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.
I shift atop Cadalia’s back, trying to focus on the feel of the wind on my face and not my numbing limbs. We’ve never flown this far, and I ache.
“Where are you taking us?” I call to my dragon. “We’ve been flying for hours. Are we still in Lauramore?”
Below us, there is nothing but forest. Judging from the position of the sun, we’re headed south, likely still far west of the king’s city. I told Cadalia I wanted to go east, toward Glendon. She didn’t listen.
“Somewhere rich with game,” she promises.
“Unmentionable parts of me have fallen asleep,” I complain. “And the sun will set in only a few hours. Shouldn’t we find a place to make camp?”
I glance at Lionel, wondering how he’s faring atop Shalay. The dragon swoops through the clouds, diving low and then rising high. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was trying to lose her rider. But Lionel is undaunted by the dragon’s antics, worse—he might be provoking her.
He flashes me a wicked grin as Shalay suddenly cuts in front of Cadalia, making my dragon extend her wings to catch air so we don’t collide. I tighten my grasp on the strap and let out an embarrassing squeal as I begin to slide down the dragon’s slippery scales.
Thankfully, Cadalia rights us quickly.
I breathe hard, trying to slow my heart. Wider than a horse, the dragon is impossible to cling to.
“What do you think of a saddle?” I lean forward, hoping she’ll hear me over the roar of the wind as we cut through the sky.
“A saddle!” Cadalia demands.
“Not like a horse’s saddle,” I quickly say. “Something…grand.”
The dragon snorts, immediately dismissing the idea.
Oh well. It was worth a try.
A while later, once the sun is lower than I would like, Shalay finally drops toward a clearing in the tall trees. Cadalia follows her, landing with a thud that shakes the ground. The noise disturbs birds that have already taken shelter for the night, and they chirp and chatter as they fly away.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say you do that on purpose.” I groan as I swing a leg over the dragon’s back.
She looks into the sky, smiling. “Fussy little creatures, aren’t they?”
I groan as I slide to the ground, not positive my legs will hold me. I don’t even try to stand. I sink into the grass, glad to be on firm ground.
As if he learned the art of dragon-riding at a young age, Lionel strides toward me, looking very much like he could walk another ten miles this very evening.
He crosses his arms once he reaches me, studying me with a frown. I glance at him, and my conversation with Midge leaps unbidden into my head. I quickly look away, rubbing the back of my neck.
“You’re not much of a rider, are you?” he finally says.
“Besides the village, where would I go?”
He offers me a hand, but I bat it away as I push myself to my feet. “I’m fine.”
Lionel catches my arm with the hand I just refused, tugging me up. “And I’m being nice. Aren’t you supposed to say thank you?”
I look up, reluctantly meeting his eyes. There’s a smile hidden under his scowl, one that makes me laugh.
“Thank you,” I say pointedly, shaking his hand free.
Looking smug, he nods and turns to survey the area. The trees are tall and thick, with moss clinging to the trunks. The ground is soft and spongy, and the hum of buzzing insects fills the air.
I slap one on my arm and turn toward the dragons. “I’m not sure this is the best place to stop for the night.”
Shalay stretches her back, bowing like a cat. “Did you want to make camp in the dark?”
“No…” I shake my head. “But I’m not sure I want to make camp in a bog either.”
“Suit yourself,” Cadalia says. “We’ll go farther.”
Just the thought of crawling onto her back again makes my legs tremble. “No,” I say quickly. “This will be fine.”
“We’re going to hunt,” Shalay says. “We’ll be back before nightfall.”
I pull the canvas for my tent from my pack, pausing to swat another insect. “All right, but if the gnats carry us away before you return, please come looking for us.”
Lionel laughs under his breath, already gathering kindling for a fire.
The dragons take to the pink evening sky, leaving us to the human chore of setting up camp. And suddenly, we’re alone.
I glance at Lionel once more, biting my bottom lip, thinking far too hard about things I shouldn’t be thinking about at all. Irritated with myself, I shake my head and return to my task.
“I don’t have a tent for you,” I say.
“I don’t need one. I’ll stand watch tonight.” He extends his hand. “Let me see your dagger, and I’ll start the fire.”
I raise my brows, immediately giving him the blade. “All night?”
He nods as he strikes his flint, sending small sparks over the dry moss and twigs he’s collected. “We’re in the bogs—there are grim boars here. Glasselns, too, as the grim boar is their favorite prey.”
“I’ve never seen a glasseln,” I tell him. “But I remember my father telling stories of them. I think they must fear the dragons because I’ve never even seen signs of one.”
He carefully blows on the tiny flame, making the moss glow red as the flame spreads. I watch the fire grow, wishing we had something to roast. I’m afraid our supper will be dry meat again tonight.
“Do you remember your father very well?” Lionel asks after a few minutes. He says the question cautiously—as if he’s worried it will upset me.
“Bits and pieces,” I say with a shrug. “I wish I had more, but I was young when he passed.”
“My mother died only a few years ago. I lied to you before—I do remember her. But already, I feel as if her memory is slipping away. I can’t quite recall the tone of her voice. Sometimes, I can’t see her face at all.”
I freeze, startled by the personal admission.
“What was she like?” I ask, careful not to meet his eyes.
Lionel pulls a twig from the fire and sketches on a rock with the burnt end. “She liked quiet things—tea and sketching and embroidery.” He glances over, giving me a wry look. “And she was kind.”
I draw in a breath and hold it.
“No matter how cold Father was, she was kind.” He lets out a sigh that I feel deep in my bones. “I wish she had been a little less so.”
We slip into silence.
“Lionel?” I ask after several minutes.
“Hmm?” He places the end of his twig back in the fire, letting it catch fire before he blows it out and continues his sketch.
“I think you might be more like your mother than your father.”
The prince snorts. “Very few people would agree with you.”
“I don’t think I could like your father, so you must be more like her than you think. I think you’ve spent a lifetime hiding it.”
The sound of the stick scratching against the stone comes to an abrupt stop.
“And maybe you should stop hiding it. Because the glimpses of the real you I keep getting…they’re likable.” Quickly, I amend. “Somewhat likable.”
Slowly, Lionel turns to look at me. His dark hazel eyes meet mine, and I swallow.
“Genevieve,” he says quietly, his tone dark and low.
For unknown reasons, the sound of my name on his lips makes butterflies flutter in my stomach.
“Yes?” I say, my tone embarrassingly breathless.
His eyes slide past mine, looking at something beyond me. Because I don’t make a habit of following direct orders, I turn. There in the trees, not twenty yards away, stands a massive grim boar.