Dragongift: Chapter 16, Part 2

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There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Remember Stirla? Yes, apparently he is still in this book.



Havia

“I NEVER WANTED to be a princess.”

Leaning against the rail of the Sherpoint observation deck, Stirla didn’t dignify this ridiculous opening with an answer. It was far easier to not wish to be a princess than to become one.

“When I was a child, I didn’t truly understand what such a thing was. My sisters knew all there was to know about their roles – wearing beautiful gowns, expensive jewellery and marrying handsome heroes. Their nurses filled their heads with stories, and when those were not sufficient there was a whole library from doting godparents and distant relations to tell them how to go on. There were no such stories for me. Or no stories that felt right.”

The rail groaned as the princess leant alongside Stirla, weight on her elbows, hands linked loosely. She’d taken off her rings, which made her fingers look strangely fragile. Hers were the hands of a woman who’d never had to work for her keep or worry about anything beyond her preferred amusements. Stirla’s fingers were thick and blockish, those of a farm boy. Yet there was strength in them and the calluses from swordwork and flight. His were the hands of a fighter, a Rift Rider. Glittering rings would look ridiculous on him.

“The stories that called to me most spoke of dashing Rift Riders, the heroes of the Overworld. There were even women in those stories, though they were all in the older ones from long ago.” The princess’ chuckle was dry and empty. “I remember asking my father how one became a Rift Rider. He frightened my voice away for a whole quarter-moon. I didn’t see him for two months. Not because such an ambition was unladylike, but because in my father’s house it was no good thing to want to be a Rider. Or a hero. All my favourite storybooks were quietly replaced with political treaties, carefully edited histories and biased biographies promoting the excellence of Havian royalty. Shortly after that my father began instructing me on how to be a true Havian princess, the power behind the throne. I was eight years old.”

Staring at the stars above the moonlit Cloud Sea, Stirla couldn’t help wondering what Neryth wanted. This was the kind of conversation she should have with Lyrai. They could compare heartless fathers and bemoan how terrible it was to be handed everything on a silver platter. If she expected sympathy she’d come to the wrong quarter.

“It wasn’t many years later that I realised I could never become a Rift Rider,” Neryth continued, idly swinging her hands, an oddly childlike gesture from the self-possessed princess. “Not because of my father’s prejudice, or my disfavoured gender, but because of my own weakness. I might not have wanted to be a princess, but I do enjoy aspects of it. I like the life I lead, the privileges I enjoy, the food I eat, the clothes I wear. My miryhls. I am fully aware that life as a Rift Rider, even as a princess of Havia, would require quite a sacrifice.”

So she was smart. What did she want, a round of applause? Congratulations, Highness, for realising you were too spoilt to ever make a great hero. Now go away so I can brood in peace. Stirla didn’t open his mouth. Even seeing Captain Korfei handle the princess in such a manner hadn’t convinced him to follow his example. Neryth was a princess, when all was tallied up, and Stirla was an Etherian farm boy. Better to give no order at all than one you know won’t be obeyed. Or so Captain Myran always said. Wise man.

“Yet somewhere deep inside, I still cherish the notion. Especially now that women have been accepted into the ranks once more. I know I can never become a Rider, or even a hero, but it’s still my duty to try.” The princess rubbed her forehead and sighed. “I’m not making sense. It’s no easy thing to admit, since my life looks like a paradise, even to nobles like Lorfyn. Well, perhaps not Lorfyn. I doubt he believes anyone could live better than a Ketthik of Havia. A poor example, but you understand.”

Since the princess was looking at him, Stirla nodded, because Lorfyn was a bad example to use for anything. Other than how not to achieve something. Lorfyn’s enthusiasm brought him a measure of success, true, but it would also get him killed. He didn’t even like the boy, but the prospect of him facing the kaz-naghkt made Stirla’s heart hurt. Gods, he was tired.

“I’m making a mull of this,” Neryth muttered, gripping the rail and breathing deep of the evening air. “What I’m trying to say is that I know you think this is stupid, that we’re spoilt brats on a lark, ignorant of the risks we face and the trouble we’re causing. I know you and the captain think we’ve been reading too many romances and fancy ourselves heroes-in-waiting. I wanted to say that though this might be true for some, it isn’t for me.

“I know what we face. I’ve spent summers at both Havian Rider bases. I’ve seen the wounded and helped to treat them. I’m my father’s second born, who everyone expects will rule behind the throne once my brother comes to power. I have no wish for the crown, but nor do I wish my country to die by slow inches as my foolish brother fritters our treasury away on his benighted lace. With a weak king on the throne my country will be in danger. It will be my task to defend her. But there is no one in Misthome who can teach me. No one in all of Havia, since my father’s influence is so wide-reaching.

“I need to learn and if to do so I must leave, then I shall. The Havian Special Force might be a farce, but it’s also the opportunity I’ve been awaiting these past ten years or more. I will never again have this chance to escape Misthome with an escort that I can take beyond the borders, without fear of ambush or kidnap.”

Stirla snorted, remembering the attack as they reached Havia. Kaz-naghkt were everywhere.

Ignoring his scepticism, Neryth rushed on. “I know nothing’s safe these days, and there’s no protection to be found anywhere. Especially not while the Wrathlen and kaz-naghkt hold Aquila. But this is as safe as I can get.”

“Even if it draws the wrath of your father down on the Rift Riders for seducing you away from his control?” Stirla had to ask.

Neryth gave a twisted smile. “My father is no fool. It’s partly because of his own thwarted dreams to become a Rider himself that he despises you so. You have freedoms he lacks, or so he perceives. It was why his favourite sisters ran off with Riders. We are all too alike in our thirst for heroics. My father may have crushed that part of me, but he replaced it with a sense of duty and an overwhelming need to protect my country. He will understand. He won’t like it, but he will understand and he promised Lyrai aid. He won’t blame you for my conduct.”

Which was more of a relief than Stirla expected. He hadn’t even known it was weighing him down. Perhaps Captain Hylan wouldn’t be forced to kill him after all. Then again, he wasn’t about to start counting his miryhls before they hatched.

“Like me, he understands that until Aquila is back under Rider control, Havia will never be safe. We’re too rich and too convenient, lying between Worlds End and Aquila, the perfect stop off point since we’re also the closest to the Wrathlen. We are a prize, and if not for the Rider bases we would have been crippled by the constant battles long ago.”

Which was all very worthy, but Stirla still didn’t see what any of it had to do with him. He was just a lieutenant, and not even a proper one since his rank was a courtesy title until he either stepped up to captain or failed. Even if he were a full captain, he’d still have to defer to a princess’ request, second born or not. Neryth seemed to be implying that Stirla had a choice, when he was just as helpless as the few students left under his command. The silence between them stretched, both staring out into the darkness where distant lights glimmered like watchful eyes.

“Was this what you wanted?” Neryth asked eventually. “To join the Riders as a boy, I mean, not stand on an observation deck in Havia with a nuisance princess wittering in your ear.”

It was such a surprise to hear Neryth wittering, just as she claimed, that Stirla smiled. “Of course. I’m the youngest, the only son after six daughters. I was desperate to get away from the moment I understood such things were possible.”

“Did your father not want you to succeed him?” the princess asked. “Your family are farmers, I believe.”

The reminder of his lowly origins made Stirla’s shoulders hunch again. “Tenant farmers,” he corrected. They didn’t even own their own land, though his family had tended it for generations. They worked their fingers raw, all moons of the year, through snow and storms, and when they gathered up what meagre harvest they could scrape up from the land, over half of it went to their overlord – regardless of whether they had enough left to feed themselves or not. A miserable existence. Was it any wonder he’d left as soon as he could and never looked back?

“Ah.” Neryth flexed her fingers and leant on her elbows again. “They must be proud of you. A captain-in-training.”

“And close friend to the second son of the Stratys,” Stirla agreed wearily. His parents were proud of him, so proud that they hadn’t known what to do the only time he’d returned for a visit. They hadn’t known who to bow and scrape to more, him or Lyrai. But he still loved them and would always return should they ask. They were his family.

