First Chapter Preview: Dragon's Curse
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(Edit: I've done it again and seriously edited the first two chapters. Check out the new versions here.)
(Edit: I've done it again and seriously edited the first two chapters. Check out the new versions here.)
The Scholar and the Dragon
Shannon held her breath against the acrid stench of the cavern, her back scrunched flat against the rough, unnaturally warm stone.
Just press forward. She desperately pushed back her fear. One way or another this will all be over. You just have to keep pressing forward.
But her feet wouldn't move. She forced her eyes open and could make out the vague outline of the beast–like a great, leather cloak draped over bumpy furniture only about a thousand times bigger. His sides rose and fell gently but steadily as he slumbered. If she turned back now perhaps she could survive but that meant going back to everything that had driven her to this insanity in the first place.
As she timidly moved one foot forward, she recited from the Wizards' Practical Guide to Dragons under her breath, “Dragons like puzzles. Dragons love gold. Dragons can be swayed by flattery and bought with presents.”
She touched the strap of her knapsack and prayed her offering would be enough. Another step, her stride stronger now, one way or the other this was going to end.
The dragon moved. She swallowed a scream as her legs gave out underneath her.
Oh why, oh why did I ever come to Regone? Why didn't I listen to Martin?
Three months before:
Shannon hurried down the corridor her skin crisscrossed by the shadows the sun cast through the diamond panes of the clouded glass windows. Her fine, dark blonde hair slipped out of the hastily plaited braid and into her face. Frustrated, she pushed it back and sniffed.
She knew she looked like a child, especially when flustered. Her brown eyes were too big for her round face, her hands too small for her arms, and her hair and garments always disheveled. People underestimated her, which often lead to be being passed over, but this was Martin. If anyone should know better, Martin should. They had worked together on numerous projects and though, as the older more experienced scholar, he had always been her superior, she had thought she had proven herself to him. Numerous times.
Now, a few months into his promotion to Headmaster's Assistant, he had apparently forgotten her. Worse than forgotten, ignored, for she had written him two notes which he had either disregarded or flat out not read. She had assumed he had been simply taking his time, but then a chance encounter with a fellow junior scholar had revealed to her the full extent of the betrayal and left her livid.
She hated confrontation, but Martin needed to know he was making a mistake. Shannon assured herself of this as she stormed through the Academy's echoing halls. Her boots slapped out a rhythm of it's unfair; he should've come to me first. It's unfair. He should've. It's unfair.
She wasn’t good at being angry; it simply didn’t come naturally to her, and if she was going to assume an air of righteous indignation she would need to work herself up and keep herself there. If she was incensed enough he’d have to listen. He'd have to see how serious she was.
She threw open the door to his study. Martin sat behind his heavy wooden desk, hunched over some papers, quill in hand. He looked up, eyebrows raised, when she barged in.
“Shannon? Is something wrong?” he asked, his clear blue eyes widening.
“Yes, something is wrong!” she burst out. Her voice squeaked. She swallowed and considered adjusting it. Even she couldn’t take that voice seriously.
I sound like a six-year-old.
She cleared her throat and began again. “I just talked to Henri in the library. He told me you put him on the shortlist for the assignment in Regone. I didn’t know you were even interviewing candidates yet, and Henri has already had two interviews. I’m twice as qualified as Henri, Martin! This is because I’m a woman, isn’t it? I know the headmaster is old fashioned, but the choice is yours, not his.”
“No, that’s not it. Dame Allison is on the short list too.” He stuck the quill into the inkwell and leaned back in his seat.
She couldn’t help it. She gaped. Allison knew her alchemy. The woman was like a walking reference library, but she had no imagination, no ambition. When it came to thinking out of the box, Shannon knew she could run circles around her.
“That only makes it worse, Martin.” She managed to control the pitch of her voice. “I’m a better alchemist than Allison and I know more botany than Henri. Why are they both on the list when you never even interviewed me?”
“Do you even know what this assignment involves?” Martin's wide mouth scowled at her.
“I saw the letter they sent to the headmaster.” She nodded doing her best to come across as firm rather than shrill. “The Regonian steward wants a scholar versed in alchemy, botany, and apothecary healing, and I was top of my class in all three. You know I want to leave the Academy. I need to leave. Why didn’t I make the list? I should’ve been the list.”
“Because it’s Regone!” he said, sounding unaccountably exasperated.
She blinked at him.
He drew a deep breath. “You don’t know what that means, do you?”
She shook her head.
