Princess of Lanfor is now done and off to our wonderful editor, Sandra Nguyen! We're figuring about a month in her capable hands, then over to S Pro Designs to format it for publishing. With any luck it will be available for purchase late July to early August. Still, Kathryn and I are not resting on our laurels. Plans for Book 5, The Baron's Heart, are already in the works, and from what we've outlined so far, it is going to be as jammed packed with fun, excitement, and tense moments as Princess!
Speaking of tense moments, this week's excerpt focuses on that. This time the young heroes are up against a huge green dragon, a death machine incarnate. This is not just some large serpent, the creature has already wiped out an entire contingent of armed knights. With a frontal assault out of the question, Donnie offers to "sweet-talk" the fearsome creature into lowering its guard. As the itinerant elf approaches the fearsome creature, a familiar thought crosses his mind. Donnie, just what have you gotten yourself into this time? While Donatello ruminates over the folly of his latest decision, here is the excerpt from Princess of Lanfor:
Donnie peered through the open archway, the green dragon laying no more than twenty yards from the door. Though on its stomach, the great beast towered above him, its massive body reaching a height more than twice that of a man, not including the tall crest that ran along the length of its spine.
The great head curled in close to the body, turned sideways so that a single large eye faced the door where Donnie stood. Thankfully, that eye was closed. The dragon continued to breathe in heavy, rhythmic breaths, as if fast asleep. Though its mouth was shut, Donnie caught a glimpse of wicked, dagger-like teeth, protruding down the length of its jaw. The sight sent a cold shiver up his spine. Just one of those teeth could skewer me like a spit.
Donnie firmly pushed the thought aside. He had promised his friends he would do this, and he always kept his word. The anxious elf took a deep breath, then silently passed through the archway, out into the grassy clearing. The full light of the late morning sun fell upon Donnie’s face, causing him to momentarily flinch. Thankfully, his elven eyes quickly adjusted to the change in brightness, and he was able to focus once more on the dragon.
The great creature still loomed over him, its breathing deep and regular, that single great eye closed. Donnie let out long, silent breath, then took another couple of steps forward. Abruptly he froze—the dragon’s huge mouth suddenly opened, a deep rumbling voice emanating from it. “I don’t need to see or hear you. I can smell you, little elf.”
Donnie’s first instinct was to turn and run, but his knees had gone weak, and he found that he couldn’t move. Thankfully his wits had not entirely left him. He steeled himself, and spoke in as calm a tone as he could muster. “Well met, good sir!”
That had come out an octave higher than Donnie had wished. His reply was met by a deep rumbling sound that reverberated throughout the clearing. Donnie arched a single eyebrow. The dragon is laughing?
A moment later, that deep voice rumbled at him again. “Faced with certain death, and the best you can come up with is ‘well met’?”
Donnie gulped, his feet rooted firmly in place. Fortunately, his verbal talents kicked in, the words practically tumbling out of his mouth. “It was meant as an earnest greeting to one of such noble stature. I had heard of your arrival, and merely wanted to gaze at your magnificence for myself.”
That had come out a bit faster than he would have liked, but at least his voice hadn’t cracked that time. The dragon’s eye abruptly snapped open, a large black slit the size of Donnie’s head focusing on him. The tone of the dragon’s response was practically scathing. “Really?” The creature paused a moment, as the great head lifted a few feet off the ground. “And?”
It took every ounce of Donnie’s will to stop his knees from quaking together. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on the dragon, his voice filled with false reverence. “…and what I see most definitely lives up to your reputation. The stories say you single-handedly decimated an entire company of knights this last evening.”
Once again, a deep rumbling sound reverberated throughout the clearing. “Ah… so the little scamps that ran into the tower must have told you that. Good… now I’m glad that I let them get away.”
The dragon’s head lifted further, then spun around on its neck so that the large mouth faced Donnie. The slender elf involuntarily shivered as he gazed into that giant maw. An entire row of those deadly, dagger-like teeth lined its heavily curved jaw, looking perfectly capable of snapping a man, or elf, in half with one bite. A wicked-looking forked tongue flickering in and out from the great throat, easily wide enough to swallow him whole. It took every last bit of courage for Donnie not to spin around and scramble for the door.
The dragon’s deep voice rumbled across the clearing once more. “Maybe I’ll let one of you live after all… to spread my reputation.”
