The royal bone disease was making a question mark out of Red Coralee’s body. The maiden had only seen eighteen summers but she was quickly becoming stooped, hunched with brittle bones like an ancient bird of prey. She had a secret board sewn into her gowns to keep her shoulder blades flat, or else they would draw together like a dragon’s wing joints when it fills its lungs to breathe out a fire jet. Red Coralee’s one surviving beauty was her long red hair. It had been bred into her like a wolf-hound’s size. With the red hair, however, came the royal bone disease. Red Coralee was one of the most narrow blooded noble daughters of the land. Her blood was weak with recycled impurities, which the lords of the land still found it the most desirable. After all, many dragons respond to what they recognize. Family answers the call. Red Coralee was next in line to become queen.
She already acted like a queen in her family home, the once grand, but now crumbling with ivy over taking it, Lext Manor. She had her every demand met, particularly the worship from the guards. They were all village boys who left their family farms and mills in the township that Lext Manor governed, to become men in the guard service of the Lord and Lady of the Manor and their daughter, Red Coralee. Nearly every night, she would summon a different one of the guards to her private chambers. She would be propped up on the bed by a maid so that she could see and command. She would have the guard strip and then bathe himself in the large copper basin in her room. She would watch him and give him meticulous direction for cleaning himself, for she would not have dirt in her bed. Then, from the tub, he was to crawl on hands and knees to her on the bed. She would part her pale white legs and stroke the red ginger curls of her mound. She would tell him to kiss her there. Then to lick her there, her hands on the top of his head as she asked him how it felt to taste where the next king would be born. She would keep him like this for an hour, reminding him that if he failed to please her that he would be executed. The guards had unwillingly hung too many of their own thanks to this rule of Red Coralee’s. So each one of them gave her wicked flower everything they could. Their tongues and lips were all she required as she was saving her maiden head for the prince after all. Once she was sated she would send the exhausted and frustrated guard away and she would slip into a sleep with dreams of her queendom to be. She was going to be the next queen, she swore to herself, all it was going to take was to be chosen at the next dragon hatching.
Already a cunning crone at eighteen, Red Coralee heard from her sources at Castle Brux that a hatching would happen soon. Like all girls of noble descent, she would be invited to be present at the event. It had been this way for generations now. In the beginning, everyone had been allowed to attend a dragon hatching, commoners and nobles alike. Thankfully, Red Coralee reflected, the nobles had realized how foolish this was. You see, the dragons had the unfortunate tendency to choose commoners as their human companions. The nobles knew that dragon power should lay with the ruling class alone. Over time, they made it so only those humans of high birth could be present at the birth of a dragon. Red Coralee expected to be the only high born girl present at the next dragon’s hatching, that way she would have to be chosen by default. A dragon childe must choose its human parents. It must choose a father and a mother, traditionally a man and a woman. Red Coralee was aware that the aging king, Tousont, would have it made so that his son Lusmond would be the man chosen by the baby dragon. Red Coralee aimed to be the selected woman.
Red Coralee was not too worried about this. She had an insider at Castle Brux where the dragon eggs were kept. She would know before the other noble girls just when the hatching would take place. She would see to it that the other girls were detained from attending the hatching ceremony. Castle Brux, from where the king ruled, sat in the north at the crest of the Scale Mountains. The mountain range stretched like a horseshoe around the Sway Plain. To the far south was the sea, where there were villas of dukes and lords on the coast. The eastern and western ridges of the mountains were decorated with the manor homes of the nobles. Only commoners lived on the Sway Plain. Red Coralee lived in Lext Manor to the east of Castle Brux. Her father was the lord over three small villages on the Plain which their grand house in the mountains overlooked. Red Coralee would be the first noble girl to arrive for the hatching, and she would use her vast resources to make sure no other female reached the castle.
Red Coralee would never be blamed. All the misfortune that befell the other girls would be perfectly awful news. What a travesty that the maiden from Rost was attacked by bandits while she crossed the Plain to the castle! And that the daughter of the Duke of Frell went and fell off a bridge crossing the Deep Gorge River and was swept away! Or that scandal for the daughter at Dand who was worked over by her hired team of travel-men! They had been hired to take her from her father’s Villa in the south all the way to Castle Brux, but a day out from the coast, they simply refused to go on. They sat around the campfire and drank mead and asked the high born girl questions that made her afraid and caused a stirring in her that she had not known before. That night changed her life. But in the morning she walked back to the Villa. By the time she got home to tell her father what had happened, the dragon had already hatched and chosen its female human companion. There is so much danger in travel. No one would openly suspect charming Red Coralee.
Once the other girls were out of the way, all she had to do was make herself as desirable to the dragon childe as possible. Though she would be the only woman in attendance, there was still so much that could go wrong. She had seen it once in her life and heard of it happening other times, more since the nobles began limiting which people had access to the dragons; a few times in this regime a foolish, in her opinion, dragon childe had selected two men or two women to be its parents. The beast had consigned itself to death in its first hours of life because a childe’s choice cannot be undone. His immortality would be forfeit since two men could not produce a biological heir together for the dragon to be linked to.
Since the time of the first king dragon, it had existed that a new dragon would choose, on its hatching, a human male and a human female. These people would become his parents and eventually his brother and sister. The three would be linked, heart to heart to heart. It was the most beautiful magic in nature; they would become a family. Though the dragon childe would still have his dragon parents, his two humans would be his bridge to their world. A dragon bond gives considerable gifts. The chosen man and woman can see through the dragon’s eyes and through him they can see through one another’s eyes. They will always know where the other two are. The humans will have mighty strength in comparison to other men and women. From his human mother and father, the dragon will have heart. What is in their hearts will be in his. This is why dragon hatchlings usually pick the most kind or compassionate people at the gathering. They are drawn to the warmth, to the light of these people. The men and women will also be given a considerably long life. Humans don’t live forever, but dragons do. The dragon heart will keep his human’s hearts beating until they are ready to die naturally. He cannot help it if his humans are slain, though he would fight for them. Their life force is all tied together, the family of three. The dragon’s fate is then tied to their children. If the man died, the woman and dragon would live. If the woman died, the man and dragon would live. In both these cases the two surviving members of the family would live until old age and then perish. The dragon could no longer be immortal with half of his heart dead. If a dragon’s man and woman were both slain, he would live to fight their attackers and then die of a broken heart shortly after, unless the king dragon was there for him to bond with in place of his humans. Through his king a dragon could bond to the king’s rider, a new human heart. If their dragon were slain the man and woman would age quickly and fade out, unless there was a child.
The moment the man and woman have their first child the dragon’s heart expands to love the child. He is tied to the child now. His heart can remain whole. Even if his man and woman, father and mother, were slain the dragon would live on for their son or daughter. And down through the child’s progeny. In the case of siblings the dragon would go with the son or daughter whose heart was most the desirable to him. Though he would always be tied to all the children, he would only consider one of them his true rider. And he would help the son or daughter find a mate, to choose another heart to be linked to, so the cycle would continue. A dragon can exist as long as his family does. As long as he isn’t killed in battle by having his head taken off by another dragon or getting pierced in the heart by a sword. But he is tied to his man and woman and their children. If the man and woman cannot conceive he will die in old age with them. In the old days that was rare. Dragon magic seemed to always insure a couple would have at least one child. Today women looking to conceive were known to drink dragon scale tea. If a dragon chooses two men or two women as his humans he will die at the end of their lives because they could never have a child together. It hadn’t happened in a long time, ten years at least. A dragon childe choosing two men or two women because theirs were the greatest hearts present at the hatching. But Red Coralee left nothing to chance. She would not give up her shot at near immortality, incredible strength, dragon sight, and queen-hood.