“Regone is cursed, Shan.”
Shannon's brow crinkled. She could never tell when Martin was joking but this had to be a joke. She’d heard of cursed objects, cursed people, even an occasional cursed castle, but an entire kingdom? The amount of magic it would take to curse an entire kingdom was unfathomable. His eyes were placid, though, no twinkle.
“How so?” she asked. He adjusted himself in his chair as if preparing to sit for a good length of time.
“Edmond, the current king of Regone, is the second son of the previous king, Ernest. The first son, the Crown Prince Ewan, was killed about five years ago by a dragon,” he explained.
“Unfortunate, but hardly in the realm of the supernatural.” Shannon shrugged. “Men are always trying to prove themselves against dragons and it rarely ends well.”
“I’m not finished. Upon hearing of his brother’s fate, Edmond swore vengeance upon the entire race of dragons and, along with the majority of the knights from the Regonian court, began hunting them down one by one from one end of the Continent to the other. Rumor is he and his entourage killed at least half a dozen of the great wyrms before they encountered an entire nest of them. Outnumbered by the beasts, they were roasted and rent.”
“Again, sad but the inevitable consequence of tangling with dragons.” she interrupted.
“Again, not finished.” Martin’s scowl returned, a little deeper this time. “Miraculously a handful of the knights survived, Edmond being one of them, though he didn’t escape unharmed. He was grievously wounded. When Ernest saw them bring back his only remaining son clinging to life by a thread, his heart gave out and he died within the hour. Edmond, of course, did live, but he is severely maimed and in constant pain from the dragon venom, which is why they need a scholar, someone to help alleviate his symptoms.
“Nothing has gone right for the royal family since Prince Ewan’s death. The kingdom is nearly bankrupt. Many of the nobles have left or are simply refusing to pay taxes because they know King Edmond does not have the manpower to force them to do so. I grew up in Regone. When I was a boy it was thriving. Ernest was a good king, and Ewan had potential to be an even better one. He wasn’t an idiot. When I’d heard a dragon had got the drop on him, I couldn’t believe it. You don’t need to be entangled in that mess, not on your first trip out of the Academy.” Martin stood and motioned towards the door. He was not a particularly tall man and Shannon could gaze directly into his eyes without effort. He reached up and rubbed his already unruly dust brown hair.
“But I’d be perfect for the appointment,” she persisted. “I know I’ll be fine, Martin. I can handle myself, and I promise I won’t go anywhere near dragons. It won't be hard. They are scarcely seen outside of the Wilderlands nowadays. The chances of being killed in an unprovoked dragon attack must be comparable to the odds of being struck by lightening, after all. The prince's fate is tragic but statistically improbable.”
“Which is exactly the sort of thing one shouldn't say in front of anyone who has lost a loved one to a dragon–for instance the king you are so set on healing.” Martin's eyes flashed and she drew a deep breath.
“Oh, you aren't afraid for my safety. You are afraid I'm going to say something stupid and embarrass you.”
“No, of course not, I just, well, yes, honestly, a little bit. You tend to speak your mind, Shan. It's endearing after one becomes accustomed to it, but you will be dealing with a king, not a professor. An offended professor will mark down your paper. Upset a king, and much worse might befall you.”
She frowned and narrowed her eyes at him. “But did King Edmond request a politician or a healer?”
“A healer, of course.”
“And do you think that any of those other applicants would be a better healer than me?”
“They are all capable.”
“As capable as me?” She could see him wavering. “Martin, when you received your last promotion, you told me one of the benefits would be the ability to aid those who had helped you in your climb. You also said I was the best research assistant you had ever had. Did you really believe that?”
“I did then and do now. “ He lowered himself down and sighed loudly. “Are you sure this is the assignment you want?”
“It is a good fit.”
“All right. I will write the king and tell him I've found his healer then. If you change your mind, however, I was ready to send Henri and he will be willing to go in your place.”
It didn't take Shannon long to prepare for her journey. The next day, Martin came to help her carry her bags from her room.
“You do realize that the caravan to Regone is waiting for me as we speak,” Shannon frowned at him, wrapping old rags around the glass bottles that held her most prized essential oils and placing them gently in her leather carrying case.
“Aye, but there will be another going through Regone in a few days, and we could send him along with that. It won’t kill King Edmond to wait another day or two.”
