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Chapter Seven, Scene Two
Denton takes a step back, wise enough to be wary of the dragon. He inclines his head, showing her respect. “Hello, great one. Genevieve has asked for my assistance.”
“You are expected,” she says. “You are the one they call, Denton, are you not?”
Here we go.
Once again, I grasp the herbalist’s arm and propel him toward the cave. “Yes, he is. Please excuse us.”
Of course, the dragon simply matches our pace.
“How many years have you lived?” Shalay asks him.
Surely, she won’t be as blunt with him as she is with me?
“Twenty-seven,” Denton tells her, shooting me a curious look—perhaps because I’m practically running now, dragging him along with me.
“Are you healthy?” she asks, easily keeping up on her long legs. “How long did your father live?”
I choke a little and then warn, “Shalay…”
“Uh, well.” Denton laughs, pulling out of my grasp. “I am quite healthy, and my father is still alive. He raises sheep in the king’s city.”
“Lionel must be in terrible pain,” I say to Denton, pleading him to keep walking. “Please hurry.”
The herbalist leans close and whispers, “If you’re that worried about the man, it seems odd you stopped for tea before fetching me.”
I purse my lips, holding back a wicked retort.
Shalay watches the exchange with a calculating look I don’t particularly care for. To Denton, she says, “Do you have a mate? Are you of age for your kind? You look young.”
Denton’s eyes widen with surprise, and he laughs again, seeming bemused by my dragon family. The people of the village often have dealings with their kind, but not usually in their territory. I’m sure this is a novelty for him. Perhaps the herbalist thinks these questions are normal—a way in which dragons greet and welcome strangers.
The poor man has no idea the conversation is about to get very, very awkward.
“I do not have a mate,” he answers, “though I am old enough.”
“What do you have to offer?” she asks.
“To…offer?” he looks perplexed.
Laughing loudly, I give Denton’s arm a hard yank. “It’s this way. Aren’t the caverns beautiful? They were crafted hundreds of years ago by—”
“To Genevieve?” Denton asks, now thoroughly bewildered, once again slipping away from me to continue his conversation with the dragon.
Patiently, Shalay says, “She wishes to choose you as her mate, but you must have something to offer—”
“Enough!” I flash Shalay a look of death and tug Denton once more. “Ignore her. The dragon is convinced she must marry me off.” Over my shoulder, I sternly say, “Goodbye, Shalay.”
This time, the herbalist allows me to lead him away.
“Do you wish to be married?” he asks, too curious for my liking.
“No,” I say immediately.
“Are you certain?” he says, his tone growing amused. “Because it seems your dragon approves of me—and apparently, you do as well.”
“She approves of all the men who come to call,” I snap, though that’s not precisely true.
This time, Dentons tugs me back, giving me a wicked grin. “So, you’re saying I have competition?”
I turn to him, my mouth hanging open in the most ladylike of ways.
He nudges my arm, looking very much like he’s trying not to laugh. “Genevieve, I’m only teasing.”
“Right.” I shake my head, feeling like a fool. “Well…come on. As I was saying, this scrollwork is lovely, isn’t it? You’d expect a dragon cavern to be dark and dank, but it’s quite homey…”
Laughing under his breath, Denton follows me through the cavern, letting me ramble about the architecture.
I turn into Lionel’s room and find the prince sitting up on his pallet, looking more alert than yesterday. The swelling around his eye has gone down, and the blue bruise has begun to fade to an ugly yellow.
The prince stays silent as I lead Denton in, watching the man.
“This is Denton,” I tell him. “He’s the local herbalist. He’s going to set your leg.”
I expect Lionel to respond with something testy, bringing up the mess I made of it yesterday, but he only nods.
Denton gets to work, and I hover near the wall, trying to stay out of the way, running errands when requested.
I melt wax, boil water, and fetch the linens Denton gave me yesterday.
“Thankfully, it was a simple break,” Denton says once he’s finished.
The herbalist assessed the damage and then wrapped Lionel’s leg with linens soaked in wax plaster. He did a far better job of it than I managed.
“You can’t walk on it for several months,” Denton warns. “I’ll come back to check on you periodically.”
Lionel nods, lying back. He looks pale, as though the process robbed him of what little strength he’d gained.
Denton ushers me out of the cavern. Before he leaves, he says, “He’ll be fine.”
“How could you possibly expect me to do that?” I demand, setting my hands on my hips.
He smiles as he starts for the path that leads back to the village. Over his shoulder, he says, “Perhaps I just wanted you to ask for my help.”
I shake my head.
“Thank you,” I call as he leaves.
The herbalist raises his hand in a friendly goodbye.
“Wait!” I yell. “How much do I owe you?”
He looks back over his shoulder. “No charge.”
I want to argue, but he’s too far away, and I don’t feel like running after him. I’ll settle with him later.
Thinking about the afternoon, I head back inside the cavern. Lionel has his eyes closed when I walk into the room, but he turns his head my way when he hears my footsteps on the stone.
Crossing my legs as I sit next to his pallet, I produce a packet of dried meat I bought at the butcher’s shop. “Are you hungry?”
“Is that a yes or a no? Your leg probably aches. Do you want more of your tea?”
He shakes his head.
“Did you suddenly forgot how to speak?”
Slowly, he pries an eye open and studies me.
I hold the dried meat over his nose, baiting him like a cat. “You want it?”
Wordlessly, he accepts the meat, his mouth twitching.
“Careful,” I warn. “Don’t smile.”
Instead of eating the meat, he clasps it in his hand and closes his eye once more.
“All right, I can take a hint,” I say, shifting to stand. “I’ll go.”
“Stay,” he says, though he sounds indifferent. “Tell me how you came to be acquainted with a centaur herbalist.”
“You could tell?” I ask, surprised.
“Shifters have marks,” he murmurs. “His is on his neck, hidden below his collar. I saw it when he was yanking at my leg.”
I’d like to say that’s not true, but how else would he have known?
I settle back to the floor. “What does the mark look like? Do all shifters have them? Are they all different? How do you know all this?”
“I asked my question first,” he says, as stubborn as a rock.
“Fine,” I say, laughing. “I’ll tell you about Dragon Ridge, and then you share what you know about shifters. Deal?”
After a moment, he nods.
I launch into my story, telling the prince about the unique people and their shops, about the festivals and the holidays, and how I washed linens and laundry for a full year at the boarding house while I was working to buy my horse.
By the time I finish, I realize he’s asleep. “You can’t get out of it that easily,” I whisper as I rise. “You have to tell me tomorrow.”