Something clicked inside his brain. “Ah,” he sighed with understanding. His parents might not own the land they lived on, but it was theirs in the deepest of ways. Stirla would die to protect them and it from harm. As Neryth would for the whole of Havia. The only difference was the scale of their territories.

“I’ve not had your training,” the princess continued, “and I know you find it hard to tell me what to do, but I am willing to learn. It’s why I’m here. I know all about governing a kingdom, contracting eligible alliances, parrying with words as well as dress swords, but I know nothing of true fighting. Against a horde of kaz-naghkt or a bombardment of pirates I am helpless.”

“I am no general,” Stirla replied, not wanting Neryth to think more of him than he deserved, however flattering. “I’m not a captain, nor even a full lieutenant. It’s been barely four years since I was a student. I cannot mentor you.”

“I don’t want a mentor,” Neryth corrected firmly. “Not that I wouldn’t welcome one in time, but I’ve been watching you with your Riders and the foolish HSF. I’ve seen how you handle them and how they respond to you. I have watched you spar. You could help me, lieutenant, start me on the path towards protecting my land. You could certainly tighten up my swordwork and flight skills. I may be considered amongst the greatest duellers of my generation in Misthome, but I’m not so foolish as to think that will save me once the kaz-naghkt descend.

“I want to stay alive, Stirla. I want to survive this experience so that one day I might return home again. And when I do, I will know everything I need to protect it for the rest of my life. I’ve been watching you and I think you have the knowledge I seek, at least at the beginning. So I ask, are you willing to teach me? Will you help me become what my country needs? In return I will work as hard as any student, and do everything I can to restore Aquila to you and yours.”

More than a little stunned by this appeal that had come out of nowhere, Stirla could only stare at the hand the princess was offering to seal the bargain.

Studying his expression, Neryth gave a wry smile. “I’ll also do my best to keep the HSF from plaguing you. Even if I have to muzzle Lorfyn day and night.”

Stirla grinned. “Now there’s an offer I’d be an idiot to refuse.” He grasped the princess’ wrist in the Western way.

“A bargain struck, my word on it,” she said formally.

“May the world break before my bond,” Stirla concluded, and they smiled as they returned to watching the star-sprinkled night.

“So, lieutenant,” Neryth asked. “Where do we go from here?”

“Weapons drill at first light, a quick breakfast, then to wing, student,” he teased in reply.

“Student,” the princess repeated with a grimace. “Might I persuade you to call me Neryth?”

“Depends on how late you are to practise in the morning.”

Neryth chuckled. “There’s an incentive. And after we leave Sherpoint, where then?”

“Etheria,” Stirla sighed, tipping his head towards the north. “Whether or not the general has returned, Captain Hylan will have plenty of work for us.”

“There’s always work,” Neryth agreed, and they fell silent, listening to the whistle and sigh of the Cloud Sea below. As the moon drifted overhead, sinking into the western mountains, they left the deck and returned to the guest wing. They had a busy time ahead – starting at dawn.


More on Sunday!

Thanks for reading.

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August Catch Up

Yartor Pony July

I’m not quite sure what it is about this year – or me – but every time I mention a deadline I seem to be tempting fate too far, so I get something else thrown at my head to make all chances of meeting said deadline impossible.

Which is a roundabout way of attempting to excuse myself for missing all my self-imposed deadlines this year. I would say that from now on I will hit each and every one, but I’m making no promises – in case they turn around and devour me whole.

The good news is A Courtship of Dragons is finally out! You may have already noticed.

The other good news is that I’m working really hard on Storm Rising and hope that it won’t be long before it follows. I have a hard deadline set in my head, but I refuse to write it down for fear of aforementioned bitey things.

After that it really is time I returned to writing. Things have been so hectic around here this year that I basically haven’t written anything in more months than I care to imagine. Which would be frightening, except I have been just too busy to have managed anything. I’ve written copious reviews, but I don’t think they really count. I also cleaned out a fully packed attic, which is satisfying in many ways, but doesn’t write the stories for me.

Next up on my writing schedule is the long neglected Burning Sky (or is it Sands?), which is Dragonlands #4. I left some characters in a bad way there, so I really do need to go and take care of them. After that, I would love to try NaNo again this year, probably with Wingborn #5 (whose title is spoilery for those who haven’t read past book 1). Beyond that, a whole other series without dragons or miryhls in it keeps calling me with a siren song and I’d love to return and play with them. I also have Aekhs to work on and older books to tidy up for various reasons.

As always, lots to do, very little time to do it in. But in non-writing news I’ve been walking loads, have finally worked out a routine so I can yoga every day and I even have a new camera to play with. My dogs and I continue to get older, my cat remains cuddly and grumpy, family is awesome, and my good old British summer isn’t playing very fair right now (see the photo, that’s supposed to be July!). On the whole, though, I can’t complain.

But enough of me, how are you lovely people doing?

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 38

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

(I should probably make a new banner, now that the book is out and all… I’ll add it to the list of things to do when I can breathe.)

Uff, Starshines.


38
Waiting

ALTHOUGH IT WAS disappointing that he wouldn’t be able to give his sixth gift to Estenarven that night, Mastekh found that he didn’t mind too much. Not when Elder Blazeborn needed them. Which was why he found it extra annoying on reaching the Tempestfury elder’s private dining quarters to be reassigned to wait upon Elder Goryal instead, leaving Estenarven to take care of Elder Blazeborn alone.

That wasn’t at all what he’d had in mind and he still hadn’t forgive them for allowing Estenarven to jump into the pool, knowing full well a Boulderforce could not swim.

“Good evening, Mastekh,” the Starshine greeted cheerfully, ignoring Mastekh’s scowl.

“Elder G-Goryal.”

“I’m glad to see you this evening,” they continued, oblivious as always to the resentful thoughts being sent their way. Or, rather more likely, choosing to ignore them, since they were perfectly capable of plucking the thoughts out of the heads of every person present, human and dragon alike. “Have you shared your next gifts yet?”

“No.” Mastekh turned with the other aides to the sideboard that ran around the edge of the room and picked up the first course, which had been just brought in by the dracos. Picking up a bowl of soup, he placed it in front of Goryal with a distinct lack of grace.

Not that they cared. They smiled and thanked him and, with an equally distinct lack of consideration for the protocols of private dining rooms, continued to talk with their server rather than either of the people they were seated between. To their left, Captain Wellswen was busy listening to the Tempestfury on her other side, but Ambassador Jesken on their right had every reason to feel offended – if she hadn’t been so obviously amused by the conversation between Mastekh and the Starshine.

“Which gift are you on now?” Elder Goryal enquired, sipping their soup and making a sound of enjoyment. “This is delicious. Please pass my compliments along to the dracos.”

Mastekh would gladly have done just that, but before he could step back into the shadows where all good attendants belonged, Goryal snagged the edge of his sleeve, holding him in place.

“Which gift, Mastekh?”

“Sixth,” he replied grumpily. “Hand-m-made.”

“A handmade gift,” the ambassador sighed happily. “What a delightful idea. May I ask what you’re making?”

Mastekh flushed to the tips of his ears and shot a worried glance across the table. Unlike him, Estenarven had been left free to return to the shadows after serving the first course. Instead of being asked impertinent questions, he was chatting with Reglian. The smiling young archivist was toying with a quill rather than taking the notes that were supposedly keeping him from being able to wait upon Elder Goryal. Leaving Mastekh to take his place – and answer impertinent questions.

Gritting his teeth, he muttered, “A w-wood carving.”

“Oh, how delightful.” The ambassador smiled at him. “Have you done much carving before?”

Mastekh shook his head and managed to twitch his robe free of Goryal’s grip. “Excuse m-me,” he murmured, escaping back into the shadows where the ambassador’s human servants were talking quietly with the dracos. Jesral kin Lightstorm was there also, barely bothering to conceal her yawn as she waited for Elder Cloudflight to require her attendance. On the opposite side of the room, Kalaha kin Windheart Clan Swiftwing stood at silent attention behind Elder Rainstorm’s chair, jumping forward whenever the dragon snapped his fingers for more wine.

