Authors: Kathi S. Barton
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
World Castle Publishing, LLC
Copyright © Kathi S. Barton 2015
Hardback ISBN: 9781629893556
Print ISBN: 9781629893563
eBook ISBN: 978162989570
First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, November 2, 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
Cover: Karen Fuller
Model: Brian Lewis
Editor: Eric Johnston
Editor: Maxine Bringenberg
Table of Contents
Eve moved back and forth between the small room and the larger one where her children lay nestled in their protective shells. The kingdom was being ripped apart; her mate, father to her children, was being murdered even as she made preparations for the children she’d never see born. Making one more trip, the one that would give them the key to get to what she had worked so hard to make sure they had, Eve lay down and spoke to her sons.
“You will each, someday, come to be in love. It is the most wondrous feeling of all you will ever feel. If only I could see you then…the grown men that you will be, with the loves of your lives with you carrying on our names and the dragon line. And sons of my good friend Sally…she will help you in ways that I could never do. If only….”
Shifting into a more comfortable position, her heart nearly as dead as her body, she touched her fingers to each of them, then picked up her second born. He was meant for things that would bring much to others…happiness mostly, but some sadness too. But he would be great in his life, bringing magic to those that he loved. Touching her fingers over the crown of his shell, Eve smiled.
“Zak, you will love like none other. Your mate will come to you terrified and full of hate. Not of you but of another, one you will see die by the hand of another, but she will need you no less for it. You and your other half will bring her to love you back.” Setting him down, Eve spoke to the others before laying her head down on the warmed stone.
“When I was born, so many centuries ago that I have long since forgotten the year, there were so many of us. Dragons were plentiful, mates and families grew, and more came yearly. Then one year in my youth, a woman—a witch—came to us, warning us all that things were going to change. That soon, all of us would be killed by men, humans. Caroline was not just correct in her telling, but she even went with us when we traveled.” She put her hand around Kiaran and held him to her as she spoke. “No one believed her but my father. He packed us up that night, and we left as the skies were turning pink for the new day. As we flew away, another family, this one of greater magic than ours, came with us. That was the family of your grandparents, the sire of your father and his mate.”
Her body was dying, slowly but without pain now. As she lay there thinking of them still, her family and how much they had endured to keep her safe, she thought of the couple who would care for her children, Sally and Jacob.
“I knew her family long ago. And that of Jacob. His family was a part of the humans that we had lived with, as was hers. Sally you will come to love as a mother, for which I should be jealous of her but am not. Her grandmother, like her granddaughter, was one of the kindest women I ever met, human or otherwise. She would bring me sweets when she had any to spare, and I would, in kind, take her meat when I was out hunting. It was fair trade for what we gave to each other. Her granddaughter is no different in her love and understanding of us dragons.” Closing her eyes, Eve felt Anthony’s pain and his urgency to have the young couple understand what he needed from them. “He is a good and wonderful man, your father. So much like his own sire that it takes my breath away to know that he is all mine.”
She looked at her children, and then at Zak. Smiling, she touched him again, giving him a little more than she had the rest. “You will survive more than most. Love harder than anyone, and be hurt for it in a way that no one will ever be able to see. Zak, my second born, child of my heart, I will give you a gift. A gift that only a woman of your heart will understand and be able to touch. You will have a child like none other. A child born of magic from all dragons.”
Touching him now, she knew that she had only moments to live. Tears burned her cheeks as she thought of all that she would miss. Holding Kiaran to her heart, her body slipped away into death, and she knew. Her last thoughts were that her children would be safe.
Just before her last breath left her body, her heart burned in pain. Not because of the arrow that had pierced it, but because her one and only love was dead as well. Anthony had protected them with all that he had, and she was more in love with him then than she’d thought possible.
“Anthony, my love. I will miss you. Until we are together again.” Eve let her body go. Her heart stopped beating, and she did not move again. It was done. Everything was set, and she was done.
Casdon took to the skies almost as soon as he was released from Elam. He needed this more than he could have told them. To be free of it all, the noise, the people…just to be free. Casdon knew that they wanted him to stay, to have dinner with them, but this was much more important than any food he could consume. The chance to take to the skies.
He never strayed far from the property. To do so would bring unwanted people to their land and so many questions that he was pretty sure no one had the answers to. He didn’t even know most of what was going on. And some of it—well, a great deal of it—he just didn’t care about. Living here, with the family, was wonderful to a point, but he missed the quiet when it had been just him and Elam in his home.
Landing at the top of the biggest mountain, he watched the movement below him. Deer played in the field, as did other animals, some of them too small for him to make out at this great distance. But it was peaceful here, a place that he came to more often than not just to simply enjoy himself.
Lying down, he watched the deer eating, and when his belly rumbled in hunger he thought seriously about going home, but he stayed if for no other reason than he was simply too relaxed to get up. But when the deer scattered, he sat up and watched carefully for what might have disturbed them. When he saw the man, boy really, Casdon lifted his body from the ground and took to the skies to teach the child a lesson on being where he was not invited.
