Welcome to the February 24th stop on the blog tour for The Betrayer by Nicole Conway, organized by Rockstar Book Tours. This is Dragonrider Heritage series book two, so you may also want to check out my post and review on the first book: Hunter) Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for more excerpt spotlights, reviews, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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About the Book
The Dragonrider Heritage Book Two
by Nicole Conway
Published 23 Februayr 2021
Genre: High Fantasy
Page Count: 248
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
The darkest secrets of Murdoc’s violent past may be their last hope.
As pressure mounts to find the Tibran witch, Devana, Thatcher and his companions struggle to regroup after discovering Phillip’s bitter betrayal. Forced into hiding while they await a new plan of attack from Prince Judan’s network of spies, tensions rise and threaten to tear their company apart. Murdoc knows every second they linger risks another attack from the vicious Ulfrangar Assassins or Phillip, but Reigh is determined to stay and await new instructions.
With two of his closest friends now locked in a battle of wills, Thatcher is caught in the middle—until a surprise assault by the Ulfrangar drags him into the darkest depths of their brutal order. Faced with a life-and-death race against time, Murdoc is the only one who might be able to save him now. But for Murdoc, taking up an assassin’s blade again to fight the same order that trained him will also mean facing the worst demons of his past.
Can Murdoc finally rise above his bloody past and save his only friend? Or does destiny have a new path in store for an assassin-turned-hero?
Thatcher Renley was, by far, the biggest idiot I had ever met in my entire life—and that’s saying something, because I’d also met Prince Reigh Farrow. He was in a close second. But at least he had enough common sense to know that this so-called hunt Queen Jenna and Jaevid Broadfeather had sent us on was essentially a glorified suicide mission. We were charging straight into a fight with a largely unknown Tibran witch, armed with only fragments of information about her abilities and location. And if that weren’t enough, there were only three competent fighters among our group—dragons included.
Granted, Reigh could manage decently against common enemies. He’d apparently been trained in combat by the Gray Elves, and their scouts had recently improved in their fighting ability. They must’ve stumbled across someone with an actual brain who was now training their scouts and warriors. Knowing that, Reigh had probably held his own fairly well in Luntharda. But we were a long way from the wild jungle, and sooner or later, that temper of his was going to cost him.
Phoebe was … well. Hmm. Perplexing, I guess. She fluttered around with her mad storm of red curls flying, bubbling like an excited child about the projects she was working on, and radiating a relentless optimism that sort of made me sick to my stomach after a while. Not that she annoyed me, really. It was just strange to be around someone that persistently happy all the time. Happiness wasn’t something I’d had much experience with.
Which brings me back to the biggest moron of them all who, unfortunately, was now both my primary concern and the bane of my existence. Thatcher was astronomically stupid. Honestly, it was staggering he’d survived as long as he had without someone following him around, smacking his hand whenever he was about to try something dangerous. He’d volunteered for this mission without having any combat training of any kind. He was a farrier’s son, for crying out loud, and was essentially the human personification of a dandelion puff. Short, scrawny, wide-eyed, and baby-faced—he didn’t have a prayer of surviving this mess unless someone watched over him constantly.
How, by all the Gods and Fates, I had wound up being that person was still beyond my understanding.
Ugh. Fine, fine. I’d done it by choice, I suppose. Sort of, anyway. I mean, sure, I could have left him there in that alleyway in Thornbend to die along with most of the other peasants and villagers. Maybe that would’ve been kinder in the long run—especially if we were all soaring toward a gruesome death right now. Still, in that moment, with all the world swallowed up in flames and that pitiful kid on the ground at my feet, I’d looked into his eyes as he spoke to me, offering me a different path I’d craved for so long. And I’d realized … no one had ever talked to me that way before. Like I was someone and not something. No one had ever treated me that way. No one had ever looked at me and regarded me like … a person.
So, I’d made a rash and irrevocable decision. A mistake, probably. But then again, I’d been swallowing back hopes of escaping that life—the life of an Ulfrangar assassin—for as long as I could remember. That night in Thornbend had been my first real opportunity. The only catch was, of course, keeping the baby-faced kid who kept calling me “friend” alive, too.