Just looking at Elder Rainstorm’s face as he smiled at the Tempestfury dragon beside him made Mastekh’s blood run cold. Rishen might have been his kin elder, but Mastekh had never felt comfortable around him. He was too sly, too loud and frequently too uncaring to inspire trust. And far too insistent on loyalty to kin and Clan.

The elder looked up at that moment and Mastekh turned hurriedly away, pretending to fuss with the next course as the dracos brought it in. Ever since the disaster that had been Boltspike, Rishen had been ignoring Mastekh and, since he wished that to continue for the rest of his natural life, Mastekh had no intention of drawing his kin elder’s attention.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward with the other attendants and removed Goryal’s empty bowl before returning with the next course.

“Remember what I said,” Goryal murmured, as Mastekh leant forward to place the plate of steaming vegetables in front of them. “When you are ready for the final gift, come and see me. I know of something hard to get that will be perfect – for you and Estenarven.”

“More w-wine, elder?” Mastekh said, giving the faintest hint of a nod, aware that Rishen was still watching him.

“Thank you, Mastekh,” the Starshine agreed, smiling as he poured. Thankfully they then let him retreat back into the shadows, where he lost Rishen’s attention once more.

Something hard to get, Mastekh thought as he leant against the wall, eyes locking with Estenarven’s on the far side of the room. At the moment the best gift that fit that description would be time alone together, but in truth that wasn’t a gift either of them could give. Not when they were both assigned to Elder Blazeborn.

So he would have to find something else. Since he had no idea where to even begin in this storm-wracked place so far from his home, he would accept Elder Goryal’s offer. It would cost him nothing to listen and, possibly, might lead to Mastekh getting everything he wanted.

He just wished he didn’t have to wait.

“Patience,” Elder Goryal chuckled, when Mastekh served the next course.

He eyed the elder grumpily, which only made them laugh, and stepped back into the shadows resigned to an impatient, interminable evening at the Starshine’s expense. His only comfort was that he wasn’t the only one trapped here. Catching Estenarven’s eye again, they shared a commiserating smile and he felt instantly better.

It was only one night, after all. He could last one more night.


Courtship 7More next week.Courtship 7

If, like Mastekh, you’re fed up of waiting to find out what happens, get the ebook – it’s free!

Whatever you choose to do, take care, my lovelies.

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Courtship is Out!

Okay, so strictly speaking it’s been out for over a week, but regardless of all that, or if you hadn’t noticed yet…

Courtship 7Dragonlands #1.5

Friends and lovers have always come easily to Estenarven kin Boulderforce, until Mastekh. For the first time in over three hundred years, Estenarven has found a dragon that matters. Now all he has to do is convince him.

Mastekh kin Rainstorm doesn’t expect much from life; he mostly wants to be left alone. Until Estenarven leaves a gift on his pillow. For the first time someone is paying attention to Mastekh, but can this shy, downtrodden dragon ever learn to trust another – and himself – enough to give in to life, joy… and maybe even love?

Warning! This M/M romantic side-adventure contains a watery dragon with no confidence and a stone-stubborn Boulderforce with confidence enough for two. May also contain an interfering Starshine, a slightly perplexed Blazeborn and kissing. Enjoy!

Free to download now!

|| Smashwords || B&N || iBooks || Kobo ||

Currently I have no plans to release it on Amazon, since I cannot make the book free there. If people really want a kindle/mobi version, Smashwords has it or you can leave me a comment or send me an email and I’ll send you a nicer mobi version.

iBooks/iTunes link to come when it actually bothers to appear. This was one of the reasons I left this a while before posting, but even still, Apple is lagging behind. I guess because it’s free. Ah well.

Anyway, you can still read the weekly updates if you prefer and I’ll be making a proper landing page so it will continue to be available free right here – and soon on Wattpad too. However, if you’re fed up of waiting for the ending or prefer to read in places other than online, now you can!

Plus, look, a real cover with a little Esten and Mastekh! Both of which were designed by and can be found on the brilliant Freepik.

Posted in Books, Free Fiction, Overworld, Serial, Updates, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dragongift: Chapter 16, Part 1

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Who knocked?


Sixteen
Uncertain Knowledge

Aquila

YULLIK OPENED HIS eyes to the dark. There was a moment of emptiness as his wandering mind returned to his fragile body, settling back into the familiar contours and confines. The fingers on his right hand twitched, his left foot tapped, his eyebrows twitched, then his heart beat. He took a deep breath.

Something stirred.

His mind snapped into focus and his body was his own once more, senses spreading out, searching, tasting, testing. There was something there, something he had never felt before. At least, not in this particular way. Not in this particular place. He’d not thought to look for it here, but there was too much familiarity for him to mistake it. Every muscle in his body tightened.

“Father?”

The night was quiet, Aquila was still and whatever had moved in the dark was gone.

* * *

Cleansed Lands

MHYSRA’S FINGERS TIGHTENED on Lyrai’s arm as the knock came again. He didn’t think she was aware of doing it, but since it didn’t hurt he wasn’t about to tell her to let go.

A third knock, another squeeze. Lyrai frowned. “It isn’t come from there.” He nodded towards the centre of the library, where the orange-haired dragon had been looking.

“No,” Dhori agreed, pacing up the aisle towards the walls. “It’s from down there.”

“Under the floor?” Mhysra asked dubiously, but the fourth knock came unmistakably from beneath their feet. She crouched down and ran her hands over the smooth stone. “How do we open it?”

“Do we want to?” Lyrai said, placing a restraining hand on her shoulder as she discovered a metal ring embedded in the stone. “What do we know of dragons, after all?”

“Didn’t Reglian tell you to wait in the library for Corin and Jaymes?” Mhysra replied, tapping her fingers against the metal ring. “It could be them.”

The fifth knock sounded right under Lyrai’s boots and he looked at Dhori. “Well?”

Rubbing his jaw, Dhori paced around the flagstone where the knocks were coming from, humming softly. Someone had been spending too much time with the dragons, Lyrai thought with a smile.

“Only one way to know,” Dhori said, dropping his glow globe to seize a second metal ring fixed into the stone. “Take the other one, Lyrai. Mhysra, stand back.”

Giving his globe to Mhysra as she stood and moved back, Lyrai did as he was told, surprised to find that the ring felt warm. It rose smoothly from its groove, clinking a little as he braced himself.

“On three,” Dhori said, shifting his weight. “One, two, three.” They strained against the hefty weight, pulling the flagstone up smoothly and shuffling sideways to drop it.

A familiar russet head popped up. “About time,” Jaymes greeted, grinning. “I thought we’d be lost down here forever. Hey, Corin, guess who I found?” He dropped out of sight.

Crouching on the edge of the hole, Mhysra shone a glow globe into the dark. “I thought we found them,” she said, smiling as Corin appeared. “Been having fun?”

“No,” her friend grumbled. “Take this.” She passed a bundle into Mhysra’s astonished arms.

“But this is -”

“Wait,” Jaymes called, reappearing with a red bundle of his own. “It gets better.” He handed it to Lyrai, who almost dropped it due to its intense heat.

When it uncurled and blinked at him with bright amber eyes, he gave into the sudden urge to sit down. Though it weighed barely anything, the bundle was unmistakably a dragonet, with claws and teeth and scales. And tiny nubs for wings. “Where?” he croaked, the only word he could manage as Dhori hauled Corin and Jaymes out of the hole before the three of them dragged the flagstone back into place.

“A cave along the coast,” Jaymes explained, grinning as the dragonet wriggled out of Lyrai’s slack hold to drape itself about the lad’s neck and waist. It sighed contentedly, smoke spiralling out of its little nostrils. “It runs right under the island, I think. Led us straight here. Amazing. An entire cavern full of rock nests.” He tickled his dragonet’s chin, making it purr.

Astonished, and not just because he’d never heard Jaymes so talkative, Lyrai turned to Corin, whose own dragonet was draped around her in a similar fashion. Unlike Jaymes, she didn’t appear quite as happy about it.

“How?” Mhysra asked, sounding as confused and stunned as Lyrai felt.

“Why?” Corin added wryly. “That’s the one I’d like to know.” Her dragonet rubbed its head against her scratched face with a throaty chuckle.