When the being moved deeper into the trees, Casdon lost sight of him. Shifting from dragon to man, he moved quietly through the woods until he had his scent. The smell of rotted meat made him sneeze, and he heard someone laughing deeper into the woods from where he stood. Moving now, thinking of all the things he was going to do to the man, he was hit from behind, his body falling hard to the ground.
The body atop his was slight. Casdon knew that he could have gotten up, even shifted to show his strength, but he stilled, holding onto his temper as the man held something sharp to his head.
What’s the matter?
He told Essie that he was fine, just having some fun, but she said she was coming to him.
No. Don’t do that. I’m fine. A man has gotten the jump on me because I have allowed it, but I fear that he is ill and I don’t want to hurt him.
Casdon moved his head slightly to get a look at the man, but the sharpness at his head dug deeper.
If you startle him, he’ll remove my head before we can explain anything to him.
He’s going to pay for harming you.
Casdon almost laughed at the furiousness of her tone. Essie was his queen for sure, and she took her duty to protect very seriously, but he was a dragon, after all. Then he realized that the man had yet to speak, and he tried again to turn to look at him.
“Are you aware that you are on private land?” Nothing happened, except the sharp point digging into his skin until he felt the droplet of blood race down his neck. “You have drawn first blood. That makes you the victor in our fight. Let me up and I shall give you my hand.”
When the weight at his back shifted, so did Casdon, letting his animal take him so that he’d be safe. His dragon felt good after being held captive as he’d been, but he nearly fell back when he looked at the man, who was not a man at all but a woman.
She’d fallen back, her body hitting the ground, and she scrambled back from him. He wasn’t sure who of them was more startled, her or him, but she was most assuredly more afraid. When he took a step to her she backed up again, using her elbows and feet to move like a crab across sand. Casdon stopped moving and pulled his wings to his body. The quiver of arrows at her back shook with her fear.
“What are you?” Had she spoken before now, he would have known her gender. Even to have glimpsed her, there would have been no doubt that she was all woman. “I asked you a question. Did he send you here? Are you to take me back to him? I won’t go. Not easily I won’t.”
Casdon couldn’t speak to her in this form, but he could hear well. Something…or someone…was crashing through the woods toward them, and when he reached out, he could feel the man’s intent, which was to kill the woman…but not before making her suffer a great deal. Moving toward her, his wings spread wide, Casdon snatched her up and into his claws just as the man came near the clearing where they were.
She didn’t struggle as he thought she would but held onto his claws as if she were afraid that he’d drop her. He would never do that, but he felt good that she wasn’t fighting him. As he flew over the field where they had been, he could see the man and knew that had they not left, he would have harmed them. Casdon took her to his mountain top and put her down before dropping to the ground with her.
“You saved me. Why?” He only stared at her, not sure if he were to shift back to man she wouldn’t run again. “Can you be that guy again? Please? I’m freaking out a little.”
Doing as she asked, Casdon bowed low and then smiled at her. “This is more to your liking then?”
“Not really, but it’s better than thinking that you’re going to tear me to pieces before you burn me and have me for dinner.” He said nothing as he watched her. “What are you?”
“Dragon, as you can see. And for the record, I don’t eat little girls for my dinner. They’re better as a snack. Not as much to weigh on my belly before I take on villages and burn them to the ground.” He’d meant it as a joke, to make her laugh, but she only stared at him. “I was kidding you. I don’t eat humans any more than you do dragons.”
“How do you know that I don’t have one of you tied up in the barn on my property?” He leaned into her shoulder and sniffed her. When she smacked his nose, he backed up quickly. “Just how rude do you have to be to make the point that you’re bigger than me?”
“My size? It bothers you?” She didn’t answer him, but she did look down the hillside. When she sat down, he moved to sit by her, but not close enough that she could hit him again. He thought her slightly unbalanced, but he was sure it was from him and not her usual state.
“Men are all pieces of shit, not just you. And their size matters little. Some of the meanest men I know are no bigger than me, but just as mean as a man twice their size.” He wanted to ask her why she thought that, but she continued before he could. “Thank you for saving me from him. He’ll find me eventually, but right now…well, thank you.”
“He is related to you somehow?” Instead of answering him, she stood up and started down the hill. Casdon watched her for a moment before he followed her. He had no idea why he didn’t just let her go, but he felt the urge to keep her protected, even if it was from herself.
She moved like she was one with the ground. Her feet didn’t seem to stumble on any rocks and she didn’t need to catch herself on trees as she moved with greater speed toward the bottom. Casdon had to hold on several times when his body got ahead of his feet, and when he tripped a couple of times, had it not been for the trees near him he would have surely fallen on his head. When they reached the bottom, where the ground was level, she didn’t look back but kept going in the opposite direction of where they’d left the man.
“You’re not safe out here.” He thought she said something like no shit, but he was too busy looking for the man to worry about her insulting him. “There are more of my kind out there too. If you run into any of them, I’d not hit them with my hand; they might remove it for you.”
That stopped her, which she did so suddenly he bumped into her and they both fell to the ground. He was hit several times before he was able to get her hands captured in his. Telling her to stop it had no effect on her. But as soon as he had her hands, he looked into her face. She was terrified, more so than when he’d been a dragon.