She knew this was true. While Regone was not currently prosperous, her research into the country had shown that during Ernest’s reign they had been one of the only sources in the western half of the Continent for silver marble, a rare stone prized for its strength and beauty. Though work in the quarries had come to a screeching halt after Ernest’s death, trade caravans still kept to their traditional route through Regone when going to more easterly kingdoms; places Shannon had only seen on maps.
Of course, Shannon had only seen most places on the map. She could point to the farm she grew up on from the window of her Academy apartment. When she was younger, just leaving the farm to study had seemed like the biggest adventure she could imagine. Now she was ready for something new and exciting.
She carefully closed the case she was packing and buckled the leather straps, binding it securely in place.
“You know it will be almost impossible to extract you without causing an international incident,” Martin continued to harp. “Its proximity to the Academy has given Regone influence beyond what its size and wealth would normally garner. At least three headmasters have come from there.”
Shannon paused. She was well versed in Academy history and that number was off.
“Antonius, Gregory, and who else?”
“Martin,” he grinned mischievously. “In about ten years, of course.”
She shook her head ruefully at him and shouldered her pack.
“That is the last of it. Are you too peeved at me to see me off?”
“I’m not peeved. I’m concerned.” He offered to take her baggage and she accepted, keeping only the case with the delicate, glass vials so that she could ensure its safety. They left her tiny apartment and headed down the stairs towards the Merchant’s Courtyard where the caravan awaited.
As they passed the door to one of the classrooms a cluster of men in dark robes, each with a golden crescent amulet upon his chest, emerged. Martin tensed. The leader nodded with a pleasant smile to the pair before guiding his flock back down the hall. Shannon laughed quietly.
“With all your experience, I can’t believe you still let Abel and his band unnerve you like that,” she teased. “He is really a pleasant fellow, when he isn’t in a trance.”
“Diviners,” Martin scoffed. “They take science and turn it into a guessing game.”
Shannon didn't often admit it, but she envied Abel and his ilk. While it was well accepted that a scholar could be successful without magical abilities, she had always longed to possess even the slightest hint of the natural ability needed to devote herself to the flashier “Magic” side of the Academy. In her first several months as a student she had undergone test after test, trying to light a candle with her mind, levitate objects, or invoke visions of the future. All had come to naught. Magic required a natural gifting, generally hereditary, which both she and Martin lacked.
Martin had always assured her that being a scholar, a true scholar, was more about using one's brains than one's magical aptitude, and there were certain aspects of magic–warding, spell protection, good luck charms, spell reversals–that could be taught. Martin managed to be successful through hard work and intelligence and often expressed an opinion that those who relied on magic lacked both. However, this contempt did not stop him from acting like a nervous cat whenever the diviners were in a room.
“Abel is sweet,” she persisted. “You can tell he only practices the good sorts of spells.”
Martin snorted loudly.
“I have already defeated you in this debate once,” he said. “There aren’t good and bad sorts of magic. Magic, like science, is a purely secular business.”
“You didn't defeat me. That debate was clearly a draw,” she protested. “And if there aren’t good sorts and bad sorts, why are certain practices allowed while things like Necromancy, Mesmerization, and Bee Charming are forbidden?”
“Because while no magic is evil, some sorts are definitely dangerous,” he answered.
“Bee Charming? Really?” she laughed.
“You try waking up one morning with a swarm of angry bees buzzing around your bedchamber,” he said sourly. Something in his voice suggested experience, and she thought it wise to drop the matter.
They entered the courtyard. Several vendors had set up new stands against the wall. Any other day she would’ve been pouring through their offerings looking for exotic herbs and oils, shiny objects, or just news of the outside world, no matter how fantastic and fabricated it might sound. Today, however, she had her own chance to see places outside of the Academy and Freeman's Valley.
“Last chance,” he said.
She hugged him quickly.
“You know I can handle this, Martin,” she soothed.
He sighed but nodded.
“I suppose you can,” he said. “But after the death of his brother Edmond became moody: darker, angrier, difficult to be around. I can’t imagine the death of his father did anything to lighten his burden, and while you are bright, you have always had a strange way of looking at the world. Please, be careful, Shannon. Kings aren’t like scholars. A good scholar appreciates being questioned for it allows him to test his preconceived notions and learn about the world through another’s eyes. A king expects to be obeyed, no matter how ridiculous his commands may be, and acquiescing to authority has never been one of your strengths.”
“I will be careful. After all, I am only there to heal him. I won’t have a reason to cross him.”
The journey between the Academy and the Regonian court only took two days. She spent most of that time pouring over the caravan leader’s maps as she sat beside him in the lead wagon and listened to his stories of travels through wilder lands.
