Preview of The Reluctant Dragonrider

This is the first chapter of my new novel, The Reluctant Dragonrider. As you'll know if you've been following my blog, it's a sequel to 2014's The Accidental Dragonrider. It's the story of Tiwan, the daughter of Iko, the protagonist of the earlier book.

Tiwan was seven when the dragon first came to visit.

She was in the garden of the monastery, playing hunters and quarries with her friend Revath. Tiwan stood against a wall, watching for Revath as he tried to sneak up on her without being seen. A door seemed to open in her mind, as if she’d remembered something she hadn’t realised she’d forgotten. Before she could wonder what this meant, she heard Papa calling her name.

A moment later, Revath popped up from behind a nearby bush. “You said you’d done all your chores.” He scowled, as though suspecting her of arranging this to avoid losing the game.

Papa called her name again, louder. She jogged towards the sound.

“There you are,” Papa said, coming round the corner of the monastery’s main building. He glanced at the clear sky overhead. “Tiwan, Revath, I, ah, I need you to go to the archives and, uh, lie down in the corridor between the Old Nuhysean and the Asdanundish sections. Be very quiet and don’t come out until I fetch you.”

“It’s too nice a day to be stuck indoors reading,” Tiwan replied, repeating something she’d heard Mama say a lot lately. “Can’t we play in the east courtyard instead? We won’t be any trouble, promise.”

Papa checked the sky again. Did he think it was going to rain? There wasn’t a cloud to be seen.

“Just go. Please. There isn’t much time.”

Tiwan stomped her foot. “This isn’t fair! We haven’t done anything wrong!”

“I know you haven’t, dear heart. Just do as you’re told.”

Revath tugged at her wrist, as if going to the archives had been his idea all along. She followed, dragging her feet, torn between wanting to please Papa and not wanting to let Revath think he could boss her around. She glanced over her shoulder to see Papa marching towards the main courtyard.

Inside the archives was pleasantly cool. Papa had told her this was good for the books. The shelves were mostly empty, though Tiwan had never understood why.

“What did you do?” Revath asked as he led her into the Old Nuhysean section.

“I didn’t do anything! That’s what’s so unfair!”

“Your Papa said be quiet.”

That gave her an idea. “What if we play hunters and quarries but don’t count aloud, and then—” Brightness struck her eyes, as if she’d stepped from a dark room into sunlight. She threw her arms around Revath to keep herself from falling.

“Hey!” Revath exclaimed.

A loud thump shook the room, felt more than heard. Shelves rattled, and showers of dust fell from the ceiling. A thick silence descended.

Eyes wide, Revath eased Tiwan’s arms off him and nodded towards the corridor that led to the Asdanundish section.

“It’s not safe,” Tiwan said. “Something’s fallen out of the sky onto the roof. That’s why Papa kept looking up. We should get out.”

He put a finger to her lips. “Your Papa knows what he’s doing. He wouldn’t have said to come here if it wasn’t safe.” He started towards the corridor.

A deep rumbling came from outside, accompanied by a breeze that carried smells of burnt and rotting meat. Tiwan ran to the corridor and threw herself on the floor, whimpering. Moments later, Revath dropped to her side. He slid an arm around her.

“Hush, little one, everything’s going to be all right.”

“There’s a monster outside a huge monster it’s going to eat us up please Kashalbe forgive my sins please Mazor guard me I’ll be good I’ll do anything I swear it…”

Revath patted her shoulder. “Be quiet,” he whispered.

Iko. A voice, louder than she’d thought any voice could be, speaking Papa’s name, right behind her. She screamed and tried to stand, but Revath held her down.

She struggled against his grip. “The monster’s in here.

He twisted to look behind them. “Nothing there.” He gave a nervous laugh.

“I heard it call Papa’s name.”

“I didn’t hear anything.”


“Don’t you dare call me that!”

She punched him—​not nearly as hard as he deserved, but hard enough to make him let go of her—​and jumped to her feet.