“Because you were called.” Reglian walked out of the shadows, voice and expression smug. “Because you were close. Because you were born to it. Some people are Wingborn -” He nodded at Mhysra. “- others are Dragongifted. It’s the greatest of the dragongifts.”

Jaymes practically glowed with happiness, while Corin’s shoulders sagged. Both dragonets looked up, their pointed faces trained in Reglian’s direction – and screeched. Reglian wasn’t the only one to wince. Especially when the pitch began to rise in wavering pulses.

Painful as it was, Lyrai didn’t have to speak dragonet to understand. These babies were hungry and they wanted everyone to know it.

All right!” Reglian boomed. “You have manners to learn.” He glared at the dragonets before pointing at Jaymes and Corin. “And you have much to teach. No child should be so demanding. It isn’t good for them.”

“Or us,” Corin grumbled, wrapping her hand around her dragonet’s muzzle to silence it.

“They’re hungry,” Jaymes protested, as his dragonet rubbed affectionately against his face. “As you would be if you’d never eaten in your life. What do we feed them, Reglian? What else should we know?”

It was the most confident Lyrai had ever heard Jaymes speak, especially to someone he still regarded as a stranger. Responsibility was clearly good for the boy.

Still rubbing his ears, Reglian turned with a sigh. “Come, I have prepared for this. The rest of you should look along there.” He pointed at a row of shelves leading away into the shadowy gloom. “I believe you might find something of interest.”

Corin’s dragonet peeped a loud protest when Reglian’s footsteps slowed, and he shot it a narrow-eyed glare. “Starvation is a necessary training aid, windling.”

The dragonet flattened against its human with a low meep.

“Read on,” Reglian commanded Lyrai, Dhori and Mhysra, and marched off with the others.

Watching them go, Mhysra yawned and Lyrai copied. He rubbed his eyes, relaxed enough to feel sleepy now that their errant friends had returned. “There’s not a book in the Overworld I’d find interesting right now.”

“Nor me,” Mhysra agreed, yawning again. “Unless it was pillow shaped.”

“It’s dawn,” Dhori said, looking at the nearest window. “The books aren’t going anywhere.”

“Good, ‘cause I am,” Mhysra muttered, turning around. “If I knew how to get out.”

Lyrai grabbed her shoulders to stop her spinning and steered her towards the door. “Come on, Wingborn. There probably is a pillow-shaped book in this place, but you’ll find your bed more comfortable.”

“True,” she agreed, letting him guide her without protest. “You going to sleep too, Dhori?”

Lyrai glanced over his shoulder, having thought their most mysterious friend was following.

Dhori leant back against the nearest shelves, watching them with a smile, and shook his head. “Carry on. Maybe I’ll find a book to interest me.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Lyrai remarked, and received a brief grin.

“Some of them without me even being involved,” Dhori quipped.

“Imagine that.” Yawning, Mhysra turned to Lyrai plaintively. “I’m still lost.”

Rolling his eyes, he took her hand and headed into the gloom of the shelves. “Night, Dhori.”

“Sleep well.”

Catching Mhysra as she stumbled with weariness, Lyrai smiled. “I think she already is.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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Dragongift: Chapter 15, Part 3

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Sorry this is late! (Again.) I shall attempt to make it up to you by giving you a glimpse of a dragon library…

(It won’t be late tomorrow. Promise.)



Aquila

WATER. WATER. WATER. Down. Down. Down. Mouse sank into the blackness, his panic sinking into the fathomless depths as his body grew heavier. He hung suspended, helpless, hopeless, alone.

Not alone. Never alone. There is nothing to fear.

Mouse was too tired for fear, too despairing to care. It was all the same.

Not alone, the voice repeated with gentle insistence. Never alone.

A light in the gloom, an oval of silver big enough for Mouse to curl up in. The black in the middle contracted to a slit, focusing. The great eye blinked.

See.

He saw. It saw him.

Time to wake.

And Mouse did, gasping and terrified, high in the tower above Aquila, where Dean Marshall whispered apologies over his head.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the darkness below another eye opened and water churned as the dragon stirred.

* * *

Cleansed Lands

IT WAS LATE and the world beyond the high windows was utterly dark, yet Mhysra couldn’t sleep. Too much had happened, too much had been revealed, even more had been left unsaid and Corin and Jaymes were still missing. With so many thoughts inside her head, Mhysra couldn’t sit still, let alone lie down and try to sleep. So she walked through the enormous libraries of the Archives, a golden glow globe in her hand courtesy of Reglian.

“I don’t like fire in my Archives,” he’d said, when she asked for a candle. “It is too much of a risk. If only I could keep Clan Sunlord out.” Taking an egg-shaped pebble from his desk drawer, he’d hummed over it for a moment before handing it to her with a wink. “That should keep you out of mischief for a night or two.”

When Mhysra had stared bemusedly at the dull grey pebble, Reglian had smiled. “Give it a shake.”

Remembering her awe as the ordinary stone warmed into radiance, Mhysra shook it again, causing the golden light to flare a little brighter. All around her leather-bound books and boxes of scrolls lined the shelves, the gold-embossed titles glinting invitingly. It was a shame she couldn’t read most of them. Some were marked with symbols, others written in beautifully flowing scripts that were more art than words. All of them utterly incomprehensible to her human eyes.

One script was particularly intriguing as she lifted a giant tome down, sitting on the floor so that she could turn the pages and hold her globe at the same time. She had no idea what language it was written in, but the marks writhed across the page like flames and smoke. There was no telling if it was written in vertical lines or horizontal ones, or if it was even arranged in lines at all. There seemed to be no structure, only beauty. It almost didn’t matter what it said, since it was so gorgeous to look at. The ink added to its charms, glistening red in the centre and fading outwards to orange and gold by the margins.

“Fascinating, isn’t it?”

Mhysra looked up as Lyrai wandered down the aisle, another golden globe in his hand. “I expected Dhori to find me first.”

Sitting opposite her, he traced the fiery patterns with one finger, smiling. “I think for once Dhori is willing to forgo his role of knower of all things.”

“All the better to keep his secrets,” Mhysra agreed, turning a page. “I wonder what it says.”

“You’re reading it wrong.” Lyrai took the book and turned it around. “And you’ve got it upside down.”

She shot him a sceptical look. “You can read it?”

Shaking his hair from his eyes, he chuckled. “No, but there are sample texts in the Stratys’ Library, complete with notes on how to read them. You start here.” He placed his finger in the centre of the page, on a glowing red dot. “Then heading sunwise, you read outwards as the colour fades to gold.” His finger spiralled around the script, showing how the pattern was formed. It was as clever as it was beautiful.

And yet: “Impractical,” she said, tilting her head, mesmerised by the way the words shimmered beneath the passing of Lyrai’s fingertip. “This book’s too big to keep turning it around and you’d get a terrible neck ache trying to figure it out any other way.”

Reaching the end of the text, Lyrai’s finger slipped from the page. “I don’t think Nidrakkan is meant to be practical. Like the fire it symbolises, it can be controlled only so far.”

“Nidrakkan?” Mhysra repeated, liking how the word dipped in the middle, then kicked at the end, like an ember popping in the grate.

“The High Dragon language,” Lyrai explained. “A language for gods and priests, or the dragon equivalent.” Leaning back, he pulled another book off the shelf, this one written in an elegant, flowing script. “This is Nagka, the Clan dragon language. The aristocracy, if you like.”

Mhysra turned to find one of the symbol books. “And this?”

“Dracoform, which can be written and used by all dragon kind – Clan, kin, lesser, big, small, clever or dim, with varying levels of success. I believe there are also local variants.”

Laying the three books out next to each other, Mhysra glanced between their very different pages and shook her head. “How do you know this? We weren’t taught anything like this at Nimbys or Aquila and certainly not at Wrentheria.”

Turning another page of the Nidrakkan book – from left to right – Lyrai traced the spiral of words, smiling. “Blame it on a childhood interest in all things dragon. Even the greatest dragonlore scholars will answer a boy’s questions, should he also happen to be the son of the Stratys.”

“You abused your privileges wisely, Highness,” she teased. “And sometimes the greatest gift a scholar can have is someone to listen to them, even if it is only an enthusiastic young boy, son of the Stratys or not.”

