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Eight Years Later
“A sea dragon attack?” I say to Eron, unable to hide my surprise. “In Triblue?”
The fairy gives me a solemn nod as he flies with me, matching my pace as I walk through the square. “That’s the word traveling through my circles.”
I shake my head. “Tarith says the sea dragons are peaceful. Why would they suddenly attack?”
“No one knows, but there are whispers of magic.”
“What kind of magic?” I ask sharply.
“Dark.” He pauses. “Or possibly stolen.”
I’ve never heard of such a thing.
The fairy simply nods. “Speak with Tarith, tell him what I’ve said.”
“I will,” I promise, uneasy with the fairy’s solemn tone. His gossip is usually the joyful type.
The walk home from Dragon Ridge seems longer than usual, likely because there’s no one waiting for me in the cavern when I return.
Well, that’s not strictly true.
Lionel, however, is not. I miss the prince something horrible, but it’s easier if I try not to think of his absence.
I told him to leave, said it was all right. It’s not like he had a choice.
The meadow is quiet, as the dragons are content to nap in the sunshine. Spring has finally reached our mountain. Snow still lingers in the northern shadows, but bright green grass grows in the open stretches. The afternoon is blissfully warm, even if the breeze is still cool, and if I didn’t have things to tend to, I might join them.
The cavern is as quiet as the meadow. I make my way down the halls, humming to myself to fill the silence.
I never imagined my home could feel so empty. Perhaps I should go to the hot springs, soak for a while in the warm water and pretend I’m not heartachingly lonely. But first, I have things to do.
The farther I go into the cavern, the warmer it grows. I’m near the heart of the dragon fire now, the burning magic that keeps the space comfortable no matter the season. It’s hot here, and even the dragons avoid this section of their home.
“I’m back,” I say as I walk through an arch.
The little dragon doesn’t answer, nor do I expect him to. He’s just a hatchling, tiny and weak.
Dragon mothers aren’t the most responsible parents. His abandoned him, simply left for Errinton and didn’t return. Though Tarith told me to let nature take its course, I refused to listen. Perhaps I have a weakness for creatures who are abandoned by their parents.
Like a fool, I cradled the egg for weeks, talking to it, telling it stories. When the little dragon hatched, he already knew my voice.
Now he’s claimed me for his own. Since his real mother wasn’t here to name him, I called him York. He’s beginning to respond to it.
“Hungry?” I ask as the hatchling sticks his snout in the air, already smelling the food I’ve brought him. He tries to nip my hand with his sharp baby teeth, but I pull back. “No.”
York lets out a disgruntled peep of a roar, something more amusing than intimidating.
“Be nice,” I tell him, and then I slowly offer the scrap of meat once more. This time, he doesn’t try to take off my fingers. “Better.”
I sit with the dragon, quietly talking to him as I give him tiny pieces of meat as his mother would do if she were a responsible parent.
“Tarith says you’ve named him York,” a man says from the entry, taking me by surprise. “What sort of name is that for a dragon?”
I whip around, nearly knocking York off my lap. “Lionel,” I breathe, standing.
The prince grins, apparently happy to surprise me.
Gently, I set York atop his little pile of coins and run across the room, launching myself at Lionel. He laughs as I hang from his neck, returning my embrace with nearly as much enthusiasm.
“How was the ocean?” I ask when I pull myself free. “Did Riella enjoy it?”
“It was just as I remembered it. And she did.”
Last month marked the pretty emerald dragon’s twentieth year, and Tarith finally agreed to let her venture to the sea. Lionel took her, just as he promised.
I, however, was stuck here…because I adopted a baby dragon.
“Did you miss me?” Lionel asks, casually leaning against the stone wall.
The prince is older now, a different man than the boy who was deposited into the meadow eight years ago. Time has been kind to him, and with each passing year, he grows more handsome.
My heart pinches for a moment, remembering there was a time when Lionel offered me everything. I should have taken it. If only I’d known then what I know now—that he would become kinder and more content each year. That he would stay.
But I didn’t know. And now we’re stuck in a strange friendship that’s gone on too long to become anything more now.
“Of course I did,” I say, returning to York. “I haven’t had to chop my own wood in years.”
Lionel chuckles, and the sound warms me. Missing him doesn’t seem the right way to describe the ache I felt while he was gone. These last few weeks have been long ones.
“When your dragon is old enough to manage on his own, I will take you.” He pauses. “Just us.”
I laugh. “Not likely. The dragons all want to go on holiday with you now. You should hear the plans they’re making. I’ll never get you to myself again.”
“You can have me whenever you want,” he says simply. “Say the word, Genevieve, and I am yours.”
I pause with a piece of meat halfway to York. The dragon lets out an agitated yowl that sounds more feline than dragon and struggles in my arms to reach the food.
Coming to my senses, I stop taunting York and let him have the scrap. I don’t know how to answer, so I simply shake my head as if I’m amused by the prince’s teasing. When in truth, butterflies swarm in my stomach, threatening to carry me away.
But it’s too late for that. If Lionel wanted me, truly wanted me, he wouldn’t have spent these last eight years in silence.
I value his friendship. I must be content with what we have.
I glance up at him, offering him a smile. “I’m glad you’re back.”
“It’s good to be home.” He walks across the room, sitting next to me on the floor. He then takes a piece of meat and offers it to York. The dragon backs up several paces and glares at the prince like he’s an intruder.
“I don’t think he likes you,” I tease.
“He’s only jealous—he wants you all to himself.” Lionel smirks as he coaxes the dragon closer with the meat. “I’m sorry to tell you this, York, but you’re going to have to share. She was mine first.”