The Old Nuhysean section was empty.

“Come back here!” Revath said. “Your Papa will be angry with us!”

Are you Iko? Can you hear me?

The monster was behind her! She spun round, seeing nothing.

“It spoke again,” she whispered. It must be in the Asdanundish section. How had it moved without making a sound? She took a few hesitant paces in that direction, then stopped, aware that moving towards a monster that wanted to eat you was perhaps not the most sensible thing to do.

“Stop pretending you can hear a monster,” said Revath.

She turned, wanting to kick him. “I’m not pretending. It’s the loudest thing I ever heard. Louder than a thunderstorm. Louder than—​than the cobbler hawking his wares.”

“Tiwan, we can’t play games now,” said Revath. He stood, holding out a hand to her. “We have to do as your Papa says.”

“I’m not—​playing—​games.”

I have come. There was a long pause, and Tiwan turned through a full circle, still not seeing the monster. I have come because my kind require the assistance of a rider.

From a great distance came a sound that might have been someone laughing.

“We have to warn Papa,” Tiwan whispered.

“Warn him about what?”

“The monster’s come for him, but he’s out there and it’s in here. We’ll be safer with him.” She started for the Old Nuhysean section.

“There isn’t a monster, you goose. You come back here and lie down, or I’ll tell him it was you who broke that plate yesterday.”

A few minutes ago, such a threat would’ve had her rushing to obey, but she had far more important things to worry about now. “If you want to let the monster eat you and die with your sins unforgiven, that’s up to you. I’m going to find Papa.”

She crept through the Old Nuhysean section towards the exit. Remembering what she’d learned from playing hunters and quarries, she made use of the pillars and bookcases as cover. She expected at any moment to feel Revath’s hand, or worse, the monster’s claws, on her shoulder. But she reached the exit safely. She took a deep breath and slipped outside.

The smell of burnt and rotting meat was stronger here, and she almost gagged. She clapped a hand over her mouth and sprinted for the garden.

No sign of Papa. As she tried to think where he might have gone, she heard the monster’s voice again.

A race of beings exists in the ocean of our world.

It was still right behind her! How could it have followed without her hearing it? She grabbed a stick from a nearby flower bed and turned, swinging it like a sword.

Nothing there.

For most of remembered history, they have co-existed peacefully with my kind.

Again, the monster was behind her. Again, she spun round. Again, nothing there.

“Stop that, you bully,” she hissed. “This isn’t fair.”

A few years ago, as you reckon it, they began a series of unprovoked attacks on our homes and our people.

Tiwan lowered the stick. This monster didn’t sound like something that wanted to eat her. Apart from the fact it was always behind her, it didn’t seem to be interested in her at all.

“Papa!” she shouted.

She heard running footsteps, and Papa came hurtling round the corner, hand raised as though to smack her. “You naughty girl!” He skidded to a halt on the gravel. “I told you to stay in the archives.”

She dropped the stick. “We went to the archives, but we heard a loud bang and an invisible monster started following me. It smells bad.”

Papa frowned. “There’s no such thing as an invisible monster.” He pointed to the archives. “Just—​go. Please.”

“The monster keeps talking right behind me in a really loud voice and when I turn around it’s never there. I think it wants to talk to you. It said your name a couple of times and then it said a lot of things I didn’t understand. What does ‘unprovoked’ mean?”

Papa said a very bad word.

Tiwan clapped her hands over her ears. “Mazor guard me Kashalbe guide me Mazor guard me Kashalbe guide—”

Papa pulled one of her hands away. “I’m sorry, dear heart. Don’t pay any attention to the monster, no matter what it says. I promise you—​I’ll swear by any God you like, you and Revath and I are all perfectly safe, but this is something I need to do on my own. Now will you please—​for all our sakes—​go back to the archives and stay there until I come and find you. Will you be a good girl and do that for me?”

Mutely, she nodded, then traipsed towards the archives. After half a dozen steps, she looked behind her. Papa hadn’t moved. He stood with his arms folded, the way he did when he was about to lose his temper with her. She picked up her pace.

