“This place is incredible.” I said a bit absentmindedly as Dristan and I wandered around the treehouse market district. Beams of midday sunlight shined down on us through the canopies and warmed my skin.
Being cooped up in the guest house for so long, we both needed to stretch our legs. And I was still feeling quite overwhelmed and stressed out from the overload of information I’d been given at breakfast.
Dristan apparently had some business to take care of in town before our departure tomorrow. I would be sad to leave the treehouse village. Even though this place overwhelmed me, I’d still miss it. And I was secretly terrified about meeting Dristan’s people... and mine.
Dristan also mentioned that the market was the perfect way to ease my troubled mind. And he’d been right. I had never seen so many goods in all my life! My stress seemed to ebb and flow toward the far edges of my consciousness, still there, but subtle enough that I could breathe easily again.
The market was in the very center of the Bakru village, and was settled around the largest tree I’d seen so far. Numerous shops and carts were circled around the tree’s trunk, and even more shops surrounded the outer edges of the platform that had been built around the tree. Some shops were connected by bridges, others were literally inside of the trees, which had been hollowed out in certain areas, and turned into tiny stores and boutiques.
There was more to see than I could keep up with. I paused in front of a female Bakru’s bakery cart and marveled at the pies, tarts and baked breads that she had on display. She smiled at me warmly, careful not to show her teeth and frighten me away. I was grateful for that. I inhaled deeply, sighing in contentment while the aroma of baked apples, cherries, cinnamon and nutmeg filled my senses.
“Care for a cherry tart, Lady Brenya?” She asked in a surprisingly lovely voice. It reminded me of wind chimes.
I widened my eyes at her, shocked that she knew my name. I had to get used to the fact that I was a High Lady, a princess, and people were going to know who I was...
“Oh, I-I’d love one, but... I’m sorry, I haven’t any money.” I said, a bit embarrassed.
“There is no charge for you, dear girl. Please, take one.” She smiled and handed me a beautiful, round tart wrapped in brown parchment. The crust on top had intricately carved leaves and flowers baked into it. It had to cost at least five coppers.
“What?” I eyed the tart and then her, unsure of what to do. “I-I couldn’t possibly accept such a kind offer... You must’ve worked so hard on these!” I stammered.
“It would honor me deeply if you would accept it as a gift.” She responded, taking my hand and placing the treat in my palm.
I gaped at her, my heart swelling with a sudden warmth. “Thank you.” I whispered, giving her the kindest smile I could manage. She lit up at my response and nodded gently.
Dristan steered me away from the cart, his arm draped casually around my shoulder. “I’m impressed. It’s very rare to see a Bakru give freely and ask for nothing in return.” He said, grinning down at me.
I blushed and nibbled on the tart. It tasted devine. The sugary, flakey crust and soft, sweet cherries practically melted on my tongue.
“I didn’t do anything to deserve it.” I said softly.
“Not yet.” He said thoughtfully. “But you will. They know it just as well as I do.”
My blush deepened. His muscled arm was heavy, warm and comforting around my slim shoulders. As maddening and impossible as he could be, I’d grown very comfortable with him the past few days. I trusted him in a way that I’d never been able to trust anyone before, apart from family. The feeling was both alarming and pleasant.
“You never told me what a Rune Fae is.” I said, finishing the last bite of the decadent pastry.
He rolled his eyes. “You never quit, do you?”
I pursed my lips as if I were considering his question. “Nope.” I shrugged.
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“A Rune Fae uses... unique magic. They are able to create charmed markings, called runes. They can be used to enchant objects, to protect people, to harm people, to conjure spirits or demons, to cast wards... all kinds of things. They can even be tattooed onto people, giving them enhanced abilities or protection.” He explained.
I rose my brows. “Wow, that sounds... useful. And they’re the only ones who can create these runes?” I wondered out loud.
“Yes. Once the runes have been created and attached to an object or a person, then others can use it. But no one else, aside from a Rune Fae, can create them. Or destroy them.”
I blinked up at him as we walked, not really sure how to respond. If my powers were uncovered, if we could figure out why they were dormant, could I really possess the ability to do something like that? Would magic ever cease to amaze me? I bit my lip as I struggled to digest the new information.
“Stop doing that.” He suddenly snapped from beside me. I glanced up at him, confused.
“Stop doing what?”
“Biting your damn lip.” He growled.
He suddenly let go of me and stalked away, toward the door of a hollowed out tree shop. He roughly opened the door and disappeared inside, leaving me standing there, gaping after him.
What the hell?
His mood swings were beginning to give me whip lash. One moment he’d be so relaxed and friendly. The next, he acted like there was a stick shoved up his ass. It was hard to keep up.
I entered the shop he’d gone into. A bell above the door rang loudly at my entrance.
The space was packed with goods. The only source of light was from two glowing lanterns that hung from the low ceiling. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. I squinted and did a quick sweep of the room in search of the moody dragon lord.
I found him leaning on the far right counter, his hands splayed out to the sides. He seemed to be speaking to a Bakru male, who stood behind the wooden register. They spoke in hushed tones.
Not wanting to interrupt them, or risk being snapped at again by Dristan, I wandered around the crowded shop. My hands trailed softly over the countless silk shawls, wool blankets, and colorful rugs that hung on the walls.
After I’d ogled over everything in the store, twice over, I got impatient and approached the counter. I stopped behind Dristan just as the quiet chattering between him and the shop keeper halted.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Wait outside.” He said frostily.
