Time for a preview of Sorcha’s Heart. This novella started out as a short story, grew into a prequel novella, and formed the foundation for four novels. Not bad for a little tale about dragons and sorceresses!
by Debbie Mumford
The Heart of Fire
Sorcha knotted her fists so tightly her knuckles whitened. She glared at her mother across the rough oak worktable. “When are you going to acknowledge me as a fully capable wizard? I’m not an apprentice anymore. I don’t need your permission to seek the Heart of Fire.”
“Fine,” Elspeth shot back, “but I’m warning you this is a mistake. The Heart of Fire is dangerous.” The small, compact woman stretched to reach the braid of garlic hanging from the beam above her head, yanked a bulb loose and tossed it to her daughter.
“So is this war!” Sorcha caught the bulb by reflex, slammed it on the table and separated out three cloves for the strengthening potion. Her gaze never left her mother. “Don’t you realize how powerful dragons are? If Leofric continues on his present course, he’ll push them too far. They’ll wipe us off the face of the earth.”
Fear flashed across Elspeth’s face, and Sorcha knew that her mother agreed; the King’s recent aggressive actions could have serious repercussions.
Sorcha’s mood softened. She picked up her paring knife and began to chop the cloves, pondering the enigma of the woman who had given her not only life, but a heritage of magic. Because of that heritage, strangers often assumed they were sisters rather than mother and child. Elspeth’s long, dark hair sported only an occasional strand of gray. Trim, active, healthy. These words described both Sorcha and her mother. Neither of them possessed the lush curves so desired by other women at court, but neither really noted the lack, being too concerned with the practice of magic to worry about attracting the opposite sex.
Elspeth’s bright green eyes glowed with fervent belief and wily intelligence. Sorcha shared her mother’s fervency and intelligence, but not her eyes. She had inherited her unknown father’s eyes; deep blue, with an exotic slant that engendered frequent comparisons to cats’ eyes.
“Yes. I do understand,” Elspeth said with calm assurance, “and I’m trying to convince Leofric how dangerous his present policy is.”
Sorcha opened her mouth to push home her advantage, but Elspeth held up a slim hand to stem the flow of words.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice my only child.” She leaned forward, eyes wide, pleading and vulnerable. “Leave the Heart of Fire alone. It might end this war, but at what cost? Sorcha, you have no idea what that amulet will require as payment for its power.”
A shiver ran down Sorcha’s spine and she made a reflexive warding sign as she wiped her hands on the tattered hem of her potion-making apron.
The quiet waters of the isolated lagoon unnerved Sorcha. She knew a distant barrier reef protected the soft sand from the harsh pounding of the tide’s ebb and flow, but she longed for the accustomed roar of surf—and home. The skirt of her simple shift and tunic tugged damply at her ankles as she prowled the water’s edge. Her eyes darted warily from the aspen thickets that climbed the hill to the north, to the open path winding southward among the dunes covered in beach grass. She might have been the only living creature on the earth.
As much to reassure herself of her own existence as for something to do, she bent to stare into the unnaturally still water. A cool breeze tickled her nose with the scent of seaweed, and tugged a few wayward hairs from her tightly woven braid as she gazed at her reflection in the sparse predawn light.
Tension mounted as she waited for the perfect moment. Unable to remain still, she straightened, searching the sky’s melting darkness. Only fading stars and dawn’s awakening color met her restless gaze.
She must complete her quest, must recover the Heart of Fire. Humanity’s existence depended on her success.
The warning, when it came, took the form of tingling skin as all the tiny hairs from neck to wrists rose in unison. The dragon soared into sight above the aspen covered hill, and Sorcha fought the instinct to run. Instead, she stood her ground and watched him land at the edge of the lagoon. Gods and goddesses, he was longer than the house she shared with her mother! He had to measure thirty feet from his deadly looking teeth to the triangular tail-tip that splashed the lagoon’s still water. He folded leathery wings flat against glistening black scales, and turned his massive head, piercing her with a fiery gaze.
“Greetings, little wizard,” he said, his rough voice conjuring wind-swept crags and the barren isolation of frozen wastes. “It seems the Heart of Fire requires more than one witness to its rebirth.”
“Y-you know about the Heart of Fire?” she stammered. Her heart thundered, causing the pulse in her temple to throb and her ears to ring. She fought to calm herself, to retain the razor- edge of her intellect as she confronted her hereditary enemy. Human versus dragon; their skirmishes consumed her homeland, and now that King Leofric had initiated a more aggressive policy for his knights, she feared humanity’s annihilation.
The dragon’s huge maw twisted in what she hoped was a smile. “Of course, little wizard. Who do you think forged the medallion? Human wizards could not bend the stone’s power to their will long enough to contain it in a prison of gold.” He snorted at the thought and ejected a thin finger of flame. “Only a flight of dragons could create the Heart of Fire.”