The merchant, a middle-aged man had a massive, oily beard and a physique that looked barrel chested when he stood but collapsed like a sack of wheat when he was sitting.
“There isn’t much to Regone,” he said. “The land there is fertile, but it takes less than a day to cross the breadth of it, and that’s on foot. Most of the folk there are farmers now that the quarries are closed and they can no longer trade stone for wheat. Many used to work in the quarries and purchased all their food stuffs from the farms in Freeman’s Valley.”
Freeman’s Valley was the official name of the rich floodplain that surrounded the Academy. No king held sway there, and with no noblemen taking their cut, they always had extra grain to trade for other things they needed. They were able to maintain this state of liberty due to the protection of the Academy, which age old treaty equired to stay on neutral ground so the healers and advisers it sent forth could be trusted by all monarchs. This made the Academy a fecund melting pot filled with scholars from all over the Continent and of all walks of life, and led to the general prosperity of the Freeman’s Valley farmers.
“It seems to be surrounded by larger neighbors,” she said, indicating the kingdoms of Grassel and Westshire which touched upon Regone’s northeastern and southeastern borders.
“Aye, but you see those wee green triangles?” He switched the reins into his other hand and pointed to the borders she had been indicating. “Those represent trees and those trees make up the thickest forest on the Continent, called simply ‘The Wilderlands.’ Those trees provide Regone some shelter from its more aggressive neighbors.”
“I imagine the Middland Range also does its part,” she eyed the sprawling mountain chain that branched into the foothills of Regone and Westshire. “Aren’t they supposedly impassable?”
“Aye, and filled with dangerous, wild beasts. In fact, that is one of the few places on the Continent you can reliably locate dragons. It was in the Range that King Edmond and his men searched out the great wyrms for slaying and it was there that they were outnumbered and bested by the scaly beasts.
“It is rare for dragons to leave the shelter of the uninhabited lands now,” he claimed. “The one who killed the king’s brother was a fluke, and when on his mission of revenge, King Edmond had to travel far into the uncharted areas in order to find his prey. It is a miracle he made it out alive.”
And foolish of him to attempt the hunt in the first place.
But remembering Martin's advice, Shannon held her tongue.
“He seems a fair king, however,” the man went on. “Since his wounds have forced him to remain in Regone, he has been slowly picking up the remnants of his father’s kingdom. Soon I hope to see him reopen the quarries. I would love to get my foot in the door early for a piece of that pie.”
Shannon almost said something about the badly mixed metaphor but thought better of it. Would working with royalty often mean not saying what really ought to be said? Well, she could handle that. She wasn’t a fool.
“I see the peak of Mount Regone,” he pointed to a great cinder cone that loomed on the horizon towering above the smaller hills around it. “It’s old name was Dragon’s Roost, but no one calls it that any more, out of respect for the royal family.”
“A shame, Dragon’s Roost sounds more poetic than Mount Regone.”
“Aye, well, dragons are out of fashion in Regone right now,” he sniffed.
“I suppose that is good. I promised a friend that I would stay away from dragons.”
Her first few weeks in Regone passed uneventfully, so much so that she wrote a mocking letter to Martin informing him that his “cursed kingdom” offered her no challenge whatsoever unless she feared dying of boredom. Shannon spent some time pleasantly gathering local herbs from the hillsides and forests, enjoying the balmy spring weather.
Under her watch, King Edmond began a regimen of sleeping potions and extracts she knew promoted healing and blood flow. She kept to herself for the majority of the time and enjoyed the freedom the laid back assignment offered her.
Other than a small staff of perhaps twenty servants, guards, and stable hands, there weren't many people in the palace. Edmond did keep a handful of knights fed and housed, presumably for palace defense, though they did nothing but loiter about and train. The leader of these, Sir Roderick, had been one of the few survivors of Edmond's band of dragon hunters, making him the only experienced fighter in the lot. Roderick was of average height and slightly more than average build, a fact he liked to show off with tailored tunics and by occasionally parading around the training ground shirtless. He had well-coiffed, butter pale hair and gray eyes. There was also a cleft in his chin and a constant look of self-satisfaction on his face that always irked her.
Shannon wasn't quite sure when she first noticed Roderick, but she was certain when she noticed him noticing her. She had been in the library that morning, a small collection of books compared to the Academy's compilation, but impressive for a kingdom the size of Regone.