Thatcher treated everyone that way, though. It’s like there was no room in his mind for the possibility that a person really could be evil. Shocking, considering the vacant way he stared at me sometimes—like you could pass a twig through his ear and it would come out the other side and not hit anything in between.
At first, I’d just assumed he was incredibly sheltered or naïve. Maybe he was. But after our experience with Phoebe, finding out that she had been a Tibran, I’d expected him to reject her entirely. Anyone else probably would have. Whether out of shame or fear, she’d kept that information from everyone.
But Thatcher had insisted on helping her. He’d forgiven her without a second thought. He was stupid, yes. But he was also far kinder than anyone could ever deserve.
Least of all me.
He still called me his friend like it was nothing. He laughed and chatted with me as though he genuinely enjoyed my company and wanted me around. He kept chasing after me whenever I tried to put some safe distance between us. Didn’t he get it? Couldn’t he sense it at all? I was not a good person. I never had been. I’d accepted a long time ago that no matter where I went or what I did, the pack—the Ulfrangar—would always own me. They’d carved their mark upon my soul from the very beginning and nothing could erase it. Deep down, I would always be one of them.
Even now, sitting behind Reigh astride his lithe green dragon, the weight of their presence crushed down over my body from every side. They were everywhere and nowhere. They moved in shadow, lived in anonymity, and thrived on the constant stream of the world’s darkest secrets. There was no place I could hide, nowhere I could go that they wouldn’t be able to reach.
The more I thought about it, the harder it was to justify why I’d let Jaevid set me free—even if I knew the answer already. Because of Thatcher, the idiot. No one seemed to know what he’d done to provoke Devana and her new monstrous minion, Phillip. Maybe nothing. And honestly, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. They wouldn’t put a hand on him if I had anything to say about it. He’d called me a friend—someone who was like a brother to him—and that was enough. It was more than anyone else had ever done for me my entire life.
We cruised, riding the strong winds coming in from the sea along the eastern coastline. The tower of Eastwatch faded behind us, and far below, small villages and towns dotted the hills. Most were a safe distance from the steep cliffs that dropped into the toiling dark ocean—places where wild dragons liked to nest. But the farther we flew to the north, the more the cliffs gave way to rocky beaches. Fishing towns were built right up against the banks amidst the clusters of odd, hexagonal basalt columns and massive trunks of washed-up driftwood from Luntharda’s giant trees.
Dayrise stood just a few miles inland, stretching all the way to the sea where a large port was packed tight with big merchant ships. The vessels cruised in from the open sea, white sails puffed and banners fluttering high as flocks of seagulls chased them in. Most were probably owned by merchants happy to be sailing their trade routes again now that the Tibran war was over.
Not that I’d ever been to Dayrise myself, honestly. The Ulfrangar network spanned far beyond Maldobar’s borders, but the territory I’d been assigned to work was back down on the southern tip of the kingdom. I’d never had any reason to journey this far north.
Too bad it didn’t make me feel the least bit more secure.
A glimmer caught my eye far in the distance off our right side—the tell-tale flash of sunlight over glossy scales. A dragon. He was far off, maybe three miles on our tail, and had been since we left Eastwatch. From so far away, I couldn’t tell much else. Maybe it was just a security escort from the dragonriders keeping an eye on us from afar. Maybe it was a curious wild drake that’d caught wind of the dragoness in our group and was interested in her. I didn’t know.
And when it came to being followed, I hated not knowing.
The sight of those faraway scale flashes and the faint shape of great dark wings flapping put a pang of dread like a cold iron spike in my gut. I looked away and set my teeth against the rush of adrenaline that made my skin tingle and my heart pound like mad. I’d have to mention it to the others eventually. But not yet. I needed more information, first. To be sure this wasn’t some arrangement Jaevid had put in place because, well, he now knew what I was. He had every reason to be concerned and to want to keep a close eye on things.
Or on me, rather.