A glimmer of hope rose from somewhere deep within Donnie. The dragon was vain, as he had suspected. Donnie had dealt with pride before, and man, or dragon, it was something he could exploit. “Oh, and what a reputation it is!” Donnie cried warming up to the role he needed to play. “A destroyer of men and beast alike. A decimator of entire companies of warriors. A scourge to all human kind.”
The dragon laughed yet again, the evil sound sending chills up Donnie’s spine. “You paint an accurate picture of me little elf.”
A faint smile graced Donnie’s lips for the first time since he had accepted this deadly task. This was going better than he had hoped. The thin elf struck a nonchalant pose, crossing one leg over the other where he stood. “Well, I am an artist, after all.”
“Indeed,” the dragon rumbled, its serpent-like eyes firmly fixed on him. “Both an elf and an artist. I’ve never tasted one of those before. You will make an interesting snack.”
Donnie nearly jumped out of his skin as the great head slowly bore down on him. A quick glance over his shoulder showed him to be only a few yards from the archway. Yet even if he were to make it, he still had a fifty-foot run to the pillar in the center of the monolith. He would never make that in time.
Donnie had no choice but to go through with his plan, and hope to the gods that it worked. He threw up his hands, and cried out to the dragon. “Whoa there, great and noble creature. While I can think of no finer way to end my life, than serving as a snack for one as glorious as thou, it would be remiss of me not to offer to immortalize your likeness for all time.”
The dragon suddenly halted its menacing advance. For the first time in their conversation, the great creature sounded uncertain. “Eh? And just how do you propose to do that?”
Donnie forged on with his desperate ploy—the only thing now standing between him and certain death. “As I told you before, I am an artist. While I would make a meager meal at best for one such as yourself”—the wiry elf motioned with both hands at his thin form— “I am rather talented with the brush. If it would please you, allow me to paint your portrait. Consider it my gift to you.”
Donnie held his breath, uncertain if that last bit had been too much. The dragon glared at him in silence, causing the erstwhile artist to break out into a nervous sweat. Finally, the creature answered him, its deep voice filled with skepticism. “You would paint a portrait? Of me?”
Despite its apparent disbelief, Donnie detected an underlying hint of doubt in the creature. If he continued to play to its vanity, he might yet live to tell the tale. “Can you think of a grander subject than yourself?” Donnie spread his hands out in front of him. “Just think of it… these lesser creatures, Lords and Ladies of elves and men, constantly having their portraits painted. Shouldn’t a greater being such as yourself have one? Think of how splendid it would look.”
Donnie flashed a sparkling smile at the huge beast, hoping beyond hope that his ruse would work. The dragon still hesitated, appearing as if it were mulling over his idea. “Hmm,” a loud murmur escaped from the creature’s throat. A few seconds later, it addressed him again. “You make a salient point for a lesser being… and I suppose in payment for this ‘gift’ of yours, you would ask me to spare your puny life?”
All sorts of warning bells went off in Donnie’s head. He needed to be careful here—if he asked for too much, the dragon might decide to eat him here and now. Yet, if he asked for too little, the creature would know that he was up to more than just saving his own skin. “Well… I was hoping that if you really like your portrait, you might consider it.”
Those serpent-like eyes bore into him, making Donnie’s skin crawl. It was as if the dragon were trying to read his mind. Finally, the great beast reached a decision. “Very well, get out your implements. I shall grant you leave to capture my likeness on canvas. If you manage to portray my true splendor, then perhaps I shall not eat you after all.”
The dragon finished by baring its large row of teeth, another rumbling laugh emanating from its throat. The creature obviously enjoyed terrorizing its victims. Donnie had to admit, it was working—he was terrified. His mouth fell open, the words nervously spilling out of it. “I’ll do my best, your magnificence.
Just let me get out my brushes, and my paints, and my easel, and my canvas…”
Donnie swiftly doffed his pack, knelt, and pulled out everything he had just described. He stood up and unfolded his easel, noticing the dragon still watched him intently. Okay Donnie, you’ve got its attention. Now what?
Well, there you have it. Donnie has managed to survive this long. The question is how much longer can he keep up his ploy before he becomes the dragon's next snack? With luck you'll be able to find out for yourself later this summer. Anyway, that's it for this month's blog. In the next few months we will delve into the mysterious and reclusive Druids of Bendenwood, but first we will meet yet another new character in the series - Cyclone Stormbringer, Dragonslayer.