Luckily dragons can only read hearts, she rationalized. A heart is nothing but a blood gate. Her tutors had explained how it worked and Red Coralee knew what hearts were like firsthand, from the manor cats she caught and dissected out of curiosity. She reasoned that to pass the ridiculous test with the dragon childe, she only needed to have kindly blood pumping through her blood gate heart. Understanding the nature of love was never one of Red Coralee’s talents. A fortnight before the hatching was to happen she summoned to Lext Manor all the maidens from the three villages her father was lord over. From the thirty or so gathered girls, she kept ten and sent the others home. She kept the fairest, the sweetest, and the kindest girls, and she began to slaughter them one by one: bathing in their pure blood, drinking it to replace her cunning blood, and eating the meats of their bodies to make her own seem sweeter, more desirable to the dragon childe. If she put their goodness inside of herself, the dragon would have to be drawn to it, she reasoned. He would smell their kindness on her.
Red Coralee’s hereditary insanity was kept secret. Her father, the Lord of Lext Manor, thought it was a brilliant plan though. So when she fell sick from her brittle bones breaking, he put her in the care of one of the last surviving village maidens. They didn’t trust the help not to spread word of Red Coralee’s condition, so they used a girl for the nursemaid that they would kill later. The girl’s name was Nareena, and, to her credit, she did not know that the red soup she spoon-fed Red Coralee was the blood of her childhood friends. She did not know that the red bath water was from the drained corpse of her younger sister who had been gutted over the tub an hour before. She only knew that she was to be kind to the noble girl and to care for her if she ever wanted to see her family again, they told her.
Not even the boards and braces in Red Coralee’s exquisite ball gowns could keep her upright. When she stood her shoulders drew together, her head fell forward and her thin weak ribs caved but did not break, so she curled in on herself. She could only be mobile with Nareena supporting her. She didn’t know it but Nareena was keeping her alive. The village girl had concluded that the red broth and tea that Red Coralee consumed along with the raw meat was aiding the disease claiming her, she had seen malnutrition in the seasons when Red Coralee’s father withheld aid to the villages. Nareena knew the herbs of the region and slipped what she could into Red Coralee’s diet to give her strength and healing. She smashed apples and mixed their juice into the broth. And after much gentle suggestion she convinced her ailing noble charge to let the meat be cooked. Nareena felt such soulful pity for the crippled girl of her own age. She felt compelled to care for her. That was the way of her people, despite any savagery inflicted upon them from Lext Manor, the villagers exercised compassion, for all. Plus she needed Red Coralee alive so she could be returned with her younger sister to their family. Nareena was promised that as soon as Red Coralee was chosen at the hatching that she would be given her reward. Unwittingly, Nareena fed two other girls to her noble counterpart. She bathed her in their blood. She cut up their meat and held frail Red Coralee on her lap as she fed it to her like a child. She had thought once or twice that it might be blood, but she couldn’t imagine it being human. That wouldn’t make sense to her. She wasn’t allowed to ask where the other girls were. And she was told that her little sister was closer than you think.
On the night of the hatching Red Coralee still couldn’t stand. Her parents, the Lord and Lady of Lext Manor, were twin siblings to one another. That way they could keep their dragon truly in the line of the family. Keep his power centralized. Their parents had been siblings too. Red Coralee’s parents only ever managed to breed one child who was not taken by changelings though or who didn’t die early of common family maladies, their daughter inherited every bad thing from them. She had no brother to wed. So she set her sights on marrying the king’s son. All of her other plans had come to fruition. There were to be no other noble females at the gathering. If she did not attend the dragon childe would be forced to choose two males. So Red Coralee had her magnificent crimson and gold court dress altered at the last moment to include a second body in her skirt. She let out the waist so Nareena could stand in it with her. Nareena was dressed in all black. Even a black hood and mask. The corset was wrapped around them both, as Nareena stood behind Red Coralee, her chest to the noble girl’s curved back. With Nareena standing straight up it forced Red Coralee to stand up straight. She no longer looked like an unstrung puppet. Her maids spun her long red hair up and over with regal artistry to disguise Nareena’s black cowl covered head behind her. She was draped with a high collared gold travelling cloak. She was as close to beautiful as she had ever been. In the end her shape was clearly strange but no one would assume there was another person sharing her clothing. It was only for a night. After the childe chose her, Red Coralee would be healed by the dragon’s strength. And she wouldn’t need Nareena to hold her up anymore. She had to be chosen. She was the only female there. She didn’t count Nareena on her back. No one, she felt, would ever count a common village girl over her.
Behind Castle Brux in the base of the Mountains there was a gigantic crater that had been carved out by a fallen star a long time ago. It was the nesting sight of the dragons. That was why the castle had been built there by the first rider of the king dragon, who was in turn the first king of men. The peaks rose high into the sky all around a pebbly circular clearing. The ancient crags held the nests where the mother dragons would rest on their eggs, being brought food by their mates for the half a year they guarded their eggs. A mother dragon was always weak after laying an egg. She would take a few weeks before she could leave the nest and hunt for herself. The night of the hatching there was a formal dinner at the castle, as always. In the old days it had been a festival where villagers and nobles danced and dined together and then walked arm in arm through the castle out to the other side of it to the crater. Villagers were no longer invited to the hatchings. What would a common man need with the power of a dragon?
Through the meal, Red Coralee sat on Nareena’s lap as if the girl were mere furniture. None of the gathered men commented on her shadow part. They were all too glad to have a woman there. They had been worried. Though it was known Prince Lusmond would most likely be the chosen male still those gathered here hoped to be. They didn’t realize that they had made it to the gathering because that is how the king and the prince wanted it. They were just as conniving as Red Coralee. The king and his son had only allowed the weakest and cruelest men in the kingdom to come to this hatching. So that Prince Lusmond would be the clear choice for the dragon childe. They could have kept all the other men away, as Red Coralee had done with the noble girls, but that would have caused political upheaval. The dragon childe being born tonight was the hatchling of the king dragon. Whomever the hatchling chose would be the next king of all men. To be fair there had to be many noble boys in attendance for the dragon childe to choose from. Had it been Prince Lusmond alone the other nobles would have rebelled. So through subterfuge more grand than Red Coralee’s, Lusmond stood as the best choice for the male human companion to the childe. Out of all the boys gathered he was the only one whose royal family closed breeding had not left him obviously deformed either in mind or body. He was handsome, pleasing on the outside though his inside was rancid with malice and ego. He had jet black hair and high cheek bones. His shoulders were broad but he narrowed towards his waist. Nareena saw him briefly from beneath her cowl and was shocked by his beauty. As a subject under the cruel reign of his father she expected the prince to be hideous, outwardly showing the evil of his family line. But he was easy on the eyes. She actually liked looking at him. He liked Red Coralee’s cunning mind. Of course she could get away with it. No one would go to war over her sabotaging the other girls. No one cared what girls got up to.
After dinner there would have been dancing but with Red Coralee being the only known woman in attendance, they went ahead to the storytelling part of the evening. In earlier times people from all walks of life would have danced together on the castle lawns. And the village storyteller would have regaled them with how the first dragon rider, a common man became the first king of all. How the first bond was forged. The stories were all but forgotten now by the nobles, so instead they talked of their father and mother’s dragons. What other dragons they had fought recently, which villages on the Plain they had burned to the ground. They laughed as they poured more wine and tallied the dead villagers like a billard’s game. Nareena wanted to be sick as she listened and held Red Coralee up through it all. Finally they were called to the crater. It was the beginning.
