let men such as Garn take time to observe, think over the situation. Garn thought; then he acted. Skylan acted—often recklessly—and only afterwards considered the consequences. He had sense enough to value Garn’s wisdom, however, and sometimes he even allowed himself to be guided by it.

“I will take Bjorn and three warriors to the village to see what is happening,” Skylan said. “Garn, you and the others wait here— Now, what is wrong with that idea?” he demanded, exasperated, for Garn was shaking his head.

“All the men should go,” Garn said. “Norgaard will want the warriors present in the Chief’s Hall as a show of force. We will all of us take the boar carcass back to the village. Even ogres will be impressed by the fact that you single-handedly killed a boar. And if they see us returning calmly from the hunt, they will see that we do not fear them. Whereas if we go rushing back, all in a boiling stew, they will think we are afraid—”

“Why can’t you ever just give me a straight answer?” Skylan asked, cutting his friend off impatiently. Garn might be a wise thinker, but he was also a long-winded talker.

Skylan resumed his place astride the boar’s bloody carcass. He would have liked to walk proudly in front, for the ogres to see him, but he secretly hoped he would be called upon to fight them, and he needed to conserve his strength. He ordered the women and children to take refuge in the hills, and they hastened past him, heading to the caves used by the Torgun on just such occasions.

Skylan watched them as they went, hoping to see Aylaen’s tall graceful body and thick curling mass of fiery red hair. He burned to show off his prowess before her. Aylaen was not among this group, however.

He did see Sonja, his stepmother. She did not look well. She was heavily pregnant, and the climb had been hard on her. Ashen- faced, panting, she pressed her hand against her swollen belly. Brynhildr walked with her, supporting her. After Skylan’s own mother had died in childbirth, Norgaard had taken another wife, hoping to father more sons, for Skylan was his only child. Sonja had borne Norgaard three children, but they had all been girls, and all had died in infancy.

Skylan liked his stepmother, and he spoke a word to cheer her as she passed. Sonja gave him a wan smile, and walked wearily on. Skylan gave the order to start, and the warriors heaved on the skid, boasting of the brave deeds they would do in the battle they were sure was coming.
Hauling on the ropes, they pulled and shoved the sled down the steep and winding incline that led from the forested hills to the seacoast. Their mood had changed from lighthearted pleasure to anger and determination—anger at the foe and determination to make the ogres pay for their effrontery.

The ogres lived in a realm far from the Vindrasi lands. They rarely ventured into Vindrasi territory. Few among the Torgun had fought them or knew much about them. The notion among the Vindrasi that ogres were stupid did not come from firsthand knowledge, as much as from the ogres’ appearance.

Standing between ten and thirteen feet tall, ogres were massive, heavily muscled, and big-boned. Their heads were small and round, out of proportion to their hulking bodies. With their plump cheeks, small noses, large wide-set eyes, and pursed lips, ogres resembled human babies, and therefore the Vindrasi scornfully credited them with possessing the intellectual capacity of infants.

Chasing Skylan’s dragonship all this distance required cunning, energy, intelligence, and skilled seamanship—none of which ogres possessed, or so the Vindrasi believed. Skylan concluded the ogres must have blundered onto the Torgun village by accident.

Pleased with his logic, he could now look forward to doing battle with this lumbering, dull- witted foe, and he was disappointed to find no ogre warriors roaming about the village. He had been nursing a hope for at least a small skirmish, if not an outright war. Parleys were sacred, but if an ogre insulted him . . . Torval could not blame Skylan for defending his honor.

The streets of Luda were empty, however. The village was made up of individual farms separated by fences and streets. The farm plots were of varying sizes, depending on the wealth of the landowner. Some were small, consisting only of the long house where the family lived and worked, the byre where the animals were kept, and a small plot of land for growing grain and vegetables. Others, such as the farm owned by Skylan’s father, were larger, with a long house, byre, and many outbuildings, including a smithy. Men worked for Norgaard in exchange for shares in the crops and housing for themselves and their families. At least, that was how life had been up until this past year. With crops failing and cattle dying, there was scant food to share.

