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Monday, August 11, 2014

First Chapter Tease: Book Four, The Dragon and the Scholar

image via Pinali, Deviant Art

STOP! 

Are you a fantasy reader who likes a little bit of romance and whimsy? Do you love dragons? Have you read the first three books in The Dragon and the Scholar saga? If you answered yes to the first two questions but no to the third, click on the links below and grab yourself a copy of one of my  dragon books. I suggest starting at the beginning, but if you  did that and for some reason didn't continue on, pick up wherever you left off.

Dragon's Curse (The Dragon and the Scholar Book 1)



All good? You've read those three books? Awesome! Because chapter one to book four completely spoils the ending to book three, as well as other surprises throughout books one and two.

Actually, the very title of book four is a bit of a spoiler to  the end of book three. So, you've been warned .  . .

Book four of The Dragon and the Scholar saga is

. . .

drum roll

. . .


Dragon's Bride


Yep, at the end of Dragon's Rival, Ewan finally confessed his love for Shannon and accepted Martin's temporary cure allowing him a short time as a  human again. There was a wedding, and Dragon's Bride picks up a few weeks after this when Ewan and Shannon are trying to get a handle on what their future looks like.
The second half of the scene involves Prince Ryan, who has been disinherited by his father and is still reeling from the discovery that he has a son, hidden from him by his father, King Riley. 