The young nobles all fell quiet as they moved through the castle to go outside. All of these young men and Red Coralee came from families with dragons. This is how they remained noble. If a family lost their dragon in battle another family would come and sack their lands and titles. These young people would inherit their parent’s dragons when their parents died. They were here though hoping to be chosen by a new baby dragon because a new dragon would be more powerful than their parents old dragon. And possibly they could mate this dragon to their parent’s dragon for a bigger family fleet of beasts. And the young men here wanted to be chosen so they could be king. This childe was the hatchling of the most noble dragon, Drustan the king dragon. So his son would be the next king dragon, his human companions would rule their world on earth as he ruled the sky. Attending other hatchings could get you a new dragon. This hatching could make you king.
The young nobles stood in the crater looking up at the starry night sky. Nareena peered around Red Coralee’s hair and collar in wonder. There were gasps from members of the assembled crowd when the full moon was blotted out by a moving shadow. Then again. And again. Soon there was only torch light as the stars and moon were blocked by the arriving pride of great winged beasts. Dragons from all over the land were coming in for the hatching of their prince. Dragons that flew free and were not bonded to any families were coming in as well. There were at least fifty dragons in the sky. All eventually coming to roost on the rocky outcroppings of the crater. Peering down at the humans with their opalescent eyes. The king of them, Drustan, threw his massive head back and snorted two jets of fire into the night air before gliding down to land in front of the humans. Nareena’s stomach clenched at the sight of him. He was taller than a grain silo. He was the height of one of the castle’s towers. He was bigger than a war ship on the open waters. His scales were leather brown. He trumpeted in his throat and called his mate, Samea, down from her perch. She was just over half his size but still impressively larger than most other dragons. She was black as ink. She lowered her head and opened her mouth once she landed. Her tongue pushed out the egg she had carried down from her nest.
It was shoal gray and the size of a bread basket, Nareena had never seen an egg like that, it was huge for an egg but seemed small to house a dragon, even a baby dragon. Both parent dragons were taking deep breaths and filling their lungs. Their wings bouncing on their shoulders as their chests pulled wide. They stood on either side of the egg and started toasting it with roaring jets of orange and blue and white fire from their mouths. As they heated their egg it grew to the size of a barrel. It changed from gray to black that glittered. After a few minutes of intense roasting, satisfied with the size, the parents stopped their fire breath, the fire of life. The mother thrummed a deep growl of affection as if she were calling to her baby. The egg rocked in response. There was a tapping and scraping sound from inside. Finally there was a crack and one sharp black talon emerged. He fought and eventually the dragon childe, all black like his mother, battled out of the egg and stood in their midst. He was the size of a grown wolf. His father licked the hatching juice from his body and then flew up to roost with the other dragons. His mother crushed the egg shell under her heavy feet to show him he couldn’t go back. She nuzzled him then flew up to join her mate. She would come back for him later. The humans couldn’t nurse him. He would depend on her for the next few months. Though a baby dragon can survive on other animal’s milk and meat, he wouldn’t be as strong as he would have been on dragon mother’s milk. The dragon childe stood blinking at them all. He was listening to their hearts. He was looking for two hearts he wanted to join with his own.
His hind legs were wobbly like a foal. He stumbled as he meandered from man to man, peering into their faces and hearts. After looking at each of the twenty, he came back to Lusmond. He lifted and put his front talons on the black haired youth’s shoulders. The childe put his head back and pressed two jets of crisp blue flame from his nostrils to show that he had chosen. The other young men muttered their congratulations and began to leave. They didn’t need to watch the childe select Red Coralee. The last of them was back inside the castle when the baby dragon began his lopping walk over to her.
He looked at her for a long time. Finally he lifted his wings and stood to his full height, already taller than she was, and Red Coralee readied her proud though hunched shoulders for his talons as she’d seen him do with Prince Lusmond. The dragon surprised her though. He ripped off her golden traveling cloak with a rake of his talons. Then he swiped through her corset and skirt, separating her and Nareena. The village girl frantically tried to catch weak Red Coralee before she toppled forward onto the rocky ground but the dragon stopped her. He gently put his talons on Nareena’s black clad shoulders and lovingly bit her cowl and pulled it off in a way reminiscent of his father bathing him minutes before. He looked into her green eyes as her pretty straw blond hair fell around her face. She was beautiful outwardly and to the childe she was beautiful in her heart as well. She looked back into his merry red eyes like warm rubies and for the first time in the weeks since she’d been taken from home she felt safe. The childe threw back his head and snorted flames into the air. He had chosen. He had chosen Nareena.
“Who is this? Who are you?” Prince Lusmond asked in the confusion, stepping towards Nareena with his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to pull it free from the scabbard.
“She’s nothing. She’s no one. She’s my back brace!” Red Coralee snarled from the ground from which she struggled to rise.
Nareena was silent as she and the dragon childe studied one another. Her small but strong hands had come up to rest on his talons. She had no proper instruction in dragon bonding; the magic had long ago been taken from her people, from those who were not highborn. What she was doing was instinctual. She was opening her heart and pouring it out for the childe. They were becoming linked.
Using her reserve of pure spite for strength, Red Coralee managed to get to her feet and launch her tiny birdlike frame at Nareena. She knocked her away from the childe. “Me! You stupid thing! You were meant to pick me!” she screamed in the face of the dragon childe. She slapped him, knocking the look of innocent wonder from his young face. The childe shook his head in shock and then anger. His wings bristled and he puffed up his chest, preparing the blast Red Coralee with fire. But Nareena had gotten to her feet and gently called to him to soothe him.
“Here boy, my boy.” She sang softly until he came and nuzzled her lifted hand.
Prince Lusmond was still trying to make sense of it all. He questioned Nareena as she did up the back of Red Coralee’s dress. Both girls were a sad sight. Red Coralee could hardly stay vertical in clothes much too big for her without Nareena inside them as well. And Nareena wore a plain black skirt, long sleeved black linen shirt, gloves; only the skin of her pretty face with pink lips and pink cheeks and long blond hair gave color to her. “Who is your father, girl?” he asked her, praying she was perhaps a sister of Red Coralee’s or at least a cousin. He wanted her to have at least a drop of noble blood within her. She was so much prettier than Red Coralee and the dragon hatchling had chosen her. Prince Lusmond prayed for her to be noble in the slightest.
“My father is Ren.” Nareena said at once. Growing up in the small village of Lextill, that was the only identification she had ever needed. Everyone in the village knew everyone else. She could see in the prince’s cold eyes that this was not enough. “Ren the goat shepherd.” She explained further. Still nothing clicked. “Ren the goat shepherd of Lextill. Of the tri-villages? The township of Lextill, Hollow Lext and Lexton?” she asked the last bit to see if the prince had ever heard of her community and its neighboring villages. “We serve Lext Manor.” The bit at the end finally registered with Lusmond. He stopped looking at Nareena as if she were speaking a gurgled foreign tongue.
“Your father is a shepherd.” He said slowly. He sounded unsure as if she had told him her father had two heads. “Your family tends to goats. You are a commoner.” He worked it out loud. His handsome and cruel face was disgusted. He turned to Red Coralee. “You brought a commoner to a hatching! I heard you were mad but I did not know that you were stupid. Do you know what will happen if they find out I am linked to a commoner? They will think I am weak! They will use her as an excuse to rise against me. There will be a war for the crown. They would never let the next prince be the son of a goat girl.” He railed. Nareena flinched to be spoken of like that. How could someone who was so beautiful be so cruel? She couldn’t understand it.