Reigh started our descent as we neared the city’s outer limits. I had no idea where we were supposed to go or who Jaevid Broadfeather had waiting for us. Hopefully not another noble with an estate we might accidentally burn down. Well, sort of accidentally, anyway. And technically we hadn’t been the one doing the burning, but I digress. Whatever. Burned is burned, I suppose.
Unlike Eastwatch, the city of Dayrise wasn’t one visited by dragonriders on military orders on a regular basis. There was no towering spire meant to house soldiers and mounts looming over the rooftops, and no high city walls topped with battlements. Not that we got any strange looks as our dragons circled outside the city’s outer limits. In fact, there were more than a dozen sizable inns crowded around the main roads leading in and out of the city’s tightly packed streets. Many of them were flanked by massive barns two or three stories tall intended to house dragons.
Reigh chose one closer to the port on the western side of the city and guided his green dragoness into a smooth landing. She cupped her wings and stretched out her hind legs, landing on the grass as elegantly as a swan on a pond.
Thatcher’s much larger orange drake landed next to us, shaking his black-horned head and puffing unhappy snorts through his nose. The dragon curled his long, striped tail around his legs and bristled, small ears turned back as those milky green eyes darted around.
I frowned. Thatcher trusted that beast wholeheartedly. But I’d seen it drag him across the horizon like caught prey once already. Thatcher had been lucky to walk away from that ordeal—luckier than anyone else seemed to want to acknowledge.
“Let’s get Vexi and Fornax settled here and find our contact,” Reigh called back to me as he straightened in the saddle. He pulled off his helmet, nearly slapping me in the face with the end of his long, sweaty braid in the process.
“This is an old city,” I muttered as I studied the road ahead that led into the narrow cobblestone streets. “Places like this tend to be dangerous after dark, and there’s only a few hours of daylight left. We should go quickly.”
He unbuckled and dismounted first, then stood sorting through his saddlebags while I climbed down. “I agree. Which is why I’m leaving you in charge of this.” Reigh took out a small drawstring purse, poured a few gold coins into his palm then tied it shut again and tossed it in my direction. “Our contact is supposed to meet us at the sign for the Crosswall Docks. They’re probably already waiting on us. Think you can find it? Taverns with dragon accommodations are harder to come by here, and we need to keep a low profile—meaning, we stay away from the ones farther into the city. So, I’ll settle up for the dragons here and meet you there.”
The purse jangled when I caught it, as though there were still quite a few coins tucked away inside. “You expect that to take a while? We need to stay together.” It wouldn’t take that long, of course. I knew that as well as he did—meaning he had another motive for wanting a few minutes alone.
“I’ve got some letters to send back to Luntharda. Shouldn’t take me more than an hour,” he replied, bowing his head to hide his face as he crammed the handful of coins into his pocket. Reigh’s emotions ran so close to the surface, it was ridiculously easy to read him even with his face angled away. Judging by the scarlet color his ears were turning, these must have been personal letters. Letters to a girl, most likely. Love letters. Ugh.
He would’ve made a terrible assassin.
“And who is it that I’m supposedly looking for at the docks?” I pocketed the bag of coins and ran a hand through my hair, trying in vain to get it out of my eyes. Months away from my former life had allowed it to grow out longer than it’d ever been before. I’d have to fix that soon.
Reigh’s expression scrunched as though he were trying to think—emphasis on trying. Complex thought didn’t seem to be one of his stronger qualities. “He didn’t say specifically. Just that we’re looking for another Broadfeather. His brother, probably. I can’t recall his first name, but I met him briefly after the war ended.”
“If we go on ahead, how do you intend to find us later?” I arched an eyebrow.
He shrugged. “Looking for someone named Broadfeather at Crosswall Docks? That’s plenty to go on. I’m sure someone can point me in the right direction.”
Fair point. A last name like that was one people generally remembered, after all.
“Did you see all the ships?” a sing-song voice chimed suddenly. Phoebe practically fluttered over to stand beside me, her red curls bobbing around her and her big, blue eyes shimmering with excitement. “Aren’t they beautiful? Can we go see them up close?”