Chapter One
The Bargain



Shannon nestled her head against Ewan’s warm, slate-gray scales and squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t want to get up. She wanted to dream. His snout caressed the back of her neck, his hot breath stirring her dark blonde hair. She relented, opening her eyes to smile up at him.
Did you sleep well?” he asked.
She nodded and yawned. He withdrew his wing, exposing her to the weak morning sun and crisp fall air. She shivered and pulled her cloak shut about her chest and shoulders.
You could sleep inside, in a bed,” he suggested.
I like to be with you.” She stroked the side of his face, smooth like polished leather. He extended his neck to tower above her. From their rooftop perch on top of his brother's castle, she could see the kingdom of Regone, bathed in morning light. Edmond, Ewan's brother, had designed this special courtyard to meet his brother's unusual needs. He'd set up a red cloth canopy to shelter the dragon from the rain. The open space consisted mainly of cold stone, however, so Shannon had to stay pasted to Ewan's side at night if she didn't wish to freeze in her sleep.
Shannon would’ve loved to sleep a few more hours. She had been lethargic of late. Perhaps it was the overwhelming changes. It had been only two weeks since Martin’s potions had granted Ewan a few precious hours' reprieve from his curse. With him returned to his human shape, they had taken vows and experienced a few blissful hours as husband and wife.
Since then, she had rarely left his side. She needed to prove, to him and herself, that his form didn’t matter. Man or dragon, she loved him the same.
You, of all people, have nothing to prove,” Ewan assured her. “Shannon, if I were going to doubt you, it would’ve been before you risked your life and sacrificed your chance at a throne on my behalf.”
Perhaps he was right, but it had taken him so long to confess his love, she sometimes still doubted this was real. His form had come between them so many times. However, when offered the chance to bind herself to him fully, she had leaped at it. Even now, with him returned to scales and wings, she adored him.
Shannon assumed they would travel again. Ewan’s brother, King Edmond, had also recently married. Up to his eyes in newly wedded bliss, Edmond had no desire for Ewan’s company. Their friend Martin would soon return to the Academy. Nothing held them in one place, and so Ewan’s consistent wanderlust would urge them on. Even now, his keen eyes focused on the horizon, towards the distant blue foothills of the Wilderlands.
Where will we go?” she asked.
Hm?” He glanced down at her.
You wish to journey again. I know you find lingering here dull.” She smiled.
Ah. A bit, but things are different now.”
Not really. You are still a dragon, and I am your traveling companion. It only makes sense to pick up where we left off.”
But is that what you want?” He narrowed his eyes at her.
I have always enjoyed traveling with you.”
A strange feeling of weariness and unease rippled through her gut. Bubbles floated between her eyes, popping madly, and the edges of her vision grew gray. She swayed, closed her eyes, and breathed through it, managing not to faint.
You should get breakfast,” he said.
She nodded but found even the thought of food unappetizing. For a moment she felt hope. Perhaps her one day with him had been enough and she had conceived. However, as a healer she had seen people exhibit symptoms to imagined maladies. Her mind could be tricking her body. She would give it some time. A few weeks would be sufficient.
If it were true, if she had beaten the odds, that would create all sorts of new difficulties.
I would rather join you on your morning flight,” she said.
He hesitated then flattened himself to the floor to facilitate her ascent. Her arms wrapped around his broad neck with only inches to spare, allowing her a steady grip.
Ewan’s wings slapped the air. She closed her eyes and inhaled.
Shannon had never stopped to memorize the smell of him, but now, remembering his scent as a human, the comparison came unbidden. His scales held a different odor than his human skin, not unpleasant but distinct. He smelled of sparks, of stone striking metal, and of fierce, lightning-cleansed air. She rather liked it, though his human scent was more intoxicating.
Now, however, the wind whipped about them, whisking away all odors.
She had not thought to bind her hair, and it billowed around her. Strands of it caught in the corners of her mouth and hid her eyes. Her stomach lurched, but she simply swallowed and pretended such feelings were normal.
Normal! What is normal for the bride of a dragon?
Ewan’s pace slowed. She hazarded one hand free to push her dark blonde hair from her face. The ground rolled beneath them. Ewan cut through a cloud, and her clothes absorbed misted water. They flew blind now. His wings carved the thick white walls into new forms. She sighed contentedly and gazed across the cloudscape, like the purest, untouched field of snow but alive with movement. Yes, she was glad she had chosen Ewan.
Emerging from the clouds, he circled downward and descended towards the ground. His trajectory aimed at Mt. Regone, not the palace. His talons grasped the cliff face as he landed outside the cavern where they had first met.
She scrambled down and looked at him. Why are we here?”
He nudged her gently towards the mouth of the cave, and they stepped into the twilight. He swept his tail about to skim the surface of the hot spring pool. The splash of the water echoed.
I thought you might wish to bathe,” he teased.
She laughed. “You know, we are married now. If you wish to see me undressed, I won’t deny you.”
His ears flattened. Her grin died in her throat.
Not while I’m in this form,” he murmured. “It would feel strange and perhaps wrong. I have memories of you. We will save that for a different time. A better time.”
I am sorry.” She touched the side of his face. “This is a difficult situation, and it didn’t come with a rule book.”
That’s why I brought you here. It seemed the right place to talk.”
He lowered himself beside the water, his nostrils so close his breath rippled the surface. Removing her soft, palace slippers, she sat upon a flat flagstone near his head and dangled her feet into the warm, shallow water.
I remember the first night we spent here together. Everything was so different then,” she said.
He exhaled loudly but did not speak.
Doubt chilled her heart. What if he regretted their hasty marriage and wished to be rid of her? No, for all his difficulties, Ewan was honorable. His moral compass would never allow him to abandon her. Still, she worried. After all, even if he didn’t run away, staying but wishing to leave could be as difficult.
She dropped her eyes to her lap.
He sighed. I wish I could put an arm around you.”
Comforted by this, she cast him a smile.
Martin and I have been discussing my condition,” he said. “I want to consult with Queen Harviss, the leader of the dragons.”
Shannon knew more about dragons than any living scholar, due largely to her time with Ewan, but of the Queen she had heard only vague and imposing rumors. Queen Harviss was an ancient and powerful being. She had overseen the burning of several villages at the end of the War of the Wild Magic. This had been, of course, a reprisal for an attack on her hatchery, but the destructive power of organized dragon-kind had cowed the kings of men. Due to this incident, most kingdoms had outlawed the raiding of dragons' nests.
What would she know of disenchantment?” Shannon frowned. “Dragons keep no written records, and they do not practice magic.”
