The Doe and the Dragon by Andrew Richardson
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Book Heat Level: violent
The Hunting Horn of Venedos died into the distance.
Einion Yrth's ears strained, but the sound was lost in the breeze and the clomping of his horse's hooves. "What say you, Majestic, to the notion we escape for a while?" The prince leaned forward in the saddle and patted the animal's white flank. "We can have some time to ourselves."
Majestic snorted a response.
"While my warriors seek a stag, we can explore the Gwynant Valley. We shall see if this place is as they say; with faeries and magic and evil around every turn." Einion eased the horse down a steep slope. He paused to push aside thick branches and guided Majestic around a jumble of boulders.
The beechs' autumn-red leaves dappled the sunlight.
At the River Glaslyn the prince stopped to pull a silver coin from his saddlebag. He tossed it into the water as they forded, at a place where the river was shallow and danced over her pebbles with a playful gurgle.
The Afon Glaslyn swallowed the gift with barely a ripple.
Einion gave the ford's god a silent prayer for safe passage. He looked and listened for any sign of evil.
An orange stream joined the Afon Glaslyn and Einion looked along her course. His eyes met the gauge in the earth, created when the Old People had mined the mountain's flanks for copper that still tinted her water. The ancient tear in the mountain's flank was deep and dark.
Einion pulled Lightning from her scabbard and kissed the bare iron. His eyes flitted among the rocks and beeches. The prince gazed at Yr Wyddfa's steep slopes and stilled, his heart pounding his ribs.
"Merlin's fortress. The citadel seems dead, Majestic. See the way the grass grows in tufts from the walls. If anyone was living there, they would maintain the place. You need not be afraid, friend."
The animal snorted.
"Men say two dragons dwell in a cave beneath the fortress. They say Merlin freed the beasts in the days when my father was my age. They say the dragons fought, and the red dragon defeated the white. The old druid saw their battle as a sign we would wipe the Saxons from Britain." Einion paused for a bitter laugh. "The Saxons have driven deeper into the south. It seems the great Merlin was mistaken."
I am Einion the Impetuous. I do not fear dragons and magic in this accursed valley, the prince told himself.
Still, his knuckles whitened around Lightning's hilt.
"If there are dragons here, friend, they are hiding well." Einion forced his weapon back into her scabbard, but almost immediately reined Majestic to a halt, his heart pounding his ribs.
What was that? He stilled, but the sound of music eluded him.
"Did you hear anything, boy?"
"I am sure I heard a noise." Einion slid down from the saddle and gave Majestic words of comfort as he tied the animal to a tree. "The grass here is lush. You will have a good meal while I seek out what I heard." He gave the horse's flank a reassuring pat.
Majestic swung his head around and whinnied again.
Einion turned and put a finger to his lips, urging the horse to calm.
Breath locked in the prince's throat as he heard the sound again; the tune carried to him on the breeze. He looked into the beeches, trying to peer through their leaves. He told himself he was hearing a trick of the wind dancing through the branches.
"No," Einion assured his horse as his hand found Lightning's hilt. He crouched behind a lichen-encrusted rock. "This is a flute I hear, not a joke played by the valley."
Catching his breath, Einion emerged from his hiding place. Crouching to avoid detection, he followed the river's bank downstream.
The sound reached him again. Melodic, but with an occasional blurred note. As if a gifted musician has a poor instrument that cannot match his talent. Einion swallowed. It is the faeries. They are playing enchanting music to entrap me.
He looked around then back up the valley.
I could turn around, and no one would ever know.
The Prince of Venedos pulled himself upright and pushed out his chest.
I would know. And I will not be afraid of a mere fairie.
He kissed Lightning's blade and strode toward the sound. His gaze flitted, seeking out spits and traps among the Gwynant Valley's scattered trees and jumbled rocks.
This is a story full of love, violence, magic, and revenge. It draws you in and makes you wonder about the time period, but leaves you with good happy ending.
Courtney Rene for Rogue's Angels