Reigh’s entire demeanor soured as he stood straighter. “Didn’t see enough of them while you were sailing around with the Tibrans, conquering other kingdoms and slaughtering their people?” He growled every word through his teeth as he leered down at her.
She shrank back some, almost like she might duck behind me if he made a move toward her. “O-Oh, um, well, no. I mean, yes, I did have to sail with them. But Lord Argonox didn’t allow me to leave my cell or go up onto the deck during—” She stopped short and went quiet. Her brows drew together as she flicked speedy, nervous glances around everyone. “I-I’m sorry,” she stammered at last, as though she couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Reigh didn’t respond. Instead, he glowered down at her with his mouth mashed into a tight frown. His light amber eyes flashed with a mixture of wrath and what I could only guess was withheld terror.
I’d seen that look before from my Ulfrangar handler whenever I’d challenged or defied him, as though for the briefest instant he wasn’t sure if he should hold his ground or flee. And while I could sympathize to a degree—after all, Phoebe had apparently been the one in charge of all the magical experimentation for the Tibran Empire—she was about as threatening as a freshly-cut daisy on her own. She probably weighed seventy pounds to his one hundred and fifty or so.
Awkward silence hung in the air until Thatcher drifted over to join us, sporting his usual, blissfully vacant grin. “Are we staying here for the night?” he asked cheerily. “I’ve never stayed at an inn before. I thought Jaevid had arranged for us to stay with someone in the city?”
With a tight sigh, Reigh spun on a heel and gestured for Thatcher to follow him. “He did, but we’ve got to get the dragons settled and I’m betting yours will need extra assistance. So, come with me. Murdoc, you can take her and find our host. We’ll catch up.”
Phoebe didn’t say a word for a long time as she followed along close beside me. Lugging her bag of gear over my shoulder, I tried not to look her way more than necessary. According to Thatcher, I gave the impression that I was glaring whenever I stared at someone for too long. No need to make it worse.
Besides, one glance was all it took. The distant fogginess in her eyes as she stared down at the sidewalk put an uncomfortable tightness in my chest. I should say something, right? That was the normal thing to do. Wasn’t it? Gods and Fates, how was I supposed to know what normal was?
“You should stop apologizing,” I blurted before I could change my mind. My tone came out much harsher than I intended, as usual. Curse it all. I should have kept my mouth shut. Silence was always safer.
Phoebe tripped over an uneven stone. She staggered, and I snapped my free hand out. I seized her arm to hold her steady.
She let out a scream. Not a surprised little yelp—a real, primal, utterly terrified scream. Phoebe went completely stiff in my grasp, blinking up at me with her entire body trembling.
What? Why would she look at me like that—like I was about to do something terrible to her? I’d never raised a hand to her. Was it because she knew I was an Ulfrangar now?
Before I could ask or even say a word, her entire expression suddenly went blank again. Her body relaxed and she glanced around, seeming confused for a moment. “O-Oh! Murdoc! I-I guess you startled me.” She blinked up at me, face flushing almost as red as her hair. The forced, twitchy smile on her lips looked almost painful. “I’m so sor—um, I mean, thank you.”
I slowly let her go. “I … I didn’t mean stop apologizing in general. I meant stop apologizing to Reigh.”
Phoebe swallowed hard. Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, she fidgeted with the embroidered hem of her long tunic as her mouth scrunched up. “I, um, well, I mean he is right to hate me. I did—”
“I know what you did,” I interrupted as I began walking again. “Most everyone does now, right? But Queen Jenna forgave you. The Court of Crowns absolved you. You’ve apologized to everyone over and over, including Reigh. You’ve made changes to your life to become something better now. No one can ask any more of you than that.”
“But he still hates me, doesn’t he? He’d probably kill me if you and Thatcher weren’t here.” She trotted to catch up and fall in step next to me like before.
“There’s nothing you can do about that. You can’t change your past or erase what you’ve done. And because of that, some people will always hate you. Even if you do everything right from now on, it still won’t matter to them. They will never be able to see you as anything more than what you were,” I tried to explain without biting every bitter word through my teeth. “But that doesn’t mean you should go on groveling for forgiveness. You’ve done your part. Forgiving you is Reigh’s problem now. So let it go.”
