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Morgan Rice

A feast of dragons

“Come not between the dragon and his wrath.”

— William Shakespeare, King Lear

CHAPTER ONE

King McCloud charged down the slope, racing across the Highlands, into the MacGil’s side of the Ring, hundreds of his men behind him, hanging on for dear life as his horse galloped down the mountain. He reached back, raised his whip, and brought it down hard on the horse’s hide: his horse didn’t need prodding, but he liked to whip it anyway. He enjoyed inflicting pain on animals.

McCloud nearly salivated as he took in the sight before him: an idyllic MacGil village, its men out in the fields, unarmed, its women home, tending linens on strings, barely dressed in the summer clime. House doors were open; chickens roamed freely; cauldrons already boiling with dinner. He thought of the damage he would do, the loot he would garner, the women he would ruin-and his smile broadened. He could almost taste the blood he was about to shed.

They charged and charged, their horses rumbling like thunder, spilling over the countryside, and finally, someone took notice: it was the village guard, a pathetic excuse for a soldier, a teenage boy, holding a spear, who stood and turned at the sound of their approach. McCloud got a good look at the white of his eyes, saw the fear and panic in his face; in this sleepy outpost, this boy had probably never seen battle in his life. He was woefully unprepared.

McCloud wasted no time: he wanted the first kill, as he always had in battle. His men knew enough to give it to him. He wanted it so bad he could taste it.

McCloud whipped his horse again, until it shrieked, and gained speed, heading out farther in front of the others. He raised his ancestor’s spear, a heavy thing of iron, leaned back, and hurled it.

As always, his aim was true: the boy had barely finished turning when the spear met his back, sailing right through it and pinning him to a tree with a whooshing noise. Blood gushed from his back, and it was enough to make McCloud’s day.

McCloud let out a short cry of joy as they all continued charging, across the choice land of the MacGils, through yellow cornstalks swaying in the wind, up to his horse’s thighs, and towards the village gate. It was almost too beautiful a day, too beautiful a picture, for the devastation that they were about to enact.

They charged through the unprotected gate of the village, this place dumb enough to be situated on the outskirts of the Ring, so close to the Highlands. They should have known better, McCloud thought with scorn, as he swung an axe and chopped down the wooden sign announcing the place. He would rename it soon enough.

His men entered the place, and all around him screams erupted of women, of children, of old men, of whomever happened to be home in this godforsaken place. There were probably a hundred unlucky souls, and McCloud was determined to make each one of them pay. He raised his axe high overhead as he focused on one woman in particular, running with her back to him, trying for dear life to make it back to the safety of her home. It was not meant to be.

McCloud’s axe hit her in the back of her calf, as he had wanted, and she went down with a shriek. He hadn’t wanted to kill her: only to maim her. After all, he wanted her alive for the pleasure he would have with her afterwards. He had chosen her well: a woman with long, untamed blond hair and narrow hips, hardly over eighteen. She would be his. And when he was done with her, perhaps he would kill her then. Or perhaps not; perhaps he would keep her as his slave.

He screamed in delight as he rode up next to her and jumped off his horse in mid-stride, landing on top of her and tackling her to the ground. He rolled with her on the dirt, feeling the impact of the road, and smiled as he relished what it felt like to be alive.

Finally, life had meaning again.

CHAPTER TWO

Kendrick stood in the eye of the storm, in the Hall of Arms, flanked by dozens of his brothers, all hardened members of the Silver, and looked calmly back at Darloc, the commander of the royal guard sent on an unfortunate mission. What had Darloc been thinking? Did he really think he could march into the Hall of Arms and try to arrest Kendrick, the most loved of the royal family, in front of all his brothers in arms? Did he really think the others would stand by and allow it?

He had vastly underestimated The Silver’s loyalty to Kendrick. Even if Darloc had arrived with legitimate charges for his arrest-and these certainly were not-Kendrick doubted very much that his brothers would allow him to be carted away. They were loyal for life, and loyal to the death. That was the creed of The Silver. He would have reacted the same way if any of his brethren were threatened. After all, they had all trained together, fought together, for all their lives.

Kendrick could feel the tension that hung in the thick silence, as The Silver held their weapons drawn at the mere dozen royal guards, who shifted where they stood, looking more uncomfortable by the moment. They must have known it would be a massacre if any of them tried for their swords-and wisely, none did. They all stood there and awaited the order of their commander, Darloc.

Darloc swallowed, looking very nervous. He realized his cause was hopeless.

“It seems you have not come with enough men,” Kendrick responded calmly, smiling. “A dozen of the King’s Guard against a hundred of The Silver. Yours is a lost cause.”

Darloc flushed, looking very pale. He cleared his throat.

“My liege, we all serve the same kingdom. I do not wish to fight you. You are correct: this is a fight we could not win. If you command us, we will leave this place and return to the King.

But you know that Gareth would just send more men for you. Different men. And you know where this will all lead. You might kill them all-but do you really want the blood of your fellow brothers on your hands? Do you really want to spark a civil war? For you, your men would risk their lives, kill anyone. But is that fair to them?”

Kendrick stared back, thinking it all through. Darloc had a point. He did not want any of his men hurt solely on his account. He felt an overwhelming desire to protect them from any bloodshed, no matter what that meant for him. And however awful his brother Gareth was, and however bad a ruler, he did not want a civil war-at least, not on his account. There were other ways; direct confrontation, he had learned, was most often the least effective.

Kendrick reached over and slowly lowered his friend Atme’s sword. He turned and faced the other Silver. He was overwhelmed with gratitude to them for coming to his defense.

“My fellow Silver,” he announced. “I am humbled by your defense, and I assure you it is not in vain. As you all know me, I had nothing to do with the death of my father, our former king. And when I find his true killer, whom I suspect I have already found from the nature of these orders, I shall be the first to have vengeance. I stand falsely accused. That said, I do not wish to be the impetus for a civil war. So please, lower your arms. I will allow them to take me peacefully. For one member of the Ring should never fight another. If justice lives, then the truth will come out-and I will be returned to you promptly.”

The group of Silver slowly, reluctantly, lowered their arms as Kendrick turned back to Darloc. Kendrick

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