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.
Denton and I reach the dragons’ meadow in mid-afternoon. The day is hot and sticky, but there’s a welcome breeze, and an occasional cloud blocks the sun, giving us a temporary respite from the heat.
It’s the height of the summer, and the wildflowers are in full bloom. Cheerful honeybees and their fuzzy bumblebee cousins buzz from flower to flower. Thanks to Lionel, I now know a few of those flowers’ names.
As soon as we step into the clearing, I spot the prince on his boulder perch. His mess of hair is tied back, as he usually wears it now. His beard has filled in enough he looks wild, like the mountain men who occasionally wander into Dragon Ridge with their carts of furs.
No one would ever know he’s a prince.
He whittles a piece of wood as he speaks to the half-circle of young dragons in front of him. He laughs at something one of them says, and I’m so surprised, I stumble over a root in the path.
Denton grins at my clumsiness. “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” I answer, my eyes still on the prince.
Lionel looks our way when he notices us, and his rare smile turns into a frown. My stomach tightens with disappointment I can’t explain…and don’t want to think about too deeply.
The prince says something to the young dragons, and they reluctantly wander away. Then he stands, without the aid of his crutches, and walks our way.
I gape at him, so startled, my mouth falls open.
“How…” I say when he’s near enough to hear me.
The little dragon healed him—against Tanrith’s orders, probably on a whim. Likely because she wants to see the sea.
And now here Lionel is, whole and healthy and…not going to be around much longer. He won’t stay to serve his punishment, of that I’m positive. He certainly isn’t going to take a young dragon on holiday to the coast.
I doubt he’ll even say goodbye. One morning, he’ll just be gone.
Now that he’s standing unassisted, he’s taller than I realized. Taller than Denton, taller than any man in the village. He walks with authority, with confidence…like a prince.
Memories come back, reminding me of when I was young and missing my father and life so much I wanted to die. I was thrust into a world of nobles, with men who carried themselves just like Lionel. Cruel and hateful men.
Those who wanted nothing to do with me and gladly offered me as a sacrifice when the opportunity presented itself.
I was wrong before—only a fool would mistake Lionel’s heritage now. It’s woven into his very being, and there’s no hiding it with a wild beard, untamed hair, and tattered clothing. I didn’t see it before when the prince was standing at death’s door. Yes, it was there, in his voice, but he was too weak to be intimidating.
Lionel narrows his eyes, perhaps noticing my sudden withdrawal.
“Let’s take a look at it,” Denton says, handing me the basket of peas, seeming pleased and entirely oblivious. “Just to make sure everything mended as it should.”
Lionel looks like he wants to refuse the herbalist, but he nods.
“I need to do something with these.” I hold up the basket, like a coward. “Thank you, Denton.”
And with that, I turn back toward the woods, heading to my tiny cottage. A strange, dull panic settles in my chest, squeezing my heart. I’m not sure if it’s because I was finally forced to admit Lionel is precisely who everyone claimed him to be…or because he’s leaving.
Surely it’s not because he’s leaving. I don’t care—good riddance to him. Finally, my life will return to normal.
I reach my tiny sanctuary, and I pause to frown at its cheery shutters and thatched roof. How ridiculous I was to think Prince Lionel of Vernow would like to join me here for tea. Worse, that it would be a treat for him.
I glance down at the packages in my hands—the tea, the scones, the peas.
Oh, these ridiculous peas. What does Jillian know? She sees possible futures, and there are hundreds of them. Apparently, the gimly didn’t see the one where a young dragon would take pity on her prisoner.
Irritated with myself, I fling the basket away, spilling the peapods on the ground. The tea and pastries almost join them, but I stop myself.
There’s no reason to waste perfectly fine scones and sweet biscuits, after all.
“Did you throw them on purpose?” Lionel demands from behind me. “Why would you do that?”
“No,” I answer immediately, feeling like a child caught misbehaving. Slowly, I turn, feeling my cheeks flush. “I thought you were with Denton.”
“He’s gone.” The prince narrows his eyes at the mess I made. “It only took a moment. The bone appears to have mended fine.”
“This is your goodbye then?” I force a carefree smile. “I had wondered if you’d bother.”
Lionel’s frown deepens.
“I doubt Tarith will bother to track you down,” I tell him flippantly, feeling like I’m going to hyperventilate. “He grew bored of you weeks ago.”
As I say it, I drop to my knees to pick up the peas, mostly so I won’t have to face the prince above me. For several moments, he watches me, saying nothing.