Aye, but they have long memories. Queen Harviss is the oldest living being on the Continent, born in the days before the Academy, when Wild Magic, such as the dark powers Adonna used to ensnare me, were prevalent and strong. Martin hopes her knowledge of such times will give us insight into what Academy scholars have forgotten.”
Shannon nodded slowly. The Academy had always enforced a bias against folk magicians, untrained individuals who relied on raw ability rather than study and finesse. She could see how those, such as herself, who had studied under its conventions would have a blind spot where the unfettered and unexplained were concerned. Martin, especially, had always harbored a prejudice against such practices and their practitioners.
Will you consult with her alone, or may I accompany you?” Shannon asked.
Neither. I cannot draw you into this, Shannon. The dragons should give us a hearing, but we would still be at their mercy, and they are not fond of humans, to put it lightly. I will not risk your life in that way.”
She frowned, her nose wrinkling. “But you aren’t going alone?”
Martin has agreed to accompany me.”
Her eyebrows hit her hairline. “So you won’t risk my life, but Martin’s you’ll play dice with?”
You would be accompanying me out of love and loyalty. While Martin is my friend, he is also motivated by curiosity. I’m offering him a chance to see things no scholar has ever witnessed, let alone described. He has accepted the risk.”
She squeezed her bottom lip between her teeth. She knew Martin well enough to know he would willingly endanger his physical well-being for the sake of intellectual progress. Still, Ewan was her husband. If he put himself in danger, she wanted to be there.
As if in answer, a wave of nausea gripped her, and she curled forward. Her forehead scraped her knees.
What if . . .
She had wanted a baby for so long, never dreaming she could have a child and Ewan at the same time. Even if she had conceived, there would be no way to be certain, not yet. If she had, she couldn't risk accompanying him on such a journey. One tumble could cost her too dearly.
If she told him, he would stay, but what if she were wrong? Her own disappointment would be unbearable, but to add in Ewan's, no, she couldn't tell him, not until she knew. If he left, she would be able to call him back if needed.
Are you all right?” he asked.
I am fine. I'll miss you, but if this is what you feel is best, you need to do it.
He raised his head. “Really?”
She nodded and straightened.
He chuckled. “I expected more protest. Should I be hurt?”
I would rather you not imperil yourself, but I don’t suppose you can be talked out of this. You are more stubborn than I am, and crying and arguing is only going to draw things out. If this is what you feel you must do, do it.” She couldn’t look him in the eye. The desire to tell him swelled, but she pushed it back.
It is, and I will, but while I am stubborn, I am not a fool. I know it isn’t just me anymore. Unilateral decisions were all well and good for Ewan the bachelor, but those days are over. I’ve weighed the risk. The chance at a full life, of being a man for you, is worth the danger. Harviss once offered me a place in her court. Hopefully that invitation will afford me and Martin some protection.”
She blinked, and tears rolled down her cheeks. Just be careful, please. I love you, Ewan, and would rather have you as a dragon than not at all.” She leaned into his scales and forced herself to stop crying.
҉
Ryan lay on his bed staring up at the rough hewn wooden beams. His Uncle David’s estate held a rustic charm. The rooms, decorated in carved wood and hunting trophies, smelled of cedar. When Ryan was a boy, it had been his sanctuary. Now, with his inability to openly roam Westshire and tortured by the knowledge that his son was somewhere out there, it was his cage.
Immediately following his discovery of the boy’s existence, Ryan was determined to turn Westshire upside down looking for him. His spiteful father, King Riley, had other ideas. Ryan had already been ejected from his father’s kingdom twice. His face was too well known to allow him stealth and few dared to openly defy Riley by sheltering his disowned son.
He had to content himself in searching by proxy. His half-brother, Will, investigated on his behalf. Ryan had full faith in Will but found sitting on his hands maddening.
A knock at the door roused Ryan from his stupor. He rose and attempted to brush the wrinkles from his tunic. He looked as if he had slept in his clothes, which, of course, he had. Perhaps no one would notice.
He opened the door, and his uncle frowned at him.
It is near midday,” the older man said.
Really?” Ryan rubbed his half grown beard. Perhaps he should unshutter the windows.
Aye. You missed breakfast, but I thought I might convince you to join me for lunch,” David continued.
I’m not hungry.” Ryan shrugged.
David sighed. “Ryan, I know your potential, and seeing you drift like a rudderless boat breaks my heart. Your father was a fool to disown you. Westshire needs you as its prince. Eventually he will realize that. In the meantime . . .”
This isn’t one of his tantrums that I just need to wait out, Uncle. This rift cuts both ways. He stole something from me, something irreplaceable, and I cannot forgive that.”
Have you considered that regaining your father’s good graces may be your best chance at finding the child?” David narrowed his eyes with a pointed scowl.
Ryan grimaced but forced himself to listen.
Your father knows where the child is and only keeps you from him out of malice. If you make things right with him, I imagine he will eventually let slip the boy’s location.”
You imagine and eventually.” Ryan snorted.
David shrugged. “Come get something to eat, please. If only to humor me.”
Ryan followed his uncle into the hall and towards the small, family dining room. A platter of bread and cheese and a carafe of red wine awaited them. Sitting down, Ryan poured himself a tumbler of wine and reached for a slab of brown bread. He took a few bites, just to avoid drinking on an empty stomach, then sipped his wine.
His uncle drew his eyebrows together, and one side of his mouth quirked up as if he were working on a puzzle in his head. Ryan knew that look. His uncle tended to plan out his conversations before he had them. He was obviously working out the script for a long, involved talk. Ryan winced but waited patiently for the lecture to begin.
David cleared his throat. “I am not welcome at court right now, due in part to my relationship with you, but I hear gossip. Things are going poorly for your father. He has no recognized heir. Distant relatives are circling his throne like vultures.
Your father is not a well-loved king, merely a greatly feared one. Now, alone and having faced political defeat in Regone, he is vulnerable. Tax collectors have been attacked and robbed on the roads. Royal garrisons are vandalized in the dead of night. Little acts of revolution no one will admit to quietly stoke the fire. Everyone, from the peasantry to his Council, is watching for a chance to strike. While Westshire is not yet in a state of open rebellion, his stranglehold has slipped.” He reached across the table and touched his nephew's wrist. You, Ryan, you are loved. And rightfully so. Tossing you aside is an insult to the people. Not only has the tyrant king trampled upon their lives, but now he has turned on their much lauded prince. Riley cannot hold the kingdom together without you.”
You overstate my importance.” Ryan gave him a wry smile.
No, if anything I understate it.”
Aye, well, it matters not. I am not even allowed to approach my father as it now stands. My best hope is Will. He is a clever fellow, and he has connections.”
Well, I pray he comes through for you, my boy,” David said. “Now, let us eat and drink away our sorrows.”


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