Skylan frowned to see the three ogre ships anchored in the Djvolk Bay, surrounding the Venjekar—the Torgun’s most valuable treasure. Ogre warriors leaned idly over the sides, watching and waiting, probably as eager for battle as Skylan. Their commanders would be at the parley.

The men who had remained in the village while the others went to bring back the boar were now crowded inside the Chief ’s Hall, acting as witnesses to the parley. Most of the women and children had fl ed into the hills, though occasionally Skylan saw a woman’s face peeping out of a half-open door.

The men hauled the boar’s carcass through the streets to the door of the Chief ’s Hall, the largest structure in the village. The Vindrasi lived in long houses, which were simple in design.

Constructed of oak timbers, with a roof covered in thatch and straw, the long house was divided into several rooms. One room had wooden platforms on which blankets were laid for sleeping. Another was the kitchen, with a hearth for cooking and a domed oven for baking.

The central room was the main living area and housed one of the family’s most important possessions—the loom—along with wooden chests for storage and a board for playing dragonbone, a favorite game of the Vindrasi. Other than these objects, and perhaps a few low stools, there was no furniture. People sat cross- legged on the earthen floor or on blankets. If there were windows, they were fitted with heavy wooden shutters, for the house had to be snug and tight to retain warmth in the winter. The interior tended to be smoky and gloomy as a result. Oil lamps and candles provided light.

The Chief ’s Hall was similar to a long house, except that it was far larger and open, not divided into rooms. The hall was the heartbeat of the clan. All business was conducted in the hall, as were feasts and celebrations. Judgments and criminal trials were held here and the regular meetings of the family leaders and, as now, parleys with enemies.

As was customary during a parley, four ogres and four Torgun warriors stood mutual guard outside the Chief ’s Hall. Skylan got his first good look at an ogre, and he had to admit they were impressive. Skylan had known the ogres would be tall and large, but he hadn’t realized they would be quite that tall or quite that large. Skylan himself was of medium height, and his head was about level with an ogre breastbone. Skylan made up in girth what he lacked in height. His chest was broad, and his arm muscles bulged, as did the muscles of his calves and thighs. But he looked puny compared with an ogre, whose chest was half again as broad as his.

Ogres wore little in the way of clothing—leather breeches and belt. Harnesses strapped across their hairy chests held axes or swords. The weapons were enormous and looked to be of fair quality. Each ogre carried an oblong shield as large as the door to the long house. From the neck down, they looked fearful. From the neck up, the massive hunk of meat and muscle, bone and gristle was topped by a head as bald and a face as plump and smooth and guileless as that of a newborn babe.

Undoubtedly in an attempt to make their childlike faces more fearsome, the ogres had adopted the use of war paint, which had the added advantage of denoting rank. Each of these ogres, who were bodyguards for their commanders, had a broad blue stripe running from the back of the head up across the bald dome of the forehead, down the nose, across the lips, and down the chin. A broad red band ran over the nose and underneath the eyes. By contrast, the ordinary ogre foot soldier painted his head with a single brown stripe running from the back of the neck to the chin.

Skylan knew none of this, of course. He thought the paint made the ogres look silly and even more childish. He also discovered something else about ogres. They stank.

“Their stench is enough to knock a man on his ass,” he remarked, not bothering to lower his voice.

The Vindrasi were a cleanly people who bathed often, even in the winter. The Vindrasi considered their bodies a gift from Desiria, Goddess of Life, and keeping the body clean showed appreciation for her gift. Judging by the smell, ogres must have thought their bodies came from the God of the Dung Heap.

Skylan raised his hand to halt the procession. At the commanding gesture, the men hauling the skid bearing the boar’s carcass came to a stop. The ogre guards stared at the carcass and at Skylan and his bloody wounds, and their small eyes widened. As Garn had predicted, the ogres were impressed.

Skylan did not bother to try to conceal his limp as he walked boldly to confront the ogres. His wounds spoke to his courage. Ignoring the ogres, he approached the Torgun warriors who stood guard.

“I am Skylan, son of Norgaard, Chief of the Torgun,” he announced. That was for the benefit of the ogres, the warriors outside the hall having known him from infancy. “I would speak with my father, the Chief. Is he within?”

