Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation
(The Torbrek Duology)by Lexi Revellian
Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation is the first book in the Torbrek Duology. Also available: the sequel Trav Zander.
Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation is an adventure story with daring deeds, dragons, friends, foes and romance - and no darned elves.
When Tor saves the Princess from the terrifying, fire-breathing dragon and delivers her to the handsome knight she is destined to marry, nothing is quite as it seems; the dragon is overweight and hasn't breathed fire for years; the Princess and her supposed suitor don't hit it off; and Tor shouldn't be in the rebel cavalry at all because she's a woman disguised as a man. Which doesn't help when she is attracted to a fellow soldier...
Meanwhile, studying the records of the legendary Hundred Knights, cold-blooded agent Corfe unearths a secret about Tor that even she is unaware of, a secret that makes ruthless King Skardroft very interested in her, and will change the outcome of the battle for the kingdom.
As the big doors closed behind her on Skardroft, Tor once more traversed the corridors between two guards, on the way to rooms prepared for her in the Palace. At least this time she could see where she was going. She glanced up at their faces, at the good-looking blond guard and his companion who seemed plain beside him, thinking she could take them both on and win (but then what? The palace seethed with guards, there were troops in the citadel; beyond that the town was patrolled and the gates guarded). The blond guard met her look with a sidelong smile, guessing her thought, and isolated as she was she warmed to him and smiled back.
Her rooms were high in a tower. They were equal to Skardroft’s for luxury, with wall hangings, eastern carpets over the tables and silver candelabra. A fine chess set of ivory and ebony, its board inlaid with gold, stood on a table; there were illustrated books and, in case she was musical, a lute leaned against a wall. A waiting servant asked what she would like to eat, bowed and left.
Tor walked through to the spacious bedroom. There was a canopied bed with a wolf-skin cover turned back at the foot, sheepskins on the floor and a mirror with a carved and gilded frame. A bathtub filled with hot water was ready for her, in its own little white tent to keep off the draughts, with thick linen towels beside it.
All the windows were barred, and she heard the guards bolt the door from the outside as the servant departed.
Tor sat on the bed, her head in her hands. She thought of her own bare room in the turret at the Dragon Tower, so different from these, and longed to be there. What, she thought with a homesick pang, would Xantilor be doing now? They must have missed her ages ago at the Castle. What would they think had happened to her?
And Skardroft…he was a murderous, callous tyrant. Before he knew who she was, he’d had Cramble burnt in an attempt to destroy her, and it was the merest chance she had escaped. Tor did not make the mistake of underestimating his ruthlessness, just because his manner to her had been friendly. After all, had she not been his blood relative, she would be dead, her dagger with the others on the wall. And now he hoped to win her round, a hopeless endeavour…surprised, she identified and squashed a tiny feeling of pity for him.
Tor shook herself and went over to the bath. Its steam smelled of sweet herbs, and rose petals floated invitingly. Her bruises were stiffening; she ached all over after the fight, and the hot water would help. It would be hours before dinner. She looked forward to the evening without enthusiasm.
Soaking agreeably, Tor considered her options. Escape was of course her priority. Meanwhile, she had a choice. She could spend however long she was going to be here tiptoeing round Skardroft, trying not to upset or annoy him because he had power of life and death over her. Alternatively, she could be herself and take the consequences. As soon as she had worked this out, she knew how she would choose to behave. She would not censor herself for him; she refused to become an amenable, eager-to-please version of herself.
If he did not like it, tough; he was the one who wanted her to be here.
The same blond guard and his colleague came to collect her when it was time. As the guard knocked on Skardroft’s imposing door, he glanced at her and caught her taking a deep lungful of air as she summoned her courage. He smiled and said under his breath, “Enjoy your dinner, won’t you?”
Tor entered the room, and saw Skardroft standing, the focus of attention among a group of five or six men. There was a murmur of laughter and appreciation; the King had told a joke. He caught sight of Tor and came to greet her and bring her into the circle. “This is my newfound grandson, Torbrek.”
The courtiers shook her hand in turn, each saying something pleasant. They seemed old to her, the youngest being over forty, and gave the impression of wariness around the King, as though they were being careful not to say anything injudicious. It did not make for a relaxing atmosphere. They watched him, their faces changing with his, listening attentively, ready to agree with anything he said. Sycophants; exactly what you’d expect a tyrant to have instead of friends.
When the King was ready, they went through to dinner, in a dark oak-panelled room. The table glittered with gold and silver. Besides the heavy cutlery there were elaborate candlesticks, goblets, a magnificent salt decorated with dragons, and hothouse flowers in golden vases.
Skardroft seated Tor next to him on his right. For several minutes there was a hush, while the servants helped them to food. Then the man on her other side, whose name she had not caught, turned politely to her. Small eyes weighed her up, while his fleshy, heavy-jowled face went through the motions of a smile. His plump body was more richly attired than the King’s. “Have you visited Tarragon before, Torbrek?”
Tor answered in her clear, rather deep voice, audible to everyone round the table, “No. It’s an unexpected trip…I was planning on coming later this year.” She looked at Skardroft. “With my friends.”
“And where is home when you’re not staying with your grandfather?”
“It used to be a sleepy little village called Cramble. Unfortunately my grandfather had it burnt to the ground a month or two ago. He does that. Bad habit of his.” Anger rose up in Tor, making her feel light and dangerous. She took a sip of wine. To a toast on the battlements of Tarragon…
The guest seemed in no hurry to speak again. He made a great business of helping himself to bread and butter. Skardroft, Tor was surprised to see, did not appear to be put out as she had expected and intended; rather he seemed privately amused at the man’s discomfiture, and interested to see what his response would be. Nobody else said anything. The silence lengthened. When at last the guest could not put off replying any longer, he swallowed, cleared his throat and said, “And so what have you been doing with yourself lately?”
