Yes, Swordmaster, eleven voices yelled.
Please, if you allow, Ill try again, I said. Another cramp twisted through my body but I didnt move.
No, Eon-jah. Get back in the circle.
I saw a riffle of unease run through the other eleven candidates. Ranne had added jah, the old ward against evil, to my name. I bowed and crossed my swords in salute, imagining the feel of driving both blades through his chest. Behind Ranne, the huge opaque form of the Tiger Dragon uncoiled and stared at me. He always seemed to rouse with my anger. I concentrated on the Rabbit Dragon, bringing him into shimmering outline, hoping the Keeper of Peace would help calm my rage.
In the candidate circle, Dillon shifted and looked around the arena. Had he sensed the dragons? He was more aware than the others, but even he couldnt see an energy dragon without meditating for hours. I was the only candidate who could see all of the dragons at will, not counting the Mirror Dragon, of course, who had been lost long ago. It took all my focus to see the spirit beasts and left me weary, but it was the only thing that had made the last two years of hard training bearable. It was also the only reason why a cripple like me was allowed to stand as a candidate - full dragon sight was rare, although, as Swordmaster Ranne liked to remind me, no guarantee of success.
Get back in the circle. Now! Ranne yelled.
I tensed and stepped back. Too fast. The sand shifted under my bad leg, wrenching it to the right. I hit the ground, hard. One heartbeat of numbed shock, then the pain came. Shoulder, hip, knee. My hip! Had I done more harm to my hip? I reached across my body, digging my fingers through skin and muscle to feel the malformed hip bone. No, there was no pain. It was whole. And the other aches were already fading.
Dillon shuffled forward on his knees, spraying sand into the air, his eyes wide with concern. Little fool - he would only make things worse.
Eon, are you . . . ?
Dont break formation, Ranne snapped. He kicked at me. Get up, Eon-jah. Youre an insult to the Dragoneye profession. Get up.
I struggled to my hands and knees, ready to roll if he kicked again. There was no blow. I grabbed my swords and pushed myself upright, another cramp catching me as I straightened. It wouldnt be long now; I had to get back to my master, before the blood showed. Ever since my body had first betrayed us six months ago, my master had kept a supply of soft cloths and sea sponges locked away in his library, away from prying eyes.
The half-hour bell had just rung - if Ranne gave me leave, I could get to the house and back again by the full hour.
Swordmaster, may I withdraw from practice until the next bell? I asked. My head was respectfully bowed, but I kept my eyes on Rannes blunt, stubborn features. He was probably born in an Ox year. Or maybe he was a Goat.
Ranne shrugged. Return your swords to armory, Eon-jah, and dont bother coming back. Another few hours of practice wont improve your chances tomorrow. He turned his back, calling his favorite, Baret, to take my place on the sand. I was dismissed.
Dillon looked over at me, his face worried. We were the weakest candidates. He was of age - twelve, like all the boys in the circle - but as small as an eight-year-old, and I was lame. In the past, we wouldnt even have been considered as Dragoneye candidates. Neither of us was expected to be chosen by the Rat Dragon in the ceremony tomorrow. All the gambling rings had Dillon at a 30:1 chance. I was at 1000:1. The odds might be against us, but even the council did not know how a dragon made its choice. I pretended to yawn at Rannes back, waiting for Dillon to smile. His mouth twitched up, but the lines of tension did not ease.
Excerpted from Eon by Alison Goodman. Copyright © 2008 by Alison Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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