“My Lord, they do not have to know anything.” Red Coralee finally interjected with her tone of absolution, the kind only a person who is used to getting their way all the time can speak with. “Only the three of us here know that I was not the only female at the hatching. The other lords left tonight assuming I had been chosen. Let them continue to believe this. Marry me. Make me queen. No one will ever know that I am not bonded to this dragon with you.” She said as she leaned on Nareena. Prince Lusmond was looking at the two girls and thinking. Red Coralee didn’t like for men to think. She liked to do that for them. But she wagered that she knew Lusmond’s remaining concern. “Keep this girl. Keep her hidden. Use her to have a child. You want the insurance of keeping your dragon alive so you can stay strong and live a long time. I understand. If Nareena dies without giving you a child your dragon and you will die in natural time. You do not want that. I understand, my Lord, my King. So breed her, keep her in the dungeon. Let her keep the child. Then give me a child. Our child will be known as the rightful prince. And when your dragon here, the king’s dragon has his own hatchling we will make sure our son is selected by him. Just as your father made sure you were selected tonight. No one will ever know. Nareena and her child will be secret. Just your insurance for immortality. The kingdom has no need to know of her.” Red Coralee explained in her crisp no nonsense tone. Prince Lusmond looked at her as if she were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, despite her spread out eyes and toad like mouth. “After she nurses the child she bears you can kill her. As long as you live and a child from your bond lives, you will have the long life and strength. The child she gives you will never know. And then this secret is yours and mine alone, my King.”
Nareena couldn’t believe what she was hearing. They were going to imprison her like a criminal and breed her like an animal and then murder her. She let go of Red Coralee’s waist and let the wispy girl fall back to the rocky ground. Nareena started to run. She was heading for the castle. She would have to go through it to escape, the castle blocked off most of the crater. Red Coralee was screaming from the ground, she clearly could not lift herself a second time. Prince Lusmond and the baby dragon both began to chase Nareena. The little dragon thought it was a game. His barbed tail flicked merrily as he ran next to his human father. They tackled Nareena just outside the central doors to the back of the castle. Prince Lusmond shouted for his guards. Though a pack of them usually stayed close to members of the royal family they were sent far off on hatching nights so they could not be accidentally selected by a dragon childe. They came close now that they heard their master calling. He wanted them to take this wild woman, this interloper. She had climbed down from the ridge and tried to attack Princess Coralee and their new dragon, he told them. Lock her in the dungeon at once. No, do not kill her yet. The Prince wanted to question her later on why she attacked Princess Coralee.
The guards saw Red Coralee on the ground and assumed that was the work of the woman who was raving and thrashing in their arms. Tousont, the king and Lusmond’s father, came outside and called his own dragon Drustan down. He told his dragon to fetch the dragon childe who was trying to attack the guards as they roughly handled Nareena. The king dragon swooped down and picked up his little son. He dropped the childe in the nest to be fed and comforted by his waiting mother Samea. Tousont then called for the royal apothecary to see to Princess Coralee. He sent out an order for the wizard in the nearby village of Croxby to be brought in as well to tend to the woman. At once Prince Lusmond had everyone saying that the attacker, Nareena, was a witch. She put a spell on Princess Coralee to make her weak. A spell that was too strong for a baby dragon to overcome yet. He didn’t want people wondering why Princess Coralee was so weak when everyone knew that bonding with a new dragon would make you strong and cure all your ailments. That mortal sickness would never touch those who shared an immortal creature’s heart. Lusmond planned to kill Red Coralee’s sibling parents so their dragon would pass instantly to Red Coralee and give her the strength and appearance of having bonded with the prince’s dragon. But he would see to that later. Right now he must make sure the witch prisoner, Nareena, was not harmed. That word was spread that he was soon to be crowned as king with his coronation on his wedding day. And that all his guards knew that the witch was mad and powerful and to not listen to her insane ramblings or she could put a spell on them like she had on Princess Coralee.
After the excitement had passed. After Princess Coralee was sequestered away under the magical care of the newly appointed, or imprisoned depending on who said it, court wizard. Where she was already improving thanks to the wizard’s ability to take healing from the earth. After word had been sent out by horsemen to all the nobles. After Prince Lusmond climbed the ancient footpath of the crater to get to the nest to bond with his dragon childe, to pour his heart into the young beast as Nareena had done that first night. After all of this Lusmond went to the dungeon where Nareena was shackled to the wall. The guards had gagged her in fear of her bewitching spell talk. Lusmond took Nareena. With her wrists hung over her head, he kicked open her legs. She hated what the dragon magic did to her in this moment. Her virgin petals grew dewey with the conception magic. Her body betrayed her and welcomed his though her heart screamed in hatred. Outside the castle the world could hear the baby dragon crying. His sorrow and confusion was raw and gut wrenching. The poor newborn creature could see through both Nareena and Lusmond’s eyes. And he could feel both of their hearts. The compassion and tenderness of Nareena. Her goodness. Against the depravity and malice of Lusmond. His evilness. The contrast was so strong that it fissured in the baby dragon’s mind. Starting his insanity. His need for power and his need to be loved and to love so strong happening all at once, so fast that it was blinding. He trumpeted his anguished cry all through the night. No other dragon could quiet or calm him. He terrified his dragon parents with his anger and it hurt them that they couldn’t understand what was happening to their son. While Lusmond violently took her again Nareena listened to the sound of her dragon son crying and she wept with him.
Three months later both Princess Coralee and the witch Nareena were beginning to show the telltale signs of carrying a child. Princess Coralee’s health was superior now that she had inherited her parent’s dragon. Though only she and Lusmond knew this. She had helped him kill her parents and put two villagers in their place in the Manor house. No one knew that Kerdin, the Lext dragon, was now bonded with Princess Coralee alone. Everyone thought she was bonded with the prince’s dragon who would be named today at the coronation. Nareena’s health was fair. Prince Lusmond saw to that so she could successfully deliver his child. Also because he did feel tenderness towards her that he could not admit to, the work of the ancient magic that linked them now. He had moved her from the dungeon to the west tower of the castle. That way she could see out her barred window and talk with the dragon childe she was bonded with. Lusmond didn’t do this as a favor to her though. It was for the childe who lashed out and got vicious when he went to long without seeing Nareena. Prince Lusmond was training the childe for battle, he had to keep him focused. This was easier when he could reward the childe by flying him up to the tower window to let Nareena reach through the bars and stroke his scaly head. Even a monster loves his mother. Nareena put on a brave face for the childe. In her heart she could feel the chaos in his heart. Through their magical bond this was her son and she wanted him to be well.
Tousont stepped down as high king; Lusmond was crowned human ruler of the land. He wed Red Coralee, making her queen. The dragon childe was brought before the kingdom wedding party. Lusmond heard the childe’s name in his heart. He felt Nareena sigh as she watched from her tower window. He whispered the name to Queen Coralee who would have heard it when he did if this had been her childe too. “Vin!” They announced together. The nobles all began to chant it. “Vin! Vin! Vin!” It was how they welcomed him. The young black dragon, who was now the size of an elephant, looked up as his father Drustan flew down. He lay down at his son’s feet, exposing his throat. He was signaling that he was done being king of all dragons, that he was passing the task to his son. Vin blasted flame into the air in his acceptance of the mantle. Vin the king of all dragons now. In her circular cell Nareena chanted his name with them. She was welcoming her son into his birth rite.
Six months later both Nareena and Queen Coralee would give birth. King Lusmond already had a wet nurse on standby to care for Nareena’s child so he could murder her after the birth. He was going to take her child to Lext Manor to be protected, guarded, imprisoned. Lusmond wanted the baby to be healthy and safe so that he and Vin could live a very long life together, even without their female bond still breathing. If the child born to Nareena was a girl perhaps Lusmond could breed with her in time and force Vin to bond again with him as the mate of the child. It was a vicious circle but Lusmond would do anything to remain king for always. But on the night that Nareena gave birth an unexpected change occurred within King Lusmond.
