Quick reminder: This is basically a rough draft and only temporarily available to read online. Once the book is complete, it will be revised, professionally edited, and then published on Amazon. For more details about the blog book, or to read the story from the beginning, check out the book’s main page.
“Careful,” I warn, backing out of the cavern slowly, holding my arms out in front of me. “Watch that rock there.”
Lionel shoots me a disgruntled look and hobbles forward on his crutches.
The days have turned into weeks, and the weeks into a month.
Lionel’s fever finally broke, his wounds knit, and now the only thing wrong with him is his mending leg and his rotten temper.
With the help of the crutches, the first should be easy enough to manage. I’m not sure what to do about the second, though If I’m honest, I might admit I find great amusement in poking the bear.
“My eyes are fine,” the prince reminds me.
Denton told Lionel he’d tire quickly this first time out. He’s been bedridden for weeks, only leaving his room to bathe and tend to other personal needs.
Several dragons watch us with mild amusement, and Cadalia wanders over. “Hello, prince.”
“Isn’t it hard to see where you are going with hair in your face?” The dragon turns to me. “He looks like one of those shabby ponies—the ones with their manes hanging over their eyes.”
I press my lips together to trap in a laugh, but Lionel catches me and scowls. He swings forward on his crutches, choosing to ignore us both.
The prince’s progress is slow. Bored of our pace, Cadalia leaves us.
As soon as Lionel leaves the cliff’s shadow and steps into the sunshine, he tips his head back as if soaking it in. He closes his eyes, looking perfectly content for the first time since I’ve known him.
The expression transforms his face, and I find myself studying him.
With a sigh, he opens his eyes once more, and I quickly avert my gaze, looking past him toward the path that leads to the dragon’s hot spring.
Lionel continues on, wearing his usual look of distaste.
I find myself frowning at him. Cadalia is right. Every few steps he takes, he’s forced to shove his hair back.
“What?” he asks, sounding wary when he notices me studying him.
“I can cut it for you if you’d like.”
“I don’t trust you that close to my face with a pair of sheers.”
Ignoring him, I say, “At least let me find you a piece of leather to tie it back.”
He makes it as far as the boulder he perched on his first day here, and then he lowers himself onto it with a great sigh. “Do what you will.”
I eye him. “You’re not going to try to escape again, are you?”
He gives me a rueful look. “Would you come after me?”
“Yes,” I say without hesitation, grinning because I know it will annoy him.
Rolling his eyes, he shakes his head. “I have nowhere to run.”
I think about what Midge said when I visited her tea shop a month ago—about Lionel’s father casting him away.
“Stop looking at me like that.” He jerks his chin down the path. “Go. I’ll be here when you get back.”
Nodding, I walk down the path, taking in the summer smells of the forest.
In a few months, we’ll see our first frost. The trees will go from green to orange, and the grass will fade to amber.
Denton believes Lionel will be fully healed by autumn. Will he stay here to serve his time? Or will he sneak off one night without so much as a goodbye?
The thought makes me rather melancholy. When I realize it, I come to an abrupt stop in the middle of the path, questioning my sanity.
Shaking my head, I hurry to my cottage and go through my things. I find an old leather tie from a leather corset belt that I outgrew ages ago. Deciding it will do, I hurry back to the meadow.
Just before I leave the trees, I pause. Lionel remains on his boulder, just as he promised, but he’s not alone.
A young, emerald green dragon, not much older than a hatchling, sits before the prince. They appear to be engaged in a conversation.
I walk up slowly, and an unbidden smile plays at my lips.
“Is the water very cold?” Riella asks.
“The sea is warm in Triblue,” Lionel answers, “but in the far north, ice dots the ocean.”
“Have you seen it?”
“A long time ago.”
“Have you seen sea serpents too?” she asks, her eyes widening.
“I have not—they are reclusive. But I have seen dolphins and whales.”
The dragon’s eyes widen. “What do they look like?”
Lionel launches into an explanation of sea life, spending far more time on the young dragon’s question than I expect. I stand back, bemused, hesitant to interrupt the conversation.
A moment later, Lionel spots me. He sits back on the rock, his expression becoming pinched—almost as though he’s embarrassed.
The dragon follows the prince’s gaze. “Hello, Genevieve,” she says brightly, extending her wings with her greeting. “Lionel has seen the ocean.”
“So I heard,” I say with a smile.
“Have you seen the ocean?”
I shake my head.
“Lionel will take us,” she announces. “When his leg is mended, we will travel to Triblue.”
“Will we?” I say with a laugh.
Even Lionel looks taken aback.
“He is a prince.” Riella gives me a solemn look, flicking her tail. “He can do anything he likes.”
With that, she crouches low and then leaps into the air, taking flight.
I watch her for a few seconds before I turn back to Lionel. “It seems you’ve made a friend.”
He bristles, looking away.
“Hold still,” I say, stepping in front of him and leaning in close.
Not only does the prince do as I ask, but he freezes completely.
“What are you doing?” he demands once he finds his voice.
I gather Lionel’s tangled hair, combing my finger through it to coax it back. “Someday, I’ll convince you to let me cut this.”
He tries to snatch the piece of leather from my hand, but I swat him away. This close to him, I can smell the scent of the soap I buy from the local sundry.
“I can do it myself,” he says, his words strained.
“Such a child,” I mutter as I tie the leather around the tail. “Hold still. I’m almost finished.”
The prince lets out a vexed sigh, but he doesn’t fight me.
Standing back, I set my hands on my hips and nod. “Better—but you’re still scruffy.”
The stubble along Lionel’s jaw has turned into a short, unkempt beard. With his tattered clothing, he looks more like a beggar than a prince.
“Scruffy?” he demands.
“Yes, very.” I gesture toward the path. “Shall we continue our walk?”
Grumbling, Lionel stands. As he adjusts his crutches, a bird flies past and settles on a nearby bush. Absently, as if he can’t help himself, he says, “Lauramore tanager.”
I look at the bird with the sunny yellow and red plumage. “Is that what those are?”
The bird flies off, and I think for a moment before pointing at a cluster of plants with purple flowers growing from long stalks. “What are those?”
“Meadow chive. They’re edible.”
“Are they? I didn’t know.” I point to a scraggly weed. “What’s that?”
“Saurus. It grows throughout Elder in the higher elevations.”
I point to another, enjoying the new game. “And that?”
Lionel raises an incredulous brow. “Dandelion.”
“Oh, yes. I suppose everyone knows that one.” I motion to a butterfly that flutters past. “What about that?”
“You could make up just about anything, and I’d have no choice but to believe you.”
A smile toys at Lionel’s lips, and I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning.
We continue, with me pointing to random things and Lionel naming them.
“You’re good at this,” I tell him after a while.
With a bitter bite to his tone, he answers, “It’s not a useful skill for a prince.”
I poke his shoulder, making him look at me. “But it makes for interesting walks.”
He studies me, frowning.
“Come on,” I say, walking ahead. “Let’s see what else we can find.”