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 clutch the soft fabric band that Cadalia suggested we slip over her neck as the dragon drops to the ground. My braid flies up, and several strands are tugged free in the rapid descent. If it weren’t for my leather corset, my shirt would likely fly up as well.
“Hold on!” Cadalia calls when we’re near the ground, and she extends her wings, letting the air catch in them to bring us to a standstill in the air, nearly putting me parallel with her back. I cling to her slick scales, holding tight with my legs, praying I don’t lose my grasp.
Moments later, we’re gently touching the earth. She tucks her wings to her side, as graceful as a falcon. I breathe hard, exhilarated from the flight but grateful to be on the ground. My cheeks are frozen, and my nose is numb.
Slowly, I slide from the dragon’s back.
We’re in a meadow not far from the village, a secluded spot. The people who live here are friendly enough with the local dragons, but they tend to get fussy when one lands in the middle of their streets and scares children, chickens, and all manner of livestock.
“I’ll be back soon,” I promise, my legs wobbling as I regain my balance on the ground.
I make the short walk to the tiny village, warming as the sun shines down on me. It’s a beautiful day. The blue skies are cloudless, and the scent of freshly-turned soil and wildflowers in the air.
The usual people greet me as I walk down the road that leads to the main square. I wave to the baker’s wife and the boy who sells vegetables from a stand for his father.
Alton, a scholar who came to study Lauramore’s magical communities several years ago, speaks with Nadine, a young woman from another local farm.
“Afternoon, Genevieve,” she calls when the pair spots me. Her hair is raven, and her eyes are a startling shade of gold—standard for a harpy.
I hesitate, tempted to join them, but remind myself I’m on a mission. I give them my greetings, promising I’ll visit soon, and then continue down the street.
A quarter of Dragon Ridge’s population is human, like me. The rest are magical beings who appear human. There are the gimlies—basic healers and seers of possible futures. Another handful are shifters—harpies, centaurs, satyrs, and other beings of the like. I’ve even heard a rumor that the tanner’s wife is a mermaid, but we’re so far from the sea, I’ve never quite believed it, no matter how lovely she is.
I near the golden Eldentimber tree that grows in the middle of the square. Fairies flit about in its branches. They’re nuisances, fairies, but they’re generally harmless.
One buzzes to me, giving the tail of my braid a tug. “Hello, Genevieve.”
I peer at him with a wry smile. He looks perfectly human, except he has gossamer wings, and he’s the size of a hummingbird. “Hello, Eron.”
“What brings you to Dragon Ridge?”
“Tarith has taken in a stray,” I say, my tone a little sour.
The fairy raises his tiny brows. “A stray?”
“Supposedly a prince. He killed a dragon that originated from our flight, and Tarith’s decided to keep him, let him pay for his crime with service. But he’s half-dead, and Tarith wants to heal him using conventional, human methods.”
Eron’s eyes go wide. “You’ve taken in Lionel of Vernow?”
I pause, startled not only by his shocked expression but the fact that he knows something I don’t.
“Who’s Lionel?” I demand.
As if he has a juicy piece of gossip he’s dying to share, Eron drops my braid and flies closer. “He competed in the princess’s marriage tournament, broke the Dragon Treaty during the event, and was carried off by a great red dragon.”
We’re in the north-western corner of the kingdom, secluded, but even I heard some talk of the tournament. I met Pippa once, years ago, before I came to live with the dragons. But that seems like a lifetime ago.
So much has changed since then.
“Word has it he’s an awful man,” Eron continues. “Arrogant, cold, boastful—”
“Lovely,” I say with a sigh, cutting him off. “Well, it’s my job to tend him so he can work off his punishment, so I best get what I need and go home.”
I begin walking, hoping he’ll get the point. If I linger too long, there’s an excellent chance he’ll use his magic on me, shrink me to his size, and whisk me into the Eldentimber tree. Since I don’t fancy being held captive by fairies all afternoon—and since Cadalia came close to eating one the last time they pulled the stunt—it’s best if I continue on my merry way.
“Visit us soon,” the fairy says when he sees I’m determined to leave.
I smile, giving him a noncommittal wave.
Once I lose the fairy, I step into the herbalist’s shop. Our village is too small to boast a physician, but the man is the next best thing.
Denton looks up from his workbench when I push open the heavy door. “Keep it open, will you, Genevieve? There’s a rock just outside you can wedge against the door.”
It’s sweltering hot inside the shop, and I fan myself after I do as I’m told. “How can you stand it in here?”
The handsome herbalist strains hot balm through cheesecloth, filling little tins. A fire burns behind him, making the space as hot as the dragon’s fire in the center of the cavern. A pot of beeswax sits atop a grate, melted and ready to use in Denton’s next concoction.
“I didn’t notice it until you opened the door,” he says, setting the pewter pitcher aside once he’s finished. “What can I do for you?”
I don’t visit the shop often, though I see its proprietor enough while I’m in the village. I usually have no need for Denton’s concoctions when my dragons can cure whatever ails me with nothing more than a breath of healing fire.
“I need something for wounds that are festering and something else for fevers.” I think, scrunching my mouth the side. “Also, I need to mend a broken bone, and I’m not sure how to go about it.”
Denton’s lips slowly part, and he stares at me. “Anything else?”
I think about it. “Perhaps something for discomfort? I believe he’s in a bit of pain.”
“Who is he?” Denton asks, perplexed.
“I’m not sure. Eron believes him to be a prince named Lionel, but you know how fairies are.”
Denton’s frown deepens. “And why are you tending him?”
“Excellent question, and one I don’t have an answer for.”
The herbalist comes around the thick, sturdy workbench, wiping his hands on a cloth. He’s lean and tall, with sandy brown hair, light green eyes, and a few freckles across the bridge of his nose. He’s charmingly handsome in a way that makes the local girls swoon.
He’s also a centaur, though I’ve never seen him shift, and you’d never know it just from looking at him.
“I’ll close the shop if you’d like,” he says. “I can likely patch the man up for you.”
Though I’d love to take Denton up on his offer, there is one small problem.
With a sigh, I say, “Tarith has brought him into the cavern, and I’d hate to see you get eaten.”
The centaur nods, not overly concerned but wise enough to know you don’t trot onto dragon territory without an invitation. He turns toward the shelving that takes up an entire wall of his shop and strokes his chin. “I’ll send you home with a few things. If your charge doesn’t seem to be doing better in a few days, you could ask Tarith if I may assist.”
That sounds reasonable, and I nod.
The herbalist begins pulling pots and tinctures and who-knows-what-else from the shelves, and I grow nervous as my arms fill up. “Just how much is ‘a few things?’”
Denton chuckles as he examines a blue glass bottle. He then pulls the cork and takes a sniff. Satisfied, he shoves it at me and moves down the row.