Inside the archives, she hid behind the end of the bookcase nearest the entrance and counted to twenty.

What was that about? the monster said.

Tiwan gasped. She crept round the back of the bookcase, so she couldn’t be seen from the entrance, then moved to the side of the entrance and peered out. Papa had left the garden.

“Little one, come back here.” Revath’s voice echoed from further in. She ignored him. “I’ll tell your Papa you ran out.”

“He already knows. Stay there.” Disobedience was a terrible sin, she knew, but curiosity burned in her. She stuck her head out of the entrance. Papa wasn’t there.

We require information that will allow us to defeat our enemy and secure our homes, the monster said.

Staying next to the wall, Tiwan padded towards the main courtyard, where she’d seen Papa come from. The smell grew stronger as she moved. Halfway there, she heard a slow rasping noise, like someone sawing down a tree.

The monster said, We would consider ourselves in your debt.

At the corner of the archive building, Tiwan pressed her body against the wall and edged her head past it.

In the main courtyard stood the monster. The smell was almost strong enough to knock her off her feet. The monster resembled the lizards that liked to sun themselves on the rocks by the wharves, but was huge—​almost too big to fit into the space. Its scales were dark red, the colour of a scab. Its mouth, full of sharp white teeth, was half-open, and a floppy tongue hung out of one side. She realised the sawing noise she’d heard was the monster’s breathing. It held one of its front feet slightly off the ground, as though it was injured.

That is one thing we cannot do. The monster spoke without moving its mouth. Or were there two monsters?

A much quieter voice came from the same place behind her as the monster’s. Then we have nothing further to say to one another.

That was Papa! Oh Mazor, he’d know she’d disobeyed him. She’d get such a paddling—

She spun round. Papa wasn’t there. A rustling from the courtyard made her turn back to the monster. It had spread a pair of enormous wings and was flexing them as though not quite sure how they worked. How could she have been so stupid? This wasn’t a monster, it was a dragon.

Papa stood before the dragon, arms folded, close enough for it to snatch him in its jaws if it wanted to eat him. He’d hardly be more than a snack to something that size.

I will return presently to see whether you have changed your mind, the dragon said.

I won’t, Papa replied. How was his voice coming from behind her when he was so far in front of her?

The dragon closed its mouth and crouched. The foot she’d decided was injured touched the ground and jerked up. Its eyes widened, and it hissed. Then it jumped straight up, higher than Papa’s head. She braced for it to crash onto the flagstones, but instead it beat its wings and rose into the air, buffeting her with a wave of grit and sand. It forced its way upwards like a man rowing a dinghy against the tide, seemingly climbing by sheer determination.

Papa watched the dragon as it began to spiral, the way gulls sometimes did when gaining height. From a distance it looked more graceful than it had on the ground.

Tiwan ran back to the archives before Papa could find out she’d been spying on him. Revath was still in the corridor where Papa had told them to wait, sitting against the wall, legs drawn up, arms around his shins. At the sound of her footsteps, he looked up and dragged a hand across his face.

“You are going to be in so much trouble,” he whispered as she sat next to him.

“Tiwan? Revath? You can come out now.” Papa’s voice came from the entrance. They stood up, and Tiwan ran to him. He lifted her off her feet in a tight hug, but didn’t growl like a bear the way he usually did. He groaned as he set her down. “I think you’re getting a bit too big for that, dear heart.”

She stared at the floor. Had he known she’d been watching?

“Revath, has your father gone fishing today?” Papa asked.

“No Sir.”

“Then run down to the village and ask him to come here.” After a moment, he added, “Tell him Athera came back.”

Thanks for reading this sample of The Reluctant Dragonrider. Watch this space for news of the book's release!
 •  1 comment  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 25, 2017 15:22 Tags: preview
Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Steven (new)

Steven Pemberton The Reluctant Dragonrider is now on sale. See this page on my website for details of where to buy a copy.

back to top