He chuckled and closed the book. “You’re remarkably wise, at times, Lady Mhysra.”

Rolling her eyes, she put the dracoform book away. “You can’t spend as much time as I do with Dhori without picking up a thing or two.”

“You make me sound like a disease.”

Surprised they both looked up, neither having heard Dhori approach. His smile was cautious as he tossed his glow globe between his hands. This one didn’t hum with Reglian’s golden light, but crackled with a silver more reminiscent of Rhiddyl’s power. Miniature lightning bolts shivered inside the clear glass, throwing wavering shadows over Dhori’s face.

Mhysra wanted to ask him about what had happened with the All Seer Stone, but the way he shifted his feet told her that he was ready to bolt. Dhori had always been highly protective of his past, so just because she’d learned a fascinating snippet about him, didn’t mean she was going to get any more. How frustrating.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Lyrai asked with studied nonchalance. Curiosity was thick in the air, but Dhori’s tension relaxed a little at the innocuous question.

“I wondered if Jaymes and Corin were back yet.”

“Reglian told me soon,” Lyrai said, closing the Nagka book and standing up to replace it on the shelf. “He told me I might as well wait in the library. Everything turns up here in the end.”

“Huh,” Mhysra grumbled as Dhori pulled her to her feet. “He wouldn’t tell me anything. Just told me to be patient and to try not to set his books on fire.”

Lyrai grinned, playing one-handed catch with his glow globe. “That’s because you’ve been here two bells longer than I have.”

“Hm.” Despite her disgruntled expression, Mhysra was surprised. It hadn’t felt that long.

Then again she’d been completely fascinated by everything around her. Even though the library was tall and spacious enough to contain several full-sized dragons, the shelves at the farthest reaches of the room were spaced for humans. The shelves and books there could only be used by those in human form, and its rows were barely wide enough for three men to walk abreast. The height, however, reached right to the top of the room, far above Mhysra’s head, with rolling ladders spaced at regular intervals.

It wasn’t just books and boxes of scrolls either. Every so often the shelves were realigned around glass cabinets, gilt-framed paintings and small domes. Inside the cabinets the artefacts ranged from ancient pottery and tiny bronze jewellery, to exquisite diamond sculptures and golden masks. There were also objects of magical origin under the domes, like an eternal flame burning inside an emerald locket or a rainbow captured in a solid dewdrop. Her favourite was a firebird feather elegantly curled inside a glass dome, its colours shifting with every new angle she observed it from, the edges shimmering like a living flame.

So many wonders, and she’d only seen a tiny part of what this library and land had to offer.

“Been enjoying yourself?” Dhori asked, as they walked towards the end of the row.

Mhysra sighed. “I have no words to describe this place.”

He smiled. “That’s dragons for you. Show offs, the lot of them.”

“Such compliments, Dhoriaen Aure,” purred an unfamiliar voice, all heat and smoke. A small woman appeared from the shadows between the aisles, her skin as pale as milk, her hair and eyes a vivid shade of orange. “You put us to the blush.”

“Not in the library, I hope,” Dhori countered, not the least embarrassed to be caught out yet again with his disparaging comments. “You’ll burn the books.”

The woman’s laugh was as smoky as her voice. “I do so like you, Aure, whether you like us or not.” She paused to stare towards the centre of the library, head tilting to one side. “Someone knocks,” she announced.

Frowning, Mhysra and the others peered into the dark, trying to see what the dragon had, but when they turned to ask what she meant, she was gone. Only the scent of smoke remained.

“Flametongue,” Dhori huffed derisively, while Mhysra and Lyrai shared a bemused glance. “All show, no substance.”

Someone knocked.


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 37

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A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

At last, everything is going so well…


37
Delay

DESPITE CARRYING A substantial rock, large enough to fill both hands, Estenarven felt light and merry as he entered Elder Blazeborn’s suite later that afternoon, while yet another storm raged around the tower.

“Ah, there you are.” Khennik looked up from the desk in the main room just as lightning flashed through the narrow windows, glinting off the gold veins in the quartz Estenarven was holding. The elder eyed the object admiringly. “Sixth gift?”

Not liking the way the Blazeborn was staring at the quartz, well aware of the reputation Sunlord dragons had when it came to shiny precious things – along with delicious foods, sumptuous furnishings, grand artwork, swathes of territory and, well, everything, since Sunlords were the most acquisitive of Clans – Estenarven tucked the rock against his chest and wrapped his arms around it, hiding most of it from sight.

“Something precious,” he explained, entirely unnecessarily.

The corner of Elder Blazeborn’s mouth curled ever so slightly upwards. “Fret not, Estenarven. I won’t steal your gift. There are some Sunlords who cannot control their possessive urges. Luckily for you, I am not one of them.”

Even so, Estenarven had prepared for a moment such as this and reached into his pocket. While he’d been searching for the perfect piece of quartz, one with a vein of gold that looked like a river, he’d happened upon a several smaller chunks that might not have been what he’d sought for Mastekh but had still caught his eye. One of which was almost entirely gold with only a few glints of quartz.

He placed it carefully on the table before Khennik. “Thank you, elder.”

The Blazeborn eyed the palm-sized stone warily. “For what?”

His obvious suspicion made Estenarven smile, since he’d intended the rock as a bribe to convince the elder to let him give the bigger piece to Mastekh uncontested. Apparently he needn’t have bothered, which made him perversely all the more eager to give Khennik something.

“For allowing my courtship of Mastekh to continue. For not interfering. For being reasonable. For not trying to take this,” he nodded at the stone now tucked into the crook of his arm, “from me. For keeping Mastekh safe at Teirenlai. For not refusing Goryal when he insisted I should be assigned to you as punishment. For not getting angry when Mastekh drops things, for not getting annoyed when we bicker, for not complaining when one – or both – of us wander off for most of the day.”

Khennik blinked in astonishment at the words that kept on coming, but now that Estenarven had started, he realised he had so much thank this dragon for. More than he’d ever realised.

“Thank you for saving Mastekh’s life at Boltspike, for keeping us with you. For being you.” Taking a deep breath and stopping before he got too carried away, Estenarven picked up the gold rock and leant across the table to place it directly in front of his elder. “Thank you.”

Khennik stared at the rock as if it was about to explode and blinked. Then cautiously, carefully, he picked it up. A flicker of lightning lit up the windows, making the flecks of quartz embedded in the gold glow. Elder Blazeborn turned the rock around in his hand, stroking his fingers over the uneven, ragged edges before his fist closed possessively about it.

When he looked up at Estenarven, his golden eyes glowed with power. “Thank you,” the elder said, and Estenarven sighed with relief that his gift had been accepted. That his thanks hadn’t been rejected. A sense of achievement and approval washed over him and he grinned, hugging Mastekh’s gift against his chest.

“Do you think he’ll like it?” he couldn’t help asking.

Busy admiring his gold stone again, Elder Blazeborn looked up and tipped his head. “I see no reason why he wouldn’t. It looks like a river captured within the stone. You give very thoughtful gifts, Estenarven.”

Unused to praise from his gruff elder, Estenarven had the unfamiliar sensation of flushing with pleasure. Thank the Family his skin was dark and wouldn’t betray him like Mastekh’s paler complexion.

He cleared his throat awkwardly. “I was hoping to give it to him tonight, if you have no need of us.”

“Ah.” Khennik finally put down his rock and laid his hands flat against the table. “Tonight. Has Mastekh given you your sixth gift yet?”

Any happy, light feelings began to fade at the question. “No,” Estenarven said slowly. “Not yet.”

Khennik’s frown turned into a grimace. “Then I regret to inform you that you cannot give this to him tonight. I sadly do have need of you both.”

Disappointment threatened to pull Estenarven’s shoulders down, but his elder had asked so little of them lately – rarely asked much of them even when he had every right to – that he forced himself not to show it. “Whatever you need, elder. We are both here to serve.”

At that moment the door handle rattled and Mastekh entered the suite as if summoned by their elder’s request. Estenarven’s eyes widened as he looked down at the gift he was still holding. Elder Blazeborn stood up swiftly and walked around the desk, taking Mastekh’s attention with him and away from Estenarven.