“He has been asking for you, Skylan Ivorson, and said you were to be admitted when you arrived,” the Torgun warrior replied with equal formality, though he winked at Skylan as he stood aside to allow him to pass.

Skylan nodded and, gesturing to Garn and the rest of the men to accompany him, he started to enter the Chief ’s Hall. The ogre warriors allowed Skylan to pass. They blocked the entrance of the others, planting their massive bodies in the doorway.

“You goat-fornicators, how dare you refuse to let these men enter their own hall?” Skylan demanded, taking this as a challenge.

His sword was halfway out of its sheath. The ogres were reaching for their weapons when Garn shouted loudly for everyone to calm down. He motioned for Skylan to come back to the entrance. Skylan rudely jostled one of the ogres aside and went to talk to his friend.

“Don’t argue with them,” Garn said in a low voice. “It’s better that the warriors stay out here. They stand between the ogre ships and the Chief ’s Hall.”

Skylan immediately saw the wisdom in his friend’s idea. If the parley went badly and the ogres attacked, their warriors would come running from the ships, and these men were here to stop them. Though it galled him, Skylan sheathed his sword. He did so slowly, making a show of it, rattling the sword in its sheath.

“Garn comes with me,” he said, clapping hold of his friend’s forearm and hauling him close. “He is my brother.”

The ogres seemed doubtful, but after a brief consultation—which consisted of a couple of grunts and a shrug—they allowed Garn to pass.

“The rest of you men remain here,” Skylan called out loudly, “where the air is fresh.” He sniffed, made a face, and pinched his nostrils together. “If we do not return, it is because we have died of asphyxiation.”

His men laughed loudly. Skylan looked hopefully at the ogres. If they reacted to the insult with rage and attacked him, he could not be faulted for defending himself.

The ogres looked at him blankly. Skylan thought they were too stupid to realize they had been insulted. It never occurred to him that they might be too disciplined to fall for his ruse. Skylan glanced back at his men, grinned, and rolled his eyes. His men laughed even louder and nudged each other with their elbows. Their mirth did not last long, however. Some were starting
to count the vast numbers of the enemy.

Norgaard Ivorson, Chief of the Torgun, was seated in a large ornate chair that stood at the north end of the Chief ’s Hall. He sat awkwardly, his bad leg extended straight out in front of him. He was constantly rubbing his leg, his hand moving up and down to try to ease the painful knots. The other members of the Torgun, the male heads of house hold, ranged along the walls of the long house.

There were also two women present. One sat in the only other chair that stood near Norgaard’s. Treia, the Bone Priestess of the Torgun Clan, held a position of power and honor, for she interceded with the gods on behalf of the Torgun. The other woman, standing protectively beside Treia, was her younger sister, Aylaen.

The women were dressed formally in the traditional apron-dress of the Vindrasi. Made of wool, the apron-dress was worn over a linen smock. It was held together at the shoulders with two brooches, usually of gold or silver. As mark of her office as Bone Priestess, in addition to the dress, Treia wore long robes embroidered with runes, slit open at the sleeves and loose in the front. She appeared cool and detached, which was odd, for the hall was stifling in the heat of the day and she must have been sweltering in the heavy robes.

At first, Aylaen smiled to see Garn and Skylan. But her smile vanished and her eyes widened in alarm when she saw their blood- soaked clothing. Garn winked at her reassuringly, indicating all was well. Aylaen gave a doubtful nod.

“What is she doing here?” Skylan demanded in a displeased undertone, speaking to his friend. “She should have gone into the hills with the other women!”

“Aylaen run into the hills?” Garn grinned. “Remind me to introduce the two of you, Skylan, for you have obviously never met her.”

Skylan grunted. “Such antics were funny when she was a child, but she is a grown woman now.”

“You talk like her grandfather,” Garn scoffed. “She’s only a year younger than we are.”

Skylan, having killed the boar and faced down ogres, was reveling in his manhood, and he decided that Aylaen should leave. He frowned sternly at her and made a commanding gesture toward the door.