He was there in the tower with the midwife and Vin was there fluttering at the barred window. Lusmond watched as his baby girl was pushed out. The moment his daughter was in their midst he felt his heart, his deformed black heart, open. He felt the link to the baby, to Nareena, to Vin. They all shared in this ancient magical link. His rickety thorny heart pumped with the new strength of this love. And he understood the power of it. He was awed by it. He could not send his daughter away to grow up in Lext Manor, far from him. And he could not kill Nareena. The baby girl had his black hair and her green eyes. Lusmond carried her to the window where Vin breathed warm breath onto her tiny body, drying the birth fluids on her and warming her. In this moment King Lusmond experienced the first love of his life. His power hungry parents had never loved him, they only bred to make the link to Drustan the dragon king stronger. Neither of them had any goodness in their hearts to pour into their dragon or their son. Nareena’s goodness had infected their shared bond. It was just enough to change Lusmond. Lusmond had bedded so many girls, noble and common alike, but never loved them. This was something different. This was the true magic of love. Perfect love. He looked into Nareena’s exhausted face and knew that she felt it too. Though she hated him for the tyrant he was, for the evil he was, she was a slave to the bond as well. She loved him. She loved Vin. She loved their daughter. It was their perfect moment. But just as Lusmond laid the baby down on Nareena’s breast the court wizard came into the tower. He looked harassed and was breathless. Queen Coralee was giving birth as well.
Queen Coralee’s labor was a horror. Though she had her dragon strength from Kerdin, her body still had never been meant for breeding. Her bird like bones crunched and broke in her pelvis as she pushed out a black haired baby. Another daughter born to Lusmond on this night with his black hair. Queen Coralee fell unconscious from the pain and trauma of birth. When she awoke hours later she had a black haired green eyed baby girl suckling at her small breast. “Tamarie.” She cooed to the baby, naming her. Queen Coralee suspected the baby at once. Something didn’t feel right about it. Still she fed her. Tamarie was her daughter now. The only one she had. Though she suspected this was not the child she gave birth to. Still she nursed her on her sour tit milk that tasted like onions and the dark. Queen Coralee had killed her own parents to get what she wanted. What she wanted was to be queen. And part of being queen was raising the king’s children. She didn’t care that this one might not be hers. That she didn’t know where the one she had carried was now. She would find that out later, she decided. She would raise Tamarie to be her daughter and to fiercely defend her mother if it ever came to that.
Queen Coralee was dangerously insane but she was still perceptive and highly intelligent. Tamarie was not her child. Tamarie was the baby born to Nareena. When Queen Coralee had been knocked out, King Lusmond had snatched away the child she bore. He returned a few minutes later with Tamarie whom he had pried from Nareena’s arms. He had dropped the other baby in the stream that moved through the gut of the castle which brought them fresh water and carried their waste away out to the White River that it eventually joined to the west. The baby didn’t cry as it washed away. Lusmond didn’t have time to make sure Red Coralee’s daughter had drowned. He had to get Tamarie to her before she awoke without a child.
A month after the fateful night of births, Queen Coralee could walk again with the support of two dragon ivory canes. Her pelvis was slowing healing, faster though than a woman without a dragon strength would have. The queen learned that the witch in the tower was still alive. This enraged her. She hated her husband for that. She hated Nareena for being chosen over her, for being the true queen even if no one else knew that truth. She hated Lusmond for being bonded to that goat girl. She hated Vin for being so stupid as to have picked a commoner. Queen Coralee did not understand the feeling of being bonded through your dragon to another person. Her parents had been so wicked that their bond to her through their dragon had only felt like a shackle to Queen Coralee. And Kerdin the Lext dragon who was now her dragon alone did not bond to Tamarie because she was not actually Queen Coralee’s daughter. So the queen had never felt the power of this love. She was miserable. She assumed the goat girl would not be able to tell that the baby in her arms was not her own. With that she set out to make Nareena just as miserable as she was.
As soon as the servants had shackled Nareena to the wall, they left her and the queen and the baby princess alone. The circular room was nice enough to have kept Nareena comfortable through her pregnancy. The bed was soft, the blankets warm. There was a table for the meals she was brought, she ate as well as the queen herself. There was even a spinning wheel to keep her mind occupied. The only way to tell this was a prison cell now were the bars on the window and the shackles on the wall. “I know where your baby is.” Queen Coralee snarled at the prisoner.
Nareena defiantly looked away from her and out the window. She didn’t want to hear this. She knew her child was alive. She could feel it through Vin. She ached to take away the baby Queen Coralee was holding. When she remained silent the queen went on. “She is being held prisoner in Lext Manor.” she lied and went on. “Once she is strong enough that my husband knows she will live, he will kill you. Then once she is old enough to breed he will get a child from her and then kill her.” Queen Coralee relished in these details. “It is funny that your child is in my old home. That is where I killed your younger sister. And where you bathed me in her blood. And you fed me the broth of her blood. Just like I imagine you had fed her porridge when she was very young. Do you remember how you bounced me on your knee and whispered silly sweet things in my ear to make me smile wide enough to get the spoon in my mouth when I was ill? The broth and tea you nursed me on was the blood of your little sister. I wonder did you whisper those same silly sweet things to her to get her to eat when she was sick. Did you say you were a hungry dragon to her and did you chew on her ear to make her giggle like you did me when you fed me your sister?” Nareena began to scream and flail in her metal restraints. Queen Coralee talked over her echoing wailing. “I do that to my baby Tamarie. I tell her I will eat her up, that I am a hungry dragon. And I nibble on her little ear. She giggles so gaily. She loves her mother so much.” The queen laughed and kissed the top of the baby’s head.
“I’m her mother!” Nareena screamed. She hadn’t meant to. She didn’t want to endanger Tamarie. But she wanted to hurt Queen Coralee after hearing about her younger sister. Until that moment Nareena had hoped her sister had escaped after Red Coralee had left Lext Manor. Now she knew the truth and it hurt and made her sick. “That’s my child you’re holding! Yours is the one at Lext Manor!”
“I know that!” Queen Coralee screeched and tore at her red hair in a fitful manner. Tamarie began to cry in her sling where she was nestled to the queen’s chest. “I know what my husband did. There is no child at Lext Manor, I checked. He killed my baby and gave me yours and thought I would not know the difference. He thought I would not be able to detect the blood of commoners in this child. Thought I wouldn’t know!” she screamed. “He killed my baby so I will kill him and you. So Vin will belong solely to Tamarie. The king’s dragon will serve the princess which will make her the rightful ruler of the kingdom. And I shall rule in her stead until she is grown. She is the daughter of the king and she will never know that she is not my daughter as well.” As she spoke Queen Coralee crossed the room to where Nareena was shackled by her wrists to the wall. The dragon ivory canes that she walked with clicked loudly on the stone floor. Her face with pinched mouth and wide malice filled eyes was inches from Nareena’s. Nareena could feel the swell of baby Tamarie in her silk sling pressing between herself and Queen Coralee. “She is the daughter of the king and you are nothing but the skin sack that pushed her out. I am her mother now. I am the queen. I will not let your bond to Vin be exposed. I will not let it be known that you, a goat girl are the true queen.” Queen Coralee had meant to wait to murder Nareena. She wanted to do a neat job of it. She had planned on making the court wizard, her personal slave, do it. That way the story of the good wizard killing the evil witch would make Queen Coralee more of a hero since she would give the order because the witch killed King Lusmond, or would in this plan. Queen Coralee had planned to dispose of Lusmond and put his body in Nareena’s chamber. No matter now, she would find another way of neatly getting rid of the king. Right now she was pulling free the dagger that was hidden inside the top of her left cane. She wasn’t planning now, she was thriving in her rage. She was being impulsive but it felt good.