“If wizards are so weak,” she said, standing tall, chin high in defiance, “why has it called me to bring it to light?” Understanding dawned, and she continued recklessly, ignoring the lingering smell of sulfur, “You are here to witness what I’ve been called to do!”
The dragon lowered his head and studied her closely. “Well spoken, little wizard.” He paused, blinked, lower lid rising to cover his slit-pupiled, red eye. “What is your name?”
Sorcha swallowed hard and tried to ignore the fear that knotted her stomach. “I will not trade names with a dragon. Now stand aside. I have work to complete.”
He jerked his head back and unfurled his wings. The brightening sky vanished behind a curtain of shadow.
“You dare insult me? Order me like a common dog?” His words thundered, rending the morning’s soft peace. “I could devour you in a single bite!”
Though her legs wobbled and threatened to collapse, Sorcha stood her ground. She clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering, and prayed she wouldn’t squeak when she found her voice.
“But you won’t,” she said, amazed at the coolness of her tone. “The stone called me to find it. You need me. If you didn’t, I’d already be dragon fodder.”
The massive beast refolded his wings and the returning light warmed Sorcha’s taut face. He shuffled his four huge clawed feet and settled himself on the lagoon’s sandy beach.
“Very well,” he said. “Call the stone. I’ll not hinder your efforts.” He laid his huge head upon his front feet, reminding Sorcha of her mother’s sleek black tomcat.
She clung to her mother’s image; Elspeth wouldn’t let a dragon destroy her hard-earned competence. Sorcha’s heart rate slowed and the pounding in her temple subsided as she focused on her mother’s teaching. Concentrating on the runes she’d recently discovered and taken such pains to memorize, she turned to face a large rock that broke the water’s surface a short distance from shore. She removed her leather boots, tossed them into the stiff beach grass, and stepped forward into the water, placing her bare feet in firm contact with the threshold between land and sea.
She lifted her hands in supplication and chanted the runes, giving voice to long dead syllables of an incantation ancient before her kingdom sprang to life. Behind her, she felt, as much as heard, the dragon’s low rumble as he hummed a counterpoint to her invocation.
The runes of summoning wove the triune threshold (not sea—not land; not day—not night; not dragon—not human) into a knife with which to rend the fabric of time and space. The water surrounding the rock sizzled and vaporized as the granite glowed red, turned to lava and flowed away to congeal on the lagoon’s floor. A blue-green sphere remained, hovered above the steaming mass for a moment, and then flew to Sorcha’s outstretched hands.
A cool mist of salt water kissed her fingers before the sphere evaporated and the medallion fell into her palm. Gold filigree encircled a fire opal the size of her fist. The whole dangled from an extremely long, finely wrought, gold-link chain.
Elation overwhelmed her and she whooped with joy, squeezing the medallion to her chest. The Heart of Fire pulsed in her hand. She felt the raw power straining to be free, to escape the control of the sigil-worked gold filigree setting. She had done it! Despite her mother’s dire warnings…
“Well done, little wizard,” growled a whirlwind of sound. “Now give the stone to me.”
Gods and goddesses, she’d forgotten the dragon! Sorcha whirled to face her adversary, agile mind searching for avenues of escape.
“The stone? Oh, well,” she said, desperate to buy time. She’d think of something. She had to think of something! “I don’t think so. I mean, I can’t just hand over this much power.” Her voice rose to an undignified pitch. “You could decimate my people!”
His laughter, a landslide of pebbles skittering down a slope of shale, jeered at her. “You don’t have a choice. I needed you to bring the medallion out of hiding, but now that task is finished.”
He rose above her, a mountain of muscle, black and menacing. In sheer defiance, Sorcha lifted the Heart of Fire and dropped its chain around her neck. The medallion thudded against her left thigh—and she knew she’d solved nothing. The dragon would slice her in two with one swipe of his claw and pull the opal from her quivering flesh.
“No!” The cry thundered across the lagoon, lashing Sorcha’s mind with echoes of utter wretchedness. Her vision darkened and she wondered who had screamed; it had sounded more human than draconic.
Waves of pain rolled over her, tumbling her body against an unaccountably hard surface. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, didn’t understand what was happening. Air. Her lungs seared with a desperate need for air. She clawed her way to rational thought, forced her chest to expand, and gasped lungfuls of sweet, moist air into her tortured body.
She lay heaving and panting on the beach. The familiar scents of salt and seaweed, far from comforting her, inspired a violent urge to retch. She concentrated on quelling her unhappy stomach and attempted to lift her head. Pain swamped her mind and she desisted. Keeping her eyes tightly shut, she dug her claws into the damp sand, and willed her body to relax.
“Rest, little one. I am here.” The dragon’s voice, a soft rumble of distant thunder, comforted her. She wondered why, but before she could think of an answer, exhaustion conquered her anguished body and she slept.
Want to know what happens next? Find Sorcha’s Heart at your favorite online bookseller!
Want to read the entire series? Find my Sorcha’s Children Omnibus Edition here!