“Ah, Mastekh, I was just explaining to Estenarven that I shall be dining with Elder Gwyllen tonight and require both of you to attend. It would appear that our host has finally decided to take advantage of our presence and do business with the humans. As a delegate to the embassy, I am told my place is to sit there and ensure all are dealt with fairly.”

“Oh.” Mastekh murmured, sounding as if he too was struggling to hide his disappointment.

Having looked around the room and found nothing big enough to hide the quartz in or behind, Estenarven grimaced and stuffed the rock inside his robe. Though he tucked it between his arm and his body, there was no way he could disguise the fact he was holding something.

“Yes,” Elder Blazeborn continued, keeping Mastekh’s attention away from Estenarven as he began shuffling towards his bedroom door. “Tiresome, I know. The other elders will have their aides attending on them, but if you and Estenarven have other plans, I will likely be able to cope alone. Perhaps Reglian will assist me.”

Estenarven and Mastekh both bristled. As disappointing as it was not to be able to share his sixth gift just yet, there was no way on this Overworld that either he or Mastekh would allow their elder to dine with the other dragons and their aides alone, leaving him as the only one not being properly cared for. Nor would they permit another dragon to take their place.

The care of Elder Blazeborn was their task – no one else’s.

“We’ll be there,” Estenarven announced, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be sneaking away before Mastekh noticed the ill-concealed gift inside his robe.

Thankfully he was in a shadowy portion of the room, so even though Mastekh glanced at him, nodding firmly in agreement, he didn’t seem to notice anything amiss.

The corner of Elder Blazeborn’s mouth curled up ever-so-slightly. “So be it. The bell will sound soon – I trust neither of you need too long to prepare.” He cast Estenarven a brief but knowing glance, which Mastekh again failed to notice.

“Not too l-long at all, eld-d-der,” the Rainstorm bubbled, pressing a hand against his robe pocket and rushing into his room.

“Glad to hear it,” Khennik murmured, raising an eyebrow at where Estenarven still stood in the shadows. “I trust that all my hard work providing you with a distraction won’t go to waste now while you stand around daydreaming until Mastekh returns and catches you once again in the open with a badly hidden gift.”

“Ah. Yes, right.” Having been distracted by the sway of Mastekh’s robe as he hurried away, Estenarven cleared his throat and started moving again. “I’ll be back in a tail swish.”

Over the sound of Khennik’s amused snort, Estenarven raced into his room and bundled Mastekh’s gift beneath his pillow. Sighing with relief at finally having the precious thing out of sight, he emptied his pockets of his smaller treasures and turned to his wash his face in the basin. Straightening his robe, he peered into his mirror and smoothed a hand over his bald head.

A little more harried than usual, but otherwise he looked well enough.

“One more night won’t make any difference,” he told his reflection. After all, there was no set time limit between each gift. There could be days, moons, even years between one courting gift and the next if the dragons involved so required. The only time limit applied when it came to reciprocating one gift to another in order to complete the set. Which was why Elder Blazeborn had asked if Estenarven had received his sixth gift yet. If he had, he would only have a day to respond, else the courtship would be ended. However, since neither of them had yet given their sixth gift, there was no real harm in deferring their courtship for another day.

Much though he might wish otherwise.

“Pull yourself together,” he ordered, poking a finger at his reflected nose. “You’re a Boulderforce. You won’t crumble in the meantime.”

Even so, he would miss the long, leisurely evening chats that always started with them sitting side-by-side – Mastekh usually keeping a decorous hand’s span of space between them – and ended with a Rainstorm draped across his chest, sleepily listening to whatever nonsense Estenarven could come up with to keep them together a little while longer. He had hoped that tonight, after their sixth gifts had been exchanged, he might be able to coax Mastekh into staying with him all night. Sleeping, only sleeping, but sadly it seemed as though the elders had other plans.

A heavy bell tolled somewhere overhead and Estenarven relinquished his hopes with a sigh. He had work to do. He wasn’t here for his health, but because Elder Blazeborn needed him.

With that in mind, he rejoined the others and they set off through the halls of Highstrike for another tedious evening of trade talks and diplomatic dancing.


More next Wednesday!

Courtship 7

Courtship 7
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Proper release post and links to come when I’m not being (happily) invaded by family :)

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Dragongift: Chapter 15, Part 2

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First time reading? Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

Oh, look, an answer to a long running question!



Aquila

THE STONE BENEATH Mouse’s hand dropped away, and he stumbled forward with a cry. The ground was solid and hard when he dropped to his knees, catching his weight on his hands. It was cold and there was a sense of space all around. The faint echo of his own cry drifted back to him.

There is no reason to be afraid. You have been here before.

Mouse shivered at the words slipping inside his mind. They were cool and wet, dripping like water. Not entirely unpleasant but strange. He wasn’t used to voices inside his head, except his own and those of memory. Though he might have been here before – wherever here was – he had never heard this voice.

I had nothing to say. I was sleeping.

As Mouse was now. He wondered how he could dream, yet know it was a dream. The darkness breathed around him.

Come,” the voice urged. Come, Morri. Here. Down. Come.

With every word he crawled forward, pulled inexorably towards the source, unable to resist even if he had wanted to. Little stones bit into his palms and knees, dust crunched under his weight and the chill grew.

Come.

His hand sank, breaking through a watery surface that neither stirred nor splashed. It swallowed his hand, wrapping him in a coldness that sank into his bones and spread across his body. He pulled back.

No. The water held him, refusing to let him go. Come.

His hand slipped further until he had no choice but to put his other hand down, unless he wanted to lose his balance. With both hands under the surface, the pull increased and dragged him forward.

Come.

“No.” Mouse struggled as the water lapped at his chest, brushing his shoulders. “No!”

Come, Morri. Down.

“No!” The water rose around his neck, caressing his mouth. He shook his head in frantic denial, but was pulled deeper, his back already below the surface.

Come.

With a last panicked breath, his nose went under. Knowing there was no other choice, Mouse closed his eyes and thought a last prayer to Maegla. Then the water sucked him down, and the cold consumed him.

* * * 

The Cleansed Lands

LEAVING A SODDEN trail of boot prints, Corin and Jaymes walked until they reached a wide, glittering cavern. Stalagmites pointed towards the arched ceiling and long stalactites reached down to meet them. Scuttling lizards covered everything – the walls, ceiling and floor – their spotted skins glistening with inner light.

As Corin stared in wonder, she realised the creatures were working. Scattered about the spaces between the towering stalagmites, stones had been piled in careful arrangements like little formal gardens. The lizards tended these gardens with gentle care, accepting new stones or rejecting them from the piles collected by other lizards climbing down from the ceiling and walls. Others had been heaped upon the gardens, looking strangely like rocky quilts keeping something warm.

“Gods,” Corin whispered with dawning understanding.

“There certainly are a lot of them,” Jaymes murmured weakly, but Corin shook her head.

“Look what they’re doing, Jaymes. Look what they’re tending.”

“Rocks?” He peered at the nearest garden. “It’s strange, the way they’ve arranged those stones. If you replaced them with grass or twigs or something similar they could almost be… oh.” He blinked in astonishment. “Gods!”

She couldn’t resist a grin, even as the magnitude of her thoughts caught up with her. “I don’t think they’re theirs, do you?”

Jaymes shook his head, looking around and counting. “There are more than fifty in here.”

Yes, purred the voice inside their heads, sounding smug. Come.

Corin felt an inexplicable urge to turn right. She stumbled backwards, still holding Jaymes’ hand. He looked at her, equally surprised.

“It wants me to go this way,” they both said, pointing in different directions.

Yes. Corin, come.

Smiling, she uncurled her fingers from his and raised her glow globe. “I’ll see you later.”

Come.

“Yes,” he agreed vaguely, answering the call in his head. “Later.”

Come, Corin.

The tug inside made her forget all about Jaymes, the cavern and the lizards. All that mattered was the spot a little way ahead. Alone and untended, these rocks looked forlorn compared to the ones nearby. Corin walked straight to it, unopposed, the globe in her hand throbbing faster until it matched her heartbeat.