Nareena reacted to save her own life. When she saw the glint of silver from the blade she brought up her knees into the queen’s healing pelvis. Queen Coralee screamed in pain and doubled forward. Nareena lifted her legs again and wildly kicked. She landed one foot on the queen’s head and another on her shoulder. Nareena bucked her hips and forced the queen back. Being bonded with Vin, Nareena did have amazing strength. Queen Coralee went flying across the room. Her head hit the wall and she fell to the floor like a cut marionette. She was knocked unconscious. Luckily she landed on her back, Tamarie was unharmed, just startled.
In the commotion of their yelling and Tamarie’s crying and the fight, neither woman noticed that King Lusmond had entered the chamber. He had heard the end of Queen Coralee’s plans. He had watched Nareena fight her off. He assumed it was because Nareena wanted to save his life. He had never loved her so much as he did in that moment. He was glad to be bonded to such a fiercely protective woman. He walked over to the sleeping heap that was Queen Coralee and picked up Tamarie from her sling. The baby stopped crying when he held her up for Nareena to see and kiss. While she was kissing the child, Lusmond lifted her skirts. When she tried to struggle he showed her his strong fingers around Tamarie’s tiny neck.
“No, your majesty. You don’t have to force me.” She whimpered. “We are bonded. Can’t you feel it?” she whispered to him. Hating herself for it. But it was true. “Close your eyes, breathe, focus on your heart.” she told him.
Lusmond looked doubtful at best. But he did step back, out of her kicking range, and closed his eyes. He breathed in. He breathed out. He felt the magical grounding in his heart. The link from him to Nareena to Tamarie to Vin and back again. He opened his eyes, smiling. It was wicked magic. But it was their own. What made their family. He walked Tamarie over to the baby cot that had been left abandoned in this room. He laid her down gently and covered her with the tiny blanket Nareena had spun for her. He went to the wall and broke the chains that held Nareena there. He lifted her up and carried her to the bed.
“I do not like you. I know that you are an evil man. I know that your soul is cursed. But the magic is too strong for me. And I will have you inside of me without a fight. I am not strong enough to fight the magic.” She said as he began to kiss her.
Lusmond felt the strength of Vin, the king dragon, enter him as he pushed down his pants, around his knees. He lifted Nareena’s layers of ratty skirts until he could display her pink and still tender rose. Though she was a mother now she still looked fresh, she still felt like a maiden. Lusmond dropped his head and kissed her vulnerable petals. She shivered and shyly placed her small hands into his thick black hair. He rose and pressed a pearl drop from the tip of his rod against the soft curls of her garden. The drop of his arousal glistened on her like a diamond. He smiled at her though his eyes burned bright like a tiger on the hunt. She somehow found it in herself to smile for him too. He had done such evil to her already. But still she needed this. The unity of the dragon bond. Her own jewels of wetness began to appear on the gentle nest of young woman’s fur around her pink slit.
Lusmond pushed her shift up to expose her milky breasts. He squeezed them and sucked the pink nipples greedily. She gasped at the new sensation, her back arching as though she were trying to force feed him more of her heavy teats. He reached down and took his manhood in hand. He guided it to her warm, wet entrance. And he thrust, to the hilt. Her breath left, her lungs froze, he was so big and she was still healing from the birth of Tamarie. And he pulsed with the magic and power of the king dragon. He looked into her eyes, seeking something. She nodded, ready to give him anything.
And so he set to it. Pulling back, and diving in. In and out. In and out. With the force that could have cracked a normal woman’s hips. Nareena could take it and love it because she was one with the dragon magic. It didn’t hurt her to breed like the majestic animals, to breed with that power. She was made for it now. The circular tower room filled with the smack and slap sounds of skin to skin, flesh to flesh clapping as he lifted up and down. His girth filling and claiming her tight tunnel each time. He sucked and gripped her breasts more. She ran nails down his back without realizing it. Neither of them noticed Queen Coralee screaming from the floor at them.
And so King Lusmond filled Nareena again with his vile seed. His love for her made him do this again, he told her. It was the first climax Nareena had ever had. As a village girl she had never touched herself or let any of the boys try. Her first time with Lusmond had been her only. This one was different. This one made her understand why people and dragons and all creatures mate. She and Lusmond lay together in silence for a moment before he got up and tied his handkerchief around Queen Coralee’s skull to gag her as he hauled her back to her room. He came back for the baby in a few minutes.
He had decided to kill Queen Coralee. And he wasn’t sure if baby Tamarie would survive without Queen Coralee to nurse her. He knew he could get a wet nurse and that perhaps Nareena could start making milk for her daughter again. But he didn’t want to risk it. He needed another heir. He wanted a son. He hoped that was what he had just pumped into Nareena. He would spread word that Queen Coralee was with child again. Everyone had seen her walking on her ivory canes; no one would be surprised that she had died in labor.
In the few minutes she had with her daughter, Nareena picked up Tamarie and cuddled her, and kissed her and took her to the window to peer out. They saw something that no one else had noticed in the chaos of the day.
Vin’s parents, Drustan and Samea, the old king and queen dragons were mating. They were on the ridge just above Samea’s nest. Vin in the nest looking up at them curiously. Nareena was curious too. As a commoner she did not know much about dragon lore. But in her time at Castle Brux she had learned a lot because the guards outside her door talked about it. And it was always on the lips of servants who brought her meals and wanted the powerful witch to like them and not curse them as she had the queen, so they answered her questions. So she knew that in the long lives of dragons they did not mate often. That after Vin’s birth it should have been decades before they mated again. It had barely been a year since his hatching. Sometimes though if the childe was a runt or deformed the parents would quickly replace him with a new one. Though Vin was becoming big and strong and fierce in battle practice, he was damaged in his broken heart that was a war of Nareena’s goodness and Lusmond’s evilness. Vin’s parents had only evil in their hearts because they were bonded with evil humans. They could not understand the chaos in their son. A dragon is not born good or bad, he becomes what his humans are. Vin’s parents did not know they were evil, only that Vin was different from them. So they were creating a new childe to replace him with. Nareena watched them lay their new tiny gray egg just after Lusmond planted his seed inside of her.
After he finished and did up his trousers, Lusmond went to the door and let the servants in. He told them that the witch had put a spell on the queen and driven her mad. Do not listen to the queen; she does not know what she’s saying. But the witch hurt her, she must be examined. Lusmond made sure that the examination would also conclude that the queen was with child once more. He had them lock Queen Coralee in her rooms, until they could reverse the spell.
For a few months the queen was quiet in her rooms as she healed. Meanwhile Nareena grew round with another child. Both women prisoners of the king were busy though. Quietly working on plans of their own. From her window, Queen Coralee had seen what the king had not yet noticed. A new egg in Samea and Drustan’s nest. Vin was going to be replaced. Which would mean that Tamarie would no longer be bonded with the king dragon, since Vin would be dead. Which would absolve Tamarie’s divine right to the throne if King Lusmond died. Queen Coralee could not let Vin be replaced. He must live on to secure Tamarie’s position so Queen Coralee could rule for her infant daughter. Now the queen had three murders she must orchestrate, not just two. First King Lusmond, then the witch Nareena, and now the new egg. She would have her devoted servants in the castle kill the king and the witch once she could move again. At the moment she could not open her mouth to speak. In an effort to stabilize and mend her brittle spine the healers had braced her entire body to keep her from moving. This included her jaw. The nurse would open her lips and feed her soup and water three times a day. The only things Queen Coralee could move were her eyes and her heart. Her heart that was bonded to Kerdin, the Lext dragon, whom she silently willed to kill the new egg before it could hatch and replace Vin. The parent dragons would wait for it to hatch before they cast Vin out of the nest because they would want to make sure this hatchling was an improvement on the last. Queen Coralee told Kerdin, through their heart bond, to kill the mother dragon Samea if he must to get to the egg.
