What Passed Before
The tale of John Aversin and Jenny Waynest, and their involvement with dragons and with the Realm of Belmarie, begins in the book
Aversin at first refuses to go. He is the Thane of the Winterlands, the last repository of law and government in the ruined and nearly empty province upon which the Kings in the South turned their backs nearly two centuries ago. However, Gareth promises him that if he slays the dragon, the King will send garrisons to protect the people of the Winterlands against both the barbarian Iceriders, and the incursions of bandits, which have plagued the land in the absence of royal law. Aversin assents, and he, his wife, Jenny Waynest—a witch of little training and severely limited powers—and Gareth ride south together.
In the city of Bel they discover that the true enemy is not the dragon, but a beautiful witch named Zyerne, who has enchanted the King with powers she is drawing from a Drinking Stone, a secret powersink of magical force that the gnomes had kept hidden in the Deep. She summoned the dragon to drive out the gnomes so that she could have the Stone all to herself. Since she derives her power not from slow learning but from the borrowed force of the Stone that she is not wise enough to use, she can now not get rid of the dragon, who is much stronger than she thought.
John Aversin fights the dragon, and is mortally wounded. Jenny, in her desperation to save John’s life, makes a bargain with Morkeleb, who was likewise mortally wounded in the fight: that she will use her magic to save the dragon’s life if Morkeleb will guide her into the Deep to find the medicines of the gnome Healers, so that she can then save John. In doing so she discovers the secret of the Drinking Stone, and in saving a dragon’s life, she learns the secret of the dragon’s name, and acquires mastery over him.
Jenny, John, Gareth, and the dragon Morkeleb forge an alliance with Gareth’s cousin, the rebel Master of Halnath, and with the gnome-witch Miss Mab, to defeat the evil Zyerne and destroy the Drinking Stone that gave her power. Morkeleb, who has fallen in love with Jenny, offers to transform her into a dragon herself, so that she may share the life of a dragon with him. Only after she agrees does she realize that she loves John more than the dragon, or the magic that has become hers when she took on dragon form. She asks Morkeleb to release her from dragon shape, and so great is the dragon’s love for her that he does.
Because Zyerne’s spells broke King Uriens’s mind, Gareth becomes Regent of the South and sends the garrisons, and the strong rule of royal law, that he promised. For four years, another of Gareth’s royal cousins, Rocklys of Galyon, commands the garrisons of the North. Then Rocklys is convinced by an old suitor of hers, the wizard Caradoc of Somanthus Isle, that Gareth is incompetent and that she, Rocklys, would make a better ruler, and it is at this point that the book
Unbeknownst to anyone at that time, Caradoc has been possessed by a demon named Folcalor, who seeks to gain mastery over the human realms of the earth by setting up Rocklys as a pawn. Folcalor, in Caradoc’s body, summons other demons to possess the bodies of wizards and dragons, forming an all-powerful corps to lead against Gareth. One of the first wizards seized by Folcalor is John and Jenny’s twelve-year-old son, Ian, taken when Jenny herself is away from home helping one of the garrisons deal with bandits. After desperately trying to get in touch with Jenny, and failing, John goes to the Skerries of Light, the islands in the far western ocean, to seek out Morkeleb’s help.
From Morkeleb he learns that exactly the same situation occurred a thousand years ago. Though ordinarily demons can be controlled by wizards with ward-spells, then—as, suddenly, now—demons acquired unheard-of powers, and, led by a demon-ridden wizard named Isychros, possessed both wizards and dragons to take over the ancient realm of Ernine. Folcalor, and his master, Adromelech the Arch-wight, were called in by the ancient wizards of Prokep to defeat the demons ruled by Isychros, demons who were banished behind a mirror wrought of indestructible meteor-iron. When the demons within them were destroyed, Morkeleb says, the wizards and the dragons all died.
Desperate, John and Jenny go south, to both warn Gareth and rescue Ian. Jenny discovers too late that the demons trap wizards through their magic; that in using her magic, she makes herself vulnerable to possession herself. She is possessed by a demon named Amayon, while her true soul is imprisoned in a green crystal that Folcalor is keeping—unknown to his King Adromelech—for secret purposes of his own. In trying to free her and Ian, and the other possessed wizards, John and the gnome-witch Miss Mab go to Ernine, and John passes beyond the Burning Mirror into the Hell that lies behind it. There he makes a bargain with the Demon Queen for the spells and the implements that will free the possessed mages from the demons’ influence. In return she demands a teind, a tribute: a piece of a star, the tears of a dragon, and a gift freely given to him by one who hates him. If he cannot bring her all three, he will become her slave in Hell.
Though John eventually tricks the Demon Queen and wins back his soul from danger, he is branded a trafficker with demons by Gareth’s councilor, Ector of Sindestray. The spells he obtained from her free the wizards Folcalor has trapped. In pursuing Folcalor—still in the body of the mage Caradoc—Jenny and Morkeleb slay Caradoc beneath the sea in a battle whose virulence strips Jenny of her powers. Morkeleb cannot help her, for between his love for her and his own battles with the demons, he has renounced most of his own magic, as he once renounced the gold to which all dragons are addicted. He has passed beyond material existence and become a Dragonshadow, a creature of the legends of the dragons of whom few mortals have ever even heard.
The demons appear to have been defeated, but the psychological toll on everyone concerned is devastating. Jenny and Ian—and the other surviving wizard of Folcalor’s corps, Bliaud—discover that once one has been possessed by a demon, one is plagued by desperate feelings of longing and grief. At the outset of
Before Jenny can return to speak to John, John is visited by the Demon Queen, Aohila. The Queen extorts his services in looking for a man who, she says, betrayed her. She sends him on a quest through various Hells, with Jenny’s former possessing demon, Amayon, as a guide. In freeing Jenny, John captured Amayon and turned him over to Aohila for torture and vengeance; Amayon is an equivocal companion at best.
On her way to Alyn Hold, Jenny discovers that the demons, far from being gone, are growing in numbers, possessing the bodies of the dead. They are also buying slaves from the gnomes, slaves who have no apparent use in the gnomes’ mines—John was warned of this earlier by a former mineslave named Brâk, whom he helped to free on his way to the Skerries of Light. Realizing that Folcalor is still at large and still plotting, Jenny and Ian seek to retrieve the talisman jewel that still holds the soul of the mage Caradoc, which was lost in the sea during the final battle. Though the whalemages bring it to her, Jenny is forced to drop the jewel, which falls back into the sea and takes over the corpse of a drowned sailor. In this corpse, Caradoc attempts to drown Ian so that he can take over the boy’s body and thus have the use of his magic. Jenny drives him away, and he flees.
After passing through several Hells, John comes to another world, where magic does not work and where Aohila’s betrayer is hiding. He is a scientist of ether physics named Corvin NinetyfiveFifty, and demons working for both Folcalor and Folcalor’s ruler, the Arch-wight Adromelech, are hunting him there. John falls in with a group of men and women, the League of the White Black Bird, who claim that they would be wizards if magic existed. One of them, Shamble, gives him a sword, which he says is spelled against demons. John knows that this world is a true world and not simply another Hell, because the stars are the same, including a comet that has appeared, which is called the Dragonstar, and that appea ...