Then, slowly, he kneels—lowering his great self. “Genevieve.”
“What?” I ask, refusing to look up…wondering if he’s ever called me by name before.
Lionel picks up a few of the pods and tosses them into the basket. “I’m not leaving.”
I pause, my hand halfway to the ground. Steeling myself, I look up. “You’re not?”
He shakes his head.
I fall back, sitting on my heels. “You’re not going to stay here to serve your time…are you?”
His expression darkens as if he’s agitated, though I’m not sure if it’s with me or himself. Bitterly, he says, “Guilt has a way of catching up with you when you are idle. Perhaps if I endure this punishment, I will be free of it.”
“Guilt?” I ask, genuinely surprised he’d lower himself to feel such an emotion.
Looking away, he nods.
Unable to keep my mouth shut, I whisper, “You feel remorse for killing the dragon? You regret it?”
A muscle twitches in his jaw. “That…and other things.”
I want to ask—oh, I desperately want to ask. But the look on his face has me holding the questions back.
“And I have nowhere to go,” Lionel adds, giving me a wry look.
“What about your family?” I ask softly, telling myself this is not relief clutching my heart.
“My father is a wicked man.” Lionel’s eyes meet mine, capturing me, holding me hostage. “Now that he has disowned me, I am free. I owe him nothing.”
The words are said with anger, but there’s more—it’s as though Lionel has had a revelation. As if this is something he’s just now realized and has taken to heart.
But finally accepting you mean nothing to your family…it’s a bittersweet moment of closure. One I wouldn’t wish on anyone, even him.
“So,” he continues, “I might as well stay and endure your company. For now.”
For whatever unfathomable reason, the statement makes me happy. So happy, in fact, I’m uncomfortable with my reaction.
Finally, I pull my gaze away from his, trying not to grin. I briskly gather the remaining peas. A rogue tear slides down my cheek, and I wipe it away with my shoulder, keeping at my task.
“You’re…crying.” The prince sounds completely baffled.
I look up, forcing a laugh. “I was just so looking forward to getting rid of you.”
He smiles at my blatant lie, and a dangerous thing happens: my heart gives an extra thump.
“You’ll have to live with the disappointment,” he says wryly.
“I’ll manage somehow.” I stare at the peas. “At least I won’t have to shell all these on my own.”
“I’ve never shelled peas in my life.”
“It’s about time you learn.” I glance at him before returning to the task. “If you’re going to stay, you’ll have to earn your keep.”
Groaning as if he’s rethinking his decision, Lionel stands. I’m just about to push myself to my feet when he offers his hand.
I blink at it, questioning its presence in front of my face. It’s a kind gesture—friendly even. Perhaps it’s a trick?
Impatient, Lionel grasps my arm and tugs me up. The abrupt gesture sets me off balance, and I fall against him.
I find myself staring at his chest, frozen in place, wondering how I got here. The prince, too, seems surprised by my gracelessness and stands as still as a statue.
Just as soon as I get my wits about me, I jerk back, laughing to hide my embarrassment. Lionel presses his lips together, looking mildly put out.
“What’s that?” Lionel asks, and then he clears his throat. He jerks his chin toward the packages Midge wrapped for me. I set them aside when I knelt to pick up the peas, and now they’re lying on the ground, looking sad and abandoned.
“Oh, those.” I rub the back of my neck. “Just tea and a few pastries. I thought you might like…”
I trail off, feeling like an idiot.
“I like tea,” Lionel says slowly, his voice gruff.
“All right… I’ll start the water, and we can begin on the peas while it heats.” I open the cottage door and look over my shoulder when Lionel doesn’t move. “Well, come on. No backing down now.”
Nodding, the prince follows me into the cottage. He’s so tall, he must duck to enter through the door.
“Was this made for a pixie?” he grumbles as he steps inside.
I fetch the kettle, muttering to myself when I realize the fire will use up the last of my wood.
“Don’t just stand there awkwardly,” I tell Lionel as I carefully layer the kindling and logs into the hearth, waving at the table. “Sit.”
Lionel scowls at me…and then at the small chair. I jerk my head, telling him to get on with it.
He finally lowers himself into it, looking entirely too large for the cottage. He crosses his arms, his lips set in a firm line, looking like he’s waiting for his turn at the gallows.
Laughing at the sight of him, his stormy mood making me feel oddly lighter, I go about my chore.
Prince or not, he’s the same grumpy man as before.
Nothing has changed, not really.