In her tower cell Nareena was planning her escape. She would kidnap Tamarie and run with her. She would ride Vin and using him she would attack and kill Lusmond. Then she and her three children, two babies, one born and one still in the womb, and a dragon would fly home to Lextill. Nareena hated the thought of killing anyone. Even after all Lusmond had done to her. It hurt her soul to think of murder. But she knew that as long as Lusmond lived he would be linked to her and the children, Tamarie and the one she carried now, all bonded through Vin. And through that Lusmond would always know where they were, if he lived. And he would come to reclaim his children and his dragon. Also if Nareena could stop Lusmond’s heart that would cut off its pour of evil into Vin’s heart. And she could heal Vin then and make him a good dragon with the love in her heart and the love of her good children. They just had to kill Lusmond and get away from this castle. And they had to do it before the next hatching.
When a young dragon is forced from the nest, the rest of the pride will attack and kill him so that he cannot grow and breed his damage into the stock. The hatching would happen before Nareena gave birth again. So every night she and Vin worked on loosening the bars on her window. She was going to climb onto his back then storm the castle and demand her daughter. Then she would kill Lusmond. She could see the problems in her plan but she didn’t have any other options. Even if she had more time she knew she could never convince Lusmond into letting them go.
Another month passed and Queen Coralee was now able to walk again on her dragon ivory canes. Now she could keep Tamarie with her at every moment of the day and night. King Lusmond stayed close to her as well, not wanting to give her time to plot and conspire with her loyal servants. He only meant to let her live until Nareena’s next baby was born. He would kill her on that birthday so he could tell everyone that she had died in the labor of his newest child. The dragon egg was getting bigger, the size of a jewelry box now, and Queen Coralee knew she must act before anyone noticed it and could question Vin’s position.
On the same night she had her dragon Kerdin attack the royal nest, Vin was able to finally pull the bars out of the stone walls of Nareena’s window. He couldn’t let her on his back though to fly to freedom because he had to go defend his nesting mother. Nareena felt the fear in his heart and sent him quickly on his way. They both had heard Samea’s warring trumpet. Nareena climbed out of the window and clung to the side of the rough stone tower. Inch by inch she moved along until she could reach out and touch the nearest ridge of the great crater. Desperately she gripped onto the rocks and swung herself over from the tower. Down below her by a hundred feet she could see King Lusmond and his men rushing out to see the invading, attacking dragon. Nareena prayed that Lusmond wouldn’t think of her now so he couldn’t use Vin’s sight to see her clinging to the cliff high above him. She scrambled up onto a ledge from where she could climb over to a foot path that would lead her out of the crater. Then to the castle where she could look for her daughter. The problem was that the path would take her very close to the nest where Samea and Vin were fighting the Lext dragon, Coralee’s dragon Kerdin. The king and his men might see her then. She had to risk it though. She had to go for Tamarie. The dragons took to the air and fire sizzled through the starry sky.
From the ground King Lusmond was shouting commands at Vin to battle him against the Lext dragon. Nareena watched in horror as her sweet confused dragon childe became a malicious warrior. Each bite he took out of the Lext dragon was a push against Nareena’s goodness in his heart. She could hear Lusmond through the bond and the blood lusting things he told their dragon son. Just as Nareena was sneaking past the nest where the little egg rested alone, Vin and Samea defeated Kerdin. They did not kill him, Samea held Vin back to let Kerdin fly away. He was greatly injured but he could still retreat. Everyone in the castle could hear Queen Coralee screaming in pain and frustration. Her bond to Kerdin was stinging with his physical pain from the fight. Then Vin shocked them all by turning on his mother and began attacking her. When Lusmond realized why it was happening he encouraged it. He saw the egg in Vin’s mind. He urged Vin to kill his betraying mother, Samea. Vin did not want to be replaced. Lusmond shouted from the ground, pretending that he was ordering Vin to stop. But through the bond he reminded his son that Samea was weak from laying another egg, she should be easy to kill. Vin agreed, he wanted revenge. This is when Nareena knew she had to abandon Vin. The evil in his heart was too great. She would escape tonight and find a way to come back for Tamarie. The black hatred and waste she felt coming through the bond was crushing her. She had to flee.
Vin’s dragon father Drustan, the former king dragon, arrived now from his nightly hunt with food for his nesting mate and Vin. He saw Vin attacking Samea, his mate. Drustan heard Vin’s answering thoughts to Lusmond. Drustan could not hear Lusmond’s thoughts but he understood. The tiny human on the ground was betraying him. Drustan had loved Lusmond as a son, as he was bonded to Lusmond’s own father, Tousont. But he could not let Lusmond order Vin to kill his mate. Drustan dove from the air and turned Lusmond into a human pyre of white flame. Nareena felt it in her heart when Lusmond ended.
At the same moment Vin defeated and killed his mother Samea. Nareena watched Vin turn towards the nest. He meant to destroy the egg now. The threat to his divine rule of the pride of dragons. And as revenge for Drustan, his dragon father, ending Lusmond, his human father. Vin had loved Lusmond, in his own dark way. Nareena could not let another innocent dragon die by the fire of her own deranged dragon. She jumped down into the nest and picked up the egg. She put it in the sling she had spun on her wheel that she had meant to carry Tamarie in. Vin roared and swooped towards her. He could not attack his own rider but he could frighten her and show her how hurt he was. He meant to roast the nest around her. Just before his flame could reach her and the nest, Drustan flew between them. Vin and the old king dragon fell into vicious battle with each other. Nareena climbed back onto the foot path and ran down the crater towards the castle.
Everyone was outside to watch the battle and gather the charred remains of King Lusmond. No one stopped Nareena from going inside. She decided to look for Tamarie, to take her now if she could. She crept through the castle where she spied Queen Coralee secretly having Tamarie crowned by the officials as the divine sovereign of the land. The old king Tousont was there, held at knife point. He could have ruled in Lusmond’s place while Tamarie grew up. But Queen Coralee had other plans. There were maybe ten men, the queen, the old king, and the baby. But Nareena was pregnant and weaponless with a heavy dragon egg in her sling. She was no match for them. She vowed she would come back for her daughter. Right now she had to escape for her unborn child and the dragon egg. Under the cover of night Nareena left through the stables and headed west. She decided not to head east towards her old home in Lextill. She did not want to be easily followed. It was not until the next morning that anyone discovered she was gone.
In their bond, with Lusmond dead, it was just the three of them; Nareena, Vin and Tamarie. Through the dragon sight they could all see through one another’s eyes and knew where the other was located. Luckily for Nareena, Tamarie was still a baby and could not yet tell anyone where she saw Nareena. And Vin had snapped and would not take orders now that he had killed his dragon mother and father. Try as they might, no one could order Vin to go retrieve Nareena. Though Queen Coralee knew that Vin must know where Nareena was. She could not get the dragon to do anything. Though this was a private matter. The kingdom still believed Vin was bonded to Queen Coralee. No one knew that the accused witch Nareena was his true female companion. Queen Coralee did not let it bother her too much. She had everything she wanted now. King Lusmond was dead. And though she was not bonded to the king dragon, she was bonded to another dragon which would ensure her long and healthy life. She would rule as queen for the rest of her time on earth. She simply wouldn’t step down when it was Tamarie’s time to rule. She might even kill her once the kingdom was more situated under her own rule. She knew one day Nareena would return for her daughter and Queen Coralee would be ready.