“I won’t hurt you.” She tried to buck him off, but he was heavier and stronger than her, and all she managed to do was wear herself out. “Be still for a moment and I’ll let you go.”
The branch breaking so close to them had him letting her hands go but not allowing her to get up. The man that had been crashing through the woods earlier was standing not ten feet from them, and the gun in his hand looked ready to be used. The girl put her hand over his and held it to her mouth as she screamed behind it. Casdon knew then that whatever the relationship was between the two of them, she was not going back with the man.
“Girl, where the hell are you?” Casdon looked down at her, and her head nodded at his unspoken question. It was her he was looking for. He’d known that, of course, but now it was confirmed. “Lindsey, I’m not going to tell you again to get yourself to me. I’ve had a bad day and there ain’t no reason for you to be acting like this. Get on back to the house and I’ll let you have a bone for your supper. Come on now. You’ve been out here for a week, long enough for to have gotten this crap out of your system. Get yourself here now.”
Casdon felt her teeth graze his skin just before she bit into his flesh. It wasn’t painful, not really, but he felt her draw on the wound and take his blood into her mouth. As soon as she swallowed, he felt the connection to her immediately.
I’m not his daughter or any relation to him. He uses me for his housekeeper mostly. But I’ve no desire to go back to him. I won’t be chained up like an animal again, and I will not be starved because he has the key to my freedom. And just last week, he…he wanted more than for me to clean his house.
Casdon felt his host call to him. Elam would come to him now because he could feel his fear, but he told him to stay where he was, that he would explain when he found him. To the girl, he asked what the man wanted from her now.
He didn’t think she’d answer. There was something so profoundly sad about her. When she shifted a little, he saw that her arrows, a dozen or so of them, were all handmade, and well done too. Casdon wondered where her bow was, and thought perhaps she’d dropped it when he picked her up. Now, he realized, she had no way of protecting herself because of him. The man, he only just realized, was gone now.
When she shoved him off, he moved rather than fight with her. The man was close still, but not where they could see him from their position on the ground. And when she moved up to her knees, carefully looking around her before standing, Casdon wondered how long she’d really been hiding from the man. More than the week the man had accused her of, he’d bet.
He didn’t go after her when she moved deeper in the woods. By her taking his blood into her body, he had a connection with her now. He knew that should he want to he could find her in the deepest caves, as well as know when she was hurt or sick. Casdon lay there thinking that he’d had the most fun he’d had in a good long time when she came into his life.
Making his way home, he also kept an eye out for the man. Having his scent now too, he knew that as soon as he was home and talked to the rest of them, all of them, he’d be back to find him…and to set him straight on a few things. But the moment he walked in the door, Jed started in on him.
“When we call you, you’re to come.” Casdon told him that he’d never called him, and he’d been talking to Elam and Essie too. “We did. For over an hour after you talked to Essie. And we were about to go out and find what had befallen you when Elam felt you again. Were you hurt? Have you been in a deep cave?”
“No. I’ve been walking the woods. There is a man in them that has it in his head to…to shoot our deer.” Casdon had no idea why he didn’t mention the girl. He’d thought about it when he was walking home, but the moment he stepped in the house, all thoughts of telling his family what he’d seen and done with her went out of his head. For some reason, he wanted to keep her to himself for a time.
Jed watched him, looked at him as if he knew what was going on, but Casdon moved to the stairs and to the room that he shared with Elam and sat on the bed. Elam came in a bit later and asked him if he was all right.
“Yes. Jed said that you’d been trying to reach me. I didn’t hear you.” He wondered if the girl had done that, but had no way of knowing. She’d taken his blood, but he’d not tasted hers. “I’m sorry to have worried you all unnecessarily.”
“I was worried when I hit the wall. All I could think about was that the witch had come back.” Casdon nodded but didn’t say anything. Elam told him what was said at dinner. “The castle is coming along nicely, and Jed has the plans ready to send to the woodcrafter to start working on the tables and such. It was good that Elbert knew the man that they used as a measuring stick back then.”
All the dimensions for the castle and its contents were in a diary that Jed had found a couple of months ago. Most of it was hand-drawn pictures of things, like the wall hangings and portraits. There was a mention of the people who had done the work as well, and what was paid to them for it. One family that they’d read about had gotten ten sheep for their work on the garden, and another family had gotten a home without taxation for the rest of their lives.
Casdon had wondered why everyone wasn’t given land to live on, and Caroline, the white witch, had told them that his dad had given to the people what they needed, not what they wanted. Sometimes it was difficult to know what to give, but their father had known. It was what had made him a great king.
Just after nightfall, Casdon went out to the porch to take in the night sounds, and when Essie asked to join him, he moved over on the swing and sat in a comfortable quiet with her for nearly an hour.
“Who is she?” Casdon looked over at her and said nothing for several seconds, hoping he’d heard her wrong. “When I couldn’t find you I asked the earth where you were, and it said that you were with a woman and that you were saving her from herself. Is she your mate?”