She was reading, perched in a high backed chair, for some time before she felt his eyes on her. Looking up she swallowed uncomfortably for he was leaning against the nearest bookshelf, his face weirdly contorted into a half grin with his eyebrows raised. He gave the impression he had been standing that way for quite some time waiting for her to admire him.
“Hello,” she said slowly. “Roderick, isn't it?”
She almost said Richard, and in hindsight she wished she had allowed herself to make that mistake. Perhaps that would've been discouragement enough to for him to leave.
“Aye, and you are Shannon. Strange name for a woman, almost masculine,” he said, coming closer. He sat on the arm of her chair, on top of her hand which had been resting there.
“It can be a boys name as well.” Shannon quickly extricated her fingers from under his thigh and stood. His weight almost tipped the chair over, but he managed to hop up, steadying it and himself.
“I would have named you Rose or Ruby, something beautiful and precious.”
Not completely immune to compliments, she blushed. He smiled confidently.
“We should go for a walk. This room smells funny.”
Shannon, who had always dreamed of finding a perfume that smelled of old books, frowned at this.
“I like it here,” she said simply. She crossed over to a different chair and sat down. He walked away and for a moment she thought she was rid of him, but then his head popped up from over the back of her chair. She shrank back into the upholstery and put her book over her mouth barely in time to block an unwanted kiss.
Over the next several weeks, every time she left her quarters or finished her duties, he was waiting. He left presents on her doorstep, which she redistributed among the castle staff, and as much as she disliked confrontation she was finally forced to simply tell him she did not appreciate his presence and wished to be left alone.
“Don't be silly,” he said. “You must be at least twenty, so you have less than a decade of eligibility left. If you think you are going to find better than me in that time, you are simply delusional.”
She almost slapped him, but having learned how twisted his thought process was, she feared he might see that as encouragement and simply ran away. She sent Martin another letter to ask whether he knew of any anti-love potions.
Shannon went into a prolonged period of hiding – a period that might have lasted indefinitely if not for the appearance of the hated dragon.
That day she had finished early with the king's treatments. He had slept through the night for the first time since her arrival, and this small victory had left him uncharacteristically chipper.
Edmond was handsome in his own way, tall and lean with brown hair and sad gray eyes. The dragon mauling had left him with serious burns primarily on the left side of his neck and chest. His shield arm had been shattered in the fight and while the bones had long ago healed, the limb still hung limp against his body.
The loss of his arm and the scarring paled, however, in comparison to the the dragon bite that had left venom coursing through his bloodstream, scorching and sizzling. Poison like that would leave the system slowly and some days Edmond could scarcely stand due to the pain. It gave his face a weathered, old look and it was easy to forget his youth. Like his palace and kingdom, he seemed cold, empty, and lifeless.
Now, however, feeling rested for the first time in over a year, he had even smiled at her once and given her a backhanded compliment about being more competent than her manner suggested. The session had passed quickly, pleasantly, and productively. Even better he mentioned that the knights had scheduled a sparring contest for that morning which meant Roderick would not be pestering her for at least a few hours.
Shannon decided to take some of her free time and explore the empty halls that lay beyond the royal wing and servants’ quarters.
She had been told that the Regonian royal residence was small as palaces went, but considering how empty it was, it seemed cavernous. She spent a good two hours wandering the silent, sepulchral halls, often getting lost in areas that had not seen human habitation in many years.
After several twists and turns, she found a door leading to open air and emerged onto a parapet on the western wall of the palace. A lone guard leaned pensively against the door frame. He stood at attention when she approached.
“Milady,” he said tilting his head respectfully.
She acknowledged him with a nod and a smile then rested her arms atop the chest-high wall to gaze across the Regonian countryside. There was Mount Regone, or Dragon’s Roost as she preferred to think of it, a small peak but still dwarfing the gentle green hills around it. About midway up she spied a dark spot that might have been a large cavern. Perhaps she could hike there some afternoon and explore. While botany interested her more than mineralogy, she knew some minerals held potent healing powers and caves were the perfect place to seek such things.
A dark silhouette rose from the mountain’s shadow and whirled into the sky. She frowned in bewilderment.
“Is that an eagle? I’ve never seen one quite that large before.”
The guard left his post and came over to stand at her side. He squinted, then placed his hand above his eyes and shook his head.
“That is far too big to be any sort of bird,” he answered.
“Well, what is it, then? It is too dark to be a cloud,” she shook her head in turn.
The form grew closer and for a moment turned so that its full profile stood in stark contrast to the clear, blue sky: swan’s neck; bat’s wings; serpent's tail.