Nareena had hidden herself by day and listened in the roadside bushes when the queen’s soldiers rode out. They all headed east to Lextill, the home village of the witch. They seemed to have spotted a woman that they thought was the witch. Nareena prayed for that woman’s safety. But she was thankful for the misunderstanding. Nareena hoped her mother and father would be safe when the soldiers got there. She headed west towards the Rost townships. Then she planned to head south towards the White River which cut the Sway Plain in half. She would go to one of the towns on the coast, as far from Castle Brux as it was possible to get. She traveled for two nights. Her plodding was slow but she was strong with her dragon bond and her dragon sight helped her see at night. Finally she came to a small village called Rosten. At the first house she came to she asked for sanctuary. The man and woman brought her inside and sat her at the table with the small brood of young children.
They had heard of the Witch Nareena. Soldiers from the castle out collecting rents had spread the news far and wide while Nareena had been held captive. She tried to tell them that she was not a witch, just a shepherd’s daughter. A goat girl, she added Queen Coralee’s pet name darkly. The family hosting her was named Hinkson. The man, Hink and his young wife Kestine politely refused to believe her. It had to be a witch that killed King Lusmond, drove Queen Coralee to madness and defeated two grown dragons in her escape. And a witch who did all that was a friend to the Hinksons. They offered her a place to stay and they offered her protection. King Lusmond had been a bad king, even worse than his father Tousont had been. He taxed the land until it bled. He let the other nobles fight their dragon battles wherever, not caring how many villages was burned to the ground. Entire Manors and townships had ceased existing in King Lusmond’s short reign. It did not matter to him when a farmer’s land was scorched beyond repair; he still demanded taxes from the nobles who demanded it from the farmers. Hink and Kestine were glad he was dead. They could only hope Princess Tamarie would be a better and kinder ruler. That she would stop the dragon battles and that she would restore order.
Nareena planned to only stay a day or so in Rosten and then to move on to get far from the castle. She still planned to give birth near the sea. She wanted to hide this child away from Queen Coralee who would see it as a threat to Princess Tamarie’s throne. Nareena wanted to give birth before she went back for Tamarie. Unfortunately as her fifth month began so did her complications. She awoke the next day in the friendly farmer’s home, too sick to move. It was the hurt pushing through the bond from Vin to her that made her weak. He felt so betrayed and lost. It was punishing Nareena with awful pains in her heart and stomach as if Vin was trying to hurt the baby she carried. She was forced to accept Hink and Kestine’s humble hospitality for a longer and more intensive stay..
Kestine was the mother of three lads and one baby girl. Gunner who was five, Pent who was three, Wilk who was two and Cery had just turned a year. There had been other births but these were the ones who survived. Kestine was more than happy to dote on the witch Nareena. Every illness she went through was familiar from at least one pregnancy for mother Kestine. Though she was worried about the pain in the heart, the way it made Nareena cry. Kestine, who besides having her own pregnancies was also the local midwife, had never seen anything like that. Nareena wound up having to tell Kestine and Hink the entire story. She needed other people to speak with. She hadn’t talked about her last year with anyone. It felt good to open up to these kind people. Together they reasoned that she needed to keep Vin out of her head, to stop the pain. When she started fighting Vin back and pushing him out, the pain lessened to a manageable ache. Eventually she could feel Vin lose interest and vigor in tormenting her. It got easier. But then she grew just too big to travel without being noticed, especially to try and cross the White River. The bridges were all being watched by the queen’s men. She could not swim the river at this stage in her pregnancy after having stayed a few weeks with the farmers. To navigate the river she would need all of her concentration, including the part of her mind dedicated to keeping Vin out. She couldn’t risk letting him in while she was swimming against the lethal current.
Before hearing the entire story they had assumed the rock in her sling was part of her witch’s armory. They were common people and had never been allowed to see a dragon egg. They learned that the child Nareena carried now was the next heir to the throne and her dragon egg was the real king dragon, the replacement for Vin. They vowed to help the witch rescue her child Tamarie, even when they still struggled to believe she was only a shepherd’s daughter. Because they knew that if fair Nareena raised her, Tamarie would become a good queen, something for them to believe in. The type of ruler they had been praying for. And now with this egg the commoners had their own dragon again. Nareena could train and ride this dragon after it hatched, she could use him to rescue Tamarie.
They all began to care for the egg as if it were another baby Nareena was carrying. Hink and Kestine asked anyone they could about dragon lore. But there wasn’t much known in the village any more. So they made it up as they went along. They kept the egg warm as they could. It was high summer so the egg stayed in a sling under shirts, next to skin. When Nareena’s belly got too big for the sling to fit her, Kestine took to wearing it all the time. She had the egg on one hip and baby girl Cery on the other. When Hink would come in from the fields at the end of the day he would put on the sling and pat the egg lovingly as he smoked his pipe. Nareena told them what she had seen the night Vin was born. How his parents had fire roasted his egg. Kestine build a pit in the back garden to roast the egg in over a wood fire when it was ready to hatch. Nareena watched her from the window and kept offering to help. But every time she moved she vomited. Kestine just shushed her and told her to mind the babies. “The boy and the baibin.” She would say lovingly. The boy was the human baby in Nareena’s womb. The baibin was the egg. Baibin was Kestine’s family’s word for baby. It was how she differentiated which little one she was referring to. Kestine finished her fire pit a week before the egg hatched. Unfortunately the egg never made it into the pit.
The day the egg hatched, Hink had already left for work and the sun was just coming up. Kestine was cooking over the wood stove in the center of the house, making breakfast for the children and poor swollen Nareena. She heard a crack and a sickening splash at the same time. She turned around to see Nareena holding the egg while red liquid ran down her legs, staining the front of her shift and dripping on the packed earthen floor. She looked terrified. “Get it together girl. You’ve had a baby before. Same thing, just a little early this time.” Kestine tried to calm her as she put down her pan in the fire.
“No! The egg!” Nareena wailed and showed Kestine where the egg was splitting and how she was trying to get it closed so they could put it in the fire.
Kestine hissed a string of colorful words that she rarely used as she carefully took the hatching egg from Nareena. Then she yelled for Gunner, the eldest son at nearly six years old, to run and get his father from the field. Maybe Hink could get here to put the egg in the fire pit before it cracked anymore. Even though he’d have to build the fire quick. And maybe Nareena wouldn’t pass the baby before Kestine could be hands free to catch it.
However both the human baby and the dragon baby were determined to be born right now. Nareena was losing so much blood. Kestine had no choice. She put the dragon egg in the fire in the stove and hoped it was enough warmth for him to be born. She began her midwifery on Nareena and the baby. The child was breach; it was trying to be born backwards. Which Kestine knew was common with it being two months early. It hadn’t had time to turn. Kestine was able to turn the baby by hand. And order Nareena to push when she felt the head ready to lead out. As the baby passed into Kestine’s hands the women both heard the dragon egg crack into several pieces.
“It’s a girl!” Kestine cried and held up the baby. Nareena weakly smiled and held open her arms for her daughter. “Lorna.” She whispered. “That was my little sister’s name.” And then she looked at the stove and nervously called, “Baibin?”
Kestine rushed over to the stove and peered inside. There was a tiny brown dragon, about the size of a house cat. Kestine held out a pan to catch him in and the dragon childe tottered out of the ceramic stove. She gingerly touched him at first, worried he would be too hot to hold. But his scales were only warm. Kestine lovingly scooped him up and carried him over to Nareena and the baby Lorna. She laid him on Nareena’s other side. Nareena sleepily and lovingly looked down at him, at both of her babies. Then, peacefully, she died.