The Blood of a Dragon
Dedicated to Marian, Tom and Gordon
The boy stared eagerly down into the Arena, chewing his lip in anticipation.
The horse races were over, and as a foretaste of what was to come the sands were being raked smooth by magic.
The rakes themselves were the same perfectly ordinary wooden rakes that had been dragged back and forth across the sand by perfectly ordinary people before each race. Now, however, the rakes were moving by themselves, as if held in invisible hands, and the slaves, or servants, or whoever the people were who were responsible for the Arena’s maintenance, were nowhere to be seen.
Dumery wondered whether the rakes had been animated somehow, or whether they were being wielded by sylphs or sprites or demons, or whether the servants had been turned invisible. Magic could do so many amazing things!
The rakes were all painted bright blue, and he wondered if that was important.
Did the magic in use here only work on blue things? He knew that magic could have peculiar requirements. Or were the rakes blue because the Lord of the Arena had taken blue and gold as his colors?
Or perhaps, had he taken his colors from the golden sand, and the blue rakes and other fittings?
Or was there some other reason entirely?
There were so many things that he didn’t know! He had read everything he could find about magic, but that wasn’t much; he had asked questions of everyone he knew, but he knew no wizards, nor witches or warlocks or sorcerers or any other sort of wonder-worker. He had occasionally met a magician or two, and had always asked questions, but he hadn’t always gotten answers.
The rest of the time he just asked whoever was handy, even though they weren’t magicians. Sometimes they had answers anyway, sometimes they didn’t, so he just kept trying.
“Dad,” he asked, “why are the rakes blue?”
Startled out of a contemplative half-doze, Doran of Shiphaven let the front legs of his chair drop heavily to the floor of the family box, rattling the gold chain that draped across his velvet-clad chest. Rings clicked against wood as he gripped the arm of the chair and turned to stare at his son.
“What?” he asked.
“Those rakes out there,” Dumery said, pointing. “Why are they all painted blue?”
On his left, Dumery’s sister Dessa, a year older than he, giggled into her hands. Their two older brothers, noticing the noise, peered over from their father’s right side to see what the fuss was about.
“So they won’t rot, I suppose,” Doran said, puzzled, “or to keep down the splinters.”
“But whyblue?” Dumery persisted. “Why not red, or green? Brown wouldn’t show the dirt as much, or if they want to see the dirt then white would be better. Why blue?”
After a baffled pause, his father admitted, “I don’t have the faintest idea.”
Derath leaned over, smirking, and said, “It’s to match your eyes, Dumery!”
“My eyes are green, stupid!” Dumery retorted. “Maybe you’d better have an herbalist check your eyes if you don’t know that!”
“Oh,I know that,” Derath said sweetly, “but the Lord of the Arena doesn’t!” He turned and grinned triumphantly at the eldest brother, Doran the Younger, who snorted derisively.
Dessa giggled harder than ever.
Dumery felt his cheeks redden slightly, and he turned his attention back to the Arena floor, pointedly ignoring his siblings. He didn’t think Derath’s joke was funny, since it didn’t really even make any sense, but he knew from long experience that if Derath and Doran and Dessa once got started mocking him it would last for hours. Retorting wouldn’t stop it; ignoring them might.
The raking was finished, Dumery saw, and the arena sands gleamed smooth and golden in the afternoon sun. The crowd quieted in anticipation.
The silence grew, and a certain tension grew with it, until suddenly a cloud of thick yellow smoke appeared, swirling out of one of the many gateways that opened into the arena from the labyrinth below. The smoke did not dissipate, like any natural smoke or vapor, but instead hung together in a spinning globe, something like a miniature whirlwind but far denser, and ball-shaped rather than the tapering cylinder of a normal whirlwind.
Dumery caught his breath and stared, and beside him Dessa stopped giggling. On the other side of the box Doran the Younger and Derath fell silent, as well.
The seething ball of smoke drifted out into the arena, moving across the sand at about the speed of a brisk walk, until it stood in the exact center, its base just barely disturbing the neatly-raked lines.
The smoke was a paler yellow than the deep gold of the sands, a sickly, ugly color, like the belly of a snake. Dumery stared at it, utterly fascinated.
Thunder boomed from nowhere, and lightning flashed, almost blinding him; he looked up, startled, but the sky was still clear and blue, the sunlight still sweeping across the stands.
When he looked back, the yellow smoke was gone save for a few fading wisps, and in its place stood the wizard.
Dumery leaned forward eagerly.
The wizard was a plump fellow of medium height, wearing a gleaming ankle-length robe of fine red silk. Dumery was no good at guessing ages, but this man was clearly no longer young-his face was weathered and his jowls sagged. His hair was still a glossy black, though, without a trace of grey.
The wizard thrust his hands up in the air, fingers spread, and cried, “Behold!”
The vastness of the Arena swallowed his voice, and it was obvious that only those in the best seats could hear what he had said. Dumery felt a twinge of disappointment at that. Surely, a wizard’s voice should have enough magic in it to overcome such inconveniences.
Then he forgot about the voice as streams of colored smoke poured forth from the ten spread fingers. Each spouting plume was a different color-crimson, violet, ochre, lizard green, and pale blue spewed from the left hand, while magenta, indigo, copper, forest green, and midnight blue streamed from the right.
The wizard waved his hands, crossing them above his head, and the rising bands of smoke braided themselves in intricate patterns, each remaining pure and discrete.
Then, abruptly, the smoke stopped, and the wizard dropped his hands. He took a step forward, and then another, and with the third step Dumery realized that his feet had left the ground. He was climbing up into thin air as if it were solid stone steps!
When he had ascended to a height of about eight feet above the ground the wizard stopped, and stood calmly unsupported in mid-air. He waved a hand again, and a trail of golden sparks glittered behind it.
“Behold!” he cried again.
Behind him, the sands of the Arena rose up into a column, sweeping away the last traces of the colored smoke. The column rose to a height of perhaps fifteen feet, then burst apart into a flock of white doves that flew quickly away, scattering in all directions and fluttering up out of the Arena. A single snowy feather fell from one bird’s wing, unnoticed until the wizard turned and pointed at it.
The feather grew, and changed, and became a white cat that fell to the sand, landing, catlike, on all fours. It did not run away or wash itself as an ordinary cat would have, but instead began chasing its tail, spinning faster and faster until Dumery could no longer make out anything but a blur.
When it suddenly stopped, the cat was black, from its whiskers to the tip of its tail.
It sat back on its haunches, and the wizard waved at it.
It grew, and became a panther.