“By the king's line!” the guard breathed. “That is a dragon!”
By now other folk had sighted the beast. She looked behind her into the courtyard and saw the frantic bustle of guards and servants, some running for cover, some coming out from under cover to stare at the sky and the approaching monster. Uncertain if simply seeing a dragon violated her promise to Martin, Shannon contemplated the size of the creature as well as the speed and grace with which it cut through the air. It seldom beat its wings but glided silently like a massive bird of prey.
“It is coming right towards us,” the guard hissed. “What I wouldn’t give for a long bow!” He pushed her back towards the door, but too curious to be frightened, Shannon chose not to flee.
The dragon swept lower and circled the palace. A few archers spent their quivers but all shots fell short. The sun glistened on slate gray scales as the winged beast turned and made one more low pass over the palace. Shannon ducked instinctively as it whooshed less than ten feet over her head, the speed of its flight stirring her hair and her heart.
The dragon rose into the sky once more and she watched as it slowly glided back into the shadow of Mount Regone and disappeared.
“I wouldn’t want to be in the room when King Edmond hears about this,” the guard whistled.
Remembering how King Ernest had died due to a great shock and knowing that a weak heart could be hereditary, Shannon blanched and hurried back into the palace.
Though Edmond preferred to conduct most of his business within the peace of his private quarters, there was an official throne room for holding court and addressing large groups. From what she could see, every palace inhabitant–counselors, knights, and even the staff–had rushed there, craning necks towards the throne where Edmond sat, his face reddened and his mouth pinched sourly. Roderick was there, near the front, so she took advantage of the crowd and hid in the back behind the wall of onlookers.
“Did anyone see where it roosted?” the king barked.
A knight stood forth, not one whose name she knew but one of Roderick’s lazy companions whom she had seen loitering about the kitchens and training grounds. “I believe it landed on Mount Regone, your highness. Some of my friends have started out to see if they can get a better look. They should be back shortly with more news.”
“I hope they are cautious. The kingdom cannot afford to lose any more men,” Edmond said, his eyes clouding slightly.
“We need a champion! One who can best the beast one on one!” the knight shouted eagerly.
“Unless you are referring to yourself, that does me no good,” Edmond said.
The fellow fell silent and hung his head.
“I thought not,” Edmond continued. “Fighting a dragon takes skill, cunning, and strength and even then anything can go wrong. They have fire and venom and sinews of steel. Knights with the credentials needed for such a task do not work for a mere pittance and I cannot afford to offer any great bounty at this time. That wyrm may as well be unreachable.”
This was the most she had heard the normally sullen Edmond speak in one sitting. Intrigued, she stepped forward a few steps. Roderick looked up at that very moment and their eyes met. He grinned and revulsion rippled through her.
Now he strode boldly onto the dais. Edmond stared at him questioningly. Roderick’s face seemed to ooze, so unctuous was his simper.
“I, your highness, will slay the beast!” he said, sticking out his chest. “I will bring you back its head and I desire no financial recompense. All I ask is that the Lady Shannon grant me her fair, frail hand in wedded bliss.”
Shannon’s jaw dropped. He was pointing at her, a leer on his smug, stupid face. Everyone else was grinning at her. She could guess what they were thinking: she was the damsel in distress and he the hero in this romantic tale. He would slay the dragon, win her hand, and there would be peace and happiness in the kingdom of Regone. She squirmed under their scrutiny.
“Lady Shannon, I was not aware you and Sir Roderick had an understanding,” Edmond’s level voice broke the spell.
“We do not!” Shannon shrieked. She flushed. Her heart pounded. She wanted to melt into the floor.
Edmond smiled slightly, then cleared his throat and frowned at Roderick.
“Unfortunately, Sir Roderick, Lady Shannon is a native of Freeman's Valley. Therefore not my subject, and I cannot command her to wed you.”
Roderick stiffened. Shannon exhaled.
“However, if she does choose to accept your offer and you do choose to act upon your promise, I will be exceedingly grateful to the both of you and willing to oversee any ceremony,” Edmond said.
Her heart faltered again and before anyone else could address her she fled from the room and hid in her quarters for the rest of the day.
It took all her strength to face the king over the next few days. While he had not broached the subject again, she could feel the weight of it sitting on her head like an unfortunate bonnet. After a bit, she decided she would either have to leave, admitting to Martin her failure in her first assignment, or accept Roderick and pray that the dragon ate him, or do something even more drastic and unexpected, something that might very well cause her to be the one devoured.