Aylaen’s lips twitched, and he realized she would have laughed at him outright if the situation had not been so serious. As it was, she deliberately looked away, pretending she had not seen him.

Skylan was angry. Aylaen should obey him. He was, after all, her betrothed—or as near to it as made no difference. He had only to come up with the bride-price for her stepfather. He would have said something to her, but Garn gave him a warning nudge. Everyone in the long house, including the ogres, was staring at him, and Skylan realized that his dramatic entrance
had interrupted the proceedings.

“I heard we had guests, Father,” said Skylan, “and I came as soon as I could. The boar I killed is outside,” he added offhandedly, as though slaying boars were something he did every day, just for fun. He glanced at the ogres, who were seated on a bench that had been formed out of a large plank laid across several wooden trestles.

Two of the ogres were dressed much as the ogre guards outside, in leather harness and breeches. Their high rank was denoted by their face paint—white with a black stripe running from the neck to the chin, and another black stripe going over the nose and across the cheeks. The third ogre wore a tiger- skin cape draped over his shoulders. Since the other two deferred to him, Skylan marked him as their war leader. Each commander wore a greatsword—large, but not of the best quality, or so Skylan judged. Their shields, painted white with a black cross, rested against a wall.

The fourth ogre was dressed far differently. He wore a long cape made of glistening green and blue feathers and a large feathered headdress. His eyes were outlined in black. Skylan thought he looked like a raccoon, and he smothered a snicker. This ogre carried no weapons.

Norgaard listened to his son’s boast, and he sighed. Norgaard was a sad man, an embittered man. Torgun men were supposed to die in battle, not survive as cripples. He lived in constant pain from his injury and constant fear for his people. He remembered a time in his youth when the Vindrasi had been a mighty nation. They had sailed the seas in their winged dragonships and returned laden with glory and jewels.

And now, all that was gone. The Vindrasi warriors no longer fought glorious battles against worthy foes. Their enemies these days were poor harvests, fierce winters, blazing summers, angry seas, and unfavorable winds. The gods had turned against the Vindrasi, and Norgaard did not know why. He had asked Draya, the Kai Priestess, but she was evasive and would not give him a straight answer.

The Torgun never guessed their Chief was suffering. His rugged, scarred face was like chiseled granite, revealing no emotion. He rarely spoke, but when he did, he spoke to purpose. His hair was iron gray, making him look older than his forty- fi ve years. His back was straight, he was not stooped or bent, and he sat tall, with dignity, hiding his pain and his fear from his people as well as from his foes. He had likewise always hidden his pain and worry from his son, and now. Norgaard was starting to wonder if that had been wise.

Skylan loved Norgaard as a son is required by the gods to love the man who gives him life. The young man had scant respect for the elder man, however, and Norgaard knew this. If Norgaard could admit that his son had a flaw, it was that the young man took his responsibilities as a future Chief too lightly. For that, Norgaard blamed himself. He had always held his shield in front of Skylan, guarding and protecting him from the jabbing spears of trouble and misfortune. The day would come—and it might come soon—when Norgaard had to leave this world for the next. Skylan would have to lead the clan.

Norgaard had lately tried to teach Skylan the duties and responsibilities of a chief. Whenever he launched into his lecture, Skylan would suddenly recall that he had to take a piss, or if he could not escape, he would listen to his father with undisguised boredom, his gaze roving restlessly about the long house as he swatted at flies or shoved about the pieces on his game

The thought often came to Norgaard that Skylan played at life as he played at the dragonbone game: He took huge risks, made bold and reckless moves. When he won, he won big. When he lost, it was disastrous.

Norgaard praised his son for killing the boar, then invited him and Garn to remain with him to hear the parley. Skylan took his place at his father’s right hand and stared boldly and defiantly at the ogres. Garn stood beside his friend, crossing his arms over his chest and regarding the ogres with interest.

Norgaard started to return to the conversation. Skylan wanted his say first, however.

“What brings you to Luda?” Skylan asked the ogres, and he added brashly, “And when are you leaving?”