“I joined King Urquin’s army. The cavalry. I’ve been there ever since, until I was kidnapped and brought here today. If you want to know what I’m doing next, you’ll have to ask Skardroft.”
A stunned silence. Covert glances were directed at the King, who maintained an impervious calm. Tor had a feeling he was enjoying himself. After that, the guests treated Tor with extreme caution, avoiding speaking to her as far as possible without being rude, and most of her exchanges were with her grandfather. Though she spoke her mind freely, Tor had the sense not to harangue him, and he seemed to relish their conversation.
While Skardroft was answering some observation from the man on his left, Tor said to her neighbour, “Have you known my grandfather long?”
“I’ve had that honour for many years; it must be, oh, thirty or more.”
“Did you help him invade Calambria?”
Skardroft stopped mid-sentence, and swivelled round to listen. Glancing from Tor to the King, the guest’s expression became uneasy. His mouth opened and shut.
“Were you a soldier?” Tor pursued heartlessly.
Skardroft laughed. “Gambon was one of Urquin’s courtiers. He thought he’d do better following me, didn’t you, Gambon? I made it worth his while.”
“Your majesty was most generous,” the man muttered, trying to smile.
“So not a soldier,” Tor concluded, picking up her fork. “A traitor.”
A moment’s suspense, then the King gave a great burst of laughter. Cautiously, his guests joined in, even Gambon doing his best to appear amused. “Torbrek, I can’t tell you what a delight it is to have someone at my table who says what he thinks. A pleasant change, a luxury kings seldom enjoy.” He glanced round at his guests and raised his goblet. “To Torbrek, my grandson.”
Six goblets were lifted.
Skardroft went to his bedchamber that night more cheerful than he had been for years, well pleased that he had brought Torbrek to Tarragon.
The boy was being a little recalcitrant, of course; that had to be expected when he was here against his will. But despite making it plain he would not give an inch, and his occasional barbed comments, Torbrek had shown himself prepared to converse with his grandfather, and had proved good company, quick-witted, spirited, and level-headed for his years.
It was all working out better than he could have hoped. Particularly after the regrettable business with Cramble. At the time it had been logical; they knew Attalor’s grandson lived there; were rightly certain he’d have been trained as a Knight. Skardroft’s orders had been, tell the villagers to hand over the Knight they harboured; if they refused, burn the village and the hidden enemy with it. It would encourage other villages to be less stubborn.
A thousand pities Corfe had not discovered Torbrek’s identity a few days before he did. Just four days – no, three – and Cramble would have been spared. Skardroft reflected that torching his home village, and everyone in it, was not the best start to his relationship with Torbrek. It had driven him into the arms of the rebels. If only he had known in time, he’d have gone himself to Cramble to talk to him. But it was done now, no going back; the main thing was that his grandson had escaped the inferno.
Skardroft smiled, remembering Torbrek at the dinner table, after he’d baited Gambon. The servant was pouring his brandy; he glowed with youth and health in the warm lamp-light, self-contained, his mouth curved in a slight smile. Watching Torbrek’s face, he’d thought; he’s so young, surely it’s not too late to change his beliefs and allegiance.
Skardroft had never bothered much about family. He’d had a wife, two sons and a daughter there in the background of his life should he ever need them, while he got on with more important matters. He hadn’t needed them very much. He had never really got to know them. Now they were all dead, and as he got older he began to regret having no child; no one of his own blood to mentor and take pride in; no one who would care when he died, and carry on where he left off.
On hearing about Torbrek, it seemed as though he had been given another chance. When they met, he was pleased to find in him a grandson he could be proud of. Unfortunately though, as the days went by and he got to know him better, he found the very qualities he valued in him made him intractable. He would have felt contempt for someone he could push around, but at the same time it was inconvenient that Torbrek was unpushable.
An intelligent man, he perceived the paradox, but being stubborn and accustomed to getting his own way, refused to admit defeat.
Having read and enjoyed Lexi's Remix, I was delighted to see she had written a couple of fantasy stories. I expecting good things of this, and it fully lived up to them.
The characters were very likable, the dragon was great fun and even the villain had his soft side, but that didn't stop it being a good exciting story. I thought it was a great touch to make the dragon lazy and unfit at the beginning rather than all-powerful and overwhelming. This is a light-hearted fun read that appeals both to children and adults, with a good female heroine in Torbrek and a touching bit of romance.
I also read and enjoyed the second in the series, and am hoping there will be a third at some stage.
From the Author
For years, I resisted writing because I knew I'd never be as good as Jane Austen. Finally I realized no one is as good as Jane Austen - I started writing and couldn't stop. I've sold over 60,000 ebooks.
My first two novels are fantasy (Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation and Trav Zander). The third, Remix, is contemporary fiction with elements of crime, investigation and romance, and tells what happens when Caz Tallis finds a strange man asleep on her roof terrace. He turns out to be - no, I'm not telling you, you'll have to read it to find out... My fourth, Replica, is a thriller. Beth Chandler is unknowingly replicated in a flawed experiment, and falls for the man who is hunting her double. Ice Diaries is a post-apocalyptic story with romance and humor. My latest is Wolf by the Ears, a thriller set in London.
My day job is designing and making jewelry and silver under my real name, Lexi Dick. I've made pieces for Margaret Thatcher, 10 Downing Street, and Her Majesty the Queen.