I sighed heavily through my nose, but obeyed. I exited the shop and leaned against the side of the tree, watching as the busy commotion of the shopping district carried on around me.
Shoppers wandered about in small groups, some by themselves, mostly ignoring my presence. But once in awhile, I’d catch one of them staring at me.
I hadn’t asked Dristan about seeing my father yet. I was still trying to work up the nerve. Perhaps I should’ve brought it up while his mood had still been favorable. Now, with his grumpy demeanor, I wasn’t sure I should ask at all. What if he said no?
I took this opportunity to study the village. I quietly and calmly swept my eyes over every detail I could take in. I studied which bridges connected to which. I watched the guards that patrolled the walkways above us. There couldn’t have been a lot of crime in this village, because there weren’t many guards.
I counted five of them so far. Their posts were high above, nearly to the canopies of the trees. They were armed with the same spears that I’d seen the Bakru use when they had first stepped into our paths in the forest.
The guards leaned against the wooden railings of their posts, yawning occasionally, and watching the crowds below with disinterest. I smiled as I realized how unfocused they seemed. That would work well in my favor if I did need to escape. Lazy guards would make it much easier to do. Especially at night.
Finally, Dristan emerged from the shop.
“Would you mind telling me why you’re so grouchy all of the sudden?” I asked, crossing my arms.
He stared down at me, his face like stone.
“It’s... difficult to explain.” He said vaguely.
“Try.” I pressed, narrowing my eyes.
He sighed and ran a hand through his tousled, dark hair. “It’s... It’s not me that’s grouchy.” He said in frustration.
My face screwed up in confusion. “What?”
“It’s... My dragon.” He said. And for the first time, I saw color sweep across his cheeks. He was embarrassed! A small part of me got a kick out of that, as I was usually the one blushing.
I pushed off of the wall and took a step closer to him. He shifted from foot to foot, his body language stiff and uncomfortable. He glanced at my face before turning away and studying the trees.
“What do you mean?” I pressed.
He huffed out a breath and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Please, Brenya, just leave it alone. For once in your life, just leave it alone.”
“Why?” I planted my hands on my hips.
He turned to face me fully, his eyes full of agitation.
“Because I said so!” He yelled.
Several Bakru shop keepers and market goers turned toward us, startled at his sudden outburst. My face grew searing hot as I looked around and realized they were all staring at us.
I gave him an acidic glare before stomping away, toward the guest house.
“Brenya-” I heard his voice calling after me. I walked faster.
I reached the door to the house and was about to yank it open, but Dristan’s hand suddenly shot over my shoulder and slammed, palm first, against the wood.
“Move!” I said, pulling on the handle. He held his hand against the door with supernatural strength, making it impossible for me to open it.
“Please, calm down. I’m sorry, okay?” He said quietly from behind me.
I took a few steadying breaths before I turned around to face him. He kept his hand on the door beside my head, pinning me in between him and the door.
I suddenly became hyper aware of how closely he stood to me. His pine needle scent filled my nostrils and I could feel the heat from his breath on my face. I tried to concentrate as I stared up into his cobalt eyes.
“Tell me what you meant.” I breathed.
He gazed down at me, his eyes still cold, but thawing. He sighed. His minty breath fanned across my cheeks.
“I told you before, I’m part man, part beast. My dragon’s consciousness is always in the back of my mind. He sees everything I see, hears everything I hear. But he has his own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, the strength of his emotions come through... I can’t always control it.”
My lips parted in awe. “Oh...” I said lamely.
“Yes. That’s why I seem so... moody, at times.” He explained. “And the longer he’s kept inside, the harder it is to keep him under control. Since he’s only been allowed out once in five years, you can understand why he’s a bit... on edge.”
I nodded slowly, my back still pressed firmly against the door. He hadn’t backed away from me yet and I could feel my face growing warmer and warmer.
“When you said to stop biting my lip... You seemed...” I trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence. I dropped my gaze to his chest, embarrassed and intimidated by his nearness.
A low grumble sounded from deep in his throat. “Dragons are primal creatures. He is driven mostly on instinct. Male instinct. I cannot help it that he is attracted to you.”
I stopped breathing. “O-oh...”
He stared at me silently while I processed his confession. I was certain my face was bright red.
“A-and... Do you share that attraction?” I asked rather boldly, though my stuttering gave me away. I’d never felt so nervous in my life.
He didn’t answer. His ocean blue eyes, flecked with drops of liquid mercury, darkened as he stared into mine. His pupils dilated a fraction.
Something deep in my belly contracted at his heated expression. Pleasure crept across my consciousness. My eyes widened at the sensation and a small gasp escaped my lips. I couldn’t stop my body’s reaction as arousal blossomed within me.
His nostrils flared and his own eyes widened a bit. Suddenly, he pulled away. I was left feeling cold at the absence of his body heat.
“It doesn’t matter.” He said gruffly, his back to me. “You and I could never happen.”
I gaped at his back, hurt and confusion stabbing at my insides like daggers. “Why not?” I whispered.
He slowly turned to face me again. “I am a dragon... You are Fae... It cannot happen. It’s as simple as that.” He answered flatly. His stare was cold. Emotionless.
The sudden and fleeting arousal and pleasure I’d felt was extinguished, instantly replaced with red hot, boiling anger. I let the anger overpower the sting of his rejection as I balled my hands into fists.
“I don’t recall ever saying I’d want to be with you anyway!” I turned on my heel and escaped into the guest house, slamming the door behind me.