Help.

Crouching, she put the globe aside and moved the top rock from the pile. It was warm, just as she’d suspected.

Corin, help.

Putting aside the stone, she shifted more, smiling as they grew hotter the deeper she went.

Help, now. Please.

She scooped the rocks aside with cupped hands, even ones that were as big as her head. She didn’t question where the strength came from, didn’t even notice that the effort was making her sweat or that the heat was unpleasant against her skin. All that mattered was reaching the centre, the heart of the garden.

The egg of the nest.

Help. Corin, help.

There it was. As long as her forearm and just a wide, the stony egg glistened with a faint silver shine and was speckled with tiny flecks of blue. Beads of moisture gathered near the top, slowly trickling down the sides.

Help.

The glow globe by her knee fluttered and pulsed, matching the tapping coming from within.

“It’s all right,” Corin whispered, pressing her hand to the shell, her skin sizzling. “I’m here.”

Corin. The voice sounded tired but relieved and the chipping paused.

Out. The tapping renewed, until a hairline crack emerged on one side. Help. Please.

“All right,” she murmured, picking carefully at the flaking shell, not wanting to press too hard in case she hurt the hatchling. “Keep going, you’re doing well.”

Tired.

She smiled at the pathetic whisper. Better her new friend learn from the start that she was nobody’s fool. It had sounded strong enough earlier when it was keeping her moving despite her own tiredness. “Keep going,” she urged. “The sooner you break out, the sooner you can stop.”

The voice didn’t say anything, but Corin felt its wordless sulk. Hatching was hard and it didn’t want to do it anymore. Why should it have to when she was here to help?

“I’m not going to hurt you to hatch you.”

A deep sigh and the tapping slowed to a controlled, forceful thump.

Out. Out. Out!

The crack spread, revealing the inner membrane of the shell as more fragments flaked off.

Corin cleared away what she could. “Good,” she praised.

Out!

Another hard hit, another crack, shooting out in three directions. The membrane bulged.

Out!

The membrane tore, pouring clear liquid onto the hot stones, steaming up the cool cavern.

A tiny silver snout poked out, pointed at the end with a sharp tooth. Tired, murmured a plaintive voice.

Corin laughed. “All right, lazy, let me help.” When the snout retracted, she gripped the broken edge and heaved, hissing as the hot shards bit into hands already scratched and blistered by the hot rocks. The egg groaned, tougher than she’d anticipated.

Out, begged the hatchling.

“Working… on it,” she puffed, leaning back with all her weight. “Just… a little… more.”

A sharp snap sent her flying, broken fragments of shell pinging loose and cutting her face as she tumbled down the loose stones of the nest garden and landed heavily on her back.

Out! the voice exulted.

Wiping the blood from her face and wincing at the pain in her hands, Corin looked up and blinked.

A dragonet blinked back. Long and sinuous, its rounded scales were blue with a shimmering layer of silver. Although wet and pathetic, from nose to tail tip it was nearly as long as she was tall as it scrambled down from its hot stones and clambered up her sprawled body. Staring into her face, it chirruped.

Tired, the familiar voice murmured inside her head, and the dragonet curled its long tail around her waist, back feet tucking against her belly. It rested its wet snout against her throat with a sigh. Hungry.

When Corin didn’t move, too stunned to do otherwise, it raised its head again.

Hungry! it insisted indignantly.

Eying the cut on her cheek, a small grey tongue flicked out. Corin, it purred, rumbling both inside her head and through the creature curled up on her. Mine.

“Oh, Gods,” she groaned, and dropped her head to the floor, unable to bear the thought of moving. Not while she had a baby dragon on top of her.

“Corin?”

She opened her eyes and saw Jaymes looming over her. He had a dragonet too, its forepaws and long neck draped carelessly around his shoulders, its tail also anchored around his hips. But the similarities ended there, since his dragonet was as red as Jaymes’ hair and when it breathed smoke puffed from its nostrils.

“Gods,” she repeated, more weakly this time.

This could not be happening. Not to her. These sort of things happened to Mhysra; she was the one with the exciting life. Corin was normal. And she liked it that way. Who wanted to be interesting when it led to sea caves and baby dragons with possessive tendencies?

Her thoughts must have shown on her face because Jaymes smiled, though it was tinged with awe at what had befallen him.

Ginger. Idiot.

“Come on,” he said, offering a hand for her dragonet to sniff. “We need to feed the babies.”

Corin stared. “I’m too young to have children!”

He pulled her up with a chuckle. “I don’t think we have a choice. Congratulations, Mama.”

“Shut it, Da.”


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading.

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Dragongift: Chapter 15, Part 1

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There’s also a frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.

Previous Chapter ~

The trials continue…


Fifteen
Dragongifted

Aquila

IN THE BEGINNING there was darkness, a voice whispered from the heart of Mouses sleep.

A darkness so complete and thick, things began to move inside it. Once they moved, they grew, joining to create a larger whole.

In the beginning there was nothing. And everything. And darkness.

Mouse opened his eyes to depthless black. He waved his hands, but though he felt the air move across his face he saw nothing. There was something firm beneath his feet, and when he stretched out his arms he felt a solid presence under his left hand. It was rough and cool to the touch. Stone.

From out of that darkness came light, bringing life and change.

Mouse pressed against the stone beneath his hand and stepped forward. The ground dropped, but not too far. His foot scraped against small rocks and his toes curled in the dirt. He was barefoot.

But even with light, one thing has not changed. Things are still drawn together in darkness. For comfort. Safety. Protection. In the night, what we touch is all we know we have.

In the darkness, the brave are no longer alone.

With a cool breeze blowing against his face, Mouse walked into the dark.

* * *

Changed Lands

AS THE AFTERNOON waned and the sun sank towards the ocean, Corin hugged her knees and stared at the frothing waters below. Beside her Jaymes was silent, content in her company as the shadows grew long.

Her eyelids were beginning to drift shut when Jaymes sat up. “Did you hear that?”

The waves surged and Corin lifted her head. “What?”

Raising a hand for quiet, he tilted his head towards the cave. “Listen.”

For a long moment there was nothing but the sea and the wind. Then she heard it. The padding of something soft against something slick. Intrigued, she leant around Jaymes to peer into the cave.

A pair of round green eyes peered back.

“Argh!” Jaymes jumped, flailing backwards, and Corin fell.

Before she could even draw breath to scream something thick and strong wrapped about her waist. Plunging downwards, she gave a strangled gargle as her fall flattened out and she was swung sharply upwards again. Along the way she passed a gangly lizard splayed across the cave wall, clinging to the sheer rock with the rounded tips of its spread toes. Grey-green bumpy skin, speckled with larger blue spots, covered its sparse frame and revealed every sinew and muscle beneath. It was twice her size – not including the tail she was currently wrapped in.

Green eyes peered curiously at her. A pink tongue emerged from its long snout to wipe each orb.

Careful.

She shrieked, the voice taking her by surprise, and the lizard dropped her.

Careful!

The shout hit her at the same time she was caught again, hard enough to knock the breath from her. A different lizard, not quite as large or as bright, peered worriedly at her, lifting her up with the thick muscles in its powerful tail.

Come, whispered the voice. Bring.

The lizards turned their long necks to look into the dark cave, and Corin realised the voice wasn’t coming from them. This time she managed not to scream as the lizard dropped her down to the next, then the next, swinging and tossing her from tail to tail and carrying her deeper into the darkness as well as down towards the sea. A yelp told her that Jaymes was following in the same unusual style and, as yet another strange face peered into hers, she was grateful that these lizards were so good at catching.

Until they dropped her.

Straight into freezing cold water.

“Corin?” Jaymes called. “Are you all -” His question ended in a shout and a splash as he was dropped beside her.

“Right?” she finished, when he surfaced with a splutter and a curse. Unsure whether he could swim, she grabbed his thrashing arm and pulled him over to share the rock she was clinging to.

“Ever wish you’d never got up of a morning?” Jaymes asked, shaking his head like a dog.

Come.

“More than that, I wish I’d never listened to that stupid voice in the first place,” Corin growled, shivering as a fresh surge of water swamped the back of her head.

