Chapter 12
The Exiled Prince

Norland, Pendragon

When the seventeen petty kingdoms of Norland were put under the Pendragon's heel, their people were uprooted from their homes and forcibly settled in the newly constructed towns that ringed Pendragon Tower. The populations of the kingdoms were intermixed to disturb the balance of alliances and rivalries so that they could not easily band together in revolt.
This arrangement served to hold the uneasy peace and also left wide swaths of territory uninhabited. All the better for Forktongue's purposes.
He approached a tall warrior wearing a black wolfskin cloak. Indeed, he was so tall and broad-shouldered that the cloak required four pelts stitched together to cover him. Forktongue bowed low as he drew nearer.
"Blessings of the Mother be with you, my prince," he said in a strange tongue that seemed unnatural coming from human lips.
The warrior only gave him a scornful look. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath through his nostrils.
"I despise this borrowed form," he said. "Other than their stink about you, I can sense no trace of the humans near us. Let us be as the Mother intended."
"As you wish, my prince," Forktongue replied.
Forktongue and the warrior drew power into themselves. Their bodies glowed, their shapes twisted and grew to reveal their true forms. The warrior was a great Black Dragon, truly a fierce sight, but his right forelimb was strangely shriveled and stunted, clutching a lump of black crystal in its claws. Forktongue was much smaller and sleeker, his body long and serpentine, though he still greatly dwarfed any human.
"Better," the Black Dragon said. "Now, what business have you called me here for?"
"I thought you might be growing restless, my prince," Forktongue replied, "and desirous of news."
"I can wait a thousand years if I must," the Black Dragon sniffed dismissively, "but if there is news, get on with it."
Forktongue obediently bobbed his head, saying, "Of course, my prince. The time draws nigh. The pieces are all moving into place. The whelp will deliver the offering once the land has been thrown into chaos and then you will have the sacrifice of blood you need to harness the full power of the Blackrock. Once that has been accomplished, none will oppose your claim to the throne."
"I mislike relying on the humans and the whelp even more so," the Black Dragon said. "Will he truly do his part?"
"If he does not, I will personally deal with him."
Agitatedly, the Black Dragon dug at the ground with his claws.
"You can never trust a White," he said. "When I am King, I should exterminate them once and for all."
"By no means, my prince," Forktongue replied. "Hate them as you will, oppress them as they deserve, but all the Mother's children have their place in the grand scheme of life. It would bode ill for your reign to defy the Mother's will."
The Black Dragon snorted derisively. He was not so nearly fanatical a devotee to the Mother. She was long since gone, if she ever even existed in the first place. The world belonged to her children and only the strongest among them had any right to live.
Self-consciously, his eye went down to his malformed forelimb. It should have marked him for death, but ever since he was a hatchling, he fought for his right to live and soon he would receive power that would make him stronger than any Dragon.
"See that the whelp does his part," the Black Dragon said. "When all that you have promised is accomplished and I claim what is mine, you shall have your reward."
Forktongue bowed his head.
"Serving you is all the reward I desire, my prince."
The Black Dragon snorted again. Forktongue's show of being a simpering worm was just that. Just because he did not expose his greed to the world did not mean he had none. It mattered little, though. Once the Black Dragon was King, there was little that would be withheld from the one who played such a vital role in bringing it about.
The Black Dragon stretched out his wings and took to the skies, leaving Forktongue to his schemes. The long-awaited day was fast approaching. It could not come soon enough.