She didn’t respond right away. For a few more blocks, she followed along in total silence while we wound our way through the city’s narrow streets toward the sea. Then I felt the pressure of her wide, blue-eyed gaze on me again. It hit me like the glare of the sun, making my skin tingle. “Aren’t you afraid that people won’t forgive you for being an Ulfrangar?”
I paused at a corner before a broad, open square. In the center, a white stone fountain sprayed ribbons of water around the bust of a man in battle armor. He stood tall and proud, his eyes seemingly focused right on me, with a helmet under his arm while his other hand rested on the pommel of the sword belted at his hip. A dragonrider, most likely. But not one I recognized.
“That’s different. I don’t expect them to forgive me, so it would be pointless to ask for it,” I confessed as I held the statue’s frozen gaze. “The people who know what I’ve done could never truly forgive me. Like King Jace. And the ones who don’t understand only offer their forgiveness because they don’t know any better.” I flicked a look down at her. “Like Thatcher.”
Her mouth scrunched into a dissatisfied little frown. “What about Lord Jaevid, then? He knows, doesn’t he?”
I couldn’t keep the irony from my tone. “No. Not really. He’s gotten a small taste of it, so now he’s suspicious. But he doesn’t understand the extent of what I am.”
“Well, I forgive you, Murdoc,” Phoebe announced, a rebellious crease in her brow. “So which am I, then? Someone who understands? Or someone who doesn’t?”
I had to think about that.
The Tibran Empire had paid hefty sums to hire out Ulfrangar assassins and spies throughout the war. Phoebe had probably seen others like me before, if only in passing. She’d certainly seen all of the evil and unbridled cruelty that could come from a man like Argonox. In fact, she had probably witnessed and experienced more of it than even she could remember. But did she really comprehend what I was? What I’d done to survive up to this point?
“Could you forgive Argonox?” I countered. “Or any of the soldiers who were in charge of keeping you obedient? What about the ones who put those marks on your skin?”
Her face slowly drained of color. “B-But you didn’t do tha—”
“I’m no different from them,” I cut her off quickly. “You strip away the emblems and the banners, the flags and the creeds, and you’re left with the same thing. At its roots, evil is evil, and it doesn’t matter what you dress it up in. That’s why deep down, I’ll always be what the Ulfrangar made me. I’ll carry their darkness in me until the day I die.”
“You really think that?” Her voice was hardly more than a whisper. “You truly believe you’re evil like Lord Argonox was?”
I set my jaw and looked away. No matter how I turned the words in my head, none of them sounded right. I couldn’t bring myself to answer. It wouldn’t matter anyway. Clearly, she couldn’t understand. We were nothing alike. Phoebe hadn’t chosen to become a Tibran. She hadn’t chosen to do all of the things Argonox had forced her to do. But there had been moments in my life, a few vile moments steeped in malice and blood, when I had. I could have rebelled then. I could have let the Ulfrangar kill me for my defiance and ended it there. But instead … I’d accepted that fate. Wanted it. Thrived on it.
Sometimes, I’d even enjoyed it.
That was the part of myself King Jace would never trust—the part Reigh, Thatcher, Jaevid, and Phoebe should have been disgusted by. But they didn’t know.
And I had no idea how to tell them.
Dragonrider Heritage Book One
by Nicole Conway
Published 24 November 2020
by Broadfeather Books
Genre: High Fantasy
Page Count: 352
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
Find out more from my review stop on that tour!
About the Author
Nicole is an award-winning, #1 international bestselling author from North Alabama. With a passion for relatable, authentic characters and exciting, fast-paced plots, Nicole is best known for her series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES. Other published works include THE DRAGONRIDER LEGACY SERIES, SPIRITS OF CHAOS SERIES, MAD MAGIC SAGA, and THE DRAGONRIDER HERITAGE SERIES (Coming Winter 2020).
1 lucky winner will win a signed finished copy of BETRAYER & swag, US Only.a Rafflecopter giveaway
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