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.
“How is your patient?” Cadalia asks when she finds me outside the cavern. I sit in the grass, with my hands pressed into the earth behind me, and stare up at the stars.
The truth is, reliving the past has shaken me. But the cool night air is welcome, as is the friend who settles on the ground next to me.
“Better, I think,” I say, smiling at the dragon. I run my hand along her wing, stroking the velvet scales. She’s softer than you would expect. “I made him a straw pallet and coated his wounds with the salve Denton gave me.
I had to wash my hands three times just to rid them of the smell.
“I also tried to set his leg,” I add, cringing. “It didn’t go well. I’ll ask Denton for his assistance while I’m in the village tomorrow.”
“Yes, I heard the hollering.”
The memory sends a shiver down my spine—healer, I am not.
“I also overheard you earlier in the day,” the dragon says softly, her voice a gentle rumble, “when you were speaking of your family.”
“You’re my family,” I tell her.
She extends her wing, wrapping it around me and drawing me close. I’m miniature next to her, a cat next to a warhorse. She could crush me like a tiny insect, but she’s gentle. I lean against her, closing my eyes. She’s hot, her normal temperature much higher than mine. Dragons have a strange smell—like rain-soaked earth, rich and pleasant.
“Are you sore from the ride?” she asks. “You should go to the hot springs.”
Usually, a soak cures just about all that plagues me, but tonight it sounds like too much work.
“I’m too tired,” I tell her.
“Have you eaten?” she asks.
My stomach rumbles at the very thought. “No.”
She nudges me. “It’s already late. Have supper and get some sleep.”
Nodding, wondering what I’m going to eat, I push myself to my feet. Too tired to fuss with a cooking fire, I light a candle and go through my crocks, peeking into each one and frowning. I finally find a scant handful of dried roosleberries—which are my least favorite berries, and that is why they’re left—and a fair amount of caulnut bits and crumbs. I eat quickly, trying not to think of how unsatisfying the meal is, and then head back to the cavern.
The ethereal dragon lights have already dimmed for the night, leaving nothing but a faint glow in the halls. The rooms that branch off the main thoroughfare are dark, and the cavern is quiet except for the occasional shuffling of wings and scraping of talons against the stone floor as the dragons in various rooms settle in for the night. Distantly, I can hear Garagon’s great, snuffling snores filling the eastern wing.
Thankfully, my quarters are to the west.
I push through the swinging doors of my room—a luxury I greatly appreciate, blow out my candle, and then fall on my soft down pallet, not bothering to change for the night. Tomorrow will be a long day, with yet another trip to the village.
But for now, my worries drift away, and I manage to find sleep.
The walk to the village takes me several hours, but I don’t mind all that much. It’s a clear day, and the morning sun is pleasantly warm.
Cadalia offered to fly me again, but this time, I have far more to buy and no way to carry it on the dragon’s back. Plus, I’ll be honest, I’m still a little spooked from yesterday’s incident, though I don’t dare admit that to the dragon.
I reach Dragon Ridge before the sun is directly overhead. The clock above the woodmaster’s shop says it’s just after ten—an excellent time for brunch.
With a pouch of gold jangling at my side, I head straight for Midge’s tea house.
Thoughts of sugary scones dance in my head, and I hurry my pace, turning down a cross street, thankful I don’t have to pass the Eldentimber tree and its chatty residents along the way.
The tea house is a cute little cottage, sandwiched between the cobbler and the chandler, painted white with a shingled roof. Mountain clematis climbs over a trellis to the side of the door, and the first few blooms of the season tilt their cheery, deep purple faces toward the sun.
I climb the stairs and open the door, pausing to inhale the aroma of freshly baked confections, black tea, and rich spices.
“Hello, Genevieve,” Midge says from behind her counter, placing sweet biscuits on a plate. She’s human, like me, and moved to Dragon Ridge a few years ago. She claimed to be tired of wandering.
The shopkeeper keeps her long, honey-blonde hair twisted into a bun while she’s working, and despite the pale color, and even with it respectably secured, there’s no hiding her gypsy heritage.
Midge is graceful, a touch exotic, and has a wicked temper. She also runs the daintiest teashop in all of Lauramore. Her tiny porcelain dishes are pure white, and the cakes and biscuits she bakes are small, light, and often drizzled with pink icing.
Today, coins sewed onto her scarlet wrap-skirt tinkle together as she moves, and her white blouse is cinched in by a black corset. She’s dabbed sparkling mica on her eyelids, highlighting her warm brown eyes, and she wears long, gold earrings dotted with jewels.
As only Midge would, she’s topped off the traditional gypsy outfit with a stark white, ruffled muslin apron.
“Word has it you’ve taken in a stray,” she says, looking up with a wicked grin. “Is he handsome?”
“No,” I say to my closest friend, settling into a chair at one of the tables, thankful no one else is here. “He’s large and boarish, and he has the personality of a mine troll.”
“Pity,” she says, clucking her tongue.
“I’m starving,” I tell her. “What do you have that’s larger than two decent bites?”
The gypsy smirks as she chooses pastries from her selection. Ignoring my question, she asks one of her own, “What’s his name?”
Her eyebrows shoot up. “Of Vernow?”
“Supposedly,” I say with a frown, remembering what the fairy said.
“Oh, that is interesting.” Midge brings me a plate stacked with sweet biscuits, each topped with her signature pink icing. “Start with these. What tea would you like?”
“Why is it interesting?” I ask, barely getting the words out before I shove one of the biscuits into my mouth.
Oh, it’s heaven. And there’s just a hint of a sweet, warm flavor I cannot place.
“They’re better if you eat them slowly instead of inhaling them in one big gulp.” Midge shakes her head as she walks behind her counter to pull the kettle from the fire. Wryly, she adds, “You’d think you were raised by dragons.”
“Imagine that.” I take a small bite of the next one, determined to savor it. “You didn’t answer me.”
She frowns as she spoons tea into a tiny porcelain pot. “Lionel was the kingdom’s crown-prince—at one time, one of the most powerful men in all of Elden. And now here he is, half-dead, lying in a cavern just outside of tiny Dragon Ridge.”
Midge knows a great deal about Elden due to her gypsy comrades who often visit to sell her their exotic teas and spices. Often, she’s more knowledgeable than even the fairies.
The shopkeeper turns back to me and lowers her voice. “He was publicly disowned by his father. The dragon came to the king, carrying his son, and the man turned him away, stating Lionel was dead to him. He told the dragon to punish the prince however he pleased.”
The biscuit turns in my stomach, the story not settling well. True, Lionel broke the treaty, and yes, he deserved punishment. But to have your father turn his back on you? Well, it’s a story I understand too well.
Thankfully, Midge changes the subject, updating me on the happenings of the village. I listen idly, drinking my tea and nibbling my biscuits, thinking of the prince who miraculously ended up in my care.