Come.

“Why, so you can set fire to us next?” Jaymes grumbled, using the rocks to travel deeper into the cave. “It would have been nice if you’d asked whether we could swim before your friends threw us in.”

Come.

“I don’t think it’s listening,” Corin said, teeth chattering as she scrambled to follow. Even as she did so, she wondered why, but she’d come too far to turn back now. And even despite everything – the calls, the trip through the Storm Wash, sneaking away from her friends, spending the day scrambling through unfamiliar countryside, being thrown about by lizards and finally dumped in freezing water – she never really considered ignoring the call. She had to answer it. It wasn’t even because of curiosity, there simply was no other choice.

“If it is, I don’t think it cares.”

Which made going forward a truly attractive prospect, Corin thought glumly, even if it was better than turning back. “If it did it would have sent us something to see by,” she complained, spluttering as her hand slipped and she got another dunking. “Instead of stupid clumsy lizards that can’t catch to save their lives!”

“They were good enough to save yours” Jaymes reminded her.

“Thanks for that, by the way. So kind of you to push me.”

“I didn’t push you!” His voice was high with indignation.

“Shoved then.”

“I didn’t shove you! It was an accident!”

“Is that what you call it?”

“It was!” he protested. “Unlike this.”

In the dark she didn’t see it coming, so had no chance to dodge when he hit her shoulder and knocked her away from the rock. Her yelp was drowned out by the water filling her mouth, and when she tried to cough, she was still under. Thrashing in panic, she felt certain this was it, Jaymes really had killed her this time.

Then her feet hit the bottom and she stood up: the water was a little over waist deep. Over her painful coughs to expel the seawater, she heard Jaymes laughing himself silly. He was still going once she’d recovered, which was good, because it meant she knew exactly where he was.

“Ginger. Idiot,” she snarled, grabbing a handful of his hair and dunking him under.

He retaliated by grabbing her knees and pulling her over. Much splashing ensued.

By the time they called an exhausted truce, the water was barely ankle deep and the lizards had returned. They watched their antics with round eyes, the coloured spots on their bodies giving off a low glow as they clung to the cave walls above them.

Come.

“Playtime’s over,” Jaymes said with a rueful smile, wringing out his hair and clothes.

As they paused at the water’s edge to drain their boots, a small lizard without spots crawled down from a larger one’s back and dropped a glow stone. It was the same kind of light they’d used in the tunnels beneath Aquila and the dragons used in the Archives. Another little lizard scuttled down and dropped a second globe before scampering away.

“You wanted something to see by,” Jaymes said, as Corin curiously picked up the nearest one, pale blue and slightly cool, before handing the warmer red-gold one to him.

“Maybe it is listening after all.”

Come, Corin. Jaymes, come.

As if they had any choice. Raising her glow stone to part the darkness, Corin reached for Jaymes’ hand and they walked deeper into the gloom with the lizards skittering along behind them.


~ Next Chapter ~

Thanks for reading!

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A Courtship of Dragons: Part 36

courtship-banner

A Courtship of Dragons is a M/M Romance short novel (approximately 60,000 words) told in short scenes, between two young dragons, Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight. It’s pure fluff ‘n’ stuff and not intended to be anything other than that.

|| First Part || All Parts || Last Part ||

Mastekh works with his hands.

And in other news, I should hopefully have the complete ebook up and ready for free download by this weekend – whoo! So if you’re fed up of these measly weekly updates, soon you’ll be able to read the whole thing. It’s not like I finished it months ago or anything…

Uh. Anyway, back to the story.


36
Wooden Heart

IT WAS ALL thanks to Lieutenant Nera that Mastekh finally figured out what he would do for Estenarven’s handmade gift. After running, literally, into him in the hallway, she’d asked him how everything was going while they helped each other up and dusted themselves down.

That had been two days ago and, after quickly ascertaining that he had neither the skills nor the time to learn to knit, quilt or crochet, Nera had led him through the winding passages of Highstrike to where the rest of the Riders were staying. There, she’d left him in the capable hands of her sergeant, Zantho, and that was where Mastekh still was, staring down at his carving knife and lump of wood, trying to decide if he’d made the right decision.

“Coming along well,” the quiet sergeant said, looking up from his own exquisitely whittled doelyn and calf, small enough to sit on his hand yet detailed down to every feather.

“Mm,” Mastekh replied doubtfully, running his fingertips over his lump. He had made progress, of a sort, since he’d started with a rectangular block of wood the length of his index finger. Now he had an elongated sand timer shape, which he had spent most of yesterday whittling and smoothing down. Which was something, but not nearly what he wanted.

Zantho sighed and put aside his own work, shifting forward to take Mastekh’s lump from his hands. “Show me again,” he invited, holding out his other hand.

Reaching into his pocket, Mastekh reluctantly brought out his fourth gift from Estenarven.

“Curious little thing,” Zantho murmured, his voice almost as deep as a Thunderwing’s, but lacking the rumble of distant thunder. “So old. I wonder who made it, who it was supposed to be, if it was an ancestor or a deity, and what it was meant for.”

Mastekh had wondered the same things himself at first. However, after listening to Estenarven’s tales of how he’d found it and all the ways it had been with him throughout his life, Mastekh no longer cared what its first life had been. All that mattered to him was that it was precious to Estenarven. So even though this one wouldn’t be as old or as precious as the other ones he’d lost, Mastekh hoped that by making a new figure for his Boulderforce, he could lessen the loss of having give the last one away.

“Well, it’s simple enough,” Zantho said briskly, jolting Mastekh from his thoughts. The sergeant handed the old figure back and held the lump up between them. “You’ve smoothed this down well, now you need to carve the final shape.”

“C-c-carve?” Mastekh looked at the knife he was holding and swallowed hard. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the blade, but after spending two days working on his lump, he really didn’t want to ruin it. Who knew how long it would take him to reach this point again?

“Like this.” Zantho fetched a fresh piece of wood from the satchel where he kept all his carving tools. It would have been so simple to let the sergeant do all the work, but they had both agreed from the beginning that the only person to work on this piece would be Mastekh. So the sergeant had created his own lump while showing Mastekh how to whittle and smooth, and now he would show him how to carve.

“Hold it firm.” He passed Mastekh’s lump back to him, picked up his own piece of wood and readied his knife. “Just like peeling an apple. Soft, light strokes. Gently does it. Now dip in a fraction, just a touch. Don’t force it.”

For a man who didn’t seem to talk much, Zantho had a wonderfully soothing voice – and he never expected Mastekh to talk back. With that pressure removed, Mastekh was free to concentrate on Zantho’s words, watching his hands and trying to mimic the movements as best he could. Press and carve, press and carve, turn a little, press and carve. The process was repetitive and easy, almost meditative, allowing Mastekh’s mind to drift away to a quiet place of nothing.

No worries, no anxieties, just the knife and the wood and the soft, gentle movements.

“There now. Take a look. How’s it seem to you?”

Mastekh blinked out of his trance and looked down at the lump, surprised to see that his elongated shape had become more defined, with a longer, more slender blob atop a sturdier, rounder base. “Oh. I d-d-did it.”

“So you did,” Zantho agreed, putting his neater version aside and handing Mastekh a piece of leather covered with fine sand. “Now you have to smooth it. After that, it’ll be time for details.”

Sighing, Mastekh accepted the leather and settled back into the monotonous task of rubbing the wood smooth again. “Details,” he grumbled gloomily. “Another ch-chance to r-r-ruin it.”

Zantho clicked his tongue disapprovingly as he picked up his doelyns again. “You haven’t ruined it yet, have you?”

“N-no.”

“And you won’t. I’ll see to that.”

Buoyed up by the quiet confidence in the man’s tone, Mastekh put his doubts aside and got to work. The sooner he smoothed this down, the sooner he could carve and the sooner he could finish. Then he could give it to Estenarven and be one step closer to the end of their courtship.

Bending over his double-blob, Mastekh bit his tongue to help him concentrate and rubbed all the rough edges of his carving away.


More next week!
(Or the whole thing in a few days. Hopefully.)

Take care, my lovelies.

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