A flame burns at midnight. On an island in the wild Marram Marshes, a young woman holds up a lantern. Her long dark hair blows in the warm wind, salty from the sea; the lantern light glints off the gold circlet around her head and the golden edging to her long red robes—the robes of a Castle Queen.
The Queen is not alone. Beside her is an old man with long, wavy white hair held back with an ExtraOrdinary Wizard headband. He is resplendent in purple robes richly embroidered with Magykal symbols—this is the very first ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Hotep-Ra.
The island on which they stand is an ancient Listening Place, and Hotep-Ra is Listening carefully. As he stands statue-still, absorbed in something far away, his frown deepens. “It is as I feared,” he whispers. “They have discovered me at last.”
The Queen does not understand Magyk, but she respects it because it once saved her daughter’s life. She nods sadly. She knows that this will take Hotep-Ra away from her forever.
A flame burns at half past midnight. The Queen and Hotep-Ra are underground, and the light from the lantern shows a smooth white wall covered in bright columns of hieroglyphs. The Queen is searching for a symbol. She soon finds it: a blue-and-gold circle enclosing a dragon. She places her hand on the circle and they wait. The Queen sees Hotep-Ra twist the ring on his right index finger: a delicate gold dragon with its tail in its mouth and a bright-green emerald for its eye. The ring is beautifully made, but the loveliest thing about it is the soft yellow light that comes from deep within and glows in the shadows of his hand.
And now, with a deep, slow rumble, the wall of hieroglyphs begins to move, rolling back to reveal a dark, wide space before them. The Queen smiles at Hotep-Ra. He returns her smile a little sadly and together they step forward.
The Queen holds up her lantern and its light illuminates a pair of brilliant white marble columns that rise up into the darkness. They walk between the columns, and progress slowly across the mosaic floor, bright with reds, yellows, whites and greens. And then they are there. The Queen hands her lantern to Hotep-Ra and he holds it high so that its light shines on the most beautiful creature he has ever seen: his faithful Dragon Boat.
The Dragon Boat’s hull is broad and sturdy, built for the sea, and recently Hotep-Ra has gilded it. This—and the mast with its azure sail—is the inanimate part of the boat. The rest is living dragon. Tucked neatly alongside the hull are the dragon’s wings, shimmering folds of green. Her head and neck are the prow and her tail is the stern. The half boat, half dragon lies in a deep sleep, alone in the darkness of an ancient underground temple, but she is awakened by the opening of the wall. Drowsily she raises her head, arching her neck upward like that of a swan. The Queen approaches the dragon quietly, careful not to alarm her. The dragon opens her eyes, she bows her head and the Queen loops her arms around the dragon’s neck.
Hotep-Ra hangs back. He looks at his Dragon Boat, resting on the mosaic floor as if waiting for the water to rise and carry her away to distant lands. Indeed, that was what he had planned for her, to take her on the last journey of his old age. But now that his enemies have tracked him down, Hotep-Ra knows he must leave his Dragon Boat hidden safe below the ground, keeping her secrets from them. He sighs. The Dragon Boat must await the time when she will be needed by another Dragon Master. Hotep-Ra does not know who that will be, but he knows that one day he will meet him.
The Queen promises the Dragon Boat that she will return in a year to the day, but Hotep-Ra promises the Dragon Boat nothing. He pats the dragon’s nose, then turns and walks quickly from the temple. The Queen runs after him and together they watch the wall of hieroglyphs rumble closed once more.
They walk slowly along the sandy passageway, which takes them to one of the hidden exits near the edge of the island. There, Hotep-Ra pulls off his Dragon Ring. To the Queen’s amazement, he tosses the ring onto the sandy floor as if it were nothing to him. It lies on the floor, its light fading away.
“But that’s your ring,” whispers the Queen, shocked.
Hotep-Ra gives a weary smile. “Not anymore,” he says.
The Queen and the ExtraOrdinary Wizard return to the Castle, but Hotep-Ra does not leave right away. He knows he is running the risk of drawing his enemies to all that he cares about, but there are things he wishes to do in order to make the Castle and its Queen as safe as he can.
Hotep-Ra Engenders protected Ways to allow the Queen to visit the Dragon Boat and other places that are special to her in safety. He fills his Wizard Tower with all the Magykal power he can spare and sets up a system of Questes for the brightest and best ExtraOrdinary Apprentices. That way he believes that he will still get news of the Castle and will be able to give advice if needed. He asks the Queen to visit his beloved Dragon Boat every MidSummer Day, and deep in the Castle wall he creates a Dragon House as a place for the Dragon Boat to rest when one day it will be safe for her to come to the Castle.