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Bertrice Small

The Sorceress of Belmair

The fourth book in the World of Hetar series, 2008

For all those readers who love Lara and her world.

Thank you.

Prologue

THE OLD KING of Belmair was coming to the end of his days. He sensed it. And as he had lived over eight hundred years it did not seem to him like such a great matter. But he was leaving his world in even poorer condition than he had inherited it. He knew what needed to be done, but he had never quite been able to bring himself to do it. Now, however, as the purple sands in the great hourglass representing his life that sat in the king’s chamber ebbed away to almost nothing, the king knew he must act before it was too late. If it was not already too late.

“Send for the dragon,” the king said to the chief footman who stood next to his throne.

“Send for the dragon!” the chief footman said to the second footman who repeated the command to the third footman, and so on until the order had reached the last footman in the line within the chamber.

Opening the door the last footman called out, “Send for the dragon!”

And then they all waited in silence. After some time had passed one of the dragon’s servants, dressed in bronze-gold livery, ran into the room and up to the king’s throne.

“My mistress is sleeping, Your Majesty. It will take some time to awaken her for it has been a long while since you have sought her counsel,” the servant said.

“Are you a servant of the first rank?” the king asked.

“I certainly am!” the servant assured the king. “My mistress would allow no one of lesser stature to speak to Your Majesty. Though she sleeps, the protocols are always and ever observed.”

“How long will it be before she is awakened?” the king asked.

“I’m afraid it will be several days, Your Majesty,” the servant answered, his tone holding just the proper amount of regret. “She tends to sleep heavily.”

“Time enough,” the king replied pleasantly. “Send to me before she comes.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” the dragon’s servant said, and then bowing, he backed from the chamber.

As he did, he was passed by a beautiful young woman who hurried into the king’s presence. She was tall and slender with the grace of a willow. Pale as moonlight, her long hair, which was worn loose, was as black as the night, and her eyes were as green as spring. She was dressed in a flowing gown of violet silk.

“You have sent for the dragon, Father?” she said as she came.

“I have. It is past time, my dear Cinnia, that I did so,” the king told his only child.

“You know what she will say,” Cinnia responded. “She has said it before, but you would not listen. Will you listen now, Father?”

The old king sighed. “I have no choice now but to listen,” he admitted.

“But will you follow her advice, Father?” Cinnia persisted.

“I fear I must,” the king replied, and he sighed again. “My time is coming to a close, Daughter. Look to my glass. A successor must be chosen to follow me. It is the dragon’s duty to choose the next king of Belmair, and it is your duty to wed my successor.”

Now it was the girl who sighed deeply. “I do not know,” she said, “why a queen cannot rule Belmair, Father. I am as good a sorceress as any male sorcerer.”

The king nodded. “It is true, Daughter, that you have strong powers, but tradition dictates that a king rule Belmair.”

“Can tradition not be changed, Father?” Cinnia asked seriously.

“Tradition, Daughter, is what keeps our society civilized,” the king reminded her. “Remember our history, my child. The last of our kind to challenge tradition, to cause dissent among our peoples, were sent from Belmair. We do not want to be like them now, do we? Their lives were shortened when they left here, and they have been gone for so many centuries now that they have forgotten their own history. They do not remember from where they came, yet in their overweening pride believe themselves superior to all others in the world in which they live. Worse, they have changed little. They are still contentious.” His eyes began to grow heavy. He slumped in his chair. “I am weary, Cinnia. Leave me now,” the old king said.

“Are you all right?” she asked him anxiously. “Shall I call the physician?” Her small hand felt his forehead to see if he was feverish.

A small chuckle escaped him. “Nay, Daughter. I am neither ill nor quite ready to die. Look to the glass. There is yet enough purple sand in it giving me the time I will need to speak with the dragon. To meet with my successor. I am just old and tired.”

Cinnia moved closer to the old king, and bending, kissed his withered cheek. “I’ll call Samuel, and he will help you to your bed, Father. The king of Belmair should not sleep upon his throne. It takes away from your dignity.”

“As you will, Daughter,” he answered her. “As you will.” And his gnarled old hand waved her from his presence.

1

THE DRAGON FINALLY OPENED her eyes. Turning, she found her servant standing by her bed, waiting. She yawned and stretched lazily. “How long have I slept, Tavey?” she asked her servant, yawning again.

“A little over a hundred years, mistress,” Tavey replied. “The king has called for you. He is in need of your counsel. The purple sand in his hourglass is almost gone.”

“Humph,” the dragon replied. “How typical of Fflergant,” she said. “For all his bleating about tradition he has never done anything in a timely and correct manner. Now as his days end he calls for me. I have advised all the kings of Belmair since time began, but never have I dealt with one such as this king.”

“Perhaps,” Tavey ventured, “it was meant to be this way, mistress. Have you not always said that everything happens for a specific reason?”

The dragon arose from her bed. Her name was Nidhug, and had she allowed herself to appear in all her glory she would have stood higher than her own castle. For simplicity’s sake she used her own magic to stand no taller than eight feet. It allowed her to enter the king of Belmair’s residence easily as the chambers there were only twelve feet high. “You know me too well,” she said. “How long have you served me, Tavey?”

“Since the beginning of time, mistress,” he answered her with just the faintest smile touching his thin lips.

“Humph,” Nidhug responded. She stretched out her hands. “You have kept my claws nicely trimmed,” she noted. “And my scales are quite supple.”

“I have oiled them weekly, mistress,” Tavey said. “Sleeping should not negate your need for maintenance. You

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