The Torgun men around the wall grinned. The ogres scowled. Ogres and Vindrasi spoke the same root language, as did all the people of the world known by the Vindrasi as Ilyrion. In ancient days, the various races had been ruled by one mighty seafaring empire. In order to govern his far-flung territories, the Emperor had decreed that everyone everywhere would speak the language of the Empire.

Though each race adopted the central language and made it their own, they added bits of unique vocabulary, pronounced the words with differing accents and shades of meaning, with the result that the ogre language was much different from that of the Vindrasi. The roots being the same, however, most ogres could carry on a conversation with most humans.

Legend had it that this ancient Emperor had hoped a shared language would foster peace and understanding among the races. Sadly, it had the opposite effect. They could all understand each other’s insults.

Norgaard’s lips tightened. His expression grew grim. “Forgive my son, lords,” he said to the ogres. “He is young and hot-blooded. I would speak a word with him, if you do not mind that we confer in private.”

The ogres graciously acceded. By their grins, they guessed the young man was in for a tongue-lashing.

Skylan saw the grins and burned with shame. He had to swallow his ire, though. He was not often the recipient of his father’s anger, and he could not understand what he had done wrong. He was also mindful of Aylaen’s laughing green eyes.

Skylan walked over to his father and leaned across his father’s shoulder to speak to him. “Why do you reprimand me before these brutes?”

“Because there are one hundred and seventy ogre warriors in those ships,” said Norgaard, glowering.

The Torgun could muster perhaps seventy-five warriors—ninety, counting old men and boys. Skylan was not daunted, however. The fight with the boar had given him a taste for blood. Battle lust burned in him. He felt he could fight all 170 ogres himself.

“All men know that Torgun warriors are worth two of any ogre in battle,” Skylan said.

“I don’t know it,” said Norgaard sharply. “And I have fought ogres. Have you, boy?”

“No, Father,” Skylan said. Stung by the use of the term boy, he added sullenly, “Apparently I am not to have the chance.”

“You may well get the chance,” Norgaard said. “I do not know why the ogres have come, but I smell danger. These two ogres are commanders; the ogres term them godlords. The third is a shaman, and the fact that a shaman is present on a warship means this has something to do with their gods and is extremely important to them. They were about to tell me when you entered and insulted them. I remind you, Skylan, that the ogres are here under a flag of truce to parley. I invited them into the Chief ’s Hall, and as such, they are my guests. The parley is sacred; the guest is sacred. Torval watches.”

Norgaard leaned nearer. “One thing more—did you see the ships when you came into the village?”

“Yes, Father,” said Skylan.

“Did you happen to notice that they have our dragonship surrounded?”

Skylan stared at his father, stunned. He had seen that, of course. He had not thought of the implications. He began to consider that perhaps he had been in the wrong. Maybe he had earned his father’s rebuke—at least some portion of it.

“I am sorry, Father,” he said, subdued. “I was not thinking.”

“You never think, boy,” Norgaard said with a sigh. “You rush in, sword swinging. . . .”

“That is the way of the warrior,” Skylan said proudly.

“But it is not the way of a Chief,” said Norgaard. He gestured toward the ogres. “Apologize to our guests.”

Skylan did as he was told. After all, Torval was watching. His apology was short and gruff and grudging, but the ogres accepted it. Now that the wise old dog had put down the boisterous young pup, they were ready to carry on with business.

“You were about to tell me why the ogres honor the Torgun with a visit,” Norgaard said.

The two godlords looked with deference at their shaman and invited him to speak.

The ogre shaman rose to his feet. An imposing and outlandish figure, he was tall and thin, lacking the musculature of a warrior, and his headdress of long black glossy feathers made him appear even taller. In addition to the feathered cape, he wore a necklace of curved bones tipped in silver. His hairy arms were thick with silver bracelets. The black paint around his eyes emphasized his gaze, gave it strange intensity.

“We have come to tell the Vindrasi about a great battle that recently took place in heaven between your gods and ours,” said the shaman. His eyes glinted. He didn’t look so childlike anymore. “Our gods won this battle. Your gods lost. Your gods are dead.”

The shaman calmly resumed his seat. Feathers rustling, he looked very